Friday, November 28, 2008

Records management at Apple

I've been meaning to post about this matter for a few days, but haven't had the chance . . . .

During the past few months, Apple and Psystar have been engaged in a running legal battle: Apple alleges that Psystar, which sells computers that come with Mac OSX installed, is guilty of copyright infringement, and Psystar alleges that Apple, which does not want other companies to sell computers that have Mac OSX operating system software factory installed, violates antitrust laws. Psystar's antitrust claims have just been dismissed, but it looks as if Apple's suit is going to make it to court in 2009.

From an electronic records angle, the most interesting aspect of this dispute is that it's led Apple to disclose some information about its electronic records management practices. The Industry Standard, which was apparently the first media outlet to make note of this fact, reproduces in its entirety a document outlining Apple's and Psystar's agreed-upon rules for responding to each others' requests for evidence; you can either view this document via the scroll box that appears at the bottom of the page or download a copy in PDF format.

The good stuff is on pages 7-8 of the document, which contains Apple's statement about its routine records management practices and the actions it has taken as a result of the lawsuit:
At Apple, individual employees are tasked with maintenance of their own files including hard copy documents, emails, voicemails and other electronically recorded materials. Apple has not implemented any programs that result in the automatic deletion of emails. Similarly Apple does not determine which voicemails are saved or deleted by an individual recipient. However, the voicemail system is set up to delete saved messages after ninety days. At the institution of this lawsuit, Apple identified a group of employees who could potentially have documents relevant to the issues reasonably evident in this action. Apple then provided those individuals with a document retention notice which included a request for the retention of any relevant documents, including but not limited to emails, voicemails and other electronically-recorded materials relating to the issues in this lawsuit. As a result of the counterclaims asserted by Psystar, Apple has also sent out a follow-up retention notice asking for the retention of documents reasonably relevant to the antitrust and unfair competition claims asserted by Psystar. Apple will be working with Psystar to narrow the list of individuals from whom documents will be retrieved for purposes of this lawsuit.
As the Industry Standard asserts, it's a bit startling that a large (no. 103 on the 2008 Fortune 500 list), publicly traded technology company would have such a . . . decentralized approach to the management of its records. However, I don't think that Apple's approach is inherently "negligent," as an unnamed attorney specializing in e-discovery is quoted as saying. I also have to take issue with the Industry Standard's assertion that Apple has "no company-wide policy for archiving, saving, or deleting" records. Apple's policy is indeed company-wide -- it just makes individual employees responsible for managing the records they create or receive.

Is Apple's policy as good as it could be? No. Records managers concur that the best approach to the management of electronic records involves use of recordkeeping systems that have built-in records management applications. These applications manage records centrally, inform records managers when a given grouping of records has reached the end of its legal retention period and can thus be destroyed, and enable them to suspend the destruction of records that might be needed as a result of litigation.

However, it's plain that Apple is not the only large corporation struggling with electronic records management issues. Cohasett Associates' 2007 Electronic Records Management Survey: A Call for Collaboration reveals that although companies have begun addressing e-discovery concerns, incorporating electronic records into records schedules, and moving responsibility for day-to-day management of electronic records out of the hands of IT staff, they still have a lot of work to do:
  • For most organizations, a great deal still remains to be done to achieve credibility in the management of their electronic records and, in time, a sustainable “best practice” level performance.
  • Major gaps and risks related to the handling of archival and backup media were confirmed.
  • Significant gaps in accountability for day-to-day management of all types of electronic records were reported.
So Apple isn't alone in having a less-than-perfect policy, and I can think of several reasons it hasn't adopted an more technologically oriented approach to records management. To date, it hasn't developed any recordkeeping/records management products of its own, and its vertically integrated business model, secretive corporate culture, and legitimate security concerns may militate against use of products developed by other tech firms.

Short of implementing a recordkeeping system that has a built-in records management application, how could Apple improve its records management policy? Well, one key element that Apple doesn't seem to have addressed (at least in this filing) is training, which is a prerequisite for the success of any records management policy. Sending out policy notices to staff is one thing. Explaining -- on more than one occasion -- the reasons for the policy, the importance of adhering to it, and how records management fits into the day-to-day operations of the organization is another, and organizations that fail to do so often find that their policies aren't producing the desired results.

Apple's statement also neglects to mention the extent to which its records management policy has executive support. Are the policy directives being distributed by counsel or mid-level managers with little fanfare, or are Steve Jobs and other senior managers repeatedly driving home the importance of adhering to these policies -- and ensuring that staff have the time needed to do so?

Finally, what of Psystar? Judging from the filing outlining Apple's and Psystar's agreement regarding responses to discovery request, it doesn't have any sort of records management policy in place. Here is the full text of Psystar's statement concerning its records:
Counsel for Psystar has personally counseled the principals of Psystar as to the retention of documents and other information as they pertain to the issues in this lawsuit. A retention notice was subsequently issued to the principals of Psystar memorializing the same. Retention of documents includes but is not limited to electronic mail, physical documents and things, and other electronically-recorded materials.
I get the distinct impression that even though Apple is falling short of the mark, it has devoted much more attention to records management issues than Psystar has. However, given that Psystar seems to have appeared out of thin air (even its physical location is a bit of a mystery), perhaps that's not surprising.

Update, 29 November 2008: In the interest of full disclosure, I've been an Apple user since the mid-1980s, when my parents purchased an Apple II-series machine, and my trusty (so far) mid-2007 MacBook is my constant companion. However, I don't believe that the company is infallible or that its products are flawless: I know two people who have had serious problems with the hard drives of brand-new late 2006 and late 2007 MacBooks, and I have my own Apple horror story involving a PowerBook 150.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Questions for the next Archivist of the United States

The Government Accountability Office has just released a new report, Confirmation of Political Appointees: Eliciting Nominees’ Views on Management Challenges within Agencies and across Government, that provides an overview of the core questions that people nominated to head each federal agency should be able to answer.

The report is broken down into 35 appendices, 7 of which concern topics that the head of any agency must able to address: acquisition management; collaboration; financial management; human capital management; information and technology management (alas, no mention of records management); results-oriented decision making; real property management and security.

The other 28 appendices contain questions specific to each of the 28 major executive branch agencies. Appendix XXI (found on page 100 of the report) concerns the National Archives and Records Administration. Somehow, in all of the excitement surrounding the election, I failed to realize that Allen Weinstein might leave NARA shortly after the inauguration; I just hope that if he opts to resign or President Obama requests his resignation, the circumstances that propel the nomination of his successor prove less contentious than those that surrounded Dr. Weinstein's nomination.

Interestingly, the GAO has identified only four questions that should be asked of any prospective Archivist of the United States. All of them concern electronic records:
1. Have you guided or advised transitions from paper to electronic records before? What experiences could you bring to this position that would enable you to effectively lead the government’s transition to electronic records?

2. What challenges in managing and preserving electronic records have you helped address?

3. Please describe your experience or knowledge related to managing, implementing, or using records management tools or principles to ensure that critical business information, such as information in e-mail messages, is available to those who need it when they need it.

4. One of NARA’s most critical projects is the development of the Electronic Records Archive [sic], which is to preserve and provide access to federal and presidential records. Have you led the development and implementation of large systems before? What, in your view, are the critical factors for successfully managing such an effort?

I'm looking forward to hearing the nominee's responses.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New York State Archives e-mail guidelines, part three

A few days ago, I noted that New York State Archives' new publication, Developing a Policy for Managing Email, had been released. At the time of my initial post, the PDF version of the publication that was on the State Archives site was a bare-bones version that lacked a cover page and other niceties.

Now, our parent agency's design personnel have created a new cover and layout for it. We still have to fix a few minor formatting quirks, but we've made the new version available via the Web.

To the best of my knowledge, Developing a Policy for Managing Email is the most attractive technical publication we've ever produced. Of course, its content would have be just as good if it were hand-written on scrap paper; I'm nonetheless happy that it's been packaged so nicely.

I'm particularly glad that my colleague Ann Marie, who spent months grappling with e-discovery, records scheduling and retention, information security, and other issues associated with e-mail management while writing this publication, got to choose the final cover design. She put a lot of thought and effort into this publication, which deserves an appealing design.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CBGB records

CBGB, the legendary New York City club that introduced the nation to punk, closed its doors for good in 2006. I never availed myself of the opportunity to see a show there: when I first started spending time in New York City, I was in grad school and too poor to go to clubs, and by the time I got out of grad school the Village Vanguard was more my style. However, friends and I were hanging out in the Bowery on one cold night in January 1997 and ended up in front of CBGB. We were all impoverished grad students (we were in the city because the American Historical Association was meeting there) and most of us disliked the band that was playing that night, so we ultimately decided not to go in. We nonetheless got just a bit of the CBGB experience: as we were standing on the street, debating whether we could or should cough up the cover charge, a young woman ran out of the club and threw up into the gutter. Classic.

After the club closed, its innards were pulled out and sent to various places: the bar went to some place in Connecticut, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took the iconic awning bearing the club's name, and the furniture and all kinds of other stuff was boxed up and taken to a self-storage unit in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; check out this disorienting panoramic view of the space.

The self-storage unit also serves as the offices of the new business operated by Louise Parnassa-Stanley, who served as the club's manager for 22 years:
There is grim commentary to be found in the fact that Ms. Parnassa-Staley — who once booked acts like Hatebreed and Cattle Decapitation — now makes business calls for CBGB Fashions, a clothing operation run from the storage unit that sells T-shirts, belt buckles, onesies for kids, even a CBGB dog vest for your poodle. That ghastliness is matched only by the news that the club’s former barman, Ger Burgman, son-in-law of the deceased owner, Hilly Kristal himself, is now the customer service representative for online accounts.

The commodification of rock is, of course, as old as feedback; still, the thought that CBGB, the cradle of punk, has, if not exactly sold out, then perhaps entered "a period where new opportunities are being explored," is enough to make you want to bang your head. The one saving grace in all this disillusionment is that the offices are at least punk rock. For one thing, they’re in a mini-storage unit. Beyond that, the desk where the orders come in is the old admission desk from the club.
I guess we all have to grow up and get day jobs. However, this article caught my eye not only because it made me painfully aware of my advancing age but also because the club's business records are among the things sitting in that Williamsburg self-storage space:
Among the opportunities being explored is what to do with the club’s vast trove of paperwork, now contained in several Rolling Rock and Budweiser boxes: set lists, guest lists, band contracts and numerous notebooks used for audition notes and in-house music reviews. It amounts to an archive on the New York scene from 1973 to roughly when the club shut down.

Someone, for instance, has written of the band Communiqué: "Idiots." And when Mindless Self Indulgence played the club, it was said: "Two coked-out moms. Two guys trying to get it on in the bathroom. And the police are here."
I hope that these records will ultimately end up in a repository. If they do, they won't be the first major archival collection to document the development of punk music and culture: Richard Hell, who has morphed into a novelist, film critic, and occasional book reviewer for the New York Times (some day jobs are cooler than others), sold his personal papers to New York University's Fales Library:
Given the ephemeral nature of downtown literature and punk rock, to say nothing of the lifestyles of the people who made it, Hell's archives are a marvel of accumulation. In his life Hell walked away from his Kentucky upbringing, his family name, his musical career and a drug habit. But if you sent him a letter, or if he started a poem, it probably found its way to a box or filing cabinet in his small, cluttered apartment, in a building where Allen Ginsberg once lived . . . .

In pristine surroundings, scholars will soon be able to pore over old set lists, posters, videotapes, audiotapes, drafts of lyrics, manuscripts and erotic drawings. The papers will be part of the library's extensive collection of documents from the downtown art scene of the 1970's and 1980's.
Judging from the container list, the Richard Hell Papers contain some really interesting stuff, including: journals, business records and other materials from small press imprints and journals that he started, records documenting his membership in the bands Television and the Voidoids, and materials relating to his roles in the films Blank Generation (named after the first album he and the Voidoids released) and Smithereens.

Fales Library paid Hell $50,000 for his papers, and its director, Marvin Taylor, anticipated that they would be used:
''Students at N.Y.U. come to us and they want to do papers on tattoos, graffiti and punk rock,'' Mr. Taylor said. ''They know that they can come in . . . [because] some crazy punk guy came and talked in their class.''
Some people might question whether records such as those created by CBGB warrant preservation; after all, Richard Hell is now a respected writer, but CBGB was always a drunken (among other things) and riotous place. However, CBGB's records do shed light upon a wide array of musical and (counter) cultural trends, and we archivists strive to document society in all of its complexity. Let's hope that Fales Library or some other repository takes them in.

Several years ago, I found a copy of Blank Generation in the bargain DVD bin at KMart. It's not a great film, but it's not a bad one, either.

"The war is still there"

We archivists are always telling funders and other stakeholders that archival records are of interest not only to genealogists and academics but also to a wide array of other people and that the information contained in some of our records may be life-saving.

Case in point: photographs and other records held by the Air Force Historical Research Agency, which is part of Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. An article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal highlights how its holdings enable German construction forms to locate, remove, and safely detonate unexploded ordinance:
During World War II, American planes dropped 1.5 million tons of bombs on Europe. Perhaps nine out of 10 exploded on impact.

In a library in Alabama, Dietmar Staude hunts for the 10th.

Mr. Staude, a German consultant, has perfected the art of using World War II air-raid records and aerial photographs to find unexploded bombs. It's a lucrative business designed to help German construction companies comply with laws requiring them to clear live ordnance before breaking ground . . . .

Over the years, Mr. Staude's work has uncovered, among other explosives, 21 live bombs on the site of a planned industrial park, a 500-pound bomb just 50 yards from a new water park and another weapon that landed and then tunneled 45 feet without exploding . . . .

Several German states require builders to conduct unexploded-ordnance surveys. Failure to carefully do so can prove deadly. In 1993, a crew building a retaining wall in Berlin hit the nose fuse on a British bomb, killing three people.

Although Staude does a lot of research at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, his work has also taken him to many other repositories in the United States and Europe:

One of Mr. Staude's projects has been going on for 14 years. On Aug. 16, 1944, B-17 heavy bombers from the 8th Air Force raided an oil refinery at Rositz, in eastern Germany. Half a century later, the state government decided it wanted to turn the site into an industrial park for environmental-technology companies.

Searching through document collections in Germany, England, Alabama and the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md., Mr. Staude pieced together a history of the raid.

He discovered photos, taken from a hot-air balloon in 1917 and printed on glass, that showed the refinery surrounded by farmland. He found an RAF reconnaissance photo taken in 1943, showing tar-storage tanks ill-concealed under camouflage netting. He found the briefing document used to guide the pilots to the most vital target buildings; on top it read, "Not to be taken into the air." He found photos showing 500-pound bombs tumbling through the air toward the complex that day in 1944, as well as pictures showing dark smoke, sprouting like a giant cauliflower from the burning factory . . . .

Five days after the raid, a Royal Air Force plane snapped clear pictures that showed the facility and nearby farms pocked by bomb craters. Most resembled moon craters, with a big hole in the middle surrounded by blast marks in the dirt.

One, in a field, showed a circular spray, but no large hole in the center. Mr. Staude concluded that the bomb had landed in soft dirt, splashing mud but failing to detonate.

Another showed a tiny mark alongside what appear to be bales of hay. He concluded that a bomb had punctured dry earth on that spot, but didn't explode. "This is a dud," [Mr. Staude] said, pointing to the spot on the photo.

Both bombs, he figured, were still buried on the site. Over the years, explosives experts have dug up 21 bombs, including one that penetrated about 20 feet into the soft ground, bounced off a subterranean gravel bed, traveled sideways 45 feet underground and finally came to rest six feet from the surface, pointed upward.

Staude cannot always travel to the Air Force Historical Research Agency to do research, so Archie DiFante, one of the archivists on staff, sends copies of photographs and maps to Germany upon request. Information supplied by DiFante helped Staude and his colleagues locate one of the two unexploded bombs at the Rositz site; it was buried adjacent to the site of a future water park, and the park's developers had already begun digging.

As DiFante, who has become a good friend of Staude's, points out: "We bombed the living daylights out of everything in Germany. The war is still there." However, thanks to archival records documenting the bombings and to the work of archivists such as DiFante, Mr. Staude and other researchers trying to track down unexploded bombs are helping to ensure that it doesn't claim any more lives.

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.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Living in a tank, diving in a tunnel

Last April, a friend and I were in Scranton, Pennsylvania for the Spring 2007 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference. After the meeting ended, we went on the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour. A retired miner shepherded our group into a mechanized mine car that took us approximately 300 feet below ground into a mine that had opened in the 1860s and been shut down over 100 years later. We then spent about half an hour walking through a modern section of the mine, which had electric lights and current safety equipment; it was nonetheless damp and dimly lit, and the air had a petrochemical smell that one could almost taste.

The tour emphasized the horrors of nineteenth-century mining life -- long hours, wretched pay, employment of boys not yet in their teens, omnipresent danger, utter indifference to worker safety and welfare on the part of managers and owners -- but it was abundantly plain that mining is still an incredibly demanding job. Throughout the tour, I kept thinking about my late uncle, a taciturn, gentle man who spent almost all of his working life as a coal miner and whose decades of exposure to coal dust hastened his death, and all of the other men on my mother's side of the family who worked in the mines of southern West Virginia.

After the tour ended and we were once again enjoying the warmth and sunshine above ground, my friend turned to me and said, "What a fascinatingly horrible job!" I knew exactly what she meant. Mining is physically and psychologically arduous, but people do it and become accustomed to it -- and the rest of us are thoroughly dependent upon the fruits of their labor. Miners (and others who perform other fascinatingly horrible jobs) make modern life possible. Even this little blog, which is brought to you via electricity (a little less than half of New York State's electric power is generated by coal-burning or nuclear power plants), metal wires, and computers with metal parts, wouldn't be possible without it.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have reliable and safe running water and sewage systems are also dependent upon people who do grueling work. The system of reservoirs and tunnels that supplies water to the five boroughs of New York City extends over one hundred miles to the north and west of the city, and maintaining and upgrading the system is a complicated and never-ending task.

One of the tunnels that forms part of this system -- the the Rondout-West Branch tunnel that moves water from the Catskills to the city -- has been leaking rather badly: according to the New York Times, the New York City Department of Environmental Preservation (NYC DEP) estimates that the tunnel loses an average of 20 million gallons a day and that on some days as much as 36 million gallons have been lost.
After tiptoeing around the problem for many years, and amid mounting complaints of flooded homes in the Ulster County hamlet of Wawarsing, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection has embarked on a five-year, $240 million project to prepare to fix the tunnel — which includes figuring out how to keep water flowing through New Yorkers’ faucets during the repairs. The most immediate tasks are to fix a valve at the bottom of a 700-foot shaft in Dutchess County so pumps will eventually be able to drain the tunnel, and to ensure that the tunnel does not crack or collapse while it is empty.
If the fixing of this valve isn't fascinatingly horrible work, I don't know what is:
. . . . The city has enlisted six deep-sea divers who are living for more than a month in a sealed 24-foot tubular pressurized tank complete with showers, a television and a Nerf basketball hoop, breathing air that is 97.5 percent helium and 2.5 percent oxygen, so their high-pitched squeals are all but unintelligible. They leave the tank only to transfer to a diving bell that is lowered 70 stories into the earth, where they work 12-hour shifts, with each man taking a four-hour turn hacking away at concrete to expose the valve.

. . . . Three divers at a time climb into the steel bell, an orb that is lowered down the shaft for 20 minutes to reach the pumping equipment in the tunnel. The bell is tethered to a bundle of cables carrying air, communication lines, electricity and water. Each diver works for four hours and rests underwater for eight before returning to the tank at the surface, where 32 more employees of Global Diving and Salvage, the Seattle company running the project, pass meals, clothes and books through an air lock.

. . . . The divers can request whatever food they like, including steak and fresh salads. But the air pressure in the tank dulls the taste buds, so they use a lot of Tabasco, salsa and jalapenos; bread goes flat, more pita than challah. Once the operation is complete, the divers must remain in the tank for a week to gradually wean themselves off helium.

“They lose a lot of weight because they’re burning so many calories,” said Robert Onesti, who is running the project for Global Diving. “It’s not for everybody. It’s heavy construction work, and it’s deep.”
According to Global Diving and Salvage, living in a pressurized tank for the duration of a project is actually better for the divers, who are less exposed to the threats associated with decompression. However, as the firm points out, it's also better for the company and for governments and corporations that contract with the firm: the divers spend less time acclimating to pressure changes and more time working, and they can work in shifts around the clock.

I wonder how many New Yorkers ever think, in any sort of serious way, about the source of their tap water, the complexity of the infrastructure that delivers it to them, and the human sacrifices that are needed in order to keep the system running. Of course, New York City isn't unique in this respect: running water is one of the everyday miracles of modern life, and all of us owe a debt to the people whose hard and unpleasant work makes it possible.

Owing to the sheer size and scope of the New York City water system, archival records documenting its development and maintenance are held by the New York City Municipal Archives, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP hired its own archivist/records manager several years ago, but I don't know if she's still with the department),
the New York State Archives, county, town and village clerks' offices throughout the region (the Ulster County Clerk's Office has created an online exhibit relating to the Ashokan Reservoir), and historical societies, college and university special collections departments, and other historical records repositories throughout the region. Here's hoping that someone develops a comprehensive guide to these widely dispersed holdings, that Global Diving and Salvage has a good records management program and is keeping records of enduring value, and that some enterprising oral historian interviews at least a few of those divers . . . .

Update, 28 November 2008: As I was preparing to send a link to this post to the friend who found mining to be a "fascinatingly horrible job," I noticed that I had forgotten to link to the article that inspired this post and from which all of the block quotes come. I've amended the body of this post so that a link to the article is incorporated, but for the record here's the full citation: Ken Belson, "Plumber's Job on a Giant's Scale: Fixing New York's Drinking Straw," New York Times, 22 November 2008, online edition.

This inadvertent and mortifying error is the end result of blogging while overly tired, which I'll try to avoid in the future; the "Save as Draft" feature in Blogger exists for a reason.

President Bush's e-records . . .

. . . are going to hit the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in just a few short weeks. According to a nicely fleshed-out Computerworld article:

. . . NARA received only a few hundred thousand e-mail messages from the first Bush presidency and 32 million from the Clinton White House. . . . In comparison, it expects a whopping 140TB of data from the current Bush administration, more than 50 times what it received from the Clinton years. About 20TB of that is e-mail . . . .

It hasn't helped that the Bush administration has been slow in providing NARA with needed information about the types and volume of data that will need to be archived. It wasn't until this summer that an intensive effort began to share information . . . .

Much of the discussion has centered on how the White House will provide records in a format that is reasonably easy to use, since some of the systems are highly proprietary.

Adding to the drama, questions have been raised about millions of missing e-mails from between March 2003 and October 2006. In early November, a lawsuit brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive was upheld, challenging the White House's failure to properly store and recover millions of emails. In 2002, the Executive Office of the President stopped using the Automated Records Management System that had been in place since 1994, which automatically backed up all e-mails, but failed to install any other backup program . . . .

The Bush records will constitute the first large-scale, real-world test of NARA's Electronic Records Archives (ERA) system, which is still under development; assuming that the project doesn't suffer any funding cuts or hit any unexpected snags, ERA should be completed in 2011.

The article points out that ERA has been criticized by the Government Accountability Office and by some people within the archival community because of cost overruns, project delays, and other concerns, but it also highlights how the less-than-ideal state of records management within the federal government makes it harder for NARA to gain intellectual control over and provide access to archival electronic records.

ERA project staff believe that ERA is up to the challenge, and I really do hope that they're right. I, for one, am very glad that no one is sending 140 TB of data to my repository within the next few weeks, and I'll be watching to see what happens come January . . . .

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Knife attacks a reaction to bad recordkeeping?

Yesterday morning, the former head of the pension division of Japan's Health and Welfare Ministry and his wife were found stabbed to death in their home. Yesterday evening, the wife of the former head of the nation's Social Insurance Agency was attacked by a knife-wielding stranger posing as a delivery man; she later stated that she believed that her husband, who was not home at the time, was the attacker's real target.

Although it is not certain that the two crimes are related, they may be linked to the "botched computerization of Japan's pension records" in the mid-1980s:
Millions of those records have since gone missing, outraging the elderly and contributing to the resignations of two prime ministers. The mess continues, and many Japanese fear they might not receive full pension benefits when they retire.
The murdered man and the man whose wife was attacked "are believed to have had influential roles in formulating the controversial pension policies."

Those of us who provide records management guidance to governments or who preserve and provide access to archival government records always emphasize the role of records in documenting and protecting citizens' rights to vote, own property, and receive benefits to which they are legally entitled. The scandal engulfing Japan's pension system exemplifies what can happen when governments aren't up to the task of creating or maintaining good recordkeeping systems: millions of records were lost in the transition from one system to another and were never properly recovered, and a Japanese government inquiry subsequently revealed that the nation's pension administrators have long been guilty of "sloppy" recordkeeping and other dubious practices.

Let's hope that the authorities quickly arrest the perpetrator(s) of these attacks -- and that Japan's pension administrators are able to clean up the appalling mess that they have created.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New York State Archives e-mail guidelines, part two

As I noted yesterday, the New York State Archives has just released Developing a Policy for Managing Email, which will guide state agencies and local governments seeking to create appropriate e-mail management programs.

Earlier today, I attended a staff meeting centering upon this new publication and learned that this publication is meant to augment, not replace, Managing E-mail Effectively, which the State Archives issued in 2002 [we were using "e-mail" back in the day].

I also realized that I forgot to note that Developing a Policy for Managing Email contains an appendix outlining all of the State and federal laws and regulations that affect the management of e-mail by New York State's local governments and State agencies:
  • New York State Arts and Cultural Affairs Law
  • Regulations of the Commissioner of Education
  • New York State Office of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination (CSCIC) Cyber Security Policy PO3‐002
  • Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
  • New York State Freedom of Information Law

Monday, November 17, 2008

New York State Archives e-mail guidelines

The Empire State Plaza, as seen from Albany's Lincoln Park, 17 August 2008. The New York State Archives occupies two upper floors of the Cultural Education Center, which is the low-slung inverted pyramid that serves as the plaza's southern "anchor."

The State Archives has formally released Developing a Policy for Managing Email.* This publication does not prescribe how local governments and State agencies should manage their e-mail; instead, it serves as "a starting point for State agencies and local governments," which should develop their own "policies and procedures" and revise them as circumstances change.

The executive summary outlines several principles and best practices that are discussed in greater detail in the body of the text:
  • Understand e-mail use, develop strategies that are selective, and focus resources where they are most needed.
  • Manage centrally, reducing reliance on the end user.
  • Manage electronically as much as possible, reducing reliance on users and manual management strategies.
  • Ensure cooperation, coordination, and support; that is, ensure the cooperation of all users of the e-mail system, the coordination of several key individuals throughout the organization, and management support.
  • Address any backlog by developing a strategy that is based on solid reasoning and a rational disposition strategy and that is documented in an e-mail management policy.
The guidelines discuss these principles and best practices in detail and go outline the core components that any viable e-mail policy must cover. They also provide three sample policies that illustrate how small local governments, medium-sized local governments, and State agencies might approach e-mail management.

Readers seeking one-size-fits-all solutions to the challenges of e-mail are going to be a bit disappointed, but, frankly, those solutions simply don't exist. There's no substitute for assessing one's own needs and capacities and developing a policy that addresses one's unique circumstances, and I think that these guidelines will be of interest to anyone seeking to develop an e-mail management policy.

My colleague Ann Marie did herculean labor putting together this publication, and it's great to see it up on the Web. Kudos, Ann Marie!

*The State Archives is using "email" in its publications and workshops, but I still prefer "e-mail." My stint in publishing left me with an abiding fondness for the Chicago Manual of Style, "e-mail" is Chicago style (at least at this point in time), and this is my blog. I've thus applied my own (admittedly informal) style sheet to this posting; however, for bibliographic reasons, I've left unchanged the actual title of the publication.

No e-mail, no BlackBerry for the President Elect

Barack Obama's BlackBerry has been his constant companion. He uses it to keep in touch with old friends, stay abreast of current events, and receive updates from his staff. Apparently, it's been instrumental in keeping him connected to the larger world and ensuring that his aides aren't filtering information in an overly aggressive manner.

Not any more:
. . . . Before he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign off. In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.
As the article makes plain, the most serious issues surrounding the President Elect's use of e-mail, even in a read-only manner, are related to security; the hacking of a Presidential e-mail account could have profoundly damaging repercussions. However, as the New York Times points out, there are records issues at stake. Let's hope that, in the event that the President Elect keeps his BlackBerry, he doesn't follow in the footsteps of White House staffers who sought to evade the Presidential Records Act and the Hatch Act by using non-governmental e-mail accounts to conduct government business--or in those of the governors of Alaska, Missouri (hat-tip: Angry Black Bitch), and New York State, all of whom adopted a similar approach to e-mail management.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hiroshima, serendipity, and the historical record

I've always been fascinated with the surprising ways in which paper-based records sometimes survive and come to light. Adam Harrison Levy has penned a compelling -- and hauntingly illustrated -- Design Observer piece (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan) about the complicated and serendipitous custodial history of photographs of Hiroshima produced by the Physical Damage Division of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey for the Pacific Theatre of the War.

The Strategic Bombing Survey was charged with assessing the destructive capacity of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its Physical Damage Division consisted of approximately 150 "engineers, ordnance experts, interpreters, photographers and draftsmen" from all branches of the armed forces. In late October and November 1945, the Physical Damage Division worked in Hiroshima, "tracing blast paths, calibrating bomb damage and analyzing the physical destruction of the city." They also took photographs documenting the bomb's effects upon the city's built environment. Some of these images appeared in a 1946 War Department report, but many others were never published.

The Physical Damage Division photographs are in many respects unique; as Levy points out, the U.S. government censored the news media in Japan, and as a result images documenting the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are relatively scarce. However, some of them turned up in an odd place. About eight years ago, a diner owner in suburban Boston took his dog for a walk and noticed a pile of trash sitting in front of a neighbor's house. He stopped to sift through the junk and opened up a battered suitcase sitting amongst the other garbage. It contained 701 photographic prints documenting the destruction of Hiroshima.

Haunted by the images, the diner owner kept them and ultimately came into contact with Levy. Together, they retraced the complicated custodial history of these images, which had been created or collected by one of the men assigned to the Physical Damage Division. The story of how these photographs were twice discarded and twice recovered and finally ended up in the custody of the International Center of Photography is nothing short of amazing.

The photographs themselves, some of which supplement Levy's article, are deeply unsettling:
Although the images taken by the Physical Damage Division don’t depict the human suffering of the atomic bomb they do provide a vital function. They say: this is what we, mankind, are capable of unleashing upon each other. Like ruins, they refer back into time (this is what we have done, are capable of doing) while simultaneously warning of a future we have not yet encountered (they give substance to our terror of the use of another nuclear weapon).
It is possible that these photographs are duplicates and that their interment in a landfill would not have done irreparable damage to the documentary record. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration holds photographic negatives and prints of at least some of the images taken by the Physical Damage Division; searching NARA's online catalog for "Physical Damage Division" will retrieve the appropriate catalog records. However, given that NARA has noted that there are gaps in the numbering scheme used to order the photographs, some of the images that Lt. Corsbie created or collected may well be unique.

However, I'm glad that the prints about which Levy writes have found a suitable home. NARA has yet to digitize its Physical Damage Division images (this is not a criticism -- NARA's resources are finite and its holdings are huge), and the existence of a duplicate set of these important images is a good thing.

At the same time, I'm a bit sad. In the decades to come, serendipitous finds of this sort are going to become increasingly rare: owing to the speed with which hardware and software become obsolete, it will likely be impossible to recover data from outmoded storage media tossed onto trash piles (or into recycling bins). Who knows what sort of imperceptible but very real losses the historical record will suffer as a result?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"A Profitable Graveyard"

One of the things that I really don't like about working with electronic records is the speed with which hardware and storage media become obsolete. Even if we receive or convert records to some sort of non-proprietary file format (i.e., a format for which the source code is freely available, thus enabling third parties to create software that can create and save files in the format), we still have to ensure that the records are copied onto new storage media while hardware that can access older media is still operational. Even if data on older media is intact and uncorrupted, it will eventually become difficult or impossible to find hardware and software that can access it. (I know for a fact that 20 year-old open-reel data tapes can contain data that has survived quite well . . . and that getting one of the handful of firms that still has a functioning open-reel tape drive to retrieve the data and place it onto newer media is not cheap.)

However, my dislike of obsolescence isn't limited to the myriad preservation and financial problems that it poses. The ever-increasing stream of waste generated by our new digital age is also gives me pause: computers, monitors, cell phones, tapes and discs, and the like have short lifespans. They contain not only precious metals (silver, gold, platinum) but also toxic heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury) and a witches' brew of other chemicals (e.g., flame retardants). With disturbing frequency, this e-waste is sent to developing nations and disassembled by workers lacking sufficient training or safety gear. Lax environmental regulations all but guarantee the contamination of soil, groundwater, and air.

There are responsible e-waste processors out there, and an article in yesterday's New York Times profiles a firm that seems to be doing the right thing: e-Scrap Destruction of Islandia, N.Y. shreds incoming e-waste -- thus ensuring that data can't be recovered from hard drives, memory chips, etc. -- and sends it to a Canadian refinery that pulverizes it into its base components (e.g., silver, gold, copper) and sells the components to manufacturers that produce new products. e-Scrap Destruction promises that none of the e-waste it processes will end up in landfills, and periodically checks to ensure that all of the firms with which it does business adhere to a no-landfill policy. e-Scrap is earning a tidy profit serving as undertaker to the "digitally deceased," and it expects to add employees as the move to digital television takes effect next year.

I still have profound reservations about the digital era's propensity for generating e-detritus. However, I'm glad that there are responsible e-waste processors out there, and I hope that their numbers grow -- and soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day

Veterans Day initially commemorated the end of what was initially known as the Great War, which began with the assassination an archduke and gave birth to the twentieth century. Ninety years later, only a handful of veterans of the war remain alive.

The last living American veteran, Frank Woodruff Buckles, lied about his age in order to join the Army and served as an ambulance driver in France. At the age of 107, he still lives on his family's farm and grants periodic media interviews. The Library of Congress has preserved and made available online an oral history interview with Buckles (supplemented with digitized archival materials) that is included in its Veterans History Project.

Buckles, who took part in a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, is also, according to CNN, the "symbolic leader" of a movement to build a national memorial in Washington, D.C. honoring the service of veterans of the First World War and to fix up the city's existing memorial.

The First World War really has slipped from public view. I suspect that part of the reason is that it lacks the compelling moral narrative that guides the Allied nations' memories of the Second World War. There were no sharp ideological differences separating the combatants of the First World War, which nonetheless sent millions upon millions of their men into the meat grinder. One historian (whose name I forget) asserted that no one won the First World War: the war itself won, and everyone involved in it lost.

However, the First World War gave us the Bolshevik Revolution, an unstable and humiliated Germany, a United States wielding significant military and economic power, and myriad other economic, political, and cultural shifts that continue to shape our lives. We should pay more attention to it. Listening to the interview of Frank Buckles --or one of the 301 other First World War veterans who were interviewed for the Veterans History Project -- is a good way to start.

Monday, November 10, 2008

NYLA: Meet the Bloggers

The second New York Library Association session (other than my own) that I attended on November 7 was a superb panel on blogging. As you might imagine, it piqued my interest . . . .

I missed the first few minutes of Ken Fujiuchi’s great presentation. Fujiuchi, who works at Buffalo State College, is responsible for maintaining his employers’ blog and that of a professional association to which he belongs, and as a result his personal blog has suffered; teaching others how to use Blogger, the Google-owned free blogging service (which powers this blog), has also dulled his appetite for traditional blogging. However, he does use Twitter to microblog via his cell phone, and showed the audience how he had Twittered another NYLA session by devoting one post to each PowerPoint slide that the audience viewed. (Several people in the audience were doing the same thing during the Meet the Bloggers session!)

Fujiuchi then discussed a variety of social networking tools that could be used in a library context:
  • Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters per post, is an excellent way to disseminate news or provide real-time updates on an event, enables users to “follow” others’ posts without the degree of familiarity and amity associated with “friending” someone on Facebook, and makes it possible to use social networking tools without devoting a lot of time to it. Twitter works best once an individual identifies one other user, starts following the users’ posts, and then starts following the posts of the other users’ friends. Twitter is being used by Congress and the White House, and
  • FriendFeed, which allows users to follow discussions taking place on a variety of social networking services
  • TwitterFeed, which enables people to feed their blog posts to Twitter via RSS.
  • Flock, which allows people to search Twitter, Facebook, etc., at the same time.
Some of these tools really are fascinating, and I really appreciate Fujiuchi’s succinct and helpful introduction to them. I also want to see what other librarians and archivists make of them, and I can see myself using these tools under certain circumstances. However, I don’t think I’m going to be a heavy user of most of them. Although I understand that Twitter has real value -- not only as a means of providing real-time information about unfolding events but also as a way of capturing the patterns and textures of people’s lives -- I kept thinking that I really don’t want to be so connected to other people. I don’t carry my cell phone with me most of the time or log into Facebook every day, and I don’t want to contend with tweets (individual Twitter posts) all the time; I already feel a bit besieged by the constant flow of information that demands my attention, and the thought of enlarging the stream doesn’t thrill me.

Moreover, I worry about the broader social impact of these tools. For highly verbal people who are as comfortable reading and writing lengthy synthetic and analytical pieces as they are dashing off quick notes and pithy observations (i.e., librarians and other knowledge workers), these tools will become yet another means of sustaining relationships and sharing factual tidbits. However, I do worry about their impact upon the grade schoolers who are growing up with them. These kids will experience of reading and learning quite differently than their predecessors, and by the time they hit high school they’ll likely have less experience at following a sustained narrative or argument and less of the patience needed to do so.

The next presenter, Jill Hurst-Wahl of Hurst Associates Ltd., discussed how her blog, which began in 2004 as a means of publicizing her consulting work, enables her to bring together her many professional interests and roles: librarian, entrepreneur, business owner, generalist, and technology lover (but not a bleeding-edge enthusiast).

Hurst-Wahl’s consulting originally centered on competitive intelligence (a career option that Patti McCall discussed during the “What Else Can You Do With a Library Degree?” session earlier that day). As she branched out into project planning, workshops, and other aspects of digitization, she needed to expand her marketing efforts. She wanted to talk to possible clients and convey her expertise without having to do it face-to-face, and blogging was an excellent means of doing so.

Hurst-Wahl’s first blog, Digitization 101, was launched in 2004. She committed to blogging daily (30-60 minutes) and to filling a clearly defined niche. Hurst-Wahl uses her blog to disseminate information that she finds interesting and useful, and seeks creative ways to talk about digitization (e.g., one post began with a discussion of how the uniform size of the tiles in her newly remodeled kitchen underscores the need for standards). She refers people who have digitization questions to her blog, uses the blog to ask questions of her readers, and makes it a point to promote her blog to others.

Hurst-Wahl has also established a clear set of rules for her blog: she will not use it as a soapbox, a place to talk about her personal life, or as a vehicle for venting negative feelings. She has occasionally broken these rules, but not without good reason or careful evaluation.

Digitization 101 has enabled potential clients, vendors, and associates to become familiar with Hurst-Wahl’s expertise and track record, and its prominence has ensured that Hurst-Wahl is among the first to receive honest information about various products and services. However, the blog has also resulted in loss of anonymity: she’s been recognized in public places. She sometimes receives unsolicited materials – which is sometimes good, and sometimes bad.

Since starting Digitization 101, Hurst-Wahl’s online presence has expanded to include blogging for the Special Libraries Association, a second professional blog (eNetworking 101), and heavy use of Twitter, FriendFeed, and other social networking tools.

Hurst-Wahl concluded with a series of great recommendations for audience members interested in starting their own blogs:
  • Read blogs, talk to bloggers, and experiment
  • Start your professional blog
  • Focus on a niche
  • Make a commitment to posting timely, original and/or rich content -- and honor your commitment
  • Push the envelope
  • Include images, photos, and video in your blog
  • Market, market, market your blog
  • Use other social media
Hurst-Wahl’s presentation (which is available online) made me devote a lot of thought to this blog and what I hope to accomplish with it, but I’m going to reserve the bulk of my comments for a separate post; this one is approaching a Russian novel in length. Suffice it to say that several of my colleagues told me in advance that getting to see and meet Jill Hurst-Wahl would be a treat, and they were right.

The last panelist, David Rothman of Community General Hospital in Syracuse, highlighted how his blog,, has opened professional doors: thanks to his blogging, he has received invitations to write for professional journals, become the co-author of a forthcoming book, was asked to be the plenary speaker at the Medical Libraries Association, and was invited to teach an American Medical Association workshop.

Blogging motivates Rothman to keep learning and trying new things, gives him a sense of community and contact with like-minded others, and enables him to “think aloud” and track his progress on various projects.

Rothman seconded Hurst-Wahl’s emphasis upon the importance of focus: as long as you focus on a discrete topic and identify your audience, people will come. He also concurred that it’s best to keep one’s professional blog focused on professional matters; it’s okay to “be human” and discuss personal circumstances that affect one’s ability to blog, but it’s generally best to reserve personal posts for a separate personal blog.

He also emphasized the need to keep employers apprised of one’s activities: he received approval from his employer’s Chief Information Officer, Director of Corporate Communications, and Vice President of Medical Affairs before starting his blog, and he’s taken care to inform their successors of his activities. His blog also incorporates a disclaimer stating that his views aren’t necessarily those of his employer. Keeping administrators in the loop has actually been a very positive thing: the hospital’s CIO has also started blogging (using a template that Rothman created) and was delighted to learn that local reporters were reading his blog.

Rothman ended his presentation (also available online) by offering his own first-rate suggestions for prospective bloggers, many of which harmonize nicely with those put forth by Hurst-Wahl:
  • Clarify to yourself and your readers the focus of your blog, and deviate only rarely
  • Try to save your readers time, money, or hassle
  • Remember that content is everything
  • Choose your blog’s name and/or domain carefully
  • Make sure you post regularly -- at least once a week
Rothman's presentation also gave me a lot to think about re: this blog. Again, I’m going to outline them in a separate post. It’s getting late, my hands are tired, and your eyes could probably use a rest, too.

NYLA: What Else Can You Do with a Library Degree?

I attended the New York Library Association conference on November 7 because a couple of colleagues and I did a morning session on preserving State government information found online (which I’ll blog about later). I stayed around for the afternoon sessions, and I’m glad I did.

“What Else Can You Do with a Library Degree?” brought together four librarians who now work outside of public and academic settings:
  • Patti McCall is a librarian employed by a chemical and pharmaceutical research firm.
  • Polly-Aida Farrington does technology training, project management, and Web site consulting.
  • Jane Oliver is a grant writer.
  • Rebecca Rich-Wulfmeyer was until recently the librarian/archivist at a museum.

After the four panelists introduced themselves, they took questions from the audience. The ensuing discussion was really wide-ranging, resists easy summary, and contained lots of good information and advice. In lieu of adding my own commentary (apart from noting that all of the advice the panelists dispensed was exceptionally good), I'll simply recap:

Grant-writing coursework: Joan Oliver recommended the Grantsmanship Center, which offers weeklong courses throughout the country, and the Foundation Center in New York City. She also indicated that anyone interested in the field should start reading the Chronicle of Philanthropy and look at GuideStar, an online service that allows you to see philanthropies’ financial data. (Rebecca Rich-Wulfmeyer noted that GuideStar is also a good resource for researching prospective non-profit employers.)

Making the transition to being self-employed: Polly Farrington took advantage of a retirement buyout and thus had a year’s salary and three years of benefits, but now purchases insurance through a small business association. Joan Oliver, who gets insurance via her local Chamber of Commerce, was laid off and realized that her experience administering grant projects gave her the insight needed to write grant applications. Polly Farrington initially saw contract work as something to do while she searched for a “real job,” but eventually realized that she was doing well on her own.

Marketing one’s services: When Joan Oliver began seeking contract work as a grants writer, she sent out letters outlining her grant-writing experience to entities throughout the country -- the only marketing work she’s ever gone. Polly Farrington, who sent out an initial message to friends and colleagues indicating that she was seeking short-term work, uses Flickr, Facebook, other social networking tools, and her blog to market herself and occasionally contacts people who are doing projects that interest her. However, both of them get work largely through word of mouth.

Whether academic librarians need a second master’s degree: Patti McCall felt that having a second master’s degree in history worked to her advantage when she was seeking an academic library job, but didn’t see it as a requirement. Polly Farrington, who had also worked in an academic library, did not have a second master’s degree. Both of them encouraged audience members to respond to job ads even if their qualifications didn’t perfectly match those outlined in the ads; not submitting a resume is the only sure-fire way not to get hired.

Learning the technical jargon needed to work in a special library: Patti McCall indicated that most of the reference requests she received actually concerned medical issues (her employer does a substantial amount of pharmaceutical research) but learned chemical terminology by asking chemists, attending the chemistry librarians’ meeting at the Special Libraries Association meeting, and attending chemists’ professional meetings.

Whether it’s better for new graduates to keep pursuing unpaid internships or take less-than-desirable (or non-library) first jobs: Patti McCall indicated that graduates who can continue working as an intern ought to do so, but most people need to eat. Rebecca Rich-Wulfmeyer said that it ought to be possible to work at a job that pays the bills and volunteer or intern in one’s spare time. McCall and Polly Farrington also emphasized the importance of developing a functionally oriented resume that highlights how skills learned in one field (e.g., customer-service skills developed in the retail world) apply to library work; a functionally oriented resume can also smooth the transition from librarianship to another field.

Finding volunteer opportunities: In response to audience members who had been rebuffed when they sought volunteer work, Patti McCall stated that working with volunteers does take staff time, that other opportunities are out there, and that joining a professional association would probably be helpful. Rebecca Rich-Wulfmeyer noted that at most libraries, someone is in charge of volunteers and interns and that identifying this person might take a little effort. Polly Farrington suggested looking outside of libraries; it might be possible to do library-type work for, e.g., a theater company -- and to get good experience and a good reference as a result of this work. A member of the audience commented that he was initially rebuffed by a non-profit when he sought to do volunteer work, but the non-profit was willing to have him do a for-credit independent study; he ended up paying the organization to work for it, but got good experience doing it.

Getting an archival position: In response to a question from a student who specialized in archives and records management while in graduate school but couldn’t find a professional archival position, Rebecca Rich-Wulfmeyer stated that there are relatively few archival jobs (and even fewer curatorial positions) and that it might not be possible to secure one’s dream job right out of school. Moving into archives will likely require a substantial amount of practical experience, which can be obtained by volunteering, interning, taking archival continuing education courses, and joining professional associations.

Records management and competitive research: Patti McCall, whose own graduate coursework focused on archives and records management and worked as a municipal government records manager before taking an academic library position, noted that RM and competitive research are also open to librarians (who can learn more about RM by taking New York State Archives workshops). She is currently responsible for doing RM work at her firm because she made it a point to emphasize its legal and practical importance to her employer, and her RM activities will ultimately feed into her employer’s development of an enterprise content management system. She also does some competitive research (i.e., examines the status and activities of her employers’ competitors), which is is frequently done by librarians. She’s adding value to the firm, and getting to know more people within it.

Joining professional associations: all four panelists repeatedly emphasized the importance of becoming active in professional associations, which provide opportunities for networking, taking continuing education courses, and moving into new areas of specialization. Patti McCall emphasized that, in her experience, new graduates who were actively involved in professional associations were much more likely to find jobs than those who weren’t. Rebecca Rich-Wulfmeyer noted that her involvement in archival professional groups helped her to make the transition from being a public librarian and a children’s librarian to being an archivist and special librarian and can help one avoid being "pigeonholed" within the library/archival world.

Blogs and e-portfolios: Polly Farrington stated that anyone seeking a job that requires maintenance of a blog or other social networking resource must be able to demonstrate that s/he has the skills needed to do so; maintaining a blog, etc., is a must. Rebecca Rich-Wulfmeyer maintains a password-protected Word Press blog with an e-portfolio that contains sample work and scanned letters of recommendation, and includes the URL and password when writing thank-you notes following job interviews.

Web development courses: Polly Farrington suggested taking NYLA workshops and joining the International Webmasters Association/HTML Writers Guild, which offers courses that will develop key skills and offers discounts to its members.

Library Science courses: when asked which courses they could take if they were currently enrolled in an MLS/MIS program, the panelists mentioned courses in government documents, management, research, any kind of computer-related topic, and metadata.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

All this personal stuff

I realize that the archivally/professionally oriented postings have been a bit light lately, and I plan to remedy the situation soon. I'll be at the New York Library Association meeting on Friday, and will post about it on Friday evening or some time over the weekend. Plus, when I get the chance I'll draft and post what I hope will be a really good archives-in-pop-culture piece centering upon a novel.

If the personal and political posts aren't your cup of tea, please know that I've had doubts about posting some of them. However, I keep going back to the words of my esteemed colleague, The Anarchivist: "We are archivists. We must live documented lives."

Proposition 8

Today is, for me, profoundly bittersweet: we have a new President whose victory I've wanted for some time, and tens of thousands of Californians have found out that their marriages might be invalidated. California's Proposition 8, which sought to overturn the California Supreme Court's recent ruling giving gay people the same marriage rights as straight people, passed by a relatively narrow margin. The passage of Proposition 8 marks the first time that voters have actually stripped gay people of marriage rights, as opposed to barring them from marrying in the first place -- which the good people of Arizona and Florida did yesterday.

I know several people whose marriages may ultimately be rendered null and void, and my heart goes out to them. It's depressing and frightening to be reminded that so many of your fellow citizens see you as unworthy of the everyday rights and responsibilities that they unthinkingly enjoy.

At the same time, I know that the world won't come to an end. My friends will all remain married in the most meaningful sense of the term; one of them told me this summer that he and his partner saw their wedding ceremony as merely formalizing the commitments they had actually made to each other thirteen years ago. Tens of thousands of other people will go on loving each other, raising their children, and generally living their lives even if their marriage licenses become mere pieces of paper. They'll also keep educating their friends and neighbors about the impact of Proposition 8 on their lives and families (thus generating all kinds of materials -- and prompting creation of all kinds of materials opposing same-sex marriage -- that likely warrant long-term preservation).

If you have to feel deeply sorry for anyone, think about the Arkansas children who may be denied the chance to live in loving homes because the voters just passed a measure barring unmarried couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents; proponents of this measure freely admitted that they were motivated chiefly by anti-gay sentiment.

Disheartening as these losses are, I have to believe that history is on our side. CNN's exit polls (hat tip to Box Turtle Bulletin by way of Andrew Sullivan) indicate that 61 percent of voters aged 18-29 opposed Proposition 8, which is consistent with other polls concerning attitudes toward same-sex marriage, and public policy generally trails public opinion. However, it's not just a matter of demographics. Freedom and equality will ultimately win out. It won't happen without sacrifice or struggle -- as countless abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights activists, feminists, and others would testify -- but it will happen. Within my parents' lifetimes, millions of African-Americans were deliberately and systematically denied the franchise. Last night, an African-American man became President Elect of this nation. The guy has his own has his own issues with same-sex marriage, but he casually and comfortably acknowledges our existence in a way that neither his opponent nor the current President ever has.

Just remember: as Andrew Sullivan points out (how on earth did I miss it?), an initiative that might have jeopardized marriage equality was on the ballot in Connecticut, which will allow same-sex marriage as of November 12. The voters deep-sixed it.

About that car magnet . . . .

Journalists are starting to point to Hildebrand Tewes Consulting, the low-key firm that ran Barack Obama's phenomenally effective campaign, as one of last night's unsung victors. I wholeheartedly agree that the campaign was first-rate and that it seemed, from the outside at least, to have been refreshingly devoid of egotism, conflict, and chaos (unlike, apparently, that of New York State's junior senator).

However, there is the small matter of my car magnet. I gave $15.00 to the campaign in September (my first-ever donation to a political campaign), I was promised a car magnet. When I gave another $15.00 to the campaign during the following month, I was again promised a car magnet. I waited and waited, and my car magnet finally arrived in the mail on October 27.

When I got home from work today, another car magnet was waiting in my mailbox. Not exactly a display of fearsome efficiency.

I don't blame Hildebrand Tewes, which no doubt farmed out the car magnet operation to a third party, and I wonder whether the unprecedented number of donations the campaign received this fall caused problems: maybe they ran out of car magnets, or maybe folks living in battleground states got pushed to the head of the car magnet line while everyone living in safe states (New York State was called about one minute after its polls closed) waited.

Hey, at least I've got a pristine magnet with its original envelope. Given the market in political ephemera, I'm planning to hang onto it for a decade or two.

The day after

The election was called a lot more quickly than I initially anticipated. As of yesterday afternoon, I expected that I would be up half the night. However, I started suspecting that things were going my guy's way when the networks started calling Ohio for him. My home state has bitterly disappointed me during the past couple of election cycles, and I was fully prepared for another round of woe. I was rather pleasantly surprised.

I was so keyed up that I couldn't sleep, so I watched McCain's concession speech at the beautiful Arizona Biltmore, which was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (and which I saw when I was in Phoenix for a PeDALS meeting in January). It was probably the best speech of his campaign--smart, dignified, and funny. It probably reminded a lot of people of why they liked him.

I also watched the Obama rally in Chicago's Grant Park (which I strolled through en route to the Shedd Aquarium when I was at SAA's 2007 annual meeting). The restrained and gracious tone of Obama's speech and the event itself was striking. The campaign could have put on a raucous celebration, and it went for something more satisfying. It was obvious that many people in the audience were in tears, and I have to confess I choked up a bit when I started thinking of the broader significance of his victory.

A story: several years before I was born, my parents took an automobile journey through Virginia's Shenendoah Valley and into what must have been Prince Edward County (my father never mentioned the county by name, but I did a little research). They stopped to get gas at one point, and my dad got out of the car and started chatting with the owner of the gas station, who was white. When my dad commented on the fact that all of the school buses he had seen on the roads were those of "academies," not public schools, the gas station owner told him that the county had shut down all of the public schools because it didn't want to comply with federal desegregation orders and that all of the white children now went to "academies" that used former public school buildings and buses. When my father asked where the county's African-American children went to school, the gas station owner told him that most of them didn't go to school at all. In response to the stunned look on my father's face, the gas station owner said that he had grown up in the North and that he thought that his white neighbors' actions were appalling but that his opinions counted for little in his community.

Approximately forty-five years later, Prince Edward County went for Obama. President-elect Obama's victory shouldn't be taken as a sign that we've finished forming a more perfect union, but we've made some progress. Let's savor the moment, then get back to work.

UPDATE, 19 November 2008: A few days ago, my father, who periodically reads this blog, e-mailed me and let me know that I was a bit fuzzy about more than a few of the details of the Virginia car trip he and my mother took:

. . . Our experience did not occur in Prince Edward County but at a motel in Front Royal which is located in Warren County. I believe that school districts in Virginia operate on a county basis (as in West Virginia). We saw about 3 buses that had "John S. Mosby Academy" plus a huge Confederate flag painted on each side and the rear. I presume that you know that Mosby was a Conferate Army officer who operated primarily behind Union lines in Virginia. Per a court order, the academy was forbidden to use school buildings, so classes were held in the local churches (that was real Christian action on their part). I don't remember discussing ownership of the buses. The motel owner asked me to abstain from mentioning his views on integration to the locals. I read a book entitled "They Closed Their Schools" re: Prince Edward County, Virginia. As I recall, not all blacks were in favor of integration and not all whites favored segregration.

I thank my father for the corrections and curse my own frail memory. Warren County went for John McCain in the recent election, but I certainly don't think that most McCain supporters were motivated by bigotry -- or that Barack Obama would have gotten 43% of the vote in Warren County had he run for office in the 1950s or 1960s.

My father is absolutely right that not every white person in Warren County thought that the closing down of the public schools was right or proper, and some of them were less reluctant to make their feelings known: the Library of Virginia has digitized many records relating to the integration of Virginia's schools, including several letters to Governor James Lindsay Almond and other officials urging that Warren County's public schools be re-opened.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Doing my civic duty

I went to the polls at around 6:00 PM tonight, and was happy to find a long line of people waiting to cast their votes. I usually vote at around 7:30 or 8:00 PM (polls close in New York State at 9:00 PM), and I'm typically the 170th-190th person in my election district to cast a ballot. This year, I was the 389th person, and the 400th person showed up around ten minutes after I got there. During slow periods, the poll workers would look up from their forms, survey the lines, and grin from ear to ear.

Everyone (with the exception of the impatient couple behind me) seemed to be in a really good mood. I always enjoy seeing parents bring their kids into the voting booth with them, but tonight there were a lot more kids than usual; most of my neighbors are African-American, and it was pretty evident that parents wanted their children to see history being made.

There were also a lot of first-time voters, which definitely slowed down the line a bit: the poll workers had to give people a crash course in using New York State's old-school lever machines. There were also a couple of people who apparently imbibed a little Election Day cheer before casting their ballots, and they might have taken a little longer than they might have otherwise.

Right now, I'm just glad that I was able to vote and that many, many other Americans have gotten the same opportunity; there have been some dismaying stories about machine breakdowns, the conduct of local officials, and other problems, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule. Now that the polls are closing in a number of states, I'm going to start watching as the returns come in . . . .