Introduction

Hi! I’m Leigh Plummer, a second semester MLIS student focusing on academic libraries and digital curation. I currently work in the Preservation department at UMD and as a graduate student assistant with the Humanities and Social Science Librarians. This past summer, I interned at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration working to inventory their 16mm film collection for eventual, potential digitization. All of these experiences have helped develop my interest in digital preservation. About 50% of my Preservation job is spent preparing collections for digitization. I work with digital collections as a graduate student assistant. I have been curious about how decisions about what and when collections are digitized or made available to the general public are decided.

The initial readings were not what I expected for this course. I was surprised to see someone from Google saying that there would come a period where everything digitally saved will be lost. This surprised me because when I think of Google and digital preservation, I think more of Google Drive, and specifically Google Photos. Yet here we see a representative of a commercial company essentially telling people to no longer rely on the company. Compare that to the two “Issues and Advocacy” posts, where archivists were pointing out that this has been a known problem for years. More, there are skilled and knowledgeable professionals working to combat and mitigate this problem. I found Tansey’s claim that digital preservation tools are employed to help the powerful and are therefore counter to the cause of social justice to be misguided. Items chosen for digital preservation are chosen by people with biases, but that does not mean that these decisions are made to support a denigration of minorities. Rather, I think that digital preservation projects can highlight both the forgotten voices and the voices of various resistances.

Introduction and Thoughts on Readings

Hi everyone. I’m Maya Reid. I’m starting my second year in the MLIS program and my specialization is Archives and Digital Curation. Preservation is an important aspect of digital curation, so I’m taking this class to learn more about the work and concept.

I’m currently working on my field study at the NASA Goddard Library as a Digital Collections Intern and am also a student assistant in the Special Collections and University Archives on campus. I worked previously as a digitization assistant in the Digitization Center in Hornbake Library. I have experience with digitizing analog materials and screening for file corruption, but still have a lot to learn about preservation.

Professor Owen’s statement that “Preservation is the result of ongoing work of people and commitments of resources. The work is never finished” stood out to me. In my other class this week, Curation in Cultural Institutions, we discussed how digital objects are even more prone to alteration and corruption than analog materials. I had not considered the amount of labor and resources that goes into preserving digital collections. Working in the Special Collections, I suppose I had an idea that a box of records could be shelved in a climate-controlled room and be good to go as far as preservation is concerned (and I realize preservation of analog materials is more detailed than that), so I think I had the same perception for digital objects. That there could be some digital “climate-controlled room” objects could be placed to be properly preserved. I appreciate the wake-up call that digital preservation is more laborious than that.

Lyons brings up a good point when he states archivists are “hidden in the public narrative.” Whenever I tell someone about my studies, the majority of people ask me what an archive or archivist is. It was grating but unsurprising to read about Cerf’s perspective, wherein he seems to think no one preserves digital artifacts. From prior coursework I have garnered that the answer to this dilemma is always “advocacy.” GLAM institutions can empower themselves by advocating to their greater institutions, their user group, wider community, and so on. Thus it was disheartening for me to read Tansey’s contrasting point of view that advocacy doesn’t always work, especially in more bureaucratic institutions. Tansey describes the “cycle of poverty that afflicts archives” and how lack of funding can lead to a digital dark age. I had a lot of faith in the power of advocacy due to previous classes, but now have my doubts about its effectiveness and what the reality of budgetary constraints looks like. I’m interested in what other classmates have to say about Tansey’s essay.

Why isn’t archival work more broadly understood?

Hello! I’m Caitlin Christian-Lamb, a second year doctoral student at the iSchool. My research interests center on collective memory, connections and collaborations between archives and digital humanities, ethics in collection and access policies, the role of the archivist, and community archives. Here at UMD, I work as a research assistant on Ricky Punzalan’s “Valuing Our Scans: Understanding the Impacts of Digitized Native American Ethnographic Archives” project and on Doug Oard and Katie Shilton’s “Safely Searching Among Sensitive Content” project. Prior to heading back to school for my PhD I worked as a digital archivist at Davidson College (a tiny liberal arts college in North Carolina) for four years, and although digital (and physical) preservation planning was under my remit there, I still feel like a novice in the field. As part of completing my dual MSLIS Archives Management/MA History (my thesis was on the collective memory of the sinking of the Titanic, so if you ever want to hear about Titanic pop culture, I’m your girl) at Simmons College, I took a digital stewardship course. When I looked over the syllabus for this class to decide if I wanted to enroll, I was shocked at how little overlap there was – back in 2011, the field of digital preservation seemed so different to me (or perhaps I just have more work experience and a different lens now?).

Most of my focus at Davidson was on archival education and outreach, increasing use of the digitized and born-digital collections in the archives while also adding to those collections. Though Davidson is a small school, there is a ton of digital material either collected or that was on my list to collect – at the top of that list of capturing student work, particularly from the digital studies program, since I served as the library liaison for DS, and because another large chunk of my job involved consulting on, supporting, and encouraging digital humanities work on campus. We often fell into the trap of trying to capture and preserve material without having a real plan, and that led me to apply for a NEH grant to assist in drafting the first ever formal preservation plans for the college archives. Before I left that role I was able to bring in a consultant from NEDCC, who interviewed staff, faculty, administration, and stakeholders at Davidson and wrote reports detailing the state of physical and digital preservation at the institution, as well as providing suggestions for how to move forward. But… lack of institutional support, staff, and resources meant that I mainly continually implored people to read these reports and verbally summarized issues, but never was able to get much done in the way of actual plan drafting. Without more staff, preservation planning was just never going to happen – explaining that you don’t preserve something once, but need to be continually working on preservation (like Dr. Owens’ fourth guiding axiom) seemed to blow administrator’s minds.

I remember seeing archivist reactions on Twitter to Vint Cerf’s digital dark age warning a few years ago – the consensus response was Cerf seemed to think he had invented digital preservation out of whole cloth in 2015, and archivists were naturally frustrated that one of the “fathers of the Internet” had clearly never heard of an entire field of work, and that he had only just then begun to worry about functional obsolesce and access.  It seemed typical of engineers and designers – why worry about use (long-term and current) of the thing you create?

Bert Lyons emphasized the poor public awareness of archivists, archives, and archival work in his post: “We are not and have not been absent from the digital preservation questions. We are, however, hidden in the public narrative.” I’ve often had this same frustration in academic and library circles, where the majority of librarians I encountered had zero familiarity with archival work, and attending digital humanities conferences made it clear that many scholars don’t understand what archivists do either – we used the same words to mean different  things. The archival profession feels incredibly difficult to explain, yet is so fundamental to societal functioning, memory, academic study, and identity formation. While Vint Cerf’s idea of the digital dark age isn’t quite right, as Eira Tansey points out, Lyons’s also leaves out some key factors – there are many, many people devoted to digital preservation, but funding, staffing, and authority play into a larger puzzle of what gets selected, acquired, preserved, and used.

I’m an Archivist, not an Archaeologist

Hi everyone, my name is Jen Piegols and I’m a second year MLIS student with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation. I have a BA in History and English from Salisbury University and was introduced to archives during my final undergrad semester when I partook in an internship at the Edward H. Nabb Center on campus.  I fell in love with processing collections instantly as it seemed to combine my passions of history, writing, and organization.  Since then, and entering the MLIS program, I have studied more of the theories and practices related to physical collections, and attempted to put that learning into action as a Student Assistant at Hornbake Library in the Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), Maryland and Historical collections department.  While I love the hands-on aspect of working with historical materials, my digital curation/appraisal/arrangement/preservation, anything digital, skills seem to be lacking. Thus, I’m hoping to get a better grasp of digital preservation so that I feel more comfortable working with born-digital or digitized materials as I search for a special collections or processing position.

I found Professor Owen’s Introduction in The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation to be a great jumping off point for someone who has little to no experience with digital preservation, which is probably a good thing as he intended it to be for professionals and non-professionals alike.  A few of his axioms made me nod my head and I thought also related well to the preservation of physical collections. Specifically, I really agreed with point 3, 5, and 6. Point 3, “tools can get in the way just as much as they can help,” (Owens, 5) seems to have become almost a go-to statement from the few discussions I have overheard or participated in while in the MLIS program. I absolutely agree with this statement and live in an on-going horror story as SCUA attempts to wipe away their “Beast” (a frustratingly confusing Access database) and replace it with ArchiveSpace. Although this isn’t preservation of digital holdings, it is the preservation of finding aids, which is probably the most important deliverable created by an archive.

Axiom 5, “Hoarding is not preservation”(5) resonated on a personal level. This reflection is a little more off topic, but this point really makes one think about all the personal items and digital files that one can hoard over 23 years of existence.  It was brought up in an appraisal class last year that it takes almost or if not more energy to run servers as it is to run a perfect HVAC, humidity controlled building, and so not only is hoarding digital information bad for accessing and preserving digital collections, it’s also harming the environment and using up resources!

Lastly, to tie into the other readings that focus on the impending (or currently raging) digital dark ages, axiom 6, “Backing up data is not digital preservation” (6), seemed a good connection because even if we do back up our data, it’s not guaranteed to last past the next Windows update.  Personally, I would like to think that backing up my thousands of photos on three different hard drives is the best, and possibly only, way to ‘preserve’ my digital memories,  but it’s now a little clearer that this isn’t true, especially for larger, public collections.  I absolutely agree with Terry Kuny when he lists off how we are living in, or on the cusp of, a digital dark age. Obsolete software, check. Broken hardware, check. Lost information, check. However, I don’t agree with Vint Cerf (and therefore agree with Bertram Lyons) that this is a new development (Google’s Vint Cerf warns of ‘digital Dark Age’). I’m so proud that Lyons defended the work of archivists in her response to Cerf (There Will Be No Digital Dark Age), but was also mortified that “a father of the internet” didn’t know about the work that archivists do on a daily basis.  Our profession is in fact archiving digital pieces, even if it is in hiding, and I hope to learn from this class how to become one of those people who help prevent the spread of the digital Dark Age and bring our work out of the shadows at the same time.

What’s an Archivist, Anyway? and Other Thoughts

Hey folks. My name is Perri and I am a 3rd year HiLS student. My interests in history have carried over to archives, and as a result, I’d like to work in an archive that has Spanish-language or human rights-related collections (or maybe both, if I’m lucky!) Currently I work in Special Collections on campus, and for the National Park Service.

In my spare time, I like to… ha! Just kidding, I live in grad school now.

I sometimes feel that the most I’ve gained from my time in grad school is a sense of how monumental the task of an archivist is. Combined with the oft-heard “so what is an archivist, anyway?,” it can leave emerging professionals like ourselves wondering how we can ever *really* make a difference. But what I have also learned is that having that mindset is problematic to begin with. Owens addresses it well in his 12th point: “Highly technical definitions of digital preservation are complicit in silencing the past.” Along that same vein… thinking that I, with my exclusive archival training and education, have to be the one to do all of the “saving,” is a problem from the get-go.

The key, I think, is for us to keep an open mind about not only our role, but the role of others in preservation. Just as in a physical archive, if patrons continue to feel themselves excluded from the process of preserving history, they will take little care to aid our jobs as professionals. Those of us who do have a background in archives can’t think of ourselves as gatekeepers, but rather focus our efforts on diversifying and expanding the idea of who gets to be “in charge” of preserving history. Bertram Lyons’ article does a great job of capturing this idea, encouraging an expanded view of what can and should be documented and preserved in the first place.

All that being said, I think my two biggest takeaways from this week’s readings are that a) technologies change too fast for archivists alone to keep up, and b) doing something about preservation is (mostly) always better than doing nothing. It certainly seems like there are many people thinking about the benefits and pitfalls of digital preservation… just the fact that we’re taking a class specifically dedicated to it makes me think that talk of a “digital dark age” is just a tad bit dramatic.