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.

Digital History Project Draft – American Cold War Nuclear Sites

The HistoryPin I have entitled “American Cold War Nuclear Sites” is off to a productive start. I have five out of the seven sites that I want to include finished. I have chosen seven sites because these examples are particularly important to the nuclear production era in American history. However, the brilliance of the project is that I have not even scratched the surface yet of potential sites that the HistoryPin can include. That is why the project is also interactive. Schools can use this as an interactive teaching tool, while the students have a visual representation of just how expansive the United States’ nuclear arsenal was at one point the American history. Since these plants are either shut down or unable to tour in person, not to mention they span across the continental United States, creating a HistoryPin collection with map replaces a ‘Walking Tour’ of the plants.


For further study, there could be another section of the map that shows just how many have closed, and how many have been changed to different purposes. For example, the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina has switched from the production of nuclear fuels during the Cold War to now mostly environmental cleanup and non-defensive uses of these fuels, but remain in the same location as when it was first constructed which brings relevancy to the project. For the final draft of the digital project, I am looking to finish the other two sites on the map, including their historical information. I will also include outside links for each of the sites or their historical significance as another way of making the project interactive and educational. There have not many problems with this project so far. The only minor issue is that HistoryPin’s interface is sometimes not the easiest to navigate (this may be more of a personal problem considering my limited abilities regarding technology). Secondly, when I set out to create a “tour” within HistoryPin, I did not realize that it meant a “tour” of the Collections, not Pins within the Collections. I am also running into highly propagandized websites on these former plants, that downplay significantly the issues that these plants have caused. I am looking to include as much factual information as possible regarding concerns and issues that have been attributed to each plant, as well.

Here is the current map showing the location of the five plants I have included:

The current sites I have completed are:

Savannah River Plant (SRP)

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Oak Ridge Laboratory

Hanford Site

Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas

The two remaining sites I have yet to complete are:

Fernald Feed Materials Production Center

Rocky Flats Plant

Below is the link to my current project:

American Cold War Nuclear Sites