Introductory Post- Mallory

Hello everyone! My name is Mallory Herberger, and like many of you in this class, I am a second-year MLIS student specializing in Archives and Digital Curation. For the four years of my undergraduate career, I studied History at the University of Maryland with a focus on the British Isles, and in 2014 I graduated with my BA. But like many had warned me, a history degree didn’t get me far in my job search, and soon enough I found myself back at good old College Park to get another degree that would give me a boost up in the job market. I had always loved museums and archives, and in fact my family makes fun of me for how long I can stare at a historical document or an artifact. I’ve never been able to help it; something just freezes in me when I get to see these objects

I didn’t think to mention it in class, but I am also one of those folks who signed up for the class on Library and Archives Preservation. When the class was cancelled, I found myself at a crossroads. The obvious choice was to take Digital Preservation. Like many argue, the field of digital preservation is just as, if not more important than preserving physical materials. I agree with that statement, but when contemplating which class to take, I certainly hesitated to choose this one. I’m not a “techie” person. Computer lingo makes me nervous, and I practically had to claw and fight my way through my JavaScript class last semester. Traumatized as I was, a class beginning with the word “Digital” made me stop in my tracks. But hey, in the end I decided to jump outside of my comfort zone, and I’m confident that it is a jump that I will be grateful that I took.

Recently, I just began to work at the UMUC Archives as a Student Assistant. On my first day, I walked around that small room that housed all of the University’s photographs, course catalogues, dissertations, and correspondence since the campus was founded almost 70 years ago. Many of the boxes were falling apart, and labels were either missing or lacking important details. Their online repository is a slow work in progress, and I’m confident in saying that they are doing little in the vein of digital preservation. I definitely think that this could be a good choice for the consultation project, but it also makes me reflect on Lyons’ comments in “There Will Be No Digital Dark Age.” He comments that funding agencies are spending millions of dollars to prevent such a dark age, but I would argue that those dollars aren’t going toward the smaller cultural heritage institutions. In my archive, we’re struggling just to process the collections we have and get them digitized, and preservation is something to be considered later, at least as far as I’ve gathered.

Funny enough, I also very briefly volunteered at the Laurel Historical Society, which is one of the organizations that showed interest in the consultation project. Their archive was even smaller than the UMUC archive, and the director was working with a limited amount of funds to get collections processed, plan exhibits, and work in the museum. When I was there, there were only 2 people on staff, and the rest of the workers were volunteers (mostly local women over the age of 65). Their level of organization was dreadful, and I ended up bowing out after a short amount of time.

With organizations such as the UMUC Archive and the Laurel Historical Society, I don’t find it difficult to believe that there will be a digital dark age. Institutions with enough staff will certainly have enough time to make sure that their digital material is safe for the future, but was about the little guys? It takes an enormous amount of effort just to digitize the collections, much less continue to maintain the files.

I think the project for this course is a good step toward reminding smaller cultural heritage institutions that they need to make digital preservation a priority. If they don’t allocate extra resources or bargain for a stretch in the budget, then all the time they spent digitizing will be put to waste. In his article, Lyons mentions the institutions that are actively pursuing advances in digital preservation. He lists Harvard University, the Smithsonian, NASA and the British Library. These are not institutions that have to bargain or cut staff; they are leaders in their field and as such enjoy more resources than smaller historical societies or community archives. I hope these smaller institutions don’t have a digital dark age just because they don’t have the funding to hire more people or the time to devote to digital preservation. I hope their digital files will exist well into the future, but I think their chances are much lower than NASA or the British Library.

Thanks for a great first class! I’m looking forward to working with all of you.