Sunday, November 23, 2008

What's all this, then?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend a New York Library Association session on blogging. Jill-Hurst Wahl and Ken Rothman both stressed the importance of clearly defining the mission and scope of one's blog. It struck me that I had been less than clear -- in both my mind and this blog -- about my goals for this blog and that a little clarification might be in order.

For the past several years, I've spent most of my working life dealing with electronic records, and the archival profession is still grappling with how best to appraise, acquire, preserve, and provide access to archival electronic records. I see this blog as a means of contributing, in a modest and informal way, to these ongoing struggles and to share information that comes my way.

I first started thinking about starting a blog earlier this year, when I attended an Arlington, Virginia meeting sponsored by the Library of Congress's National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program (NDIIPP). NDIIPP has awarded grant monies to a number of collaborative projects that seek to preserve a wide array of electronic archival records and publications, among them the Persistent Digital Archives and Library System PeDALS project, in which my repository was involved. In July, it brought representatives from each project partner to Arlington to exchange information and ideas, and as a result I got to hear not only about other state government projects but also about the Global Digital Format Registry, efforts to preserve virtual worlds such as Second Life, the nuts-and-bolts aspects of collaborative work, and lots of other interesting things.

I kept thinking that it was a shame that there were only roughly 100 people present: many of the presentations were fascinating, would no doubt be of interest to other archivists and other cultural heritage professionals. However, I wasn't quite ready to make the commitment to blogging at that time; fortunately, all of the presentations delivered at the Arlington meeting have been posted on the NDIIPP Web site.

I finally took the plunge in mid-August, but I did so largely because of one of my other goals for l'Archivista: to create an immediate and accessible record of some aspects of my own life. I finally purchased a digital camera, and I was planning to take a few days' vacation in San Francisco before the Society of American Archivists meeting convened there at the end of the month, so I knew I would have something to write about. As a result, most of the initial entries in this blog constitute a travelogue, not a commentary on professional issues or events.

Jill Hurst-Wahl and David Rothman both advocate maintaining separate personal and professional blogs. I can certainly understand why they take this position: people who read professional blogs generally don't want to wade through tons of baby pictures, political diatribes, etc. Moreover, an excess of such content on a professional blog can give the impression that one lacks seriousness or judgment.

However, at least at this point in time, l'Archivista is my only blog. I view the world through an archival lens, and as a result my first response to new experiences, current events, or the culture at large is often: "How did this come to be? Are there records documenting its origins and evolution? If so, who has them?" Life is a big, messy, records-centric blur, and this blog is in some respects a record of my responses to and involvement in it. This record isn't exhaustive -- it doesn't capture the minutiae of my workdays or my time away from the office -- but it does document many of the things that catch and hold my attention, at least for a few minutes or hours, if not longer.

Finally, this blog allows me to highlight events and developments that may be of interest to archivists who don't work with electronic records. In grad school and as a younger archivist, I worked with paper records and every now and then I still do so. I still pay attention to paper records when they're discussed in the media and the professional literature, and I don't think I will ever stop doing so. Sometimes, the things I read bounce around in my head for some time, and blogging about them helps me to fix my thoughts and move onto the next issue or concern.

So that's why I blog. I enjoy doing it, even though it takes even more time than I had initially anticipated, and I hope that you find at least some of my posts to be worthwhile.

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