Monday, August 31, 2009

Iraq National Library and Archive

In 2006-07, Saad Eskander, the Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive (INLA), kept a diary that the British Library posted online. The entries matter-of-factly chronicle Dr. Eskander's efforts to create an institution that comprehensively documents all aspects of Iraqi history, politics, and culture, bolsters democracy by ensuring free access to information, and contributes to the development of an open and egalitarian society. They also illuminate the appalling realities of life for Dr. Eskander and his staff: bombings (at home, on the streets, and at INLA itself), sniper fire, death threats, the kidnapping and murder of relatives, and death at the hands of sectarian death squads and other terrorists.

It's a non-stop chronicle of horror, but the most stunning thing about the diary is the persistence of Dr. Eskander and his staff: despite the omnipresent danger, INLA's librarians, archivists, and other staff kept coming to work day after day. They kept collecting archival materials for the Baghdad Memory Project, developing the INLA Web site, digitizing publications, theses, and dissertations, and preparing exhibits. They also kept recovering materials lost or damaged as a result of the looting that took place in late 2003.

Although life in Baghdad remains dangerous, INLA continues to recover and grow. Staff have started a new electronic journal and are publishing bibliographic reference works, accessioning archival government records, microfilming publications, conserving water-damaged Ottoman records, and taking advantage of new computers and other technology investments. The building housing INLA has a new generator and HVAC system, and approximately 900 people now visit INLA every month. On top of all this, Dr. Eskander is doggedly fighting to get the United States to turn over Iraqi government records that U.S. forces seized in late 2003 and early 2004.

People think that archivists are quiet, retiring souls, and it's true that our professions attract a disproportionate number of quiet, introspective souls. However, they also attract people whose dedication and vision can lead to greatness. I stand in awe of Dr. Eskander and his colleagues.

Friday, August 28, 2009

AIIM digital preservation Webinar

Looking for an overview of digital preservation trends, challenges, and benefits? Check out this October 2008 AIIM Webinar, which Tessella, the Webinar's sponsor, posted to YouTube a few weeks ago. Greg Hunter of History Associates and Mark Evans of Tessella go over the changing nature of records and recordkeeping, the essential characteristics of digital materials, preservation approaches and challenges, emerging trends and new developments, and point to a ton of other resources.

Part 1 is embedded above, and Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, and Part 9 are also available on YouTube.

BTW, AIIM maintains an extensive online archive of Webinars, many of which are of interest to archivists and records managers. You will need to create an account to gain access to them, but the Webinars themselves are free.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

WSJ article: preservation of electronic scientific data

Today's online edition of the Wall Street Journal includes a lengthy and perceptive article on the challenges of preserving scientific data. It succinctly highlights how scientists' increasing reliance on e-mail, instant messaging, Facebook, and other online collaborative tools and the emergence of computer-dependent tools and protocols that generate vast quantities of data will make it harder for future scientists to build upon their work. It also emphasizes that the challenge of preserving electronic scientific data is forcing a lot of people to take on new roles: "The problem is forcing historians to become scientists, and scientists to become archivists and curators."

Of course, scientists have for some time been aware of the need to preserve electronic data and the difficulty of doing so: the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems, not archivists or librarians, spearheaded the development of the Open Archival Information System Reference Model. However, it's good to see that awareness of the problem is gradually spreading beyond the confines of the cultural heritage and scientific communities.

A nice little slideshow highlighting nine "enormous digital archives," among them the Internet Archive among them, appears at the end of the article.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Preserving GeoCities: Internet Archive needs your help

Remember GeoCities? It was one of the first Web site hosting services, and in the mid-1990s people flocked to it because enabled non-techies to develop and maintain small, publicly accessible Web sites. Most of them were badly designed or abandoned after a short time, but a few of them were -- and are -- gems. More importantly, when examined as a group, they help to document an important phase in the early history of the World Wide Web.

GeoCities has never been a money maker, and most of its users have moved on to other, more sophisticated hosting services. Earlier this year, Yahoo, which has owned GeoCities since 1999, announced that it will shut down GeoCities on 26 October 2009. GeoCities site creators do have options: they can move their sites into Yahoo! Web Hosting Service or download their GeoCities files and recreate their sites via another hosting service. However, in all likelihood, a lot of GeoCities sites, particularly those that haven't been well-tended as of late, are going to disappear in a couple of months.

In order to ensure that this chapter in the Web's history is properly documented, the good people at the Internet Archive, which has for years been copying GeoCities sites and providing access to its copies, is asking creators and fans of GeoCities sites to submit the sites' URL's. Doing so will allow the Internet Archive to identify GeoCities sites that it hasn't captured during its past sweeps of cyberspace and to copy them before they disappear. If you're a creator of a GeoCities site, a fan of one, or just happen to stumble across one as you make your way through the wilds of the Web, you can help to save digital history with just a few mouse clicks.

The Internet Archive's effort to document GeoCities is taking place in tandem with that of the Archive Team, an alliance of volunteers seeking to preserve at-risk information on the Web, and it's great to see an established repository work with a community-based initiative. Moreover, I'm a huge fan of the Archive Team's succinct (but not necessarily safe for work) mission statement/logo.

Hat tip: the relentless librarians of Resource Shelf.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Library of Congress BagIt video

I saw this informative and fun video while I was at the Library of Congress's National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program grant partners meeting in June, and I've been waiting for it to appear on YouTube. The Library of Congress actually put this video online about a month ago, but I was so focused on work and on getting to Austin that I didn't notice that it had been added to the Library of Congress's YouTube channel.

BagIt is an open-source application developed by the Library of Congress, Stanford University, and the California Digital Library, and it facilitates transfer of digital materials from creators' systems to those of archives and libraries. BagIt enables users to place materials slated for transfer into a "bag" and then automatically generates digital packing lists and authenticity checks (i.e., checksums). When the bag, which can be transferred on portable media or over a computer network, reaches its destination, the recipient verifies that all of the files in the bag are present and that none of the files have been changed.

I haven't yet had the chance to play around with the BagIt software, which is available on SourceForge, but I know several other people who have, and they're all pretty impressed by it. Electronic records archivists and digital librarians need tools such as BagIt, and the Library of Congress and its partners deserve kudos for making BagIt freely available.

NB: be sure to ponder the "inscrutable digital voodoo." Heh.

Friday, August 21, 2009

2009 Best Practices Exchange program now available

At last . . . the program for the 2009 Best Practices Exchange, which brings together archivists, librarians, information technology professionals, and others interested in preserving and providing access to digital state government information, is now online!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This is your brain on the Web

While I was at SAA last week, Slate published a fascinating piece by Emily Yoffe that summarizes research into the mammalian seeking drive and its connection to our behavior online. The desire to explore the world and to experience sensation isn't limited to things that are pleasurable; mammals -- humans included -- will repeatedly seek out unpleasant stimuli provided that said stimuli are dished out consistently.

Unlike animals, humans seek both physical and abstract stimuli, and the World Wide Web's ability to dish out tidbits of information that we can tie together, analyze, and otherwise manipulate stokes our seeking drive astonishingly well. Moreover, the same brain chemical circuitry that propels our seeking behavior -- that which governs production of the neurotransmitter dopamine -- also regulates our sense of time, which no doubt helps to account for the way that surfing the Web causes many of us to fall into temporal black holes.

Incidentally, stimulant drugs such as cocaine and crystal meth also keep our dopamine circuitry humming. Are you even mildly surprised?

The question of what our constant immersion in the dopamine-rich bath of the Web means for us as individuals, as creators and keepers of records, and as a society has yet to be answered, but the changes that ensue are likely to be both subtle and overt, trivial and profound. Studying past information revolutions may give us some sense of what lies ahead, but we may also be in for all kinds of unanticipated developments. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night . . . .

Monday, August 17, 2009

SAA 2009: Electronic Records Section meeting

Downtown Austin, as seen from the 19th floor of the Hilton Austin Downtown, at approximately 1:15 AM on 16 August 2009.

The Electronic Records Section actually met last Friday, but I held off blogging about it because of time presssures -- something had to give -- and because I was waiting for Cal Lee, who speedily delivered a great presentation, to place his slides online. The slides aren’t up yet, but want to finish blogging SAA 2009 before my memory dims. I’ll post the link ASAP.

Cal’s presentation was entitled “Addressing the Messiness of Electronic Records Acquisition”; there was a subtitle, too, but I couldn’t quite catch it.

Cal started out by noting that archivists are professionals, which means that they have special privileges because their decisions and actions reflect a distinctive body of expertise and because they are expected to use said expertise in service to the public. He then asserted that digital curation, which brings together archivists and other professionals, itself constitutes a distinct body of expertise. Digital curators seek to:
  • Understand and attend to the intentions of creators and “primary users” of digital materials.
  • Avoid unnecessary lock-in (i.e., use of proprietary file formats and systems) and free materials that have been locked in.
  • Promote discovery of digital resources.
  • Promote sense-making.
  • Creating succession plans and taking other steps to ensure that resources are preserved over the long term.
In fulfilling these responsibilities, digital curators seek to act in the public interest by:
  • Doing their work in socially responsible ways -- which is not the same as doing the tasks listed above.
  • Not making a priori assumptions about who will perform specific digital curation tasks.
  • Practicing “respectful and informed ignorance” when working with creators and end users.
  • Bringing their own informed questions and answers to discussions concerning the creation, management, preservation, and provision of access to digital resources.
Cal then focused on the particular challenges of working with archival electronic records created by individuals, who often hand over entire hard drives, scatter portable media throughout boxes of paper records, participate in online communities they don’t own or control, and outlined three main strategies for dealing with personal electronic records:
  • Getting: when archivists get data on computers or discs hidden in boxes, they must extract usable information from the media without inadvertently altering it. Cal noted that tools and techniques developed by digital forensics experts can be of great use to archivists who need to recover data when layers of technology fail or are no longer available, capture information that is not always readily visible (e.g., user account information, temporary files), and ensuring that their actions don’t irreversibly alter essential characteristics of the records. The digital forensics literature is extensive (the Internet Engineering Task Force’s RFC 3227 is a great starting point), and there are plenty of training opportunities and other events and open-source and commercial software packages available. However, using these tools will bring to the fore questions about the ethics of recovering hidden data that the creator never intended to disclose.
  • Grabbing: the rise of Web 2.0 technology means that many forms of individual documentation and expression now have a social, public dimension. Web 2.0 service providers, not individual users, determine the terms of use, and information may be lost when a provider goes out of business, merges with another firm, loses data due to insufficient backup procedures, or suffers a malicious attack. Grabbing (i.e., copying) material found on these sites is going to be the only way to preserve it, and archivists should keep in mind that it likely won’t be possible to provide seamless access to all of the information created by a person, in large part because creators like fragmentation; a person’s digital “papers” might consist of pointers to her online presence from the Web, her e-mail or the storage media used by her computer, and other items.
  • Guiding: Archivists will take custody of only a small fraction of personal digital papers, but creators will almost certainly ask us how they can get their data out of the cloud, evaluate terms of service, and preserve their files. Moreover, as professionals we have an ethical obligation to assist them. In an effort to meet this need, Cal is editing a forthcoming publication, I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era. Cal is also active in the Personal Digital Archives Working Group (PDAWG), an informal group that is still in the process of forming. The group will focus on developing and documenting tools for curators of personal digital collections and individuals seeking better control over their own digital materials, drafting of several guidance documents, and engaging research communities that use or may use personal digital materials. The Digital Curation Exchange will provide Web space for the group, which is looking for members and welcomes observers.
I’ve been thinking that archivists have a lot to learn from the field of digital forensics, and I’m glad that I’m not the only one who sees its potential for our work. Moreover, as several of us pointed out in the discussion that followed Cal’s presentation, community-based archives and lone arrangers have a pressing need for the sort of easy-to-use tools that the PADWG is developing. I’ll be watching the work of this group quite closely.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

SAA 2009: Engaging Your Chief Information Officer in Records Retention and Access (Session 705)

Bats flying over Lady Bird Lake, as seen from the Congress Street Avenue Bridge, Austin, Texas, 14 August 2009.

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, North Carolina, 3:05 PM. Yesterday was a very busy day, and I'm taking advantage of a long layover to do some catching up.

The New York State Office of the Chief Information Officer/Office for Technology and the New York State Archives are working together to address openness issues in state government, and I’m interested in how other state government CIO’s and archivists are collaborating. This session was a bit short on the details of such partnerships, but I learned quite a bit about how archivists can align their needs and goals with those of CIOs, interesting initiatives drawing together university archivists, and CIOs, and the future plans of the Washington Digital Archives.

Doug Robinson of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers opened the session by highlighting the results of a recent survey of state CIO concerns and priorities, which indicates that CIOs are devoting increasing attention to electronic records management, digital preservation, and e-discovery and to budgeting and cost controls. He also noted that CIOs are moving toward enterprise architecture and asserted that archivists should actively support this trend: enterprise architecture emphasizes cross-boundary processes and capabilities and improved information access and sharing, and archivists can help to ensure that retention and preservation needs are incorporated into reference models and solutions architecture. Moreover, as he noted during the discussion segment of the session, fiscal hardship may help to make enterprise architecture a reality; separate agency IT installations may come to be seen as a luxury or needless duplication.

Robinson also encouraged archivists to monitor other issues important to CIOs: digital infrastructure investments, renovation and replacement of legacy systems, new risks associated with electronic records, digital preservation, and e-discovery, increasing demands for transparence, Web 2.0, cloud computing, and innovative funding models.

Claire Bailey, the CIO of Arkansas, emphasized CIOs’ need for technology that never fails (e.g,, robust emergency communications systems), and need to ensure that citizens’ information is protected, share information without boundaries so that it can be analyzed and reused, and employ environmentally sound, cost-effective solutions.

David McCartney of the University of Iowa focused on the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which facilitates collaborative work between archivists and records managers and CIOs at Big 10 universities. Last year, it sponsored a conference in East Lansing, Michigan that focused on enterprise-wide approaches to e-records management and a host of other issues. It enabled archivists to grasp the challenges CIOs faced and the legal implications of electronic records management and led to the creation in creation of forces addressing, among other things, establishing records management guidelines, distinguishing between preservation and backup, identifying archival requirements for recordkeeping systems. The conference brought together McCartney and his CIO, and enabled them to learn about each other’s challenges and move beyond oppositional conceptions of their relationship. They began working together to refine the campus’s IT strategic plan and appraising records series and Web sites at the point of creation. It also led the campus to participate in a proposed CIC Shared Storage Initiative for Big 10 schools; this initiative may get American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding.

Jerry Handfield of the Washington State Archives started by making an important point: archivists have been dealing with technological obsolescence of analog audiovisual recording formats for more than a century. He then furnished an overview of the development of the Washington Digital Archives. Asserting that Washington is the only state with a digital archives because it possesses both a strong IT base and the requisite political will, he stated that digital archives are needed in order to comply with statutory and regulator mandates, avoid loss of legally and historically valuable records, preserve rare paper records, manage risk and avoid litigation loss, and provide centralized access to the permanent electronic records of state government. Washington’s digital archives first took in digitized paper records because it wanted to garner support from local governments and prove its usefulness to citizens, but it will soon begin taking in e-mail and other born-digital records. It is also planning to make its digital audio files searchable, improve records ingestion and transfer, add bandwidth, and develop a disaster recovery tape retrieval system that uses RFID technology.

He also shared some important lessons that Washington has learned.
  • Archivists must be integrated into the process of describing content.
  • Cross-training of staff is more important than ever.
  • Maintaining one’s own staff is a necessary risk and expense, and staff turnover can be managed.
  • Vendors are often reluctant to export data, even if the law specifies that the data is a pubic record.
  • Archivists are still wedded to paper.
  • It is actually cheaper to make a record available online at no charge than to charge a nominal fee for a copy.
  • People widely believe that online public records are great sources of information for identity thieves. However, studies indicate that mailboxes are thieves’ most common information source, and in Washington State one thief used information gleaned from tombstones.
  • It is essential to select good partners.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

SAA 2009: Lasting Memories: Sustained Use of Collections of Tragedy (Session 608)

Flowering tree, alley adjacent to 7th Street, Austin, Texas, 15 August 2009.

The New York State Archives and the New York State Historical Records Advisory Board have been developing a variety of resources for September 11 survivors and families, and I’ve been drawn into this effort from time to time. I wanted to see how other archivists have worked with other communities affected by tragedy, and in the process of doing so I learned a bit about recent changes in American mourning conventions.

NB: This post is long, and it doesn’t do justice to this affecting, thought-provoking session, which highlighted the lingering impact of each tragedy on each presenter's institution.

Lisle Brown of Marshall University couldn’t attend SAA this year, so moderator Aaron Purcell delivered his presentation, which concerned the 14 November 1970 airplane crash in which 45 Marshall football players and coaching staff perished and the aftermath of this event. The university held a memorial service, but there were no spontaneous memorials of the sort that are extremely common today. Special Collections began gathering materials relating to the crash immediately after its founding, and it continues to do so; its 50 linear feet of material include holdings include presidential files, football programs and other materials, newspaper clippings and subject files, recordings of news coverage of the 1970 football season and the crash, and a memorial Web site. However, the university and surrounding communities did not discuss the event and Special Collections’ holdings were largely unused until after the 25th anniversary of the crash, which seems to have encouraged people to talk about it.

The crash and its aftermath were the subject of the Emmy-winning documentary Ashes to Glory (2000) and the fictional feature film, We Are Marshall, both of which had the active support of the university, Special Collections, and area residents. Special Collections staff helped We Are Marshall’s producers recreate Marshall as it existed in the 1970s by producing facsimile documents, researching costumes, and allowing some filming to take place in its facilities. The university waived all rights on the film in exchange for several minutes of time on the DVDs, and Special Collections accessioned some costumes and props; others were auctioned to benefit the university. However, to this date, there still isn’t a comprehensive history of the crash and its aftermath.

Ed Galvin discussed Syracuse University’s Pan Am Flight 103 collection. Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland on 31 December 1988, and all 249 passengers, 35 of whom were Syracuse University students, and 11 people on the ground perished. The campus was emptying out because it was finals week, but those on campus were confronted with a tragedy that still profoundly affects the university. Shortly after the event, the archives started collecting administrative materials, condolence letters, and materials documenting students’ lives.

To date, over 20 books have been written about Pan Am Flight 103, which has global significance. Until 11 September 2001, it was the deadliest terrorist attack against American citizens, it has profoundly affected the community of Lockerbie, Scotland, prosecution of the perpetrators has involved multiple jurisdictions, and many families are still actively seeking justice. Use of the collections reflects the significance of the event: researchers include applicants and recipients of scholarships honoring the dead students, the news media, documentary filmmakers, survivors of other plane crashes and terrorist attacks, government officials preparing counter-terrorism studies and training materials, and academics studying the event, crisis communication, and crisis counseling. Family members also use the collections, and staffers make sure that they have plenty of time and privacy; staffers also consult families before allowing student photographs, etc., to be used in documentaries.

The 20th anniversary of the disaster led the archives to reflect on its work and to commit to ensuring that current students, many of whom were born after the event, understand the attack and its impact. The archives has remained in contact with the victims’ group and emphasized that it is logical archival home for materials concerning all 276 people who perished as a result of the attack. It is also collecting other materials relating to aviation security and terrorism and mounting a campaign to raise a $2 million endowment for a permanent Pan Am Flight 103 archivist, processing and reprocessing collections, digitizing materials, and collecting three-dimensional objects.

Steven Escar Smith of Texas A&M University discussed a more recent tragedy: the 18 November 1999 collapse of a 55 foot-high bonfire that killed 1 former and 11 current students and seriously injured approximately 30 other people. Texas A&M’s tragedy wasn’t caused by an outside agent or during the normal course of business, and the archive bears evidence of the lingering controversy surrounding the collapse.

The tragedy resulted in the creation of three distinct collections:
  • Public Records Collection: Immediately after the disaster, the university’s Office of General Counsel fielded records requests, gathered records, and gave them to the archives, which disclosed them to the media on a first-come, first-served basis. The resulting collection comprises 18 bankers boxes of accident photos, 911 tapes, student records, accident reports, and tapes of media coverage of the event.
  • Bonfire Memorial Project: A university anthropologist who studies spontaneous memorials to the dead gathered materials from impromptu shrines using an “archaeological” paradigm -- she and her students created a grid of the area and noted locations as things were collected. Many materials were left at the shrines in late 1999 and early 2000, and materials left at memorials are still gathered today. This collection consists of 289 bankers boxes of notes, photographs, drawings, stuffed animals, clothing, and other materials, and 42 oversized items.
  • Bonfire Commission: 10 bankers boxes of records created or gathered by an investigative body established by the university.
Smith also outlined a number of lessons that he and his colleagues learned as they disclosed materials to the media, and other archives dealing with “media rushes” ought to find them helpful:
  • Reporters are not your friends, but they’re not necessarily your enemies, either. Once reporters found that the librarians and archivists were committed to openness, they became friendly; staff eventually became uncomfortable with the situation and backed away a bit.
  • Fairness and transparency are your only refuge. Staffers were afraid that we wouldn’t get any Thanksgiving or Christmas breaks, but when they established trust, reporters were fine with their taking some time off.
  • Partners are important. The university’s Office of General Counsel and Department of Anthropology were and are extremely helpful.
  • The emotional toll on staff is real and considerable. Managers didn’t push for counseling, etc., and in retrospect they should have devoted more attention to addressing the emotional impact of the librarians’ and archivists’ work.
Aaron Purcell then spoke briefly about Virginia Tech’s efforts to document the 16 April 2007 campus shootings that left 33 people, including the gunman, dead. After the shootings, spontaneous memorials popped up all over campus, and all kinds of materials arrived from every state and from many nations. An estimated 88,000 items -- textual documents, quilts, banners, paper cranes, food, and many objects -- were received. Most were textual documents, but quilts, banners, paper cranes, and other objects were received; the physical object collection alone comprises 250 cubic feet. The university archives began digitizing materials right away, and is creating an EAD finding aid for the collection, which is still in its infancy. Owing to its recentness, the collection poses new challenges: it will almost certainly include electronic records and Web 2.0 materials.

SAA 2009: Taking Archives to the Streets: Creating Sustainable Archives (Session 509)

Shoreline of Lady Bird Lake, Austin, Texas, as seen from the Congress Street Avenue Bridge, 14 August 2009.

There’s been a lot of talk at this year’s meeting about the need to reach out to local- and community-based archives, and my own interest in the subject led me to attend this session, which focuses on the Basics of Archival Continuing Education (BACE) curriculum developed by the National Forum on Archival Continuing Education and the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH). Several of my colleagues were actively involved in the development of BACE, I was consistently impressed by what I saw of it, and I wanted to learn how other archivists are using it.

Sandra Clark of the Michigan Historical Center discussed the development of BACE, which was intended to provide basic archival training for individuals from grassroots organizations, diverse communities, and allied professions by incorporating non-traditional approaches to delivery, the findings of adult education specialists, and leveraging technology. The workgroup (comprised of people from New York State, Ohio, Michigan, and AASLH) learned it was really hard to create a one-day workshop, sacrificed archival theory for archival practice, and used common English. It also focused on enrollees’ wants and needs, not what the group thought they should want and need, and took into account the differing needs and skills of instructors and students and the differences between the in-person and online environments. The end result: a workshop curriculum distributed to and available from all 50 state archivists and an online workshop offered by AASLH.

Sarah Canby Jackson of the Harris County (Texas) Archives detailed her use of BACE as an outreach tool for the archival profession. After Hurricane Katrina, archivists were confronted with the pressing need to educate people about the importance of local records, and BACE can play an important role in teaching local records holders to care for their records.

Jackson devoted the remainder of the session to offering some practical guidance for BACE instructors, many of which will be useful to presenters of other archival workshops
  • If at all possible, share facilitation/teaching responsibilities with multiple archivists, which eliminates fatigue and promotes networking.
  • Modify the curriculum to meet the needs and interests of your students (BACE makes it easy to do so). Do not attempt to present BACE without carefully reviewing it first!
  • Plan in advance: determine your schedule, your enrollment cap (25-30 is ideal), whether you will charge a fee (and whether you will incorporate membership fees for an area archival organization into the workshop fee), whether you will provide lunch, and what will be included in the packets distributed to enrollees.
  • Bring in supplies so that you can demonstrate actions.
  • Interact with participants during breaks and lunch and cultivate relationships with them -- you want to encourage them to contact you if they encounter problems in the future.
  • Figure out how you will publicize your workshop. I’ve done publicity via e-mail and flyers, local genealogical newsletters, and have targeted offerings to various constituencies (e.g., church groups, historical societies).
Shelly Henley Kelly of the University of Houston-Clear Lake outlined the results of several surveys documenting BACE’s use and reception. According to a Council of State Archivists survey, BACE’s distribution varies widely: some states have sent curriculum CD’s to every local government and historical organization, while others rely on their own training programs or can’t stray from their narrow legal mandates. Another survey indicates that BACE attendees are drawn from a wide array of backgrounds: religious groups, community organizations, local historical associations, historians who hoped to figure out how to locate records, genealogists, librarians with archival duties, paraprofessional staff, volunteers, and student assistants, and local government personnel. Moreover, a survey of Houston-area enrollees indicated that all of them were confident about their ability to work with archival records, find records in a repository, and many had contacted their instructors after the course. All of them saw the course as worthwhile, and many of them wanted more in-depth information about processing.

During the brief discussion that followed, Elizabeth Dow offered an interesting observation: she and her colleagues in Louisiana piloted BACE by allowing people to work through the curriculum CD in a classroom and then drawing them into a discussion. They discovered that people really liked working through the CD at their own pace but needed to be in a room together; people attempting to review the materials by themselves tend to lose their enthusiasm. I hope that other archivists experimenting with new ways of delivering training make use of this insight.

I really liked the practical thrust of this session, which packed a lot of valuable information into a 60-minute timeslot, and I'm glad I dragged my sleep-deprived self out of bed for it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

SAA 2009: Seeing the Forest: Environmental Sustainability and Archives (Session 406)

Texas Lottery drawing, as seen through the grate on the front door of the Texas Lottery Building, 611 East 6th Street, Austin, Texas, at about 10:30 PM on 13 August 2009. Refusing to address the varied sustainability issues that impinge upon our lives and our work is sort of like relying on the lottery to fund our retirements.

I went to this session largely because of my nagging concerns about the environmental impact of electronic records work -- and because I wanted to meet Terry Baxter, with whom I’ve collaborated via e-mail and who is a Facebook friend. However, all of the panelists were full of good ideas about how to reduce the environmental impact of our work.

Heather Soyka of Texas Tech University focused on archival facilities. Buildings consume 66 percent of all of the energy used in the United States, 80 percent of that energy is derived from coal, and 10-20 percent of it is wasted. Archivists can reduce their facilities’ energy demands by making intelligent design choices (e.g., separating collections storage and work spaces, installing shared printers, situating staff offices on the sunny side of the building), collecting environmental data, and understanding the basics of their HVAC systems and establishing good relationships with maintenance staff. At the same time, they should avoid becoming overly fixated on climate targets; the increasing precision of environmental data-gathering tools can result in an energy-intensive fixation on minor variations in temperature and relative humidity. Proactively “greening” one’s facilities and implementing other sustainability initiatives (e.g., offering campus or community shredding days and recycling the shreds) demonstrates one’s seriousness, commitment to saving money, and interest in one’s community.

Kristen Yarney-Tylutki of the University of Scranton (presentation here) highlighted the role of people in promoting sustainability. Conservation psychologists have determined that the chief reason people don’t engage in sustainable behaviors is that they perceive the disincentives to be greater than the incentives. Moreover, simply providing information isn’t enough to propel behavior changes. Individuals need to make an active commitment to sustainable behavior, and institutions and individuals need to establish new social norms (e.g., reserving the best parking spaces for carpoolers, retooling Web sites to highlight public transportation and bicycling and downplaying driving), provide feedback, and furnish visual and auditory prompts (e.g., prominently placed recycling receptacles). Archivists can also question vendors about their sustainability practices, work with local and state government to green their archives, cultivate private donors receptive to “green” initiatives, and promote sustainability via their professional organizations and online social networks.

Terry Baxter of the Multnomah County (Oregon) Records Program ended the session with a presentation that first identified the core characteristics of sustainable systems (eliminating our contribution to the progressive buildup of substances extracted from the earth, the progressive buildup of human-made chemicals and compounds, the progressive physical deterioration of nature and natural processes, and conditions that undermine people’s ability to meet their basic needs) and then detailed the environmental, technical, and recordkeeping dimensions of electronic records sustainability.

Electronic storage media and hardware have short lifespans, require energy, petroleum, heavy metals, and toxic compounds, and some of our digital preservation solutions (e.g., LOCKSS, which Terry memorably described as Lots of Copies Keeps Servers Stuffed) are highly resource intensive. Although digitizing paper materials might conserve energy by enabling users to conduct research at home, not everyone wants to be online, and we need to determine at what point the economic and environmental costs of electronic storage and migration outweigh the benefits of keeping information in digital form. In some instances, opting to retain information on paper might be the more sustainable choice. Moreover, we must take sustainability issues into account when performing conversions and migrations: each action we perform is likely to produce something that needs to be disposed of, and we can’t defer responsibility for assessing the impact of our choices upon the world.

During the discussion section, the issue of how to talk to IT people about sustainability issues arose, and Terry noted that he emphasized cost savings: good electronic records management frees up large quantities of server space, thus eliminating the need to purchase more storage. Kristen Yarmey-Tylutki noted that it’s important to need learn at least a little about green computing options and discuss these options with vendors and IT people.

All in all, a thought-provoking session that I suspect will remain on my mental back burner for some time. However, I can’t shake the nagging thought that flying to and from Austin is in, all likelihood, the least green thing I’ll do all year . . . .

SAA 2009: Sleeping with the Enemy: Hate Collections in Catholic, Masonic, and LGBTQ Collections (Session 303)

Pride flag, downtown Austin, Texas, evening of 13 August 2009.

This 60-minute session (why did SAA insist on shortening today’s first timeslot?) focused on three repositories that collect materials documenting both the history of organizations and social groups and the history of opposition to them. It drove home the importance of collecting “hate” materials, archivists’ ethical obligations to researchers, and, if possible, reaching out to creators of such materials. I came away convinced that those of us who develop documentation strategies focusing on social groups need to devote at least some attention to identifying and collecting that materials created by the group's detractors and persecutors.

Jeffrey Croteau of the National Heritage Museum, an American history museum with a special focus on Freemasonry and fraternal life, asserted that his institution collects anti-Masonic materials because they are essential to our understanding of Masonry and American history itself. Anti-Masonry has been around for a long time and at times has had a profound impact on American social and political history, and it’s thus important to document. Moreover, the anti-Masonic materials in its collections help to document the persistence of 19th-century conspiracy theories linking Freemasonry, Catholicism, and Baphomet, the goat-demon Masons were accused of worshiping.

James Miller of the University of Western Ontario’s Pride Library stated that he collects homophobic materials because of his professorial commitment to leading students toward truth and because the LGBTQ community’s enemies are indeed known by their published and archival works. The library holds “exposes” of gay life from the 1960s, materials asserting that AIDS was a punishment for homosexuality, and books and manuscripts documenting religious, political, and other expressions of homophobia. The Pride Library’s collecting policy simultaneously sanctions the celebration of all forms of anti-homophobic activity, sanctions (in a negative sense) homophobic material, and demonstrates commitment to freedom of expression and inquiry.

William Kevin Crawley of the University of Notre Dame Archives, which seeks to document the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, noted that anti-Catholicism is an important part of this history. American anti-Catholicism is rooted in the arguments of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, but it was also shaped by nativist opposition to Irish and German Catholic immigration and the belief that one’s primary loyalty should rest with one’s country. Conspiracy theories asserting that the Pope wanted to undermine the United States and that Catholics were secretly doing the Pope’s bidding abounded.

During the discussion session, the question of whether researchers have ever used these materials in order to perpetuate anti-Masonic, homophobic, or anti-Catholic sentiments arose. Miller indicated that he hasn’t gotten any reference requests of this nature, perhaps in part because he requires every researcher to submit a research proposal. Crawley indicated that he had never gotten such requests in person, but suspected that several mailed requests for photocopies were submitted with this purpose in mind. Crawley, who provided the requested photocopies, and Miller both stressed that their commitment to freedom of inquiry would lead them to handle such reference requests as they would any other.

The issue of how the creators of such materials respond to repositories’ collecting activity also arose. Croteau stated that he suspected that many anti-Masonic activists are happy to have their materials added to the National Heritage Museum’s collections because they hope that future researchers will be persuaded by it. Miller noted that one author of a book in the Pride Library’s holdings objected to his work being classified as a “homophobic classic, and the creator of a series of religious pamphlets condemning homosexuality (and Catholicism and Freemasonry!) refused to allow Miller to reproduce his work because he was convinced that universities were under the spell of Satan.

The session ended before we could fully discuss the last question that arose: whether collecting “hate” materials has ever produced backlash from funders or the communities they document. However, Crawley noted that other collecting decisions have been controversial. Notre Dame's conservative student paper published an article condemning an archives exhibit focusing on leftist Catholic groups; the thought that documenting these groups might make it easier to critique them apparently didn’t cross the author’s mind. Moreover, other members of the university community have, to Crawley's dismay, discouraged use of the archives’ anti-Catholic materials: several graduate students have told Crawley that their advisers suggested that they avoid focusing on the unpleasant history of Catholic-Protestant relations.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

SAA 2009: Government Records Section meeting

Austin's Congress Street Bridge, which spans Lady Bird Lake, is home to the nation's largest urban bat colony. During the summer months, up to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats live in the crevices under the bridge. At dusk, the bats fly out in waves and search for food; each night, they eat between 10,000-20,000 pounds of insects.

After a brief business meeting, SAA members who attended the Government Records Section got to hear two great speakers address freedom of information issues at the state federal and local level.

David Mengel of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Special Access/FOIA Staff unit, which handles Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning archival materials created by executive branch agencies, discussed recent changes in the federal government’s handling of FOIA requests and recent trends affecting the National Archives.

Immediately after taking office, President Obama issued statements pledging his commitment to transparency, openness, and collaboration within government and instructing agencies that records should be reviewed with a presumption of openness. Shortly afterward, the U.S. Attorney General issued a memo instructing agencies to review FOIA requests with a presumption of openness and issued comprehensive guidelines relating to each FOIA exemption.

Mengel emphasized that these developments constitute a significant shift in the federal government’s commitment to openness. However, this shift also complicates NARA’s work in ways that ought to be increasingly familiar to other government archivists:
  • NARA gets a lot of FOIA requests for open records, in part because people don’t know that records are open and in part because they want NARA to do their research for them. The volume of requests covering very large quantities of records is steadily increasing.
  • NARA is also trying to figure out how to review large quantities of e-mail and other electronic textual documents. For example, it has yet to find any workable search strategy for locating Social Security Numbers within State Department cables, which have been kept electronically since 1973. NARA ended up sampling the records and discovered that SSNs were typically bundled with dates and places of birth; however, the abbreviations associated with these elements of information have changed over time.
  • Federal agencies are running out of storage space, so NARA is getting records that are more recent -- and thus have more privacy issues and other problems (e.g., proprietary information) than older records. It doesn’t help that agencies don’t always identify these issues prior to transfer. In an effort to [identify problems,] Mengel’s unit is trying to get more involved in the appraisal process and looking at records as they come in. However, NARA’s need to review newer records may lead the public to conclude that it’s hiding information.
Mengel concluded by noting that although his unit is trying to improve its handling of FOIA requests, it’s being overwhelmed; there simply aren’t enough people to do the work. Moreover, future developments that NARA views as positive will likely bring new challenges: it looks as if President will soon establish a National Declassification Center under the supervision of the Archivist of the United States, and NARA’s workload may increase dramatically as a result.

Sean Malone, the Records Service Manager of Travis County, Texas, then discussed openness and transparency issues from a local government perspective. He emphasized that in some respects, the situation in Texas is better than that at the federal level: Texas has a strong tradition of openness and transparency, and the Attorney General determines statewide procedures for reviewing and disclosing records. However, local governments in Texas face persistent and worsening fiscal constraints; when times are bad, it’s especially hard to make the case for spending money on records and archives instead of aid to needy families or other essential services.

Malone also highlighted two records issues that pose particular problems for him and for other records managers:
  • Resolving conflicts between employees’ First Amendment rights and the public’s right to access government information. Information created on BlackBerries, etc., is a particular problem: people are deeply resistant to the idea that the personal e-mails and text messages on their employer-supplied devices are public records and that work files on their home computers must be turned over.
  • The need for better ways to search electronic records and identify materials requested by researchers. Unfortunately, the technology is not forthcoming. For example, Novell’s GroupWise e-mail application, which the county uses, does not have the market share needed to spur development of good e-mail management solutions. Managing e-mail is thus a real problem for the county, and there is a real tension between what the state says it should be doing and what it can do given its fiscal situation.

Malone closed by discussing e-mail issues at the state government level: Governor Rick Perry has ordered that his staff’s e-mail be purged after seven days, and staffers are responsible for printing out records that have longer retention periods. Owing to the sheer volume of e-mail that users receive and the complexity of the state’s records schedules, gubernatorial staffers automatically forward all messages to their personal accounts so that they can retrieve it later if necessary. However, happens to this e-mail when people no longer work for the state?

Great presenters, great presentations, lots to think about.

SAA 2009: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Electronic Records Preservation (Session 203)

Texas State Capitol, as seen from the middle of Congress Street, 13 August 2009.

This session highlighted how two state archives and one state university system have tackled electronic records management and preservation issues and as moderator Nancy Kunde promised at the outset, it emphasized the importance of building partnerships and relationships, remaining actively engaged in electronic records issues, and taking advantages of opportunities that come one’s way.

Roger Christman asserted that the characteristics needed to sustain any relationship -- trust, patience, collaboration, persistence -- can be applied to electronic records and then explained how the Library of Virginia (LVA) cultivated a solid relationship with the Governor’s Office. It built upon its past efforts to schedule gubernatorial records and acquire archival records at the end of each governor’s term of office, Governor Mark Warner’s technology background and desire to avoid the sort of records-centered scandal that engulfed his immediate predecessor, the positive LVA internship experience of Governor Timothy Caine’s records officer, and the LVA’s ongoing effort to make records management and archival transfer as painless as possible. As a result of this ongoing relationship, Governor Caine personally signed a letter of support for the LVA’s recent NHPRC electronic records grant application, and the LVA has survived lean times with its budget largely intact.

Patricia Michaelis detailed how the Kansas Historical Society has dealt with electronic records, which in her view require a blend of faith and guts: we need to believe that we will one day “figure things out” and keep in mind that the risk associated with failure is great but the risk associated with doing nothing is even greater. The Kansas Historical Society has taken an inventive, project-driven, and at times zig-zagging approach to electronic records, which has allowed it to establish contact with state IT people, make the case for electronic records management and preservation, and build staff expertise in the absence of a full-fledged program. Its was able to use its grant project experiences to secure funding for a permanent electronic records archivist position, create a cross-agency electronic records committee, establish ongoing dialogue between key government stakeholders, and start a pilot digital repository project. It’s also turned challenges into opportunities; for example, in response to legislation that allowed state agencies to cease producing paper publications, it worked with the Kansas State Library to create a DSpace repository for electronic government publications. A lot of information about the Kansas Historical Society's electronic records work is available online; I think any state government electronic records archivist would benefit from looking at it.

Joanne Kaczmarek of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana focused on the concept of the slipstream, which is an area of reduced pressure or forward suction caused by the forward movement of an object through air or water. Migrating birds that fly in formation and Lance Armstrong and other members of his cycling team take advantage of slipstreams, and Kaczmarek asserted that, for electronic records archivists, collaboration is the slipstream. She traced the history of collaborative efforts focusing on electronic college and university records, and then outlined how she is pulling together stakeholders in the University of Illinois system. Owing to her efforts, there are now university-wide task forces looking at digital imaging, records management, and other electronic records issues. She asserted that each of us needs to find our own slipstream; that’s sometimes easier said than done, but it’s deeply sound advice nonetheless.

The discussion portion of the session brought to light several interesting issues:
  • Dealing with records creators who are reluctant to work with archivists. Figuring out how to provide a needed service to the creator and flattery (which works especially well with elected officials) are possible approaches. Using the stick of the law may also be appropriate, but caution is in order; taking a hard line with someone who wants to do the right thing can be profoundly counterproductive.
  • The importance of educating people about their recordkeeping responsibilities and doing so in a way they understand. For example, IT people tend to be project-oriented, and archivists generally aren’t. We need to speak other people’s languages, not expect them to understand ours.
  • State records laws need to be revised to include complex information systems – a monumental task but one that cannot be ceded to IT -- and we may need to revise our appraisal processes in order to deal with systems of this sort.
  • Training should be geared to creators’ needs. For example, Governor’s Office staff might need one-on-one training but that agency personnel, many of whom have lengthy careers in state government, might be satisfied with workshops and publications. Moreover, the process of creating guidelines and other training materials is a great way for staff to educate themselves.

SAA 2009: Building, Managing, and Participating in Online Communities (Session 101)

El Sol y La Luna, 600 East 6th Street, Austin, Texas, 13 August 2009. Reasonably priced and delicious Central and Latin American cuisine with an American granola/hippie touch. I particularly recommend Anna's Tofu Salad with tomato vinaigrette dressing.

I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to attend this session, which focused on using Web 2.0 tools to make archival materials more accessible to users. All of the speakers emphasized the need for archivists to meet their users where they are and to accept that content placed on the Web will be repurposed in various ways.

Camille Cloutier of San Jose State University discussed a pilot Wikipedia project designed to enhance access to Calisphere, a California Digital Library (CDL) resource that provides access to over 180,000 digitized materials held by repositories throughout California. Calisphere’s content is indexed by Google, but in an effort to reach more users, Cloutier began incorporating Calisphere content into Wikipedia; studies indicate that Wikipedia is heavily used by younger and college-educated users and that only two percent of student searches begin on a college or university library site. Cloutier initially wanted to add external links to the references sections of articles, but Wikipedia sometimes regards libraries’ and archives’ efforts to do so as self-promotion. As a result, Cloutier identified Calisphere content of likely interest to Wikipedia users, created a user account and made, and made 33 edits to existing Wikipedia articles and uploaded a substantial number of relevant images. She also found 66 existing links to Calisphere content, which gives some indication as to the user community’s interests. In the future, CDL staff will see whether Cloutier's edits are modified and encourage subject specialists to monitor articles relevant to their work.

Deborah Wyethe of the Brooklyn Museum detailed how her repository is using Flickr and Flickr Commons to enhance access to its photographic holdings. It began using Flickr to document current activities in 2006 and joined the Flickr Commons in 2008. It learned that it was important to monitor Flickr users’ comments, respond to the very large number of reference inquiries conveyed via Flickr, incorporate user tags into its own online catalog, accept that users will use, combine, and rework ways that staff never imagined. Although this work can be extremely time-consuming, Flickr makes cross-collection access possible, and makes it easier for users to find images. Images on the museum’s Web site get 10-30 hits, but images on Flickr get 1,000, 10,000, or more. Repository Web sites are ideal for archives that want a small community of scholarly users, but the museum wanted a large and diverse user community. Flickr makes this goal possible.

Mark Matienzo (whose views are not necessarily those of his employer) emphasized the need to embrace users' mashups and enhancements of the materials we place online. His discussion of the reuse of materials that the New York Public Library (NYPL) has placed online highlighted the value that such reuse has for other users and NYPL itself:
  • New York Then And Now: an Australian user took NYPL images, ran them through Google Maps’ API, and added geocoding data that enhanced NYPL's metadata.
  • Reaching for the Out of Reach: uses digitized stereoscope cards and merged them so that online users see the images in 3D. (Be warned: this project is cool, but might not be appropriate for those prone to motion sickness)
  • NYPL Digital Gallery on Wikimedia Commons: NYPL found that a user had found a way to download the high-resolution versions of its images on Wikimedia Commons. NYPL contacted him and encouraged him to download a specific collection. NYPL can make images available via Wikimedia Commons more quickly than it can on its own site.
Moderator Jeanne Kramer-Smyth (Discovery Communications) then noted that she would post to the Web a chart summarizing the essential characteristics of Wikipedia, Flickr and other online communities: community feel, potential user base, copyright, user interface, learning curve for participation, third-party applications, and methods of adding content. It’s a pretty cool chart.

The discussion session offered a lot of additional food for thought:
  • Online community projects should be viewed as experiments; you will learn as you go, and things are changing so quickly that waiting to participate really isn’t an option.
  • Participating in online communities as an individual is excellent preparation for institutional participation. There are social norms even on the Web, and archivists need to learn about them.
  • If you join one of these communities, you become a member. You can’t just jump in and jump back out. It requires an ongoing commitment. The history of digital library projects is “put something out and leave it there.” However, we have an obligation to figure out how users engage with our materials and interact with our users.
  • Having an institutional employee participate in an online community is a great way of making your institution seem engaged and human, and letting volunteers participate in online communities is a great way to engage them and allow them to contribute to your institution.
  • Employees who participate in online communities must be enthusiastic and committed; simply assigning it to someone who doesn’t want to do it is a recipe for failure. If staffers aren’t interested, consider recruiting volunteers.

SAA 2009: Security Roundtable meeting

Late afternoon thunderstorm, as seen from the 19th floor, Hilton Austin Downtown, 12 August 2009.

After the joint Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable/Women's Collections Roundtable panel presentation, I rushed to the Security Roundtable's annual meeting. I ended up missing a substantial chunk of the roundtable's panel discussion, which featured:
  • Paul Brachfeld and Kelly Maltagliati, who discussed how the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration's Office of the Inspector General recovers stolen federal records, identifies materials that have been stolen, and educates dealers, collectors, and the public.
I nonetheless picked up a wealth of valuable information:
  • Archives now face a new type of security challenge: a lot of recent thefts at the National Archives involve personal information sought by identity thieves. Archivists and law enforcement need to figure out how to protect personal information, much of which is in electronic form, and investigate its theft.
  • Archivists are generally oriented toward helping people and are loath to confront suspected thieves. However, many security guards at the National Archives, who get a cash reward each time they discover a document on its way out the door, also want to think the best of people and don't always follow reporting protocols. However, this sort of misplaced trust makes serial theft possible.
  • Archives need to identify who has access to specific areas within a facility and impose appropriate limits.
  • Management should identify all staff members' collecting areas; staffers who don't work with collections at the present time may do so in the future.
  • Staff should be empowered and expected to question people who are in areas where they shouldn’t be or are carrying materials that they shouldn’t have.
  • If possible, make sure that no one staff person has access to all of your information systems; doing so will make it more difficult for a dishonest staffer to destroy evidence of records' existence.
  • If you suspect internal theft, inform upper management and get law enforcement involved. Act quietly; gossip will spread like wildfire. Every situation is different, but you do need to ensure that you don’t compromise the investigation and tip off the thief. You need to have a plan in place before any incidents come to the fore. Establish good relations with law enforcement ahead of time really helps.
  • Be as careful with vendors as you are with your own staff, and outline your expectations clearly. Museums have well-developed protocols for loaning materials and outsourcing preservation and conservation, but the archival community has not. We need to devote more attention to doing so.
  • One thief who stole from the National Archives put stars in his research notes that indicated which items that he stole, which helped to make up for lack of item-level control over the materials; other thieves may exhibit similar behavior. Researcher photocopies can also help to document provenance.
  • The Office of the Inspector General does a lot of outreach work and has prepared a brochure that explains how to identify federal government records. It has also established a presence at shows frequented by dealers of Civil War, etc., ephemera. The dealers were initially cold, but have started warming up now that they know that their materials generally won't be seized. Dealers will sometimes turn each other in, and some dealers are starting to contact the Office of the Inspector General before they buy questionable documents.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SAA 2009: LAGAR Annual Meeting

Jim Cartwright, my fellow co-chair, brought this beautiful lei made of orchids all the way from Hawaii and gave it to me immediately before the meeting started. I was and am deeply touched by this gesture, and for now I'm keeping the lei in the hotel room minibar. Does anyone have any advice on lei preservation?

The Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable met this afternoon. My tenure as co-chair ended when the business meeting concluded, and full details of the meeting will be reported in the official annual report that will go to SAA Council shortly. I'm just going to outline what I saw as the high points:
  • Heidi Marshall (Columbia College Chicago) was elected to serve as co-chair for the 2009-2011 term. Congratulations, Heidi!
  • LAGAR will convene a subcommittee to look at LAGAR's bylaws and leadership structure. Our current leadership structure, which involves having one male and one female co-chair serving staggered terms of office, made a lot of sense when LAGAR was created 21 years ago. However, it doesn't explicitly allow transpeople to serve as co-chairs, and it certainly freezes out genderqueer people who don't identify as either male or female. The committee will also look at ways LAGAR can make use of new technologies such as electronic voting. Any changes to the bylaws will be voted upon at the 2010 annual meeting.
  • Paula Jabloner is looking for people to write short statements on Privacy and Confidentiality and Arrangement and Description for the Information for Community Archives manual and for someone to assume responsibility for the manual's ongoing editing, which requires periodic updating (revising the Electronic Records section is my first post-co-chair assignment). We also discussed the possiblity of working in tandem with other SAA groups to produce a general guide for all kinds of community archives.
  • LAGAR is coming to Facebook! Keep your eyes peeled . . . .
After a brief break, we joined with the Women's Collections Roundtable for a panel discussion featuring Austin archivists and scholars who work with LGBT archival materials:
  • Nikki Lynn Thomas of the Women and Gender Project at the University of Texas at San Antonio discussed the history of the collection and her repository's efforts to document women, gender expression, and sexual identity in South Texas.
  • Lisa Moore of the University of Texas at Austin's Department of English discussed her search for evidence of queerness in the lives of 18th century English women and noted that the archival evidence can be fugitive: the only public records that document same-sex relationships during this era concern criminal prosecutions, and lovers and relatives often destroyed private papers after creators' deaths. Moreover, even today there is a presumption of heterosexuality; scholars who uncover evidence of queerness are often accused of reading too much into their sources. As a result, researchers interested in locating a usable past of queerness might want to to publicize their archival finds without offering any detailed analysis of them.
During the question-and-answer session that followed, an interesting discussion of the meaning of the word "archive" took place: for many scholars, an "archive" is something assembled through research, while for archivists the term often refers to a corpus of materials produced by an organization as it carries out its functions and duties. There wasn't any resolution to this discussion, but it certainly highlighted the fact that we archivists don't have a monopoly on the word "archive."

SAA 2009: Leadership Orientation and Forum for SAA Section, Roundtable, and Committee Officers

View from the 19th floor, Hilton Austin Downtown, late morning, 12 August 2009.

Even though my term as co-chair of the Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable ended a few hours afterward, I attended this morning’s leadership orientation session. I’m glad I did.

Owing to the time-sensitive nature of some of the information conveyed, I’ll start this post by focusing on the last section of the meeting, which concerned on the work of the Government Affairs Working Group (GAWG -- yes, GAWG) and its draft advocacy agenda. Bob Sink indicated that advocating for archives is a huge task. Now that the advocacy agenda is almost complete, GAWG will focus its energies upon developing resources that archivists can use when speaking with local, state, and federal legislators and other policy-makers.

Kathleen Roe then spoke about the Partnership for the American Historical Record (PAHR) federal legislative initiative, which if passed will dramatically increase the amount of federal funding for archives. She noted that PAHR will come up for a vote in the House of Representatives during the fall session and that the next two weeks are really crucial: PAHR supporters need to write or arrange to meet with their representatives within the next two weeks. (Background info, your representative’s contact info, and sample letters are available here.) Moreover, PAHR still lacks Senate sponsorship, so people really need to reach out to their senators as well.

Kathleen noted that her daily drive to work takes her past a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sign that asks, “Why not change the world?” and asserted that if 19 and 20 year-old techies can dream of changing the world, we can certainly dream of improving funding for archives!

The middle portion of the meeting focused on the draft Strategic Priority Goals and Outcomes FY 2010- FY 1013 document that Council has drafted. The discussion ranged from the very specific to the very broad, but there was a strong consensus that a) many sections and roundtables want to work collaboratively and that such collaboration should be supported and that b) efforts to ensure that the historical record reflects the diversity of American society should include outreach to and support of repositories that grow out of the communities they seek to document. I hope Council takes these suggestions to heart.

The first segment of the meeting was devoted to discussion of section and roundtable leadership, and three current and former leaders discussed their experiences and lessons that they had learned during their tenure:
  • Danna Bell-Russell of the Reference, Access, and Outreach Section (RAO) outlined RAO’s efforts to support National History Day (NHD), which grew out of Council’s decision to endorse NHD. In 2007, RAO established a subcommittee that created a survey instrument that assessed the extent to which SAA members participated in NHD events and a Web page that pointed to appropriate resources and documented members’ involvement in NHD. It also reached out to teachers and learned that they wanted online guides to using archives, finding repositories and materials of interest, locating the person who is best able to help students, subject lists, and special guides to visual materials. It has issued a final report outlining possible next steps for both RAO and SAA and is thinking about creating an online tutorial, working with SHRABs to develop online lists, and collaborating with other sections and roundtables.
  • Russell James of the Records Management Roundtable detailed how he ensured that his roundtable worked effectively: he made sure that its Steering Committee was 10-15 strong, and he made it plain that he expected a substantial time commitment (average of 2 hours/week) from each member, he was open to input from members, and kept track of everyone and everything via e-mail. He also discussed a couple of projects that the roundtable has undertaken. In keeping with one of its core goals -- promoting records management within SAA -- the roundtable contacted the former heads of sections and roundtables and asked them whether they had any materials in their possession. As a result, 13 roundtables and 7 sections now have complete records in the SAA Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It has also undertaken a diversity initiative; pamphlets focusing on working with archivists with physical disabilities will go up on its Web site soon.
  • Rebecca Johnson Melvin, the former co-chair of the Congressional Papers Roundtable, outlined a number of large projects that her roundtable has completed, including a full-fledged documentation strategy; a full chronology and select publications are available on the roundtable’s Web site. The roundtable’s current project, which is supported by the NHPRC and SAA itself, focuses on production of guidelines on the ethics of acquiring and managing Congressional papers; determining that these guidelines would focus on best practices took a lot of painful but necessary internal discussion and debate -- which Melvin learned is sometimes necessary -- but the final document focuses on best practices.
All good stuff, and an auspicious start to SAA 2009.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

LAGAR annual meeting, August 12, 4:15-6:30 PM

Littlefield Fountain, University of Texas at Austin, 8 October 2005.

The Society of American Archivists' Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable will meet on Wednesday, August 12 at the conference hotel. The business meeting will start at 4:15 PM, *ONE HOUR LATER* than the time listed in the SAA Annual Meeting program, and will wrap up at 5:15 PM. From 5:30-6:30 PM, we'll join the Women's Collections Roundtable for a joint panel discussion featuring scholars who work with women's and LGBT collections at local repositories.

At the business meeting, we'll elect a new male co-chair, add some new folks to the Steering Committee, talk about LAGAR's newsletter, and discuss ongoing projects such as our Information for Community Archives guide and new projects being planned for 2009-2010. We'll also recap some of the highlights of the past year.

See you in Austin!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Herding and mucking . . . .

Longhorn cattle, Johnson Settlement, Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historical Park, Johnson City, Texas, 11 October 2005.

Unless something truly momentous happens, blogging is going to be very light this week. I'm leaving for Austin and SAA early next week, and until I do, most of my time will be devoted to herding various problems and cleaning up their, um, leavings. Unlike the placid creatures depicted above, some of the things I'm trying to round up are kind of ornery. They're gonna get roped nonetheless.

I'll be back with a vengeance once I hit Austin next week, and will probably be back once or twice before I leave town.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Thinking of presenting at the Best Practices Exchange?

If you're interested in presenting at the 2009 Best Practices Exchange (BPE), which will be held in Albany, New York from 2-4 September, keep in mind that Wednesday, 5 August is the deadline for submitting a presentation proposal. Proposals should be one or two paragraphs in length and include a title and information about the track(s) to which your presentation belongs. For more information, see the 2009 Best Practices Exchange Proposals page.

The BPE brings together archivists, attorneys, information technology professionals, librarians, educators, product developers, records managers, and others interested in the management and preservation of digital information in state government. For more information about the BPE, consult the BPE Web site. Also, be sure to check out the BPE's presence on Facebook!