Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gartner: growing need for digital archivists

Here's an interesting tidbit: information technology research and consulting firm Gartner predicts that evolving business needs will compel enterprise IT managers to fill four emerging information management roles -- either by establishing new positions within their units and expanding their recruitment pools or by establishing alliances within the enterprise:

Business Information Managers who can manage the operations of both a business unit and the IT that supports the unit.

Enterprise Information Architects who can add structure and context and thus increase the efficiency and reusability of information resources.

Legal/IT Hybrids who can create "policies and schedules, help design and execute discovery exercises for regulators, and mediate between legal and IT departments." Records managers, in particular, ought to pay attention to this one: according to Gartner VP and Distinguished Analyst Debra Logan
IT leaders with responsibility for information management have been in a stalemate for more than five years over what to do about legacy information, how long information should be kept, and what the legal precedent is for doing so . . . . The lawyers won't tell companies what to do, but they won't listen to anyone but other lawyers. The records managers want to implement retention schedules as they did in the paper world, and IT departments just want someone to tell them what to do with all the e-mail that is bringing their exchange servers to their knees and all the personal folders clogging the storage devices.
Logan anticipates that security personnel who get some legal retraining or attorneys who receive some IT training will fill this role, which of course begs the question of what will happen to records managers. Will they be able to upskill by taking both IT and legal training, or will the IT professionals and the attorneys gradually eclipse them? As someone who firmly believes that records managers possess a distinctive and valuable perspective and set of skills, I'm firmly hoping for the former.

Digital archivists will "appraise, arrange and preserve digital records for legal and regulatory purposes," and -- check this out, all you electronic records archivists and info science grad students -- Gartner projects that by 2012, approximately 15 percent of corporations will "add someone in a digital-archivist role"; in 2009, less than 1 percent of companies did so. According to Debra Logan, the need for digital archivists is great:
Organisations typically have vast quantities of records, which require specialist expertise to access, appraise and preserve . . . . This isn't a job for conscientious users to perform if they have time; it requires training and expertise. If you have never heard of persistent uniform resource locators (PURLs), don't know what PREservation Metadata: Implementation Strategies (PREMIS) is and are unaware that there are reasons why Portable Document Format (PDF) is not a suitable preservation format for e-mail, you need a digital curator.
Gartner explicitly notes that candidates for digital archivist positions "can be found in library and information science (LIS) schools." If its projections pan out, those of you in grad school might start seeing more and more corporate recruitment efforts. Interestingly, Gartner notes that "existing employees nearing the end of their careers" might also make good digital archivists, so those of us already actively involved in electronic records and digital curation work might find that our professional literature is getting more and more attention -- and that seasoned IT professionals are turning up in LIS courses and continuing education workshops.

The next few years are going to be really interesting, aren't they? I'm kind of looking forward to it.

Sorry for the light blogging as of late, folks: I was sidelined by a nasty cold last week. Now that I'm starting to feel better, you'll see a little more activity around here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Save the Date: Open Government Summit, Albany, New York, 19 March 2010

The New York State Office of the Chief Information Officer/Office for Technology and the New York State Archives are hosting an:

March 19, 2010
9 AM - 5 PM

This one day summit will feature keynote speakers, panel discussions and a reception addressing “hot-button” issues in the "open government" dialogue including:
  • The meaning of “open government” in the digital age
  • Operationalizing digital openness
  • Meeting citizen expectations for access
  • What the future holds for openness
  • Best practices
  • Sunshine Law and archival implications of digital records
This summit is designed to bring government officials, technologists, archivists, and open government advocates together with speakers from across the country to discuss the issue of open government in the digital era.

Detailed program and location information will be available shortly -- and I can promise you that the roster of speakers will be impressive!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

White House IT + Web 2.0 = records management issues

Earlier today, Slate's Farhad Manjoo examined why the Obama administration hasn't been able to live up to its campaign promises to use social media and other Web tools to promote government accountability and responsiveness. His discussion of one of the problems facing the administration -- antiquated information technology -- sent all of my archivist/records manager concerns into overdrive.

According to Manjoo, the Obama campaign had access to state-of-the-art information technology and hired incredibly talented social media personnel (a Facebook co-creator among them) and found that entering the White House was like stepping back in time:

"The computers were so old they couldn't actually run social-media Web sites" like Facebook, says Alan Rosenblatt, the associate director of online advocacy for the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Even when the staff got better tech, federal computing policies restricted access to many sites; Rosenblatt says that some staffers had to bring in their own laptops with wireless modems in order to get on the Web.

Some of these difficulties have since been ironed out, and the White House managed to work out special terms of service with some social-networking sites in order to post content online. But Rosenblatt says that there are still staffers who need to bring in their own machines to get anything done [emphasis added].

President Obama has been in office for more than a year, and EOP staff are still using their own laptops do official government work? I'm a civil servant, and I fully recognize that laws and policies must be observed. I also realize that in some instances, people use their own computers to get work done at home or on the road. I've done it myself on occasion, and I'm generally fine with the practice provided that a) employer policy doesn't prohibit it; b) legally restricted or classified information isn't involved; and c) record copies of all work product make their way into the employer's servers, content management system, or other storage resources as appropriate.

Nonetheless, I really would like to know why moving the White House's information technology infrastructure into the 21st century is taking such a long time. I suspect that legitimate security concerns are slowing things down, but allowing government information to reside on computers that may be used to check personal e-mail, watch videos on YouTube, access Facebook, or play World of Warcraft really isn't an appropriate stopgap measure.

Moreover, how is EOP ensuring that the government information on these computers is being managed properly and that the Presidential Records Act isn't being violated? Is use of personal computing equipment limited to creation of social media content that will likely be preserved via other means, or is it common practice throughout EOP? Is there some sort of policy governing use of personal computing equipment to create official records, and if so, is it backed up with training and credible enforcement efforts? If EOP isn't addressing these issues, it might have a big problem on its hands one day . . . .

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

University of Oregon e-records archivist position

Ask yourself these questions:
  • Are you "dynamic, creative, and user-oriented"?
  • Are you interested in electronic records and records management or, better yet, have hands-on electronic records and records management experience?
  • Do you have an American Library Association-accredited master's degree in library/information science with a concentration in archives or records management; a master's degree in archival administration; or a relevant master's degree and Certified Records Manager status?
  • Do you want to work in an academic environment?
  • Do you live -- or want to live -- in Eugene, Oregon?
If you answered "yes" to all of them, you might be in luck: the University of Oregon Libraries is seeking an electronic records archivist. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled, but priority consideration will be given to those submitted before 15 March 2010.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How the White House Archives Its E-mail

Last month, the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) settled their 2007 lawsuit against the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In keeping with the terms of the settlement, earlier today EOP conveyed to CREW and NSA a letter outlining its e-mail archiving and backup practices. A few hours ago, CREW posted a copy of the letter and supporting information on its Web site.

So how's EOP doing? From the looks of it, a pretty good job:
  • Since 20 January 2009, it has been using EMC's EmailXtender (now EMC SourceOne E-mail Management for Microsoft Exchange) to capture copies of all messages sent or received via its unclassified e-mail network. The EmailExtender system, which is centrally managed and housed in a secure offsite location, captures messages from EOP's central Microsoft Exchange Journal Servers (EOP's using Microsoft 2000 and will soon upgrade to Exchange 2010) immediately after they are sent or received by an EOP desktop computer or BlackBerry.
  • EOP network operations staff continuously monitor the status and storage capacity of the system via "health-check dashboard reports."
  • The system produces full backups on the second Tuesday of each month and incremental backups on every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
  • Although some users of the e-mail network can search the EmailXtender system and view archived messages, they can search and view only those messages created by their own offices and do not have the ability to alter or delete messages.
  • Only a select handful of people have the ability to delete messages from the system, and only those messages that were subsequently found to contain classified information are deleted. EOP seems quite serious about preventing inappropriate deletions: messages are deleted only after the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness and the National Security Council have been consulted and EOP's Office of the CIO, Office of the General Counsel, and the Director of Office Administration have granted permission. Moreover, record copies of deleted messages and records documenting adherence to the deletion protocols are maintained separately
  • The system produces weekly audit reports that identify individuals who conducted searches, the search terms they used, and whether they opened any messages in connection with their searches. The audit reports also document the deletion of messages, thus ensuring that unauthorized deletions will not go undetected.
From an archival/records management perspective, there's a lot to like about EOP's approach:
  • Mindful of some of the problems that confronted the previous administration, EOP has configured its e-mail network so that access to "all known Web based external e-mail systems" is blocked and neither the e-mail network nor EOP-issued BlackBerries can access "known instant messaging systems. Of course, secrecy-minded White House personnel could conduct official business via personal cell phones or PDA's -- and I would like to know how EOP is combating this practice -- but EOP seems to be doing whatever it can to ensure that its own hardware is locked down.
  • The EmailXtender system somehow determines whether a given message is subject to the Presidential Records Act or the Federal Records Act, which ought to make it a lot easier for NARA staff to manage these records after transfer. I wouldn't mind knowing more about this neat trick, which is probably based on analysis of the message's content, the account holder's role within EOP, or some combination of the two.
  • Although the EmailXtender system stores the messages and their attachments in their native formats, they can be extracted in .eml (Microsoft Outlook Express Electronic Mail) format for transfer to NARA. I would be happier if the messages could be exported in some sort of optimal preservation format, but the archival profession is just starting to figure out precisely what an optimal e-mail preservation format would look like. If, as EOP's letter implies, NARA can take in .eml files and convert them to a preservation format, .eml is okay.
This sounds all well and good, but a caveat is in order: we almost certainly don't have the whole picture. The very first sentence of EOP's letter indicates that the system and protocols described above relate only to "unclassified White House e-mails," which suggests that there is a separate system and set of protocols for messages containing classified information. Getting information about the workings of the classified system -- which I really hope isn't based on Exchange or any other off-the-shelf application -- is doubtless going to be a lot more difficult, and there is legitimate reason for not disclosing at least some of it. The care with which EOP is handling deletions from the unclassified system suggests that there is a substantial degree of commitment to doing the right thing, but we may not know with certainty just how well the Obama administration is managing classified e-mails until well after President Obama leaves office.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"The Archivist of the United States Googled me . . . ."

Earlier today, National Public Radio's Weekend Edition program aired Liane Hansen's lengthy profile of David Ferreiro, the new Archivist of the United States, and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. It's a great piece, and it opens with news that Ferriero prepared for the interview by doing a little online research about Hansen and NPR and arranging to show Hansen records relating to her past work -- including a letter documenting President Eisenhower's opinions about Spam (the meat product nuisance, not the electronic communication nuisance).

Apart from a few minor errors (e.g., Hansen implies that "vault" items, most of which can be seen by researchers who document their need to see them and request access in advance, are completely off-limits to the public), Hansen avoids most of the journalistic clich├ęs about archives. There's not a single reference to dust, and Hansen's description of the smell of a properly equipped and maintained repository -- "old paper and clean air" -- is elegantly simple and evocative.

Hansen's profile doesn't tackle the subject of electronic records, which Ferriero identified as one of his biggest concerns in a recent Federal Computer Week interview. However, it does emphasize one of his other top priorities: the digitization of NARA's non-electronic holdings. (Fortunately, it also stresses that digitizing each and every one of the 10 billion paper- and analog media-based items won't happen overnight.) It also stresses Ferriero's enduring passion for reference work, which will likely shape NARA's activities under his tenure.

My description of Hansen's profile is no substitute for actually listening to it. It's great publicity for Ferriero, NARA, and archives in general, and I wish that all media coverage relating to archives were this informative, entertaining, and perceptive.

Friday, January 8, 2010

American Falls, Niagara Falls, from below, ca. 1900. New York State Education Dept., Division of Visual Instruction, Instructional lantern slides, 1911-1925, A3045-78, Lantern slide D47_NiG81, Box 13. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives -- and available via the New York State Archives' Flickr photostream.

Apologies for the light posting as of late. The unrelenting cold afflicting the eastern half of the United States has sapped my initiative and soured my mood, and I've become a bit of a hermit.

Winter in New York State can be really beautiful, and I'm yearning for the temperatures to rise a bit and the sunshine to return so that I can get out and enjoy it. In the meantime, I'm reading Archives Power -- Kate Theimer's online discussion group gets underway on 11 January -- and getting ready to start blogging again. Look for more posts during the coming days . . . even if the cold sticks around.