Friday, December 31, 2010

What are you doing New Year's, New Year's Eve?

Whatever you're doing, I hope you're having a lovely time doing it and that 2011 brings nothing but good things to you.

And what am I doing on New Year's Eve? I'm going to spend a quiet evening at home watching DVDs and doing the prep work needed to make hoppin' John tomorrow. I flew into Albany in the midst of the snowstorm on Sunday night, went back to work on Monday morning, worked furiously all week, and really feel the need for a little quiet time.

New York State is one of the twenty-six states experiencing a gubernatorial transition in the wake of November's elections, and in New York governor's take office on New Year's Day. Most governors have opted to take a private oath of office at midnight and a public oath of office at noon.* However, Governor-Elect Andrew M. Cuomo will take the private oath of office at around 10:30 this evening so that his children and other young guests at tonight's Executive Mansion dinner will be able to witness it. He won't be the first New York governor to do so.

Charles D. Breitel, Chief Justice of the New York State Court of Appeals, issues the oath of office to Governor Hugh L. Carey, 31 December 2010, 10:30 PM. Carey, a widower, took the oath at 10:30 so that his twelve children could witness the ceremony before bedtime. New York (State). Governor. Public information photographs, 1910-1992. Series 13703-82, Box 3, No. 8152_012. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.

*Actually, both oaths are less-than-essential: the official mechanism for taking office is the signing of a notarized document that will be kept on file by the New York State Secretary of State. Governor-Elect Cuomo probably signed such a document, which will go into effect at the stroke of midnight, earlier today.

Monday, December 27, 2010

State archives and state archivists in the news

Icicles and blowing snow at the Cultural Education Center, which houses the State Archives, State Library, and State Museum, Albany, New York, 27 December 2010, 5:43 PM.

Just in case you missed them in the holiday whirlwind, here are some recent news stories relating to American state archives and state archivists:
  • A lengthy feature highlights the work of Kentucky state archivist Barbara Teague and the other archivists at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives.
  • The Vermont State Archives now has a renovated and expanded facility that incorporates a host of energy efficiency measures.
  • Outgoing New York Governor David Paterson vetoed a bill mandating transfer of gubernatorial records to the New York State Archives but signed an executive order propelling creation of a gubernatorial records management program.
  • A descendant of one of the nation's first Supreme Court justices is suing the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources; he claims that the justice's papers were lent, not given, to the North Carolina State Archives more than a century ago.
  • A broken water pipe damaged 10 boxes of paper records held by the Alaska State Archives. Fortunately, staff expect that the records can be salvaged.
  • South Carolina state archivist Eric Emerson discusses the lingering impact of the Civil War and North-South cultural divisions.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

80 TB of presidential records

Here's a not-surprising-but-nonetheless-mind-boggling snippet of news: the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) reports that it has received approximately 80 terabytes of electronic records generated by President George W. Bush and his staff. As if this weren't astounding enough, consider these other facts:
  • The transfer of the Bush records marks the first time that NARA has received more electronic than paper records from a presidential administration.
  • If printed out, the Bush administration's e-mail -- which makes up a fraction of the electronic records transferred to NARA -- would comprise approximately 600 million sheets of paper. NARA estimates that all of the other presidential libraries that it administers hold a combined total of roughly 550 to 580 million sheets of paper records.
Is your head spinning yet? If not, just start contemplating the volume of electronic records that NARA will likely receive from the Obama administration.

The Bush administration records, which have been ingested into NARA's Electronic Records Archives (ERA) system, won't be fully processed for quite some time, but archivists are busy preparing for an anticipated deluge of researcher requests in January 2014, when some of the records will become accessible under the provisions of the federal Freedom of Information Act.

By the way, NARA and the federal Office of Management and Budget are halting further development of the ERA system earlier than planned. NARA will focus instead on getting federal agencies to use ERA and may "recompete" the operation and maintenance components of its contract with Lockheed Martin, which built the system. Interesting.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thanks, Internet Archive

Apologies in advance for the bittersweet nature of this post.

An old friend of mine died in 2005. We had lost touch as our lives diverged -- different colleges, different graduate schools, different career choices -- but I always thought kindly of him and always suspected that somehow, someday, our paths would cross again. I learned that he had died some time after the fact, but I was deeply saddened by it. How could this kind, brilliant, exasperating, endearing man vanish from this earth at 35? He had already done some amazing things -- as an undergrad, he had registered thousands of voters, worked on several successful political campaigns, and been a viable city council candidate – and he was destined to do more amazing things. Why didn’t he get the chance to do them, and why didn’t he get the chance to grow old with the people who loved him?

Of course, life moves on, and after a time thoughts of my friend became more and more sporadic. However, a few nights ago, I was looking over old friends’ Facebook profiles, trying to find out whether any of them were also going back to Ohio for the holidays. All of a sudden, it struck me that the Internet Archive might have captured my deceased friend’s blog, which vanished from the live Web before I found out about his death. I did a little detective work, uncovered the blog’s URL, and, sure enough, discovered that the Internet Archive had captured it.

The Internet Archive’s copies omit some posts, many of the photographs, and all of the reader comments, but most of the blog’s contents are there. I spent several hours reading my friend’s posts and quickly discovered that he was still, in many respects, the person I knew: outrageously funny, keenly observant, kind one moment and cutting the next, and interested in and knowledgeable about technology, politics, and fashion.

However, there were also a few surprises. Given his political activism and acumen, I always half-expected that one day I would turn on the TV and see him in a sharp suit and tie, cogently speaking on behalf of one of the big Democratic Party organizations or gay rights lobbying groups. He was living in Washington, D.C., but hadn’t yet found his professional niche: he had gone to law school for a while, but as of 2005 he was bouncing between a number of short- and long-term IT jobs. He was also single -- a real surprise given his capacity for devotion, his intellect, and his looks. However, he really seemed to be enjoying life. He liked working in IT, he loved his cats (and devoted a lot of effort to concealing their presence in a no-pets-allowed apartment building), his interests were wide-ranging, and he had found good friends in D.C.

In a way, reading my friend’s blog was like getting the chance to have one last long talk with him. Even though doing so was in some respects painful -- all of the sorrow I felt when I first learned of his death came flooding back -- I’m immensely grateful that I got to spend a little more time with him, at least in spirit.

Any archivist or historian knows that humans keep historical records in part because records enable the living to connect -- intellectually and emotionally if not physically -- with the dead. A growing number of archivists are also aware of the need to preserve at least some digital personal materials and to provide advice and guidance to individuals and families seeking to preserve their own digital materials and the challenges associated with preserving personal and family digital materials posted on social media sites or stored by commercial entities. I’ve written about these issues before, but reading my friend’s blog has made these issues real and urgent in a way they weren’t before -- and has deepened my already profound appreciation for the Internet Archive. Thanks, Internet Archive, for ensuring that my friend’s words live on and for enabling me -- and others -- to spend just a little more time with him.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Quiet times ahead . . .

Governor-Elect Nelson A. Rockefeller and Margaretta "Happy" Rockefeller arrive at the Executive Mansion for a luncheon with Governor W. Averill Harriman and First Lady Marie Harriman, 10 December 1958. New York (State). Governor, Public Information Photographs, 1910-1992, accretion 13703-83. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.

. . . at least on this blog. Posting will likely a little light during the next few weeks: New York State will undergo a gubernatorial transition on January 1, 2011, and I'm going to be busy overseeing a comprehensive Web crawl and helping with transition-related transfers of records from multiple offices and agencies. I'll pop in whenever I can, but things will likely be pretty quiet around here until January. Have a nice December.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The music industry confronts digital preservation

Earlier today, Rolling Stone posted an article (which also appears in the December 23, 2010-January 11, 2011 edition of the print magazine) highlighting the problems associated with the music industry's move to digital master recordings. Much to their shock and dismay, record labels have repeatedly discovered that the masters of many relatively recent recordings have been wholly or partially lost.

This problem has not only cultural but also commercial ramifications: "'If people can't figure out why a song isn't on Guitar Hero, there's a good chance it's because there's no way to revive the digital master file,' says one industry source." Deluxe reissues, soundtrack and video licensing, and other forms of reuse and repurposing -- all of which account for a substantial percentage of record label profits -- are all dependent upon the existence of multitrack masters; the files on CD's and backup tapes simply won't suffice.

The article is better at describing the problem than outlining the possible solutions, but it's a thought-provoking piece nonetheless. It also cites a recent Council on Library and Information Resources-Library of Congress report focusing on the challenges of preserving analog and, in particular, digital audio recordings -- which is essential reading for archivists working with audio materials and of interest and use to archivists and librarians working with other types of digital materials.

. . . And if reading about these problems makes you start thinking about the fate of your own digital music files, Rolling Stone has also posted five helpful preservation tips. I'm not wild about tip no. 2 -- "audiophile-quality files" can be a preservation nightmare if encoded in proprietary formats -- or tip no. 5 -- I suspect that at least a few cloud-based file hosting services will bite the dust with little warning -- but the other three tips are superb. Tip no. 1, "Back it up, stupid," is particularly important. Put copies of your music files (and your other important files) on a portable hard drive, and then store that hard drive well away from your computer so that the chances of losing both copies to fire, burst pipes, etc., is minimized; better yet, keep the portable drive at your office, a relative or friend's house (you can keep his or her backup drive in exchange), or in a safe deposit box.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A few tidbits

If you're in the mood for some post-Thanksgiving digital morsels, the following may be of interest to you:
  • The New York State Office of the Chief Information Officer/Office for Technology has just released a new guidance resource, Social Media: Legal Issues for Agencies to Consider, that details how New York State's freedom of information, personal privacy, records management, and other laws may bear upon state government social media content. This resource will, of course, be of greatest interest to people working in New York State government, but it might be a good model for other state governments and for local governments.
  • Jeanne Carstensen of the Bay Citizen highlights both the compelling value of archival film and the challenges of preserving digital video -- and gets great quotes from film archivist Rick Prelinger and digital preservation expert Howard Besser. (The fascinating ca. 1905 San Francisco footage discussed in the article is available here -- with added soundtrack by Air -- and bears watching. You'll see a San Francisco that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire -- and the tower of Ferry Building, which sits at the end of Market Street and survived the cataclysm -- and discover just how anarchic early 20th-century city streets were.)
  • A donor's perspective on archives: Kathleen Hanna discusses why her papers are now part of the Riot Grrrl Collection at New York University's Fales Library and Special Collections.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Proclamation of the State of New York, signed by Benjamin B. Odell, Jr., Governor, November 14, 1904. Thanksgiving Day proclamations by the Governor, 1874-1925, series A3286-88. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.

Just about every American knows the popular story of Thanksgiving: it commemorates a 1621 Plymouth, Massachusetts harvest feast at which both English colonists and Wampanoag Indians were present. The colonists would have perished had the Wampanoag not taught them how to cultivate corn and to catch native fish, and they held the feast in order to thank God and the Wampanoag for their survival.

As turns out, the 1621 feast was not the first harvest festival held in the future United States. Moreover, the holiday's popular narrative has been criticized as a whitewashing of history: it stresses cooperation between and peaceful coexistence of Native Americans and European settlers and erases the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, and countless other horrors that Native Americans suffered at the hands of colonists and their descendants. In recent decades Thanksgiving has become a day of protest, not celebration, for many Native Americans.

My own thoughts about Thanksgiving are mixed. I understand perfectly why so many Native Americans find the day repellent. However, I'm also keenly aware that this holiday has acquired multiple meanings. For most Americans, it currently centers around family, food, football, and reflection upon those intangible things for which, as individuals and as a nation, we feel grateful. Although it retains something of a religious/spiritual component, it is comfortably celebrated by Americans of all faiths and none whatsoever. For those Americans who were formerly citizens of other countries, celebrating Thanksgiving is an essential part of claiming a new national identity. In terms of cultural significance and distinctiveness, it is second only to Independence Day.

I'm celebrating this Thanksgiving quietly. In a few minutes, I'm going to start making some bread stuffing -- always my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal -- and some pumpkin mousse and share it with a dear friend who's preparing some mashed potatoes and other goodies. I'll watch the New Orleans Saints-Dallas Cowboys game (Geaux Saints!), and then clean up the kitchen a bit.

I'm thankful for my family, my friends, my cats, all the wonderful archives and wonderful archivists out there, the Bill of Rights, and countless other things. I'm also thankful for this blog and for everyone who reads my ramblings. If you're in the United States -- or the city of Leiden -- I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. If you're elsewhere, I wish you a very happy Thursday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why you shouldn't become an archivist

There are lots of reasons to become an archivist: a passion for ensuring that the past is adequately documented, a desire to help people find information they need and want, and -- for those interested in working in government archives -- the need to safeguard the rights of citizens and to hold government accountable for its decisions and actions.

However, there are also some good reasons not to become an archivist, and Rebecca Goldman, who blogs over at Derangement and Description (and whom I got to meet at MARAC a couple of weeks ago--yay!) and Amy Schindler have produced a video that trenchantly and hilariously enumerates them.

As Rebecca cautions, this video doesn't provide the whole picture; it's best thought of as a counterweight to all the pie-in-the-sky pronouncements made by silver-tongued graduate school admissions directors. I nonetheless recommend it to anyone contemplating becoming an archivist, particularly at this economically grim moment in time. (Oh, and by the way, if you watch this video and still want to be an archivist, keep in mind that you'll not only be dealing with the voluminous paper records of the postwar era but also with the burgeoning electronic records of the digital age. Enjoy!)

I also recommend it to archivists who have the immense good fortune of having reasonably secure employment and extensive professional networks. It's all too easy for those of us who have somehow managed to establish ourselves to avoid thinking about how our profession looks to those going from contract job to contract job, working as technicians despite having mad archival knowledge and skills, or getting out of grad school at a time when the job market seems unremittingly wretched.

Finally, I would be remiss if I neglected to point out that this video isn't the only great thing that Rebecca has done lately. During the dozen-odd years I've been an archivist, I've been moved to tears twice by records that I've processed and once by a post on an archivist's blog. Rebecca's contribution to the It Gets Better Project is astounding, and you owe it to yourself to check it out -- and then share it with your friends.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Archives matter

Yesterday, the New York Times posted an article concerning a Dept. of Justice report documenting the work of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations (OSI). OSI, which was recently folded into the department's new Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, was responsible for initiating denaturalization and deportation proceedings against American citizens found to have participated in the persecution of civilians in Nazi-occupied Europe, and ensuring that foreign nationals who took part in persecuting civilians are denied entry to the United States.

The Department of Justice has refused to release the report, which was written in 2006, in its entirety, but the Times somehow obtained an unredacted copy and has made it publicly accessible; it also created a supplement contrasting the redacted and unredacted versions. For reasons that are completely understandable, the Times article emphasizes the report documents instances in which the United States government gave "safe haven" to people who had been actively involved in wartime persecution or enslavement of civilians; the Central Intelligence Agency, in particular, comes off quite badly.

However, one of the most striking things about the report itself is the manner in which it highlights the centrality of archival records to the work of the OSI, which had a professional archivist on staff almost from the moment of its creation. Unlike other Department of Justice officies, OSI relies not upon interviews and surveillance conducted by law enforcement personnel but upon archival research conducted by academic historians. The report, which discusses not only the OSI's investigative techniques but also the state of and access challenges associated with archival documentation of Nazi atrocities, emphasizes: "Given the advanced age of survivors and questionable value of eyewitness testimony, a[n OSI] case is generally only as good as the archival evidence."

To date, OSI's work has resulted in the denaturalization of 83 people, the permanent departure from the United States of 62 people, and denial of entry to more than 170 people.

One could argue that, in the grand scheme of things, the denaturalization and deportation of these people doesn't mean much: nothing bring back the men, women, and children who perished at the hands of the Nazis or make whole those who survived, and even the youngest perpetrators likely aren't long for this world. However, in spite of the Cold War-era actions of the CIA and other U.S. government bodies, war criminals and human rights violators have no place within a society that values individual freedom and dignity, equality before the law, and democratic governance. We cannot undo old crimes, but we can bring them to light and ensure that those who perpetrated them -- whether in Central and Eastern Europe 60 years ago, in Guatemala 30 years ago, in the former Yugoslavia 15 years ago, or in any place at any time -- do not find sanctuary in this country.

Without archives, justice would be an even rarer thing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

MARAC Fall 2010: Commemorating the Civil War

Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge and Reading Railroad Bridge, Susquehanna River, as seen from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 12 November 2010.

Even though, in all likelihood, I won't be actively involved in my employer's or my state's efforts to commemorate the Civil War sesiquicentennial, I was drawn to this morning's "Celebrating the Sesiquicentennial: The 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War" session. New York State just wrapped up a quadricentennial commemoration, and the nation as a whole is a bit agitated at the moment; thankfully, we don't seem ready to slaughter one another, but I think I'm starting to see how Americans might come to believe that taking up arms against one another is necessary and justified.

I'm incredibly glad I opted to attend this interesting and thought-provoking session, which highlighted commemorative activities underway in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, and I'm going to devote this post to what were, for me, the session's takeaway points:
  • Diversity of perspective and experience will be at the forefront. Barbara Franco (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission), who served as both session moderator and panelist, set the stage by noting that commemorations say more about the values of society at the time of commemoration than about past events, and, in one way or another, the panelists drove home this fact: Franco, Liz Shatto (Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, Maryland), Mark Snell (Shepherd University and West Virginia Sesiquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission), and Laura Drake Davis (Library of Virginia and Virginia Sesiquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission) all asserted that their state commemorations would foreground the experiences not only of the white male citizens who made up the bulk of the combatants but also those of African-American soldiers, civilians, and slaves, male non-combatants, women and children of all races, recent immigrants, and other people affected by the conflict.
  • The Web will be central. Pennsylvania, which has a statewide commemorative planning committee, and West Virginia and Virginia, which have official state commemorative commissions, are building Web sites that will serve as portals to information about events held throughout their states, digitized archival materials, and other resources. Many organizations in Maryland, where local and regional organizations are spearheading the commemoration, are also using the Web to drive interest in the sesiquicentennial. Moreover, the Web is also being used to drive citizen participation. All four states are using social media to publicize commemorative events, and Virginia is encouraging citizens to bring family letters, photographs, and other Civil War-related materials to special scanning sessions held throughout the state and to allow the resulting images to be posted on the Web. Pennsylvania, which has incorporated a scanning station into its mobile exhibit, is encouraging citizens to allow scanned materials to be posted to the Web; it's also encouraging citizens to use a Web-based form to tell their families' stories.
  • Visual and multimedia materials are also important. All of the panelists stressed the need to make history accessible and compelling, and several of the mare using audio and video productions to capture the interest of students and adults. West Virginia has prepared a DVD containing several 20-minute video segments and has distributed a copy to every public school in the state, and a DVD designed for classroom use is also a key component of Virginia's commemorative effort. Maryland's Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area is working with an acclaimed documentary filmmaker to produce a 60-minute film and will be involved in a variety of other commemorative film and video projects. Nicholas Redding of the Civil War Preservation Trust, which seeks to ensure that battlefield sites are preserved, noted that his organization has made extensive use of posters and other materials created by volunteer graphic artists.
  • Policy makers want to see economic benefit. Mark Snell emphasized that West Virginia opted to create a formal commission to oversee the commemoration because it hoped that commemorative activities would attract tourists to the state, and Barbara Franco, Liz Shatto, and Laura Drake Davis also noted that their state and local leaders hoped that well-done commemorative events would boost the local economy. They may be on to something: as Snell noted, research indicates that, as a rule, visitors to historic sites stay longer, spend more money, are better educated, and are more likely to make travel recommendations to friends than the tourist population as a whole. (I suspect that people who travel to conduct archival research also fit this profile.)
  • Absence of a state or national commission isn't necessarily a liability. At this time, it is highly unlikely that a U.S. Sesiquicentennial Commission will be formed, and Maryland is not alone in opting against establishing a state commission. Although such commissions can help to guide and sustain commemorative events, they are not all-powerful. For example, the U.S. Centennial of the American Civil War Commission, which was formed as the civil rights movement was at its peak, proved unable to stop numerous Southern states from commemorating the war in a racially exclusive manner; in fact, both Mark Snell and Barbara Franco noted that the current emphasis upon the diversity of Civil War experiences and perspectives is in part an effort to overcome this bitter legacy. Moreover, although federal and state commissions that provide financial and other forms of support can be helpful, local governments and regional organizations can be extremely effective. As Barbara Franco noted, grassroots enthusiasm, not centralized planning, was responsible for the initial success and the lasting impact of the U.S. national bicentennial celebrations that took place in 1976. When you think about it, this observation makes sense: it's a lot easier to channel enthusiasm than to generate it, "grassroots" is not a synonym for "disorganized," and commissions run the gamut from extremely effective to profoundly dysfunctional.
What a great session. I came away from it energized -- I really want to find out more about New York State's commemorative plans -- and a bit wistful: I became an archivist because I had a deep passion for the mystery and contingency of history and a belief in the immense value of the historical record, and at this point in my career I don't spend as much time with records as I would like. I'm more than a bit envious of all of the archivists who are doing lots of hands-on work relating to this commemoration.

Friday, November 12, 2010

MARAC Fall 2010, day one

Market Street Bridge over the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 12 November 2010. The Ionic columns at the entrance of the bridge were salvaged from the old State Capitol building, which burned down in 1897.

The Fall 2010 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference got underway today. I'm offering only a few highlights from a jam-packed and rewarding day:
  • Colgate University, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and Syracuse University are investigating the possibility of developing a New York State EAD consortium, with particular emphasis on assisting repositories that have some EAD knowledge and experience but are having problems with publishing their finding aids and securing adequate technical support. If you're interested in seeing how this project proceeds or in contributing your expertise, contact Colgate University Archivist Sarah Keen at skeen - at -
  • Kathleen Roe (New York State Archives) delivered a great plenary address on the importance of advocating for archives. Noting that we all need to explain -- to administrators, boards of directors, or local, state, and federal politicians -- the value of archives and what we need to do our jobs as effectively as possible, she offered some practical words of advice:
    • Learn the rules of engagement and accept them for what they are. You don't have to compromise yourself or your principles, but you do need to learn how to find your way through established channels. For example, if you're seeking Congressional support for legislation, you simply have to accept that you'll be making your case to the incredibly bright twenty-somethings who run Congressional offices.
    • Archival issues are generally poorly understood, and you need to explain, clearly and succinctly, the value of archives: records safeguard rights and benefits, influence major policy decisions, enable people to connect to family and community history, help to document and correct longstanding injustices, and, in some instances, help to save lives. When dealing with legislators, make the story local -- how do records help their constituents? Have records helped constituents secure benefits to which they're entitled? Are archives attracting tourist dollars to their districts?
    • Archivists have substantial competencies and qualifications that can be of use to legislators and other stakeholders. We can help legislators manage the ever-increasing volume of records that they create and can help all stakeholders care for electronic materials.
    • Don't listen to people who tell you that you can't do what you need to do; just go ahead and do it. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
    • Don't forget to state plainly what you want. Legislators, administrators, and board members aren't mind readers.
  • In "Replevin: Pros and Cons," Joseph Klett discussed the New Jersey State Archives' new Document Recovery and Amnesty Web pages, which encourage holders of alienated state government records to convey them to the State Archives without penalty, lists records known to be missing, and lists records that have been returned to the State Archives. Most of the missing records listed are enrolled laws of the Royal Colony of New Jersey (1703-1775) and the State of New Jersey (1776-1804), which were alienated from state custody a long time ago and which have been sold openly for decades; in fact, the listing on the Web site is based upon auction catalogs from the 1950s onward. Making these lists, which have been shared with law enforcement, readily accessible alerts dealers and members of the public to the fact that the listed records are the property of the State of New Jersey. This is a good thing -- after these Web pages went live, several people contacted the State Archives and voluntarily returned listed records that they held -- and I hope other states follow New Jersey's lead.
  • In "Compulsory Candor? Open Records Laws and Recordkeeping," Pennsylvania State Archivist David Haury noted that new ways of doing government business can eliminate documentation of how things are done. For example, press releases, which were once issued and retained in paper format, are now issued electronically -- and even the electronic master copies may be deleted after the releases are posted on the Web. Archivists and records managers have yet to come to grips with the transitory nature of modern recordkeeping.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An afternoon in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Last night, I came to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for the fall meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC). The meeting doesn't start until tomorrow morning, so I spent a leisurely morning at the hotel and devoted the afternoon to sightseeing.

Harrisburg is both a small city and the capital of Pennsylvania. As a result, state government is the city's driving economic force and the Pennsylvania State Capitol is the city's signature landmark. This Joseph Miller Huston-designed Beaux-Arts building, which is modeled in part upon St. Peter's Basilica, was completed in 1906.

The main entrance of the Capitol leads to a rotunda that features an impressive imperial staircase.

One of the light fixtures at the foot of the staircase.

The rotunda itself seems dazzling . . . until you look up. The interior of the dome features four allegorical medallions depicting Science, Religion, Justice, and Art, all of which were painted by Edwin Austin Abbey.

Abbey also painted the lunette murals, each of which symbolizes one of the state's contributions to modern civilization, at the base of the dome. The Spirit of Light is my favorite.

Henry Chapman Mercer of the Moravian Tile Works handcrafted the tile floor of the rotunda, which features hundreds of mosaics. Some of these mosaics, such as the steel mill scene above. depict Pennsylvania's industries and workers.

Other mosaics, such as this very Arts and Crafts dragonfly, depict the state's fauna.

I like bats -- they're beneficial, fascinating creatures, and they get a bad rap -- and I was particularly fond of this bat mosaic.

After I left the Capitol, I walked through the State Capitol Complex toward what turned out to be the pylons of the State Street Bridge (also known as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Bridge), which was completed in 1930.

Art Deco eagles sit atop each pylon, one of which symbolizes the U.S. Army and one of which symbolizes the U.S. Navy. And this afternoon, flocks of pigeons sat atop each eagle.

I kept walking through the complex, and was captivated by the stunning north facade of the Finance Building, which was designed by William Gehron and Sidney F. Ross, built by the Public Works Administration, and completed in 1939. The Lee Lawrie bas-relief in front of the entrance depicts Pennylvania's evolution from a place of nature to a modern industrial state.

In this section of the bas-relief, Justice stands guard over a working-class family.

The mammoth bronze doors, created by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, depict the state's agricultural heritage and its industrial strength. Above, a detail from the door to devoted to mining.

A detail from the door dedicated to the glass manufacturing.

The main entrance of the Northwest Office Building, which houses the State Liquor Control Board, features an impressive pair of eagles.

A side view of the State Capitol, taken from the north.

This mysterious-looking structure, which could have served an exterior location in the Men in Black movies, is home to the Pennsylvania State Archives. It was designed to house records, but it is suffering a host of age-related problems and is almost completely full. Funding for a new archival facility has been authorized, but owing to the state's fiscal situation, monies have yet to be released.

The Second Baptist Church stands roughly opposite the State Archives. I find its small size and rough-hewn stone appealing.

North of the State Capitol Complex is a quiet neighborhood of consisting chiefly of rowhouses. These homes, some of which are extremely narrow, were no doubt built to house working-class people. However, the area now seems to have been gentrified.

Just a few blocks north of the State Capitol Complex stands the astounding Midtown Scholar Bookstore. Housed in a former movie theater, this place is a scholar's dream. I had a lovely light lunch at the Famous Reading Cafe, which is housed at the front of the store, and then spent a couple of hours perusing the shelves. I walked out with half a dozen books, including a couple of titles that I really wanted to purchase when I was in graduate school but simply couldn't afford at the time. If I hadn't forced myself to stay away from the art books, the damage would have been much worse. If you ever find yourself in Harrisburg, this is one place you won't want to miss.

After leaving the Midtown Scholar, I started making my way back to the Harrisburg Hilton, and passed the State Capitol a second time. The dome, which is covered with green-glazed ceramic tile and topped by Roland Hinton Perry's bronze, Commonwealth, was lit up for the evening.

MARAC begins bright and early tomorrow morning. I'll be posting updates.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bannerman's Castle

Ruins of Bannerman's Castle, Pollepel Island, New York, as seen from Amtrak train 253, 10 November 2010.

Earlier today, my friend Maria and I took the train from Albany, New York to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where we'll be attending the fall meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC). The Albany-Penn Station leg of the journey was, as usual, lovely. The train runs right on the western bank of the Hudson River, and passengers are always treated with a wide array of interesting sights, among them: lighthouses, bridges, boats and ships, all manner of waterfowl, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and Ossining Correctional Facility (popularly known as Sing Sing).

Bannerman's Castle, which is located about 80 miles of New York City on Pollepel Island, is one of my favorite sights. Built in the first decade of the 20th century by Francis Bannerman IV, who owned a military surplus business, it housed various types of goods. However, over the course of the 20th century the castle and other buildings on the island fell into disuse. New York State assumed ownership of the island and its structures in 1967, and gave public tours until 1969, when a fire tore through the castle and destroyed its roof and floors.

The island has generally been closed to the public ever since the fire, but thousands of Amtrak Empire Service and Metro-North Hudson Line passengers enjoy a fleeting view of it every day. Despite the concerted efforts of the Bannerman Castle Trust to secure funding needed to stabilize the structure, it's quite possible that the castle will continue to crumble: two exterior walls partially collapsed in late December 2009, and some of the remaining walls look disconcertingly unstable.

At present, however, Bannerman's Castle continues to fascinate children and to encourage busy adults to devote a few minutes to contemplating the fragility and impermanence of all things human.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

FBI systems development problems -- and how to keep big IT projects on track

Prompted by the release of a scathing April 2005 U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations report, in June 2005 U.S. News and World Report devoted a lot of attention to information technology and systems design problems within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which was then working with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to develop a system that would enable FBI agents throughout the world to create and exchange case file data and to search a wide array of government databases.

The magazine's interview with the FBI's CIO and an accompanying article make for interesting reading: general-interest publications typically devote scant attention to recordkeeping issues. Moreover, the interview and article reveal that the FBI was beset by a host of problems, among them: it had difficulty maintaining control over the development process and kept amending its list of system requirements, technological change rendered SAIC's products obsolete even before they could be put into production, cost overruns were mammoth, and no one wanted to tell FBI Director Robert Mueller that the project was in deep trouble.

Shortly after the U.S. News and World Report articles appeared, the FBI scrapped the project, in which it had invested $124 million, and terminated its contract with SAIC (which has an interesting track record with big federal contracts). The agency ultimately started developing a new case management system, this time with Lockheed Martin. Unfortunately, earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General issued a report questioning whether the new case file management system, named Sentinel, will be finished on time and at cost and whether it will truly meet the FBI's needs.

Given that Lockheed is building the Electronic Records Archives system for the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), this report is particularly worrisome. However, NARA identified its system requirements at the outset and hasn't substantially modified them and seems to have retained control over the development process, which suggests that NARA is going to have a better experience with Lockheed.

In the meantime, how can government agencies ensure that their systems development projects don't end up like the FBI's Virtual Case File and Sentinel initiatives? On Monday, the TechAmerica Foundation’s Commission on Government Technology Opportunity in the 21st Century, which consists of 31 federal agency and information technology industry representatives, issued a 33-step action plan for federal agencies and federal contractors.

The commission's core recommendations for agencies, which are detailed in full in its report, are:
  • Develop professional, in-house program/project management capability
  • Embrace iterative and incremental approaches to systems development
  • Subject all major information technology acquisitions to independent, third-party risk review
  • Improve communication and engagement with both the contractor developing the system and the internal staff who will become its end users
The report goes on to outline the benefits associated with each recommendation, the obstacles that inhibit their implementation, performance measures that assess the impact of implementing these recommendations, and a suggested timeline for federal implementation of these recommendations.

The commission's report was written with federal agencies in mind, but its plain-spoken assessments and recommendations and the vast experience of its authors make it required reading for any state or large local government contracting out the development of an information system. Moreover, any government archivist or records manager seeking to understand the potential pitfalls associated with large-scale systems development projects should study this report and its appendix, which summarizes the findings of past reports concerning federal government systems procurements.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Video of New York State Archives Partnership Trust honoring Richard Dreyfuss

On 28 September, the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, Greenberg Traurig, the Albany Times Union and HistoryTM sponsored an evening conversation between Academy Award®-winning actor and 2010 Empire State Archives and History awardee Richard Dreyfuss and nationally prominent Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer.

Many people are familiar with Dreyfuss's storied acting career, but most of them aren't aware of the depth of his passion for history, archives, and civic education. In May 2004, Dreyfuss and Holzer took part in a similar discussion concerning Ulysses S. Grant, and everyone in the audience was stunned by the depth of Dreyfuss's knowledge of Grant's autobiography and all of the recent scholarship concerning his military and Presidential careers and his personal life.

If you weren't able to come attend the 2010 event but live in the mid-Hudson Valley, southern Vermont, or western Massachusetts, you can catch a broadcast of it on WMHT, the Capital District's public television station, tomorrow evening at 8:00 PM. If you're further afield or will be otherwise engaged tomorrow evening, streaming video of the event will be available here on Friday, 29 October.

I missed the 2010 event (I was heading to the 2010 Best Practices Exchange the day it took place) so I'm really looking forward to seeing this broadcast. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New NARA guidance re: Web 2.0 and social media records

Late last week, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration released a long-anticipated bulletins concerning management of records created as a result of federal agency usage of Web 2.0 and social media tools to conduct government business. It details how to determine whether social media and Web 2.0 content meets the Federal Records Act definition of a government record, highlight the records management challenges particular to Web 2.0 and social media records, and outline how agencies can address some of these challenges. It also stress that agencies are responsible for managing records that are housed by third-party service providers.

If you're interested in managing or preserving government social media and Web 2.0 content, be sure to check out this bulletin. I'll be giving several of my colleagues a heads-up about it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More catching up

Happy Monday. I'm not at the office today -- I worked on Saturday, so this is the second day of my "weekend" -- and I've rounded up some stuff that may interest you:
  • Vermont Public Radio's Vermont Edition interviewed Vermont State Archivist Gregory Sanford and Terry Cook and Wendy Smith of the University of Manitoba about the value of government archives, the Vermont State Archives' efforts to document the perspectives of citizens as well as the workings of state government, functional appraisal, and the new archival challenges of the digital era. You can catch this excellent episode, which aired on 18 October, here.
  • Last year, Google began working with archivists to add digitized aerial photographs of major European cities that were taken in 1945 into its popular Google Earth application, which allows users to view present-day aerial images of the entire planet. Last week, Google added additional historical photographs, including photographs of London taken in 1945, to Google Earth. As a result, users can easily see London, Paris, Warsaw, and several other major European cities -- some of which were heavily bombed during the Second World War -- looked in 1945 and how they look today. Cool.
  • On 1 October, George Mason University hosted an Archiving Social Media conference that addressed the following topics: potential uses of archived social media content, institutional responsibility for preserving social media content, the ethics of archiving social media, capture and preservation tools, types of content that are being overlooked, and copyright issues. Notes are available on the Archiving Social Media conference Web site, Travis Kaya at Wired Campus and Kate Theimer at ArchivesNext have posted about it, there's an Archiving Social Media Zotero group, and all of the conference-related tweets (#asome) are here. (NB: the #asome hashtag apparently has multiple uses, so you'll need to zero in on tweets sent on or around 1 October.)
  • The state of Texas recently recovered an 1858 state Supreme Court document that concerned a slave-related case and that somehow fell into private hands -- and one of my own colleagues at the New York State Archives helped to make this recovery possible. She traveled, on her own time and at her own expense, to the upstate New York home of the man who held the document and calmly explained how she knew it was a Texas government record. The collector, who had reacted angrily when a police officer aggressively sought to recover the document, quickly agreed to turn over the record. There's a lesson here, folks: most collectors want to do the right thing, and civility and a willingness to explain the value of government records will often result in the return of an alienated record. Calling in law enforcement probably shouldn't be the first step.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Catching up: Haiti, metadata, New York State Archives

Sorry for the light posting as of late. On 13 October, I confidently predicted that a flurry of posts would be forthcoming. Well, it didn't happen. That 13 October post went live during a long layover at CLT, and during the flight from CLT to ALB I started feeling . . . bad. I had come down with a cold several days earlier, but it seemed to be a peaceable, mild sort of virus, and I figured it would go away after a couple of days. However, the cold kicked into high gear during the flight to ALB, and it stayed that way for more than a week. Now that I've recovered, you should see some more activity around here.

Here are a few things that may interest you:
  • People before records: as you probably know, there is an outbreak of cholera in Haiti, which is still reeling from the devastation caused by the 12 January 2010 earthquake. At the time of this writing, over 200 people have died and over 2,600 people have been sickened. Health workers on the ground are increasingly afraid that the disease, which can result in rapid, agonizing death, will spread to the capital of Port au Prince; if it does, an already horrific situation will become truly calamitous. Doctors Without Borders and Partners in Health have seasoned personnel on the ground in Haiti, and on the right-hand side of this page you'll find links that make it easy for you to donate to these organizations. Please consider giving whatever you can to Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health, or other reputable groups working to help Haiti recover from the earthquake and its aftermath.
  • Earlier this month, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the metadata associated with e-mail is a public record subject to disclosure under the state's Public Records Act. The majority opinion also contains some other interesting tidbits. First, the plaintiff's initial request, which centered upon the message itself, did not, in and of itself, constitute a request for the accompanying metadata; however, the opinion notes that the case at hand marks the first time that the issue of metadata has arisen in litigation relating to the state's public records law. Second, the local government being sued has the right and the obligation to inspect the hard drive of the home computer of the official who received the message at the center of the request. This official opened the message while at home, printed a copy, and then deleted the message from the local government's e-mail system. Finally, the court cited as precedent a recent decision (Irwin v. Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency) handed down by the 4th Department of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court -- which, despite its name, is not New York State's high court. (Thanks to my colleague Linda for this tip!)
  • As of 16 October, the New York State Archives and the New York State Library are open Monday-Saturday. I helped to staff our reference desk today and had a surprisingly good time -- we got some great researchers, and having a workday devoid of meetings and urgent e-mails was a really pleasant change of pace. Please visit the State Archives or State Library on Saturdays -- lots of eager reference personnel will be waiting to help you! And be sure to check out the superb New York State Museum, which is located in the same building.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Best Practices Exchange wrap-up

Picacho Peak, Pinal County, Arizona, as seen from Interstate 10, 1 October 2010.

Now that I've had a little time to reflect upon the 2010 Best Practices Exchange (BPE), here are a few final thoughts I want to share:
  • Archivists and digital forensics investigators have similar needs: both need to produce exact copies of the files with which they work and to document their own activities. However, archival use of digital forensics tools poses some ethical questions. If, for example, a tool reveals that a transferred hard drive contains deleted but recoverable files, is the archives obligated to make the deleted files accessible? In some instances, it may be possible for archivists to conduct a preliminary analysis of media slated for transfer and then negotiate with the creator. However, in some instances, such negotiations may not be possible; owing to this possibility, repositories may want to state publicly that they use software that can recover deleted files.
  • The Utah State Archives and Records Service is seeking repositories interested in beta testing its Archives Enterprise Manager (AXAEM) system. AXAEM automates the creation of records schedules, supports creation of MARC records, EAD-encoded finding aids, and EAC-encoded data about records creators, tracks agency records office training histories and contact information, and allows searching of electronic indexing. It will soon support ingestion of electronic records and supporting metadata and map searching. If you want to be a beta tester, contact Elizabeth Perkes at eperkes[at]
  • As Laura Campbell of the Library of Congress noted, weak social ties are sometimes incredibly durable and strong. The BPE, which promotes the development of informal professional and personal links between cultural heritage professionals seeking to preserve digital information, sustains these weak ties. And -- sorry SAA, sorry MARAC -- that's one of the reasons why the BPE is the archival professional meeting that I love the most.
This post was written at my parents' house in Ohio and posted at CLT, where I rather unexpectedly ended up tonight; thanks to some last-minute mechanical problems, I got to choose between spending a long evening in Charlotte or spending the entire night in Philadelphia. I anticipate being in Albany for the remainder of October and almost all of November, and I'm hoping to get back to posting at least three times a week. Apologies for the slack pace as of late.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Best Practices Exchange, day three: educating stewards of public information

The view from a rest stop, Interstate 10, south of Phoenix, Arizona, 1 October 2010.

This is the second of two posts relating to the Policy and Administration 7 session held at the 2010 Best Practices Exchange (BPE). The first part, which concerns the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration's functional classification system, is available here.

Helen Tibbo and Lori Richards discussed the Educating Stewards of Public Information in the 21st Century project, an Institute of Museum and Library Services-funded effort to create a joint MPA/MSIS and MPA/MSLS program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This initiative grew out of recognition that archivists, librarians, and other information professionals are responsible for the preservation of an ever-increasing amount of digital materials and must be able to advocate for digital preservation within the policy arena.

To date, two cohorts of students, one of which started last fall and one of which started a few weeks ago, have enrolled in the combined degree program. They will complete their degrees in three and a half years and will complete internships at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, the North Carolina State Archives, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Archives, or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Environmental Finance Center.

Helen and Lori then highlighted the skills that 21st century information professionals either must or should have:
  • Ability to write short, concise documents that officials will read and can understand
  • Strong oral communication skills
  • Ability to convince others that records management is important
  • Ability to determine who to influence and to cultivate stakeholders
  • Ability to develop a business case and to estimate the costs and benefits of programs
  • Knowledge of national and international initiatives that inform one's professional activities
  • Ability to evaluate policy and its implementation
  • Ability to conduct macro-level appraisals (a point of overlap with the Vermont project that Tanya Marshall discussed during the first half of the session)
  • Ability to advise government officials about both the technical and the social aspects of preserving and providing access to public information
  • Understanding of the fundamentals of consensus building
  • Knowledge of how government works and what the different parts of government are
  • Knowledge of how the activities of government are conducted in an electronic environment
  • Ability to engage in project planning, management, and evaluation
  • Knowledge of information flows across the agency and between agencies
  • Ability to engage in change management
  • Understanding of the legal framework and the legal issues that impact stewardship of digital information
The attendees then engaged in a lively discussion about the need for these skills and the extent to which new archivists and librarians were (or, more accurately, were not) being prepared to meet 21st century challenges. Although a few of the points made consisted of the complaints that seasoned professionals always have about their newer and, in particular, their younger colleagues (e.g., "they don't know how to behave"), many of the comments were substantive and, in my opinion, completely accurate. They centered around three main areas of concern:
  • People skills. Given that archivy and librarianship attract disproportionate numbers of introverts, it's not surprising that many new archivists and librarians have unpolished verbal communication skills. The attendees noted that public speaking is a particular problem area and wished that graduate programs devoted more attention to cultivating this skill; one noted that she has referred new colleagues to Toastmasters in order to ensure that they become polished speakers.
  • Project skills. New archivists and librarians must be able to demonstrate the ability to develop workable projects and to see them through to completion. Unfortunately, at present, many library/information science programs do not devote sufficient attention to project management.
  • Technological skill and comfort level. This is a particular concern of mine: even though future archivists will be responsible for preserving and providing access to an exponentially increasing volume of electronic records and the repository for which I work is located a few miles away from a university that educates future librarians and archivists, I have real difficulty finding interns interested in working with electronic records. Perhaps I'm overseeing some uninteresting projects, but several other attendees have encountered similar problems. Unfortunately, the archival profession is still attracting people who are not comfortable with technology and who want to work only with paper records. This does not bode well for the future.
All in all, a fascinating session, and one that made me start thinking that archival education really needs to change. When I commented during the session that many of the skills listed above were those that I would expect to find in an archivist who was in the middle, not the beginning of his or her career, Helen Tibbo noted that schools of government and public policy strive to ensure that students begin their careers with these skills in hand.

I'm starting to think that a two-year master's program simply isn't sufficient and that we as a profession will eventually have to commit to a three- or four-year graduate program or to a two-year introductory degree and an additional, perhaps mid-career advanced certificate or degree program. The list of skills that archivists need is growing and growing, and our education programs must expand accordingly.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Best Practices Exchange, day three: Vermont functional classification

Crested saguaro in front of Old Main, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, 1 October 2010. As its name suggests, Old Main, which was built in 1891, is the oldest building on the campus. It now serves as the university's admissions office.

I know that this is a really tardy post, but I haven't had much time for this blog as of late. Immediately after the 2010 Best Practices Exchange (BPE) ended last Friday, I rented a car and headed to see an old friend in Tucson that I hadn't seen in (her word) hmmty years. I flew out of Phoenix last Saturday morning, and between overfull flights and an overfull head I wasn't able to write anything. When I got back to Albany, I needed to focus on digging my way out from under an avalanche of work, taking care of some last-minute Capital Region Archives Dinner stuff, and getting ready to go on vacation. This post was written at ALB, mid-air between ALB and DCA, and DCA (which is fast becoming my least-favorite airport), and posted from my parents’ house in Ohio. My parents and I are heading to my aunt's Internet-free house in West Virginia tomorrow morning, so I'm going to be disconnected for a little while. I'm actually kind of looking forward to it.

Every BPE session I attended was interesting and worthwhile, but Policy and Administration 7 was particularly thought-provoking. It centered upon two very different but equally compelling initiatives: the functional classification infrastructure developed by the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA) and a grant-funded University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill effort to create a joint master's degree program in library/information science and public policy. In lieu of writing a single, monster post, I'm going to discuss Vermont's work in this post and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill project in a companion piece. (NB: I've gotten permission from the presenters to discuss these projects, so names will be named and details will be detailed.)

Tanya Marshall noted that VSARA's distinctive approach to appraisal is rooted in its newness: VSARA was established in 2003 within the Secretary of State's Office, and it acquired records management responsibilities in 2008. The newly hired staff had a deeply felt need to assess the structure and functions of state government and to identify important records held by agencies. They also had to contend with a large volume of records that the Secretary of State had acquired in past decades. They quickly realized that these records were broken down into series that were actually accessions: for example, driver's license records created in the 1900's were classified as a series, and identical records created in the 1910's were classified as a completely separate series.

As Marshall and her colleagues began researching the structure and functions of state government and began compiling the results of their research, their objectives gradually evolved. They sought to:
  • Establish intellectual control over their existing holdings
  • Study state government by focusing on its parts
  • See the "big picture" of state government from multiple vantage points
  • Develop an objective strategy for documenting state government functions, legislation, and agencies over time
  • Capture and reuse staff research, especially stable information such as legislative acts and dates of creation
  • Develop a balanced and consistent appraisal approach
  • Document recordkeeping decisions
  • Create reports and other resources as consistently and as efficiently as possible
  • Develop the ability to export and reuse data in various ways -- including ways not yet envisioned by staff -- and to conform to ISO 15489 and other standards
The Vermont Functional Classification System (VCLAS) that Marshall and her colleagues developed uses standardized terminology to record information that breaks down the complexities of government into its constituent parts:
  • Legislation
  • Public agencies
  • Areas of accountability (also called domains)
  • Activities (e.g., permitting, licensing)
  • Transactions
Each of these areas is further broken down into facets that support many different types of analysis, and VSARA staff can use VCLAS to do a number of really interesting things:
  • Identify agencies that are or were engaged in specific activities. In addition to supporting VSARA's internal needs, this capacity can help VSARA supply information to others. For example, several years ago, officials who wished to examine the state's permit-issuing activities were impressed by VSARA's ability to identify, with little advance notice, all of the state agencies that issued permits
  • Analyze activities to determine the types of records likely to be held by an agency. Staff have discovered that activities tend to generate the same types of records regardless the creating agency or area of responsibility, and in many instances they can generate macro-level inventories of the types of records that a given agency likely holds and then work with agency personnel to determine whether the records actually exist and are being managed properly
  • Conduct functional analyses of related activities, including those that are performed by more than one agency
  • Analyze domains and activities to identify records that most clearly warrant long-term preservation
In the future, VCLAS may also help staff conduct functional analyses that:
  • Identify electronic records that warrant permanent preservation but are at risk of being lost
  • Identify current and planned electronic recordkeeping systems that will house electronic records of enduring value and work with the state Chief Information Officer to ensure that these systems manage the records properly
  • Enable VSARA to supply records creators with some basic metadata about the electronic records in their possession.
Cool stuff.

Throughout Marshall's presentation, I couldn't help but think that my own repository already gathers a lot of the data that VSARA collects and adds to VCLAS -- information about agencies' statutory mandates, organizational structure, core responsibilities and activities -- but some of it is collected by appraisal archivists and some of it is collected by reference/description archivists, and different elements reside in different systems. I suspect that most other state archives are in the same boat -- and that most, if not all, of us would benefit from giving the work of our Vermont colleagues a very close look.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

BPE 2010, day two

Archivist of the United States David Ferriero notices that I'm photographing him, 2010 Best Practices Exchange, Phoenix, Arizona, 29 September 2009.

As promised, here are the most interesting things that came to the fore during the second day of the 2010 Best Practices Exchange (BPE):
  • Archivist of the United States David Ferriero seems like a really cool guy. He was this morning’s keynote speaker, and he deliberately allocated a lot of time to answering attendee questions. I’ve heard him speak before, but not in such an informal setting. He’s affable, articulate, funny, passionate about the rich store of materials that the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration holds, an ardent advocate of sound records management, and keenly aware of the digital challenges confronting archives and libraries.
  • Writing a policy is not an accomplishment. Policies pave the way for accomplishments: they enable us to transform our professional principles and theoretical frameworks such as the Open Archival Information System Reference Model into real-world programs and day-to-day actions.
  • Control doesn't always reduce risk. A lot of people assume that a data center that they operate and control is inherently more secure than a cloud computing environment -- even if unauthorized individuals could easily access the data center and walk off with hardware and the inner workings of the cloud environment can be accessed only by authorized support personnel or highly sophisticated hackers.
  • When making the case for funding archives to elected officials, do your homework. Research each official's background and interests, tailor your remarks accordingly, and, if meeting with an individual legislator, try to bring with you a record that is likely to capture his or her interest. One archivist discovered that a legislator was particularly fond of a mid-20th century elected official and brought a record in which the official outlined his beliefs about health care policy. The legislator, who was deeply moved, brought the record onto the floor of the legislature and read it aloud and later facilitated the return of alienated records to the archivist's repository.
  • If you're responsible for creating an emergency response plan, remember that human life is paramount, that first responders know what they're doing, and that you need to demonstrate that you know what you're doing. In the event of an emergency, you want to be able to report whether the building has been cleared, whether people with special needs or disabilities are sheltering in place or need to be checked on, and to hand over a floor plan.
  • "Everything we invent is about to become obsolete." In other words, let’s just accept that every digital preservation tool we create has a short life span and move on.