Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Archival security workshops in New York State

Police officer standing in a room, ca. 1920. New York (State). Conservation Dept. Photographic prints and negatives, [ca.1909-1949]. New York State Archives series 14297-87, SARA No.1702. Image courtesy of the New York State Archives.

Theft is a serious and increasingly pervasive threat to historical records repositories. If your repository falls victim to a thief, your professional life -- and, in all likelihood, your personal life -- will never be quite the same. I wouldn't wish the experience on my worst enemy.

It's simply not possible to station police officers in the corner of every repository's reading room and next to every stack entrance. However, there are steps that every repository can take to minimize the chance that it will lose records to theft, and noted archival security expert Mimi Bowling will discuss how to do so in a series of free full-day workshops held throughout New York State. People who attend one of these workshops will leave prepared to take immediate action to strengthen their local security programs.

Bowling will address the following topics: risk awareness; insider theft; facility design and security technology; security of information systems; working with vendors and contractors; research room management and design; developing institutional security policies; procedures and post-theft response. She'll also touch upon additional topics as requested by participants.

I had the good fortune to attend a Society of American Archivists security workshop that Bowling co-taught a couple of years ago, and can personally vouch for her depth of knowledge and her ability to tailor recommendations to each repository's unique needs and circumstances. I learned a lot, and I'm really excited that she's teaching the following series of workshops:

Rochester Region
September 13, 2010 (Monday)
Ontario County Safety Training Center
Canandaigua (Ontario County)

Western New York Region
September 14, 2010 (Tuesday)
Erie 1 BOCES
West Seneca (Erie County)

Central New York Region
October 4, 2010 (Monday)
Utica Public Library
Utica (Oneida County)

South Central New York Region
October 5, 2010 (Tuesday)
Roberson Museum and Science Center
Binghamton (Broome County)

Hudson Valley Region
March 7, 2011 (Monday)
Historic Huguenot Street
New Paltz (Ulster County)

Capital Region
April 11, 2011 (Monday)
Crandall Public Library
Glens Falls (Warren County)

Northern New York Region
April 18, 2011 (Monday)
Town of Massena
Massena (St. Lawrence County)

Metropolitan New York Region and Long Island Region
Spring 2011

To register for one of these workshops, please contact Brittany Turner of the New York State Archives at bturner[at]mail.nysed.gov or 518-473-0130. Early registration is encouraged and appreciated; only 25 seats are available for each workshop.

Representatives of New York State's historical records community, including archives, governments, libraries, museums, historical societies, schools and non-profit organizations, will be given first priority, and additional seats are available for security personnel and law enforcement representatives working with these organizations. However, out-of-state representatives and others interested in the topic are also welcome as space permits.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Librarian of Congress issues new DCMA exemptions

Since 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has been part of the legal environment in which electronic records archivists, digital librarians, and others interested in preserving digital materials operate. DCMA generally prohibits circumvention of the anti-piracy and copy protection mechanisms built into many proprietary software applications, commercial CDs, DVDs, e-books, and any other form of commercially produced digital material. Although the DMCA includes a limited exemption for libraries and archives seeking to preserve digital materials and for IT personnel performing maintenance, security testing, and other essential tasks, it limits the extent to which libraries and archives can disseminate the copies they produce and doesn't address preservation of Web sites or networked resources.

The DMCA also mandates that the Librarian of Congress review its provisions every three years and issue needed exemptions to the law's circumvention clause. Earlier today, the Librarian of Congress issued a sextet of new exemptions, the first three of which are getting a lot of attention on Gizmodo, Ars Technica, and other tech-oriented sites. However, all of them are pretty interesting. They allow:
  • Documentary filmmakers, producers of non-commercial videos (i.e., every person with the burning desire to create a mash-up and post it on YouTube), college and university professors, and college and university film and media studies students to incorporate "short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment." The list of exemptions that the Librarian of Congress issued in 2006 contained a similar exemption, but it was limited to college and university media studies instructors and departments.
  • Jailbreaking (i.e., running applications not sanctioned by the manufacturer) of mobile phones; however, jailbreaking your iPhone will still void its warranty.
  • Unlocking mobile phones and using them on cellular networks other than those preferred by the phone's manufacturer; this exemption has been carried over from the Librarian's 2006 list, but keep in mind that unlocking your iPhone will void its warranty and that Apple will try to stop you via firmware updates.
  • Circumvention of copy-protection mechanisms built into video games provided that said circumvention is done "solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities," is used chiefly to promote computer security and the resulting information isn't used to "facilitate copyright infringement or a violation of applicable law." This exemption looks pretty dull on the surface, but as Ars Technica points out, its real aim may be the copy-protection mechanisms themselves: a couple of digital rights management mechanisms, including the very widely used SafeDisc, contain known security vulnerabilities.
  • Circumvention of copy protection and authentication dongles provided that they are malfunctioning or damaged and considered obsolete (i.e., "no longer manufactured or if a replacement or repair is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.") This is another holdover from the 2006 list, and it certainly is the least glamorous; it gets scant mention in the media coverage of the current list. However, it's of particular interest and value to electronic records archivists, digital librarians, and other cultural heritage professionals.
  • Bypassing of e-book access controls that disable "the book's read-aloud function or . . . screen readers that render the text into a specialized format" provided that there are no commercially available editions that support text reading. This is another holdover from the 2006 list, and it's particularly important for libraries that serve patrons with visual disabilities.
As Ars Technica notes, these exemptions don't address a number of key issues (e.g., circumventing digital rights management mechanisms built into purchased music files after authentication servers go offline). However, archivists and librarians should be pretty pleased with them. Moreover, those of us who focus on documenting contemporary popular culture should probably start thinking about how we're going to handle the explosion of multimedia creativity that the first exemption may engender; a lot of the documentaries, commentaries, and mash-ups that will be disseminated as a result of the first exemption will be of middling to poor quality, but some of them are going to be compelling works of art, solid scholarly productions, or works that warrant preservation because they are representative of their era.

FYI, it took the Librarian of Congress a little longer than usual to issue the current exemptions, so they'll remain in effect until 2012. If you find one of these exemptions directly benefits your work, be sure to speak up: in the past, the Librarian has dropped at least one exemption because no one was making use of it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Filter failure and other problems

A couple of years ago, Clay Shirky challenged the idea that the digital age is overloading us with information. He asserted that following the invention of the printing press, the sum total of available information has always been far, far larger than a single human being could ever hope to take in over the course of his or her lifetime. We tend to forget this fact because, in the centuries following Gutenberg, human beings devised a variety of strategies for honing in on the paper-based information that was of greatest value to them. (And as the volume of government and other records grew exponentially during the 20th century, a variety of strategies for dealing with them emerged, among them formalized records management, the appraisal theories of Schellenberg and others, and More Product, Less Process processing.)

These strategies don't work as well in the digital age. Information technology has removed many of the economic constraints that limited the production, dissemination, and storage of paper-based information, and as a result we have unprecedented access to all kinds of information -- some produced by professionals, some by amateurs, some of it vetted and edited, some of it not. Shirky asserts that feeling overwhelmed by all of this stuff is simply evidence that our traditional mechanisms for finding information that we need and want and disregarding the rest aren't working. In other words, we're experiencing "filter failure." Until we devise new ways of separating the digital wheat from the chaff -- something that will no doubt happen eventually -- we're going to feel overloaded.

Shirky's onto something, and the concept of filter failure popped into mind when I read Stuart Fox's recent TechNewsDaily piece concerning the challenges that future historians of the digital age will face. In essence, their work will shift "from the archeological recovery of rare texts and letters to the process of sifting through vast fields of digital information that weave through legal gray areas of corporate and private ownership." Fox notes that historians who can create or use new data analysis tools will likely be able to produce social histories of unprecedented breadth and depth, and I think he's right: scholars (one of my colleagues among them) are already starting to apply social network analysis and other tools to archival electronic records, and I'm certain that all kinds of new tools will be developed in the coming years.

However, as Shirky would be the first to admit, filter failure isn't the only problem. As Fox points out, corporate control of steadily increasing quantities of the data that will be of interest to them is likely going to be an even bigger challenge for future generations of historians. Although the Library of Congress is preserving every public Twitter posting, and there will no doubt be other initiatives designed to preserve social networking and other data documenting the lives of ordinary people, I suspect that a lot of this data will not survive because the corporations that control it have no incentive to preserve or provide access to it. (I also suspect that Fox's sources -- one of whom asserts, incorrectly, that eBay keeps every transaction record in perpetuity -- view the challenges of digital preservation through rose-colored lenses, but that's another story.) Of course, every era has witnessed the loss of valuable records, and whether current and future losses of corporate-controlled data will be large enough to distort the historical record is a complete unknown; the best we archivists can do is try to ensure that a sufficiently large body of such data is preserved and guide individuals seeking to preserve their own data.

The concept of filter failure and its limitations also came to mind as I read Dana Priest and William Arkin's Washington Post's Top Secret America Project, which highlights the growth of top-secret government work in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The project, which has a dedicated section on the Post's Web site, consists, among other things, of a trio of lengthy articles, a dedicated blog, a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, an excerpt from a related Frontline documentary that will air this fall, and a database of government agencies and federal contractors engaged in top-secret work, types of top-secret work, and places top-secret work is performed.

Among Priest and Arkin's key findings:
  • Almost 1,300 federal government agencies and roughly 1,900 private firms perform intelligence, counterterrorism, and homeland security work in approximately 10,000 locations throughout the country.
  • Many security and intelligence agencies perform the same work. For example, 51 civilian and military organization trace the flow of funds to and from terrorists. In most instances, organizations examining the same things do not share information.
  • Analysts who examine records unearthed and conversations recorded by spies are scattered throughout multiple agencies. Collectively, they produce approximately 50,000 daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly reports, many of which contain duplicative information. Agency heads and policymakers can't keep up with the constant flow of reports and tend to rely upon personal briefers who focus chiefly upon reports produced in-house.
  • Contractors do about 30 percent of the work that used to be performed by employees of the Central Intelligence Agency and other federal agencies. Most contracting firms are public corporations ultimately answerable to their shareholders, not the government -- an inherent conflict of interest. Moreover, they pay more than the government does and are actively recruiting senior analysts and other experienced government employees.
  • Diffusion and duplication of effort and lack of interagency communication have serious real-world consequences. In the months before the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, multiple agencies picked up snippets of worrying information about the eventual culprit, but these snippets never made their way to the organization responsible for internal Army counterintelligence investigations -- which had opted to focus on examining civilian terrorist affiliations in the United States even though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and 106 Federal Bureau of Investigation task forces were doing the same thing. Moreover, multiple agencies had multiple tidbits of information about the 2009 Christmas Day bomber, but failed to "connect the dots" not only because they were flooded with data but also because no single agency was clearly responsible for doing so.
Filter failure -- all those reports! all those overlooked data snippets! all the other records these agencies create! -- seems to be a real problem for the nation's intelligence agencies, but merely developing better filters won't really fix things. However, hiring more people and making new information technology investments -- the preferred solution of Military-Industrial Complex 2.0 -- won't do so, either. Priest and Arkin's work makes it plain that the real reason that intelligence, homeland security, and counterterrorism information is proliferating and relevant information can't be identified is that the agencies that produce it grew quickly and with minimal planning, have overlapping, nebulously defined missions, lack the incentive or desire to share information with each other, and, in some instances, use secrecy and national security as mechanisms for compartmentalizing information and justifying their own continued existence. In other words, the real problem is not one of information filtering but one of information creation. Whether we as a nation have the political will needed to fix this problem remains to be seen.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Preserving Paper event, Albany, NY, 22 July

Sorry for the short notice, but if you're going to be in Albany, New York early tomorrow evening and are interested in learning about the basics of caring for paper-based documents, photographic prints, maps, and other materials, you might want to make your way to the main branch of the Albany Public Library at 6:00 PM. Michelle Phillips, a conservator of paper and photographic materials with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), will explain how you can ensure that your paper-based treasures will withstand the ravages of time. All of OPRHP's conservators are first-rate, and this event should be great

(A big tip o' the hat to Daniel Van Riper, who let me know about this event and supplied the image above.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Update: the documentary record and the rights of the living

Last week, I posted about a New York Times article that highlighted some thorny issues surrounding New York University's purchase of the papers of proto-Pop artist Larry Rivers. Here's the controversy in a nutshell: the collection includes films and videos of his naked or topless pubescent daughters. Rivers's younger daughter, who was an unwilling participant in this project, attempted to obtain custody of the films from the foundation that owned her father's literary and artistic estate. However, the foundation sold the entire collection, including the films, to NYU.

On Friday, the Times published a brief followup piece that seems to have fallen off the radar screen as quickly as the original article did. I found it this afternoon only because the tireless Peter K. posted the link on the Archives and Archivists listserv over the weekend. In essence, NYU, which was surprised to learn that the foundation and the Rivers family were not in agreement concerning the transfer of the films, informed the foundation that it did not want the films. NYU also instructed the foundation to examine the collection prior to transfer for "similarly problematic material" and urged it to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with Rivers's younger daughter.

The matter of the Rivers films popped into my head as I was doing various things over the weekend, and I have to say I'm glad that NYU has opted against taking them. I was under the impression that NYU was aware of the dispute but wanted a) to ensure that Rivers's artistic career was fully documented and b) to safeguard against having other collections picked apart by relatives, business partners, and others who lack the legal right to control the collections but wish to alter the documentary record nonetheless. However, even if NYU had been aware of the situation, these films really are a special case. As I noted last week, they may be art, but they may also meet the legal definition of child pornography in some states. Moreover, the person who is seeking their return is depicted within them -- in an extensive, intimate, and invasive manner. There's a world of difference between attempting to preserve one's own privacy and trying to obscure the fact that Grandma owned a house of ill repute, that Uncle Leopold bought a judge, or that Dad really should have become a friend of Bill W.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The documentary record and the rights of the living

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article by Kate Taylor that I was certain would spark intense discussion in the archival blogosphere and on various listservs, but it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. I suspect that it was overlooked because it was posted on the front page of the Times late at night (we information-junkie insomniacs know that the Times posts lots of new stories on its Web site at or shortly after midnight) but very quickly disappeared into a less-than-prominent portion of the Arts section -- which, given the complex ethical issues it raises, is a shame.

New York University (NYU) has just purchased the personal papers of influential proto-Pop artist Larry Rivers. Rivers's connections to a host of significant New York literary and artistic figures are amply documented in his correspondence and other materials, and it's no surprise that NYU sought to acquire them. However, the collection also includes a series of films and videos comprising a project Rivers called Growing: every six months, Rivers filmed his pubescent daughters -- topless or naked -- and asked them invasive questions about their physical development. Emma Tamburlini, Rivers's younger daughter, asserts that she was pressured into participating in the project and that her experiences inflicted lasting psychological harm.

Tamburlini, who unsuccessfully sought to persuade the foundation that controlled her father's artistic estate to return the films to her, is now asking NYU to do the same. NYU has indicated that it would be willing to restrict access to the films for the duration of her lifetime and that it is willing to discuss the matter further, but the thought of the films' survival clearly agonizes her: "I don’t want [them] out there in the world . . . . It just makes it worse.” Moreover, her mother, who believes that Rivers was simply documenting his daughters' development, believes that Rivers wanted his daughters to have the films.

What a tangled mess. I have deep sympathy for Emma Tamburlini, who was profoundly affected by the filming and is by no means the first relative of a noteworthy person to feel that the archival record compromises her privacy or who wishes to destroy particularly painful materials: Stephen Joyce, who controls the literary estate of James Joyce, has become a zealous, litigious guardian of his family's privacy and freely admits that he has destroyed letters written by a mentally ill relative, and many other people who control access to collections of personal papers have used that control to safeguard their privacy.

Moreover, the films themselves are profoundly unsettling. The 70's were a different time, but Rivers himself stated that the project raised eyebrows even then and that his daughters were less than enthusiastic about participating in it. Taylor, who viewed at least some of the Growing footage, notes that Tamburlini and her sister looked "self-conscious" and that Tamburlini rarely spoke on film. As Tracy Clark-Flory wrote in Salon and Iris Carmon pointed out on Jezebel, Rivers's insistence upon filming his daughters unclothed and their lack of ability to give meaningful consent to being filmed both give one pause. Rivers's films may well be art, but they may also meet the legal definition of child pornography in some states.

At the same time, I understand NYU's position. NYU clearly values the intellectual content of the collection and is professionally obligated to care for it responsibly. Moreover, judging from Taylor's article, the Larry Rivers Foundation had complete legal control of Rivers' papers, and Rivers's widow and daughters were not involved in the negotiations that led to NYU's purchase of the collection. Turning over the films, disturbing as they are, to someone who has no legal claim to them may open the door to all kinds of similar requests -- and, in the process, expose NYU to charges of inconsistency or caprice.

I also have a fair amount of professional sympathy for my NYU colleagues, who are trying to untangle these difficult issues in the midst of a public uproar: the Growing films have been the subject of media attention, and several of the many, many readers who commented on Carmon's Jezebel post indicated that they had contacted NYU's director of libraries and head of special collections and provided information that would enable other readers to do the same. I'm sure that many of the people who contacted the director and head of special collections explained their concerns in a calm and carefully thought-out manner, but I'm equally certain that a few people didn't.

I honestly don't know precisely what should be done with the Growing films. I hope that NYU and Tamburlini can reach some sort of agreement concerning long-term access restrictions; most of us try to discourage donors and other interested parties to from imposing decades- or century-long access restrictions, but withholding access to these films until, say, 2110, might be the best solution for which anyone can hope. However, I recognize that the two parties may have irreconcilable differences and that that the films' content may complicate matters further. I do know that I'm glad that I'm not involved in the decision-making process -- and that I'll be keeping close watch on future developments.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

DigiMan explains preservation planning

The good people at Digital Preservation Europe have created another entertaining animated short explaining a core digital preservation concept. Team Digital Preservation and the Arctic Mountain Adventure, the latest installment in the adventures of DigiMan and his cohorts, highlights the importance and nuts-and-bolts components preservation planning (it also indicates that DigiMan is a terrible babysitter, but that's another story).

This video was created in part to highlight Plato, the digital preservation planning tool created by the European Union-funded PLANETS project, which wrapped up a couple of months ago. I haven't yet had the chance to check out Plato, but Chris Prom has written a detailed assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. It looks like a valuable, if imperfect, tool.

All of the Team Digital Preservation videos are available on YouTube, and if you haven't had the chance to check them out, by all means do so. They're an excellent resource for archivists who need to explain the basics of digital preservation to non-archivists (e.g., records creators, IT people, senior administrators, relatives and friends). They're also fun, and I'm looking forward to the next Team Digital Preservation production.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

NYS Cyber Security Conference: Stopping Child Porn

Every summer, the New York State Office of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination -- which is now part of the brand-new State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services -- hosts a Cyber Security Conference. The conference doesn’t focus on archival concerns per se, but many of the presenters work for state agencies and many of the presentations touch upon records management, authenticity concerns, and other electronic records issues.

This year’s
Cyber Security Conference was held on 16-17 June. I’ve held onto several posts because I was waiting for the conference organizers to post the presentations online. Now that some of the presentations are available, I’ll start working through the backlog.

The most compelling Cyber Security Conference session I attended had no direct archival connection but made me think about the types of records that law enforcement now creates. “Fighting Child Porn at the Provider Level” also left me deeply impressed with the bold and inventive manner in which the New York State Office of the Attorney General (OAG) used two tools commonly used by electronic records archivists -- hashing algorithms that verify that files haven’t been altered or corrupted and Web crawling software that captures Internet content meriting preservation -- to combat appalling crimes.

Senior Investigator Michael McCartney discussed OAG’s twelve-month investigation into the flow of child pornography on Usenet, the global bulletin-board service that predates the World Wide Web. Unlike most law enforcement agencies, which focus on snaring end-level consumers, OAG focused on the large Internet service providers (ISP’s) who provide Usenet feeds to both individual customers and smaller ISP’s.

Usenet groups have hierarchical, content-specific names, and groups devoted to distribution of child pornography and advertisements for child porn Web sites almost invariably have sickeningly obvious names. All of the large ISP’s have the technical ability to filter out groups dedicated to the sharing of illicit content, and most of them were filtering the Usenet feeds that their residential customers accessed. However, they refrained from examining the feeds they supplied to their commercial customers, some of whom removed foreign-language and other groups but not child porn groups.

In order to force the large ISP’s to take action, OAG created a dummy ISP and purchased Usenet feeds from the largest ISP’s that had any sort of business presence in New York State. It identified 88 Usenet groups that were unmistakably devoted to child porn and then developed an automated crawler that captured all of the content posted to these groups, calculated a unique alphanumeric hash value for each posted image, and inserted the header data that supplied information about the origin of each posting into a database. OAG investigators reviewed each image and earmarked those that unambiguously met the state’s legal definition of child pornography.

Any change made to an image (e.g., cropping, adding captions) changes its hash value, and as a result OAG’s investigators encountered a lot of variants of the same images. However, the crawler’s ability to compare hash values of previously captured images with those of newly captured files also enabled them to trace the posting of identical images across multiple Usenet groups and via multiple ISP’s -- and each posting constituted a separate felony offense. Whenever the crawler determined that more than 10 images had been posted from the same originating address, it automatically generated a subpoena demanding that the ISP supply information about the individual account from which the posts originated.

After 144 days of crawling, OAG had identified 59 active child pornography Usenet groups and thousands of pornographic images. After sending six separate citizen complaints to each ISP’s abuse department and getting little or no response, OAG then hit the ISP’s with the damning results of its investigation.

In lieu of prosecution, OAG, which maintains a Web site detailing the results of its investigation and ongoing efforts to fight child porn, entered into settlements that required the ISP’s to:
  • Remove the 88 child porn groups from all of their feeds
  • Have a human being review each new Usenet group and flag those overtly used to share child pornography
  • Adhere to strict, lengthy data retention requirements that would enable OAG and other law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute individuals who transmitted child pornography via the Internet
  • Enhance their abuse reporting systems and, in accordance with federal law, report each confirmed instance of child pornography to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
  • Revise their Terms of Service and Authorized Use policies
  • Subscribe to the NCMEC’s child pornography Web site watch list
Although the investigation did not result in the prosecution of any of the roughly 750 individuals who were the targets of subpoenas -- almost all of them used overseas proxy servers that shielded their identities -- it has effectively cut off most Americans’ access to existing Usenet child pornography groups and made it much harder for them to access new child porn groups.

OAG is also working with the ISP’s to develop a larger hash value database that could be used to identify, in real time, known child pornography images transmitted across an ISP’s servers. This database is still in the conceptual stages, and variations in state child pornography laws will make it difficult to create a truly national hash database, but OAG hopes that this database will greatly reduce the supply of online child pornography.

About halfway through McCartney's presentation, I stopped thinking, “these guys are really cool” and started thinking, “these guys are awesome." I'm still kind of blown away by the technical sophistication and impressive results of OAG's investigation, and I'm still pondering its records-related implications. Technology is clearly changing how law enforcement agencies conduct investigations and document their work, and the legal and records management ramifications of these changes are going to be pretty interesting.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Going to SAA this year?

Union Station, Washington, DC, 26 June 2009.

If you're going to the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists in Washington, DC next month, you have until midnight to register at the Early Bird rate. Effective 12:01 AM, the registration fee goes up by $50.00.

And if you live on the East Coast, I encourage you to consider Amtrak. Getting to DC will take a little longer, but it's by far the greenest transit option available, the security procedures are much more reasonable, the seats are much roomier, the coffee is much better, and every passenger -- even those in coach -- gets an electrical outlet. You'll also get to see all kinds of interesting scenery; I've seen bald eagles swooping over the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge at sunset, and parts of Baltimore (a city I really like) that could have served as shooting locations for The Wire. Moreover, instead of dealing with the sometimes unnerving approach to Reagan National or the chaos of Dulles, you'll be greeted by the Beaux-Arts beauty of Union Station.

See you in DC!

Monday, July 5, 2010

NASCAR and digital preservation

At first glance, these two things don't seem to have much in common: NASCAR is an automobile racing sanctioning body, and digital preservation is an activity most commonly associated with cultural heritage professionals and academics. However, the two are intimately related. The NASCAR Media Group (NMG) produces NASCAR-related original programming in a wide array of formats, manages NASCAR's relationships with broadcast networks and other media providers, facilitates the integration of NASCAR-related content into other forms of entertainment -- and preserves the materials that it creates. Judging from a recent statement Chief Operating Officer Jay Abraham made to TV Technology reporter Robin Berger, it's dead serious about doing so:
We are responsible as historians and archivists to ensure, preserve, and maintain [NMG's information assets] in a stable, safe, and backed up manner.
NMG, which just moved into a new Charlotte, North Carolina facility, uses a variety of tools that enable it to streamline production and preservation:
  • Building4Media's Fork Production Suite enables NMG to ingest almost 10 terabytes of data from multiple locations every day and to add metadata at the time of receipt. NMG worked with Building4Media to enhance Fork's time-code stamping capability.
  • Front Porch Digital's DIVArchive video content management system. NMG also worked with Front Porch Digital to ensure that DIVAsymphony, the service-oriented architecture framework for DIVArchive, would work well with various third-party products.
  • An Active Storage system provided NASCAR with 200 terabytes of initial storage capacity.
  • A SpectraLogic T950 tape library provides backup and, if needed, could be expanded to store 1.6 petabytes of data.
  • An NMG-developed tracking system will pull data from all of these systems and enable staff to track a given file from the moment of acquisition through its placement in the archive.
NMG has justified its digital preservation investment on the grounds that it will enhance NASCAR's bottom line -- now and well into the future -- and it will be interesting to see whether its investment fully pays off. I suspect that it will. NMG used to produce programming in cooperation with its broadcasting partners, but it has gradually centralized production under its own auspices. Doing so has cut costs for both NMG and the broadcasters, but it's plain that centralization gives NMG more power at the negotiating table than it would otherwise have. Moreover, its ever-increasing volume of readily accessible, properly managed, and eminently repurposable digital assets is probably going to be a cash cow: NMG-controlled materials are finding their way into in feature films, video games, and other forms of entertainment, and will likely make their way into forms of entertainment that haven't been invented yet.

I'll also be interested in seeing how other sports sanctioning and governing bodies approach digital preservation. NASCAR is a bit unusual in that it is dominated by a single family, but every sanctioning and governing body is keenly aware of the monetary value of the content it produces and zealously interested in safeguarding its intellectual property rights. Moreover, they have both the money and the motive to think big -- which is more than most governments, universities, and corporations can say at this time.

By the way, if you need studio time, satellite feeds, or production services, NMG can, for a fee, provide them. You can also arrange to store "your company's entire library of assets" in NMG's content management system -- which leads me to envision a future in which NASCAR becomes a huge digital preservation service provider.

Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day

Fireworks display, Albany, New York, 4 July 2010, Om 9:40 PM. T0 the right of the fireworks is the Corning Tower, the tallest building in upstate New York; "Price Chopper" is the area supermarket chain that sponsors the display and thus earns the the right to have its name spelled out in the tower's lights. The Cultural Education Center, which houses the New York State Archives, the New York State Library, and the New York State Museum, is obscured by the tree to the left of the Corning Tower.

On 2 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved a resolution declaring that the member colonies (of which New York was one) would henceforth be independent of Great Britain. The representatives then focused upon drafting a document that explained their reasons for doing so. The authors of this document, the Declaration of Independence, later stated that they signed the final version on 4 July 1776. Some members of the Second Continental Congress initially believed that 2 July would become a day of celebration and many historians now believe that the declaration wasn't signed until early August 1776, but from 1777 onward 4 July has been the day on which Americans have commemorated their nation's founding.

Fireworks have been part of Independence Day celebrations from 1777 to the present day. I'm fortunate in that I don't have to travel far to see the City 0f Albany, New York's Independence Day fireworks display (the sidewalk in front of my house is a pretty good viewing spot) and friends tend to convene at my home in order to engage in another Independence Day tradition: hanging out, eating cold food (some people barbeque, but I don't), and drinking cold beverages.

I've got a couple of posts in the hopper -- I've been holding them back because I've been waiting for someone else to post content to the Web -- so things will be getting back to normal around here during the next few days. In the meantime, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope that you're having an enjoyable summer -- and if you're in the Southern Hemisphere, I hope winter is passing quickly.