Saturday, August 30, 2008

SAA: ER Section Meeting

I didn't go to Government Records Section meeting this morning as I had initially planned. Instead, I walked around the exhibit hall and spent a few minutes chatting with a former archivist who is now the VP of an archival consulting firm. The two of us met at SAA in DC in 2006 and realized that, although we had never met, we had close friends in common, and now we make it a point to catch up with one another at SAA.

This year's Electronic Records Section meeting was very state government-oriented: we had four speakers, all of whom were heading multi-state National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program (NDIIPP) grant projects focusing on state government records.

Steve Morris spoke about the Geospatial Multistate Archive and Preservation Partnership
(GeoMAPP) project, which focuses on bringing geographic information system and archival professionals together and identifying and transferring to archival custody geospatial data that has enduring value. GeoMAPP is led by the North Carolina State Archives and the North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, and the state archives and geospatial data agencies of Kentucky and Utah are project partners.

Justin Jaffee of the Washington Digital Archives outlined the Multi-State Preservation Consortium, which is designed to test whether the digital archives infrastructure developed in Washington State can be extended to other states. State archives and libraries in Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, and Oregon are participating in this project.

Richard Pearce-Moses of the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records discussed the Persistent Digital Archives and Library System (PeDALS), which involves using BizTalk to automate, to the greatest extent possible, the processing of archival records and the use of Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe (LOCKSS) for secure, redundant storage of preservation copies records. State libraries and archives in Florida, New York, South Carolina, and Wisconsin are participating.

Bob Horton of the Minnesota Historical Society discussed the Preserving State Government Legislative Information project, which works with state legislatures to improve access to born-digital legislative materials. The project has partners (sometimes multiple partners) in California, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Vermont.

Of all the presentations, Bob Horton's was the most intriguing (I'm actively involved in the PeDALS project, so most of Richard Pearce-Moses's comments, which Richard delivered with his usual grace and good humor, covered terrain that was quite familiar to me). Horton gave us a version of the presentation he usually delivers to legislatures, and he stressed the following points:
  • Legislators self-consciously set themselves apart from the executive and judicial branches of government, and they generally don't want to hear about "best practices" for managing electronic records and publications; they believe that their needs and circumstances are unique. Horton has learned not to confront this belief head-on and instead makes it a point to emphasize that "appropriate practices" should govern the management of digital legislative resources.
  • E-discovery and other legal issues relating to electronic records and publications are of great concern to legislators, and as a result archivists and librarians should emphasize the legal risks associated with poor management of electronic records and publications.
  • Legislators who discount the advice and pleas of archivists and librarians from their own states may give greater heed to the input of associations; once Horton got the Council of State Legislatures to start publicizing this project, legislators in Minnesota and other states who had initially ignored the project started taking an interest in it.
Horton's conclusions and strategies are in fact more broadly applicable: there are lots of people in the executive and judicial branches of government who are resistant to the concept of overarching "best practices," don't want to hear about records management per se but are profoundly worried about e-discovery, or who are more likely to pay attention to records, etc., issues when regional or national organizations they respect get involved. I'm planning to pass on his words of advice to several colleagues when I get back to the office.

No comments: