Thursday, December 31, 2009

A little end-of-year electronic records housekeeping . . . .

Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller and First Lady Margaretta "Happy" Rockefeller with guests on New Year's Eve, 31 December 1970. At noon on this day, Governor Rockefeller was sworn in as governor for the fourth and final time. New York (State). Governor. Public information photographs, 1910-1992. Series 13703-83, Box 3, Number 4408_23. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.

I'm planning to devote part of the long weekend to tackling some long-neglected domestic chores, and I'm going to start by tidying up some loose ends on this blog. Owing to a combination of time pressures and a slow-to-heal (but steadily improving) injury, I let a few significant electronic records developments slide by without comments. All of them will remain relevant in 2010, so this is a good time to draw attention to them.
  • In October, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled (Lake v. City of Phoenix) "that if a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, then the electronic version, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure under [the state's] public records laws." This ruling may seem a bit obvious to any archivist or records manager, but it's actually quite significant: earlier this month, an attorney who works for New York State's Committee on Open Government noted that, until now, neither case law nor legislation has really specified whether metadata is covered by state and federal freedom of information laws. As a result, Washington State's Supreme Court, which is set to hear a similar case, and courts in other jurisdictions will likely devote a lot of attention to this ruling. If you're curious about some of the potential implications of this ruling, check out what Ars Technica and Inside Counsel have to say about it.
  • Since 2003, ARMA and Cohasset Associates (and, sometimes, AIIM) have conducted annual surveys of electronic records management practices. The results of the 2009 survey were released in October, and as you might expect, the results are a mix of good and bad -- very bad -- news: organizations are starting to take action to correct their electronic records and information management problems, but most of them still have a long, long way to go before all of their problems are solved. Moreover, today's electronic records and information management shortcomings are so severe that they may well "jeopardize the future reliability, availability, and trustworthiness of many records. " If you want to figure out how your organization's policies and practices compare to those of others or have any sort of interest in electronic records management, the report (executive summary here, full text here) is an interesting, sobering read.
  • AIIM regularly offers free Webinars focusing on records, content, and business process management, and archived Webinars are available via its Web site; registration is required. Recently archived Webinars focus on the current state of electronic records management, determining responsibility for records/content management, managing government content in the cloud, and other topics relating to electronic records management. If you're finding it harder and harder to get permission to travel to conferences or training sessions or simply want to keep pace with new developments, you might want to check out these Webinars.
  • The New York State Historical Records Advisory Board recently launched a new Web resource, 9/11 Memory and History, that is designed to help survivors and people who lost friends or family on 11 September 2001 preserve photos or letters, drawings or paintings, scrapbooks, sound or video recordings, computer files or digital images, articles of clothing, or other objects. In addition to text-based instructions, the site also includes a number of short videos. Hofstra University archivist Geri Solomon and family member Margie Miller's discussion of what to save and how to save, and staff from the New York State Archives discuss other preservation-related concerns: Director of Operations Kathleen Roe talks about donating materials to a repository, Paper Conservator Sue Bove details how to care for photographs, drawings, and newspapers, and Electronic Records Archivist Bonita Weddle (i.e., Yours Truly) discusses preservation of digital files. Although this site is really targeted to the 9/11 community, other people interested in preserving family history materials and other personal materials should also find it useful.
  • Andrew Sniderman has written a reflective, thought-provoking piece about the psychic cost of GMail and other services that unwittingly lead users to document their lives more fully than ever before: digital archives of e-mails, texts, etc., may make it harder for users to deceive themselves about their motives and actions, but they also make it easier for them to fixate on old wounds and regrets. An ever-growing number of people will no doubt agree with Sniderman's assertion that "preservation gives the past more weight than it sometimes deserves," and many professional archivists will no doubt regard their own personal digital archives with at least some ambivalence. However, as Cal Lee pointed out at SAA earlier this year, archivists are ethically obligated to furnish guidance to people who are struggling to care for their personal digital records, so we really should start thinking about what we'll say to friends, relatives, prospective donors, and others who come to us for help.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Carol: crowdsourcing analysis of the mss.

Christmas tree being cut down at Cherry Plain, New York, for President Roosevelt and Governor Lehman, December 1934. 57L275REF. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.

A little while ago, the New York Times worked with the Morgan Library and Museum, which owns the original manuscript copy of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, to digitize the manuscript and invited its readers to identify the changes Dickens made while writing and revising it. Over 100 Times readers rose to the challenge, and their findings are featured today. The most interesting finding concerns Tiny Tim's name . . . .

Lots of repositories have manuscripts or records that would lend themselves to this sort of crowdsourcing analysis. However, right now we should probably focus on our families and friends. Whatever you're celebrating or not celebrating, I hope that you're with people you love and that you're having a great time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reading Archives reading group

Kate T. at ArchivesNext is a font of superb ideas about archival use of Web 2.0 technology, and her latest initiative is an online "group read" of Rand Jimerson's Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice. Kate's started a new blog, Reading Archives Power, that will serve as the vehicle for the group's discussion, and so far approximately 35 people -- a multinational mixture of new graduates and seasoned professionals -- have publicly expressed interest in participating. Rand Jimerson will also participate, so the discussion ought to be really stimulating.

There is no formal signup for the group, but if you are interested -- and I hope you are -- you will need to obtain a copy of Archives Power and start reading it before the discussion begins on 11 January 2010. (Tip from Kate T.: the Society of American Archivists bookstore is charging a lot less than Amazon and other retailers.) Although it's not absolutely necessary, you should also consider introducing yourself to the other members of the group and reviewing Kate's proposed discussion schedule.

I'm really looking forward to this discussion, and I hope to see you over at Reading Archives Power.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bush White House e-mail settlement

News that 22 million lost e-mail messages sent or received by the Bush White House have been recovered and that the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have settled their 2007 lawsuit against the Executive Office of the President (EOP) has been all over the media for the past couple of days.

A lot of the media coverage is focusing on a couple of items in the settlement document. First, for reasons of cost, the White House will focus on recovering e-mails sent or received on select days, not every "missing" e-mail that the Bush White House created. Second, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will take custody of the e-mails and manage them in accordance with the Presidential Records Act, which means that the e-mails won't be disclosed to researchers for years.

However, a quick review of the settlement document itself reveals that, with a handful of exceptions, the media isn't calling attention to a provision that ought to interest anyone who wants to know how the White House does business or how EOP manages its electronic records:
4. Description of Current EOP System: Defendants [EOP and NARA] will provide Plaintiffs [NSA and CREW] with a publicly releasable letter describing in as much detail as possible the current EOP computer system, including its email archiving and backup systems. This document will include a detailed description of the controls in the system that prevent the unauthorized deletion of records.

a. Prior to sending the letter, Defendants will review with Plaintiffs draft(s) of the letter and the Parties will agree upon a final version.

b. Defendants recognize that Plaintiffs intend to release the letter publicly, and Defendants do not object to such a release.

c. Defendants will produce this letter by January 15, 2010.
Although I'm sorry that the EOP and NARA personnel charged with producing this document will likely have to curtail their holiday breaks, I'm looking forward to the end result. It should make for interesting reading.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And you thought government records were boring . . . .

Government archives sometimes get a bad rap: a lot of people are under the impression that they're stuffed full of old policy documents and other legally necessary but deadly dull stuff, and even archivists who work in other settings sometimes think that government records are pretty dry.

I could go into my standard spiel about how government records document the rights of citizens to hold property, receive benefits that they have earned, and participate in civic life and how government archives promote government transparency and accountability. I could also go on about how government archives attract not only academic historians and genealogists but also biologists, engineers, historic preservationists, linguists, epidemiologists, attorneys, documentary filmmakers, and all sorts of other users. All of these things are true.

However, one of the things I most like about working in government archives is that even the most humdrum-seeming of records series can contain the unexpected. Seven or eight years ago, several colleagues and I were moving a very large and red rot-plagued series of 19th century financial records and discovered that the series included a little volume bearing a crudely inked title: "No-Good Lawyers." It was a listing of Victorian-era attorneys who had, in various ways, run afoul of the New York State Banking Department -- and a welcome little diversion from a laborious and dirty task.

Sometimes the unanticipated finds are amusing, and sometimes they're horrifying. When I was still in grad school, I was examining a series of photographs taken at a psychiatric facility and found that, in addition to images of female patients playing around with cosmetics and staff-patient softball games, it included a series of photographs documenting the administration of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It took me a little while before I figured out precisely what was going on in those photos, and when I finally did, I was completely unnerved. I hastily put the photos back in their box, told the reference archivist what I had found, and fled the research room. I haven't seen those photographs in over a decade, but the thought of them is still unsettling.

And sometimes, of course, the finds are hilarious. Every day, the Web site of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) highlights one of the records in NARA's holdings. Many of the featured records are historically significant; for example, yesterday's featured document consists of the U.S. Congress's official copy of the Twelfth Amendment, which it passed on 9 December 1803. However, today's document, which was issued on 10 December 1959, concerns a less weighty matter: the United States government's efforts to find the Yeti.

Clicking on the image below will bring up a much larger and more legible version. I'm particularly fond of regulation no. 2.

"Regulations Governing Mountain Climbing Expeditions in Nepal - Relating to Yeti"; UD-WW, 1454, , Box 252, Accession #64-9-0814, folder 5.1 Political Situation - General, File ended Dec 31, 1959; Records of the Agency for International Development; Record Group 286; National Archives. Image courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TSA's bad PDF redaction . . . and tips on redacting PDFs properly

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the latest in a long line of Fortune 500 companies and federal government agencies to discover that information can all too easily be recovered from an improperly redacted PDF document. On Sunday, blogger The Wandering Aramean announced that the TSA had posted a copy of its Screening Management Standard Operating Procedure manual, which provides detailed information about how TSA personnel screen passengers and luggage, on a federal contract soliciation Web site.

Portions of the manual, which is identified as containing Sensitive Security Information, were redacted, but . . . whoever did the redactions simply used Adobe Acrobat or other PDF-compatible software to draw black boxes over the information that should have been redacted. As I've noted before, it doesn't take tons of computer know-how to recover the information hiding under those black boxes, and The Wandering Aramean and lots of other people were able to do so. The TSA has pulled the manual off the federal contract site, but you can find a complete and unredacted copy here and on lots of other sites.

The TSA has stated that the version of the manual it posted has been superseded repeatedly, that it was never actually used by TSA personnel, and that TSA security procedures have changed substantially since it was written. However, the damage has been done: the blogosphere and the news media are having a field day, and Congress is demanding an investigation. I know that beating up on the TSA is something of a sport (and, believe me, I have some issues with its 3-1-1 policy), but I really do feel for the folks at TSA HQ who have to clean up this mess.

Putting poorly redacted PDFs on the Web seems to be something of a fad these days -- Google did it a few weeks ago -- but I don't want to see archivists or records managers fall prey to the pitfalls that have ensnared so many others. If you're trying to figure out how to provide access to PDFs that contain information restricted by law or donor agreement, here are a few pointers:
  • If you're working with a PDF file, never, ever use Adobe Acrobat's Draw or Annotate tools (or comparable tools in other programs) to place black, white, etc. boxes over the information you wish to redact. All a savvy user needs to do is to copy the PDF in its entirety and paste it into a word processing document. Moreover, someone with ready access to Adobe Acrobat or comparable software can skip the copying and pasting and simply open the PDF and remove the boxes that you drew. Don't think that locking your PDF will keep this from happening: shareware that promises to unlock PDFs is all over the Interwebs.
  • If you're working with a word processing document that you plan to convert to PDF format, never, ever attempt to redact information by changing the font color to white or using a shading or highlighting feature to obscure the text and then converting the document to PDF format. The copy-and-paste technique outlined above will reveal the hidden text; users might have to play with the font colors a bit, but doing so won't take them more than a few seconds.
At present, there are several good tools for redacting PDF files, and you'll need to assess your current software setup, the amount of redaction work you'll have to do, and your budget in order to decide which one works best for you.
  • If you've got an older version of Acrobat, two third-party plug-ins for Adobe Acrobat, Redax and Redact-It, are time-tested and have substantial followings in the legal community.
  • If you are using an older version of Adobe Acrobat and can't or don't want to upgrade or purchase an add-on tool, the National Security Agency has produced a document that outlines a laborious but effective redaction procedure.
  • If you've got an old version of Acrobat, no money for an upgrade or a plug-in, and only a handful of documents to redact, you might want to consider printing out the documents, whipping out a black magic marker, and redacting information the old-fashioned way. Photocopy the redacted printouts to reduce the chance that the text can be read through the marker, then scan the photocopies.
If you do commit to redacting documents electronically:
  • Make sure you know how to use your chosen redaction tool. Most of them are pretty straightforward, but slip-ups are possible, and you don't want slip-ups circulating on the Web. All of the software tools listed above are well-documented, so take the time needed to review and digest said documentation.
  • Prepare a test file and familiarize yourself with your chosen software tool before you start working with real live documents. If you can get a disinterested third party (preferably one with lots of IT or digital forensics experience) to review your test file and verify that the information you've redacted really is gone, by all means do so.
  • This may seem a bit obvious, but someone once asked me, so I'm going to come right out and say it: don't redact your original e-documents. Chances are, your documents will one day be fully discloseable, so make electronic copies of them, redact the copies, and keep both the copies and the originals. Doing so increases your storage and preservation commitments, but there really aren't any good alternatives, particularly for records warranting permanent retention.
  • Keep abreast of the relevant legal and digital forensics literature: people are trying to figure out how to "break" all of the tools listed above and recover information redacted with these tools. One of them may eventually succeed, at which point all bets are off.
Finally, a gentle disclaimer: the above information is . . . simply information, not legal, financial, medical, dental, or any other kind of advice. As is the case with everything on this blog, it's not necessarily reflective of the opinions and policies of my employer, either. It does reflect my own knowledge at the time of this writing, but, as is the case with all things electronic, electronic redaction technology and best practices change rapidly. It's really up to you to investigate the options for yourself and to make sure that the electronic information you redact really can't be recovered.

Happy redacting!

Monday, December 7, 2009

"So far, it's the best job in the country"

Last week, David Ferriero, the new Archivist of the United States, delivered his first State of the Archives address. I was particularly cheered by his continuing emphasis on the challenges posed by electronic records and electronic records management, which he likened to the problems faced by Robert Digges Wimberly Connor, the first Archivist of the United States, who fought valiantly to ensure that the nation's long-neglected records were properly housed:
. . . . It seems to me that we are at a similar crossroads in the history of the Archives in the challenges we face with the electronic records of the agencies we serve. Varieties of technology, platforms, software, practice, and lack of standards complicate the work of ingesting, preserving, and making available the records of the government. The work we have undertaken with Lockheed Martin is, of course, being watched closely by our funders, our stakeholders, and the rest of the archival community who is grappling with similar issues of born digital records. We have to get this right.

I also see the Electronic Records Archives initiative as a vehicle for reestablishing our oversight of the records management programs of each agency—working with agencies to establish protocols, practices, and annual audits.
I also like that Ferriero recognizes the larger archival community's interest in the Electronic Records Archives, and I hope that he continues predecessor Allen Weinstein's effort to bring the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration into closer alignment with archival professional organizations and other repositories throughout the nation.

If you want a sense of Ferriero's background and personality, check out the lengthy profile in today's Washington Post, which highlights his decades of work in libraries and includes video footage of him examining materials in the stacks of the Archives I facility in Washington, DC. The video's only 42 seconds long, but it reveals that the new Archivist has a puckish sense of humor:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

An archivist responds to Jon Stewart

As you all know, a few weeks ago, Jon Stewart had a little fun at the archival profession's expense. Now, the Woody Guth3 (who may or may not be archivist/lyricist David Kay) explain -- for the benefit of Mr. Stewart and all the other uninformed souls out there -- what we do and why most of us have at least one graduate degree:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Something to ponder

The Post Carbon Institute is a think tank that seeks to supply "individuals, communities, businesses, and governments with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy, and environmental crises that define the 21st century."

A couple of months ago, the Institute published "Our Evanescent Culture and the Awesome Duty of Librarians," in which Richard Heinberg outlined the macro-level threats to the survival of digital information. Among them: failure to maintain reliable sources of power generation and delivery, nuclear war, and the systemic vulnerabilities associated with living in an increasingly interconnected world.

Sometimes, those of us charged with preserving digital information are so focused on the very real short-term threats such as file corruption, hardware failure, and software obsolescence that we sometimes forget that, as Heinberg asserts, "digitization represents a huge bet on society’s ability to keep the lights on forever."

Can we keep the lights on forever? Even if you think that the Post Carbon Institute's being overly alarmist about global warming and fossil fuel supplies, you have to admit that we're taking an awfully big gamble. A number of years ago, an historian of medicine told me that, statistically speaking, humanity is really overdue for a pandemic that combines the mortality rate of AIDS with the contagiousness of the common cold -- and for the social, political, and economic havoc that such pandemics wreak. We haven't experienced a "hot" global war for over sixty years, but in the larger scheme of things, sixty years is the mere blink of an eye.

And, of course, it's quite likely that one day our culture will be known chiefly through archaeological digs and a few surviving artworks and texts. Woe betide the 30th century archeologist who unearths a cache of data tapes!

Heinberg concludes that, given the very real risk that digital information will be lost, librarians (and, by extension, archivists) should be mindful of the importance of "conservation of essential cultural knowledge in non-digital form." Maybe he's right: perhaps we should devote a little effort to leading the public discussion about how our culture should be remembered and making sure that at least some information about our values and accomplishments is preserved in human-readable form.

Read the whole article. It's really good.

(Hat-tip: Alan's Notes on Digital Preservation.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

A new archival use for Twitter

I've been resisting Twitter mightily -- my tolerance for information clutter is pretty low -- but this splendid Twitter-driven initiative just might induce me to take the plunge . . . .

Archivists at Cambridge University's Scott Polar Research Institute are using Twitter to draw attention to the diary that Captain Robert Falcon Scott kept during his ill-fated 1910-1912 Antarctic expedition: every day, they tweet the first 140 characters of the diary entry that Scott penned exactly 99 years before.

Each tweet also includes a link to a blog, Scott's Last Expedition, that provides the full text of the diary entry and archival images. The blog itself is pretty neat, too: the only dates that appear on it are those of the diary entries, and as a result the blog looks as if it were written by Scott himself. The entries thus have an immediacy and intimacy that they would lack if accompanied by scholarly commentary.

The Scott Polar Research Institute plans to launch similar Web 2.0 initiatives focusing on other British polar explorers. More information about the Scott project and the Institute's future plans is available here.

Scholars and archivists have long known that archival records tell compelling stories, but most people tend to think of records as being of interest to history buffs, civil servants, and a few other quiet oddballs. The Scott Polar Research Institute's project promises to present Scott's diary in a way that will grab and hold the attention of 21st-century people, and other repositories certainly hold materials that could be brought to life in the same way. I really want to see lots and lots of archives follow in the Institute's footsteps. I promise I'll follow all your projects on Twitter.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

"World War II-Kids Reenacting Thanksgiving." Image courtesy of the New York State Archives. (New York (State). Dept. of Health. Bureau of Communications Production. Photography Unit. Photographic prints and negatives of department officials, facilities, and activities, ca. 1920-1983. Series 14655-88, Box 58.)

Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, I wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Blogging is probably going to be light during the next few days, so here are a few holiday-related links to tide you over:
  • The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration offers a handy explanation and digitized records that detail how Thanksgiving came to be a national holiday. The process wasn't as straightforward as you might think: for the first two thirds of the 19th century, the day of observance shifted around quite a bit, and in 1939 and 1940 some states celebrated it on the second to last Thursday of November while others waited until the last Thursday of the month. The current day of observance -- the fourth Thursday of November -- was enshrined in federal law in 1941. (Somewhere, someday, someone's going to win a trivia contest because s/he knows this.)
Thanksgiving day greetings. Digital ID: 1588308. New York Public Library"Thanksgiving Day Greetings." Image courtesy of the New York Public Library. Vintage Holiday Postcards Collection. Mid-Manhattan Library -- Picture Collection. Record ID 1065827. Digital ID 1588308.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New York State Archives: data storage advisory and workshop

Earlier this year, a couple of my colleagues put together a brief records advisory highlighting the issues that arise when the day-to-day custody and control of electronic data is outsourced to a third party. Although this advisory is intended for state and local government in New York State, it should be of interest to anyone who is contemplating storing digital resources in a cloud computing environment, a data vault, fee-for-service digital repository, or other environment not under his or her direct control.

If you're interested in learning more about data storage and its relationship to electronic records management and can get to New York's Capital Region on the afternoon of December 15, the New York State Archives is offering a new, non-technical Electronic Data Storage workshop. The workshop is free and open to anyone interested in the subject; however, space is limited and registration is required.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New York State Archives and social networking

The New York State Archives has recently established a presence on a variety of Web 2.0/social networking sites. This effort is still in the testing stages, and there are no doubt a few bugs waiting to be discovered and fixed, but by all means check out the following resources. Several of my colleagues have been working on this initiative for months, and I'm really impressed with the end result. I think you'll like it, too.

New York State Archives on YouTube

One of my colleagues recently oversaw the digitization of some of our analog audiovisual holdings, a representative sampling of which are now available on the New York State Archives' YouTube channel. At present, you'll find iconic "I Love New York" tourism ads from the 1980s, World War II-era civil defense and public health films, and 1950s New York State Thruway Authority films about the Tappan Zee Bridge and how the Thruway and other new freeways would benefit Binghamton residents. You'll also find some 21st-century films that explain what archives do and how researchers can access their holdings and discuss classroom uses of historical records.

New York State Archives on Flickr

At present, there are three photosets highlighting some of the late 19th and early 20th century images in our collections: Winter in New York, Summer in New York, and Honoring the Workers of New York. You'll also find pointers to lots and lots of other images and videos available on our own Web site.

New York State Archives on Twitter
Follow us!

New York State Archives on Facebook
Information about who we are and what we do, upcoming events, new publications and other online resources, and lots of other cool stuff.

If you find any problems, have any questions, or simply want to give a well-deserved thumbs-up to the State Archives staff who created and will continue to develop these resources, please use each site's comments option or e-mail my colleague Michelle Arpey at marpey[at]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wanted: Grateful Dead archivist

It's really rare that archival job postings get much attention outside of the archival community, but the University of California-Santa Cruz's recent announcement that it was seeking an archivist to manage its Grateful Dead Archive has gotten more media coverage than the recent confirmation of David Ferriero as the 10th Archivist of the United States. The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and lots of other media outlets are all over the story.

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Last night, Jon Stewart (who needs some help with the pronunciation of "archivist") got into the act. As evidenced by the reactions posted to the Daily Show site itself and the Archives and Archivists listserv, reaction is mixed: some archivists think it's hilarious, while others are insulted by the offhand manner in which Stewart dismisses our profession. FWIW, I'm in the former camp. Yeah, the "alphanumerically?" bit is kind of snotty, but this is a man who, upon receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, said: "As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better."

The job itself sounds like a great opportunity for a really high-energy archivist, who will work with approximately 600 linear feet of
archival records, news clippings, artifacts, photographs, posters, audio and video recordings, and publications by and about the band and correspondence and art contributed over the years by their fans.

Why do I say "high-energy"? Well, the person who takes this job will be responsible, among other things, for:
  • Developing overarching arrangement and description policies that conform to accepted national standards
  • Developing digitization plans and digital access mechanisms
  • Dealing with rights clearances and permission issues
  • Creating and maintaining ties to the band's fan community and potential donors
  • Providing reference services to academic researchers and members of the general public
  • Curating exhibits and overseeing the loan of materials for exhibit purposes
  • Planning conferences and other events
  • Developing a volunteer/intern program that will tap into the fan community's knowledge and expertise
  • Maintaining the Grateful Dead Archive's Web 2.0 presence
  • Helping to set policies governing the operations of the Department of Special Collections and Archives, of which the Grateful Dead Archive is part
  • Serving on appropriate University Library committees
As the Toronto Star points out, the successful candidate will likely have to perform another job function: "acting as the world's most chilled out bouncer." Ever since the surviving members of the Grateful Dead transferred the materials that comprise the archive to UC Santa Cruz last year, people have been traveling to Santa Cruz in hopes of getting access to the material. However, the Department of Special Collections and Archives -- quite rightly, I think -- is turning people away until they can establish some basic intellectual control over the collection.

What a great challenge -- and what a great opportunity. How many of us have large numbers of people clamoring for access to our holdings? Moreover, despite the stereotypes associated with Grateful Dead fandom, the band's following is drawn from all walks of life. I realize that the new Grateful Dead archivist and his/her colleagues in the Department of Special Collections and Archives are going to be struggling mightily to meet the immediate demands of researchers -- and, in all likelihood, to deal with some ongoing media attention -- but I hope they devote at least a little attention to educating the Grateful Dead Archive's users about the nature and value of archives in general.

The Department of Special Collections and Archives's other holdings, which include 16th-century Italian books, works of art by Lawrrence Ferlinghetti and others, mammoth photographic collections, materials relating to the history of feminism, and local history materials, would make a great teaching tool. Even if the users of the Grateful Dead Archive don't actively use any of the other holdings, I'm sure a lot of them would, with a little gentle nudging, grasp the value of preserving and providing access to these materials. Some of them could, with a little more nudging, become effective stakeholders and advocates. I, for one, would love to recruit a few advisory committee members, PAHR pushers, State Historical Records Advisory Board members, and other champions whose taste in casual wear runs toward tie-dyed t-shirts and Birkenstocks.

If you've got a master's degree in library science or archives management, are familiar with established professional standards and know how to put them into practice, supervisory experience, expert knowledge of modern American vernacular culture and music, first-rate organizational and communication skills, and lots and lots of energy, this job may be for you. You've got until December 4 to submit your application.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

MARAC Fall 2009: S11, Scattered Treasures: The Stewardship of Private Collections in the 21st Century

Rotunda, City Hall, Jersey City, New Jersey, during the MARAC evening reception, 30 October 2009.

Although it's been years since I've worked with personal papers, I always like hearing about them, and I'm particularly glad I attended this session: one of the papers touched upon an electronic records issue that crossed my mind earlier last week, and the other focused on copyright law, about which I don't know enough.

Unfortunately, one of the presenters, Donna Wells (Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University) was ill, but session chair Wilda Logan (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) read her paper, which focused on what can happen when materials unexpectedly leave the custody of creators and their families.

In some instances, the severance of custody is accidental. After Washington, DC photographer Nestor Hernández died in 2006, his father placed a large number of his prints and other materials in a storage cubicle, but didn't tell other family members where the materials were housed. After Hernández's father died unexpectedly a short time afterward, the rent went into arrears and the contents of the cubicle were auctioned off. The devastated family then learned that the buyer was selling the prints at an open-air market for $3.00 apiece. Their only recourse was to assert their intellectual property rights whenever someone attempted to publish one of the images; the sale of the contents of the cubicle was perfectly legit.

In others, surviving relatives or other third parties see personal papers as sources of income. For example, civil rights icon Rosa Parks left her papers to a non-profit that taught civil rights history, but her surviving relatives successfully contested the will and the papers are being sold at auction. Wells has also gotten calls from foreclosure companies wanting to know whether photographs and other materials left behind by evicted residents are valuable; of course, these companies want to recoup lenders' losses, not donate materials to a repository.

These experiences have led Wells to give the following counsel to donors and their families:
  • Know the procedures governing rental of storage facilities and what will happen to your property if the rent falls into arrears, and make sure that someone else knows where your materials are being stored.
  • Give a trusted relative or friend your e-mail, online photo storage, etc., passwords.
  • If you use an online storage service, make sure you know what will happen to your resources if you die.
  • Let a trusted relative know what you want to have happen to your online and physical materials, even if you don't express your wishes in your will.
In an age when the digital equivalents of personal papers are being kept in the cloud, manuscript curators are going to spend a lot of time dealing with the complications of death in the digital era -- and all of us are likely going to feel ethically bound to provide guidance to families who don't want to donate materials but do want to access and preserve resources created by deceased loved ones.

The next presenter, Janet Fries (DrinkerBiddle) is an attorney who specializes in copyright and intellectual property law and who has represented numerous artists, authors, and musicians. Using the fate of Nestor Hernández's prints as a starting point, she furnished an overview of copyright and other laws. I'm going to emphasize just a few of the high points:
  • A person who buys a print does not automatically get the rights associated with the print. When people bought Hernández's prints on the street for $3.00, they didn’t get the right to do anything with these images. When and if the prints are duplicated, the family will be able to discover who has various prints and to assert their rights.
  • Copyright can be transferred via a will or a trust, and the laws of intestacy apply as well.
  • Creators and their heirs have the right to terminate the transfer of copyright: existing law allows the person or entity who undertook the transfer to terminate or renegotiate the right of transfer after 35 years -- even if the transfer document purports to transfer rights in perpetuity. Heirs can also exercise this right. This right is little known and seldom exercised, but it’s really important.
  • Copyrights don’t transfer by accident: handshake agreements aren’t sufficient.
  • Fair use is very helpful but very unpredictable, and there are no hard-and-fast rules; don’t rely on any myths that come your way. The nature of the use has bearing: educational use and commentary are favored, but there are other factors.
  • Repositories need to be aware that granting rights to others has pitfalls. Being in the chain of rights means being in the chain of liability. Repositories may also be vulnerable to charges of contributory and vicarious liability; refusing to make copies for for-profit uses might be a good idea, and making copies contingent upon the user’s securing of a licensing agreement is also a good idea.
  • Rights of publicity governing people depicted in images vary from state to state. Be careful about using images if you lack signed release forms. Other materials may also be covered by this right; in New York State, for example, image, voice, name, and biographical details may not be used for trade or advertising without the express written consent of the person.
Fries also discussed how creators can spare others the Hernández family's experience. She encourages the artists she represents to, among other things, create inventories documenting where their works are stored and the intangible rights (copyright, moral right, trademark, patent, contract) associated with each work and to develop estate plans; in order to help them do so, she's developed a variety of forms that they can use. If an artist doesn’t want members of his or her family to know where works are stored or fears that listing locations will make theft easier, she stresses that telling no one is an illogical extension of a logical premise; information can be shared with a trusted friend, kept in a sealed envelope in a locked drawer, or kept in an attorney's office (but not a safe deposit box!)

I'm really not doing justice to Fries's presentation, which segued nicely into an extended Q&A about various copyright, permissions, and other legal issues. Copyright law is incredibly complex, and Fries excelled at giving us a sense of some of its nuances while dispensing lots of practical advice.

Help save the State Library of Massachusetts!

At a press conference on Thursday, 29 October, the Massachusetts Governor's Office announced that Governor Deval Patrick is considering closing the State Library of Massachusetts as a cost-saving measure. This closure will have a monumental impact on the Commonwealth's cultural heritage.

Open to the public since 1826, the State Library has developed comprehensive collections in the areas of government documents, law, Massachusetts history, and public and current affairs. From the Bradford manuscript "Of Plimoth Plantation" to an ever-expanding digital repository, the holdings of the State Library shed light on the Commonwealth's past, present, and future.

There are several ways you can help:
In addition to doing the above, you Bay Staters out there might also want to consider contacting your legislators.

For the most recent information about the fight to save the State Library, check out its blog and follow Save Your State Library! on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

MARAC Fall 2009: S6, EAD Perspectives at the Institutional, Research, and National Level

Moon over Manhattan, as seen from the Newport, Jersey City esplanade, 4:50 PM, 29 October 2009.

Post corrected 7 November 2009. I was sitting in the very back of the room in which S6 was held, and sometimes had trouble hearing the presenters. I completely misheard a couple of things that Michael Rush said during the start of his presentation, and this post contained some inaccurate information as a result. Thanks to Mike for setting me straight, and apologies all round.

I’m not doing a ton of description these days, and but I cut my professional teeth on Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) records and have lots of colleagues who are still doing a lot of MARC and Encoded Archival Description (EAD) work, so I always make it a point to attend conference sessions relating to description whenever possible. I’m glad I caught this one.

Michele Combs (Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center) opened the session by outlining the internal and external benefits of EAD, technical options for creating and providing access to EAD finding aids, and how her repository has integrated EAD into its workflow. I particularly liked her discussion of SU’s More Product, Less Product (MPLP)-influenced approach to description: Combs and her colleagues create EAD finding aids for new collections during the accessioning process, and they’re tackling the backlog by converting paper finding aids to EAD and using existing MARC records to generate basic EAD finding aids. As a result, every collection gets at least a basic EAD finding aid.

Jeanne Kramer Smyth (Discovery Communications and, BTW, the force behind Spellbound Blog) discussed ArchiveZ, an information visualization project that uses EAD finding aids from a variety of institutions as a source of structured data. Focusing on subjects, time periods, and linear footage, Kramer-Smyth and her associates normalized the data and decomposed compound subjects into tags; the latter dramatically increases the chances of finding overlapping collections. They also cross-tabulated subjects and time periods to identify the volume of records covering a given subject at a given time.

This is very cool stuff that promises to open up all kinds of new avenues of access, but Kramer-Smyth and her colleagues have run into a few problems, almost all of which stem from the flexibility inherent in the EAD specification. Each repository that provided finding aids to the ArchivesZ project had its own encoding quirks and particularities, and standardization across certain tags was lacking; for example, some repositories measure quantities of records in linear feet, while others use cubic feet, etc. Some of the finding aids had incomplete subject assignments (e.g., subjects reflected in the collection title aren’t listed as subjects).

Kramer-Smyth emphasized that these problems are fixable: she and others who use EAD as a data source can figure out how to write better code and ask repositories to submit “configuration files” that resolve data inconsistencies (e.g., by explaining local practices regarding quantity/extent information). However, it’s pretty plain that EAD still has a long way to go before it truly transcends institutional boundaries.

Michael Rush (Beineke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University), who heads is drafting the charge for the soon-to-be reconstituted EAD Working Group, is charged with revising EAD, provided a useful overview of the Working Group’s goals some of the changes that may be incorporated into EAD 3.0:
  • Reduction of mixed content, i.e., mixing of text and tags.
  • Allowing namespace interoperability, i.e., giving implementers to embed MODS, PREMIS, and other XML schemas directly into an EAD finding aid.
  • Improvement of data handling, e.g., getting rid of forward slashes, which are ignored by many programs.
  • Eliminating anything that doesn’t describe the records, e.g., the head and attribute labels used to mark scope and content notes; formatting info should be in stylesheets, not EAD schema!
  • Possibly removing table and list coding and recursive tags.
  • Reining in the diversity of practice, which is a political challenge: people do things a certain way because a given way meets a given need, but this diversity makes it harder to exchange data across institutions or pull EAD data into a database. In an effort to accommodate everyone, the Working Group might come up with a strict EAD and a loose EAD that allows greater diversity of practice.
The Working Group is seeking will need volunteers who will to steer the revision process; if you’re interested, contact him at

Session chair Mark Matienzo (New York Public Library) then asked the panelists a really provocative question: should archivists should think of finding aids as documents or as data sources? All three panelists concurred that we need to start seeing finding aids as data sources from which documents, which still have many uses, can be produced as needed; conceptualizing finding aids as documents has led to many of the quirks and inconsistencies that become apparent anytime one looks at multiple institutions’ finding aids. As Michael Rush pointed out, we’ve moved beyond the point at which documents meet our needs. With MPLP and other developments, description is never done, and although we need the capacity to take a snapshot of a given description as it exists at a given point of time, we need to focus more on standardized creation of data over time.

All in all, a phenomenal session that brought to mind my own long-ago (and subsequently back-burnered) realization that the MARC format could be thought of as a highly flexible and repurposable information source, not just a cluster of templates organizing the presentation of various chunks of information. It also called to mind various past efforts to increase the consistency of MARC cataloging across institutions, most of which didn’t pan out. Here’s hoping that past experience, the profession’s increasing comfort and familiarity with databases, etc., and the emergence of new tools that make use of structured descriptive data make it possible to standardize descriptive practice in the EAD era.

Monday, November 2, 2009

MARAC Fall 2009, S1: Solutions to Acquiring and Accessing Electronic Records

Pavonia Arcs, by Robert Pfitzenmeier (2004), Newport, Jersey City, 29 October 2009.

Along with Ricc Ferrante (Smithsonian Institution Archives) and Mark Wolfe (M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University at Albany), I had the good fortune to participate in this session, which was graciously chaired by Sharmila Bhatia (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration).

Ricc Ferrante discussed the challenges of accessioning and preserving archival e-mail created by employees of the Smithsonian Institution's semi-autonomous museums and research institutes. His experience should resonate with many government and college and university archivists. Until late 2005, the Smithsonian's component facilities used a variety of e-mail applications, and retention guidelines were implemented in 2008. As a result, the archives is both actively soliciting transfers of cohesive groups (i.e., accounts) of documented and backed-up messages at predetermined intervals and passively accepting transfers of older groupings of records in a variety of formats.

Ricc then discussed the processing of these e-mails, which is performed on PC or Mac desktop computers. Incoming transfers are backed up, analyzed and documented, converted to a preservation format, and securely stored. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses a tool to convert accounts or groupings of messages in formats other than MBOX to the MBOX format, and the Collaborative Electronic Records Project (CERP) parser then converts the MBOX files to an XML-based preservation format. Experimenting with the MBOX conversion tool and the CERP parser has been on my to-do list for some time, so I was really glad I got the chance to hear Ricc discuss these tools.

Mark Wolfe discussed how the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collection and Archives is using Google Mini, a modestly priced "plug and play" search appliance that will index up to 300,000 documents, to improve access to its student newspapers. Prior to the installation of Google Mini, a paper card file was the only access mechanism for these publications, and Google MIni has made it possible for staff to find information about people who became prominent well after they left the university (e.g., gay rights activist Harvey Milk, '51), respond quickly to reference inquiries, and enhance access to the newspapers.

Mark also highlighted the shortcomings of Google Mini's indexing of digitized materials. When assigning titles, it looks for the most prominent text on a given page, which in a newspaper may be part of an ad, not a story. Dates are another problem. When sorting search results by date, it hones in on the date the digital file was created, not the date of the scanned original. The former problem can be corrected, albeit with considerable effort, by manually changing the author, title, etc. properties of the files, which are in text-based PDF format. However, the date properties, which help to safeguard the authenticity of born-digital files, cannot easily be changed and thus inhibit date-based access to scanned archival materials. There's been a lot of talk lately about how the management of born-digital and born-again digital materials will eventually converge, but Mark's talk is a good reminder that we're not quite there yet.

My presentation concerned our capture of New York State government sites and the redaction (i.e.. removal of legally restricted information from records prior to making them accessible) of electronic records converted to PDF format. In lieu of giving an exhaustive recap, I'll just offer a few words of advice to people contemplating electronic redaction. At present, there are several good tools for redacting PDF files, including the built-in tool bundled with Adobe Acrobat 8 and 9, Redax, and Redact-It. If you are using an older version of Adobe Acrobat and can't or don't want to upgrade or purchase an add-on tool, the National Security Agency has produced a document that outlines a laborious but effective redaction procedure. If you commit to electronic redaction, you need to keep abreast of the relevant legal and digital forensics literature: people are trying to figure out how to crack these tools and techniques and recover redacted information, and one of them may eventually succeed.

There are also several really bad PDF redaction techniques. Never, ever use Adobe Acrobat's Draw or Annotate tool to place black, white, etc. boxes over information you wish to redact. Another spectacularly bad idea: "redacting" a word processing document by changing the font color to white or using a shading or highlighting feature to obscure the text and then converting the document to PDF format.

Want to know why these options are so bad? Read this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this, too (thanks to John J. @ W&L for drawing my attention to this recent blunder.)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

MARAC Fall 2009, plenary session

The Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse, Jersey City, 30 October 2009. Built in 1906-1908, this beautiful Romanesque Revival structure -- which by night looks as if it could serve as a set for a Frankenstein film -- once powered what is now the PATH train system. It ceased operations in 1929 and has stood vacant ever since, and its owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, wanted recently sought to tear it down and build a parking deck on the site. Owing to the determined efforts of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy and other citizens, this remarkably sturdy building has been declared a National Historic Site and is on the verge of redevelopment.

MARAC got off to a roaring start yesterday morning: during the plenary session, Ellen Fleurbaay and Marc Holtman of the Amsterdam City Archives discussed the Archiefbank, the repository's on-demand scanning program, and the institutional changes required to make it work.

The archives, which holds a wide array of municipal government records and other materials documenting the history of the city, experienced substantial declines in in-person visitors during the early 21st century; at the same time, the number of visitors to its Web site increased steadily. Visitor statistics are the measure of Dutch cultural institutions' success, and the archives realized that it needed to reinvent itself in order to survive. To that end, it articulated two main goals:
  • In-person visitors will experience the look and feel of authentic archival documents and the pleasure of doing historical research.
  • Everyone should be able to access all archival collections at home at all times.
In support of the first goal, the archives changed its name and logo, developed a new facility in the city center, developed a permanent exhibit, offered evening events and weekend hours. It also transformed its research room into a wired "information center" in which people were encouraged to discuss their work with others; this idea intrigues me, but the security-minded archivist and the tranquility-loving researcher within me have a few doubts.

In support of the second, it radically expanded its digitization program. The archives holds more than 20 miles of records -- which would take an estimated 406 years to scan -- but quickly realized that it should first focus on its most heavily used documents.

It also developed a stunning new program that allows users to request scanning of specific her records. Online researchers scan the EAD-encoded finding aids in the Archiefbank, and with a simple click of a button request scanning of specific records. The Archiefbank then generates an order number that is used to track the order throughout the scanning process and to generate file names for the scans. Staff retrieve the records, quickly examine them for copyright and preservation issues, and do some minimal prep work (e.g., removing staples), then convey the materials to a scanning vendor. The resulting images are added to the archives' electronic repository, and are then transferred to its Web site. The requester then purchases the scans s/he wants; if a researcher wants materials that have already been scanned and added to the archives' Web site, he or she can do so instantly. The more scans one purchases, the lower the cost per scan.

The archives aims for a turnaround time of 2-3 weeks and a total of 10,000 scans per week. A distinctive mix of circumstance and policy makes this prodigious activity possible:
  • Dutch law. There is no fee for consulting original records or viewing digital images at the archives, but charges for reproduction are allowed, so the archives can assess fees for scanning materials for online researchers -- and the archives has carefully calibrated its fees so that it breaks even.
  • Focus on legibility, not preservation-quality scanning. Instead of the high-resolution TIFFs produced for preservation/conservation purposes, on-demand scans are created as low-resolution JPEGs. This policy dramatically reduces the archives' storage costs: the cost of storing 1 TB of 300 dpi TIFFs in a digital repository with remote backup is $7,000 per year, and but that of storing equivalent 200 dpi JPEG 4 images is $77.
  • Emphasis on high volume. The archives' in-house scanning facilities support preservation/conservation scanning, and on-demand scanning is outsourced. In order to reduce the amount of manual processing needed, the archives scans entire files, not individual documents; researchers pay only for those scans that they want.
  • An efficient back-office operation. The archives has developed a barcode-driven management system that enables staff to identify precisely where each group of records slated for scanning is located and which current and succeeding tasks are to be performed on each group.
  • A well-developed IT infrastructure. Although Fleurbaay and Holtman didn't emphasize this point, it's pretty evident that without robust and seamlessly integrated systems, high-volume on-demand scanning wouldn't be possible. Image ordering and purchasing functionality meshes neatly with the archives' EAD finding aids, and the archives' document viewer has a built-in filter that enables users to increase contrast -- a real help when inks have faded over time.
Everyone present was wowed by the Amsterdam City Archives' efforts, which by every measure are a rousing success: visits to the repository have increased five-fold, 15,000 registered online users have requested scans, and after two years of high-volume scanning more than 7 million images are available online.

I have the feeling that just about everyone who attended this presentation is going to devote a lot of time to thinking about their repositories can emulate the example set by the Amsterdam City Archives. Most of us probably won't be able to establish programs as sophisticated or as large as that of the Amsterdam City Archives -- because we lack the needed IT infrastructure, hold tons of copyrighted or restricted materials, or work in government archives that are legally barred from charging for online access -- but many of us will likely reassess some of our digitization practices and priorities. And that's a good thing.

Friday, October 30, 2009

MARAC Fall 2009, day one

Midtown Manhattan, as seen from the Newport, Jersey City esplanade, 30 October 2009, 9:35 PM.

Today was a really full day: Ellen Fleurbaay and Marc Holtman of the Amsterdam City Archives delivered a knockout plenary presentation about their repository's on-demand scanning program, I attended a great session focusing on new developments relating to Encoded Archival Description, and a poignant and informative session about new challenges to the survival of personal papers.

I took part in a morning session relating to acquiring and providing access to electronic records. My co-presenters, Ricc Ferrante from the Smithsonian Institution Archives and Mark Wolfe from the University at Albany's M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, did a great job. I was also pretty pleased about how my session turned out, even though I started coming down with a cold yesterday and darn near lost my voice midway through my presentation.

Owing to said cold, I'm turning in early. Look for after-the-fact recaps over the next few days . . . .

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Greetings from Jersey City

View from the 10th floor, Westin Jersey City Newport, 29 October 2009

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) is holding its Fall 2009 Meeting here in Jersey City, so a couple of colleagues and I took the train from Albany yesterday. My colleagues took an excellent tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and I was supposed to tour the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Trinity Church. Unfortunately, I messed up my back last week, and my doctor and physical therapist told me to resume activity gradually and to avoid overexerting myself.

However, they also told me not to baby myself too much, so I did explore the immediate area around the conference hotel, the Westin Jersey City Newport.

The Newport neighborhood, a large, modern "mixed use community," sits on the western bank of the Hudson River. As the sign above notes, the area has a lengthy and storied history. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the area was home to a mammoth Erie-Lackawanna Railroad yard, warehouses, and port facilities that facilitated the transfer of goods to and from the trains. From the 1950s onward, the completion of the Interstate Highway System and the resulting competition from trucks rendered the rail yard redundant, and the area fell into decline. By the 1970s, it was generally abandoned. It was redeveloped in the 1980s, and it's now home to carefully planned mix of apartment towers, office buildings, retail outlets, eateries, and green space.

It's a little too new for my taste: apart from the buildings of the Newport Yacht Club and Marina and ventilation towers for the Holland Tunnel, none of the buildings are more than 30 years old. However, I can see why people want to live here. It's a very walkable neighborhood, and it's surprisingly tranquil.

It also has spectacular views of western Manhattan, and Newport's developers have capitalized upon the setting by building a six-mile long esplanade along the river. I ate lunch while sitting on one of the many benches that line the esplanade, and was treated to a stellar view of a Holland Tunnel ventilation tower, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building.

I could also see (most of) the Manhattan Municipal Building and, of course, the boats and ships that were traveling up and down the river. During my time on the esplanade, I saw large, ocean-going vessels, commuter and tourist ferries, and even a few kayakers enjoying a sunny fall day on the river.

Some parts of the esplanade are particularly picturesque . . . even if the lighthouse is a recent decorative addition.

Many people choose to live in Newport because it is a transportation hub. Ferry service at the Hoboken Terminal is readily accessible via the esplanade, and PATH, New Jersey Transit, and Hudson-Bergen Light Rail trains also serve the area. Given the plethora of stores and essential services within walking distance and the wealth of available public transportation options, one really doesn't need a car.

And, of course, Newport's inhabitants look out their windows and see sights like this . . . .

Friday, October 23, 2009

Archives and Web 2.0

Here's a tasty tidbit: Library Journal has a great overview of a recent Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) session on the pluses and minuses of adding digitized archival material to Wikipedia and other popular Web 2.0 sites.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Metro NYC ARMA presentation on electronic signatures

Remember electronic signatures? In the late 90's and early 00's, there was a tsunami of legislative and standards-making activity centering upon them, and records managers, archivists, IT professionals, elected officials, attorneys, and others spent a lot of time grappling with signature-related issues; one of my colleagues was pretty heavily involved in New York State's efforts to develop workable electronic signature practices and policies.

However, all of this activity has led to . . . not much. Who uses electronic signatures these days? Does anyone even think about them anymore? If you're curious about how this situation came to pass and will be in New York City this Thursday, you can find out: at the October meeting of the Metro NYC Chapter of ARMA, Jean-François Blanchette (Department of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles) "will investigate this failure to perform through an exploration of issues of risk, liability, proof, evidence, and user friendliness . . . with specific attention to the thorny issue of retention."

The meeting will be held on Thursday, 22 October 2009, at the Muse Hotel, 130 West 46th Street, New York, New York, from 5:30-8:00 PM. Online registration is available, and registration must be completed no later than 21 October 2009 (i.e., tomorrow!) NB: there is a registration fee of $52.00 for chapter members and $65.00 for non-members.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Whither autumn?

Looking eastward into Berkshire County, Massachusetts, from Petersburgh Pass, State Route 2, Rensselaer County, New York, late afternoon, 16 October 2009.

At least in this part of the United States, autumn seems to have joined spring in the Land of the Fugitive Seasons. Temperatures in the Northeast have been about 10 degrees below average, it's currently snowing in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, and Albany may see a few flurries later today. Why do I have the feeling that winter will be the one season that opts to stick around for a very long time?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Government archives and records in the news

Sorry about the light posting over the past couple of weeks. Between being under the weather for most of last week and getting ready to go on vacation later this week, a few things -- blog included -- have fallen between the cracks. Posting will probably continue to be light until the second half of next week, but I'll do what I can.

In the meantime, this trio of stories concerning various state archives may be of interest to you:
  • Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has left office, but year-old public records requests for her e-mail are still outstanding. Alaska Democrats are starting to suspect that officials responsible for filling the request are stalling for some reason, but officials in charge of responding to the requests state that the delay is due to the staggering size of the requests and the state's limited resources. My own $.02: I'm really inclined to believe the officials. Given the fiscal climate, the generally wretched state of e-mail management within the public (and private) sector, and the unprecedented size and scope of the requests, they've got to be completely overwhelmed. And here's another $.02 for good measure: until governments do a better job of managing e-mail, requests of this nature will eat up a steadily increasing percentage of staff time and other resources.
  • California now has a replevin law! Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill, which was sponsored by Assemblymember Bill Monning, into law on the evening of 11 October. The legislation allows the Secretary of State, in consultation with the State Archivist, to take action to recover any "public record belonging to a state or a local agency . . . in the possession of a person, organization, or institution not authorized by law to possess the record.: Archival repositories that follow Society of American Archivists guidelines for managing and preserving historical records and observe state laws concerning access to public records are exempt from the provisions of this legislation, which is intended to protect records that may otherwise be lost to Californians.
  • The Indiana State Archives has a very, very leaky roof, and, owing to the state's fiscal situation, the problem likely won't be fixed anytime soon. My heart goes out to my Indiana colleagues: they're dealing with this terrible situation as best they can, and being the subject of this sort of news coverage is never pleasant. However, sometimes a little attention from the Fourth Estate is the spur to legislative and executive branch action -- which is why I'm drawing your attention to these stories. If you live in Indiana, please contact your legislators and Governor Mitch Daniels and request that they act before disaster strikes.
And here's a federal-level tidbit. David Ferriero, who has been nominated to serve as the next Archivist of the United States, recently completed a pre-hearing questionnaire at the request of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The questionnaire is now available online, and Ferriero's statements concerning the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archives program and electronic records generally are pretty interesting. (A sweeping tip o' the hat to the indefatigable Kate T. over at ArchivesNext for finding this document!)