Saturday, August 14, 2010

SAA 2010

View from the sixth floor, Washington Marriott Wardman Park, 14 August 2010, 6:55 AM. Washington National Cathedral is in the background.

The 2010 joint meeting of the Council of State Archivists (CoSA), the National Association of Government Archivists and Records Administrators (NAGARA), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) has come to an end. Between working on my own presentation (which went pretty well) and being a bit under the weather on Thursday, I haven't had the chance to post anything here. Some of this year's presentations are freely available on the SAA Web site, more (my own included) will be added to the site shortly, and people have been tweeting up a storm about the meeting, so I'm not going to post any detailed session recaps this year. Instead, I'm going to offer up some of the most interesting insights and snippets of information I picked up at this year's meeting:
  • Seth Shaw (Duke University): Archivists confronted with unfamiliar materials have an instinctive tendency to gravitate toward item-level description. Photography is an excellent example of this behavior, and it wasn’t until we were deluged with photographic materials that we began moving away from item-level description. Electronic records are another example, and we need to return to archival principles when dealing with them. (Session 104, Taking Scale Seriously: Practical Metadata Strategies for Very Large Digital Collections)
  • John MacDonald (Information Management Consulting and Education): We need people who understand the evolving organizational landscape and its impact on recordkeeping and who know how to position themselves to support operational and strategic goals and priorities and individual needs of business lines and the enterprise, how to articulate records issues in business terms, and how to be seen as their organization’s “go-to” person for all records issues. How do we find these people? Do what human resources experts do: define the nature of records work, identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to do the work, develop competency profiles, assess the gap between those competency profiles and existing competencies, build recruitment strategies, develop training and education strategies, etc. (Session 302, So, Like, Byte Me: A Critical Response by Records Professionals to Born-Digital Records)
  • Adrian Cunningham (National Archives of Australia): The International Council of Archives is working to reconcile the varied national electronic recordkeeping standards (e.g., DOD 5015.2) , and the results of this project have been been submitted for fast-track approval by ISO, the international standards body. (Session 302, So, Like, Byte Me: A Critical Response by Records Professionals to Born-Digital Records)
  • Lisa Weber (National Archives and Records Administration): The Buddhist faith holds that life means suffering, that the origin of suffering is attachment, and that the cessation of suffering is attainable. Records professionals suffer because they are attached to the concept of preservation. However, all records are decaying -- sometimes slowly, and sometimes quickly. We need to think of digital preservation as a series of handoffs to the future and avoid falling into the trap of thinking that everything is too difficult or that we need to build perfect systems; the middle path -- neutral, upright, and unbiased -- is what we should seek. We need to act, observe, and learn, then act, observe, and learn. (Session 302, So, Like, Byte Me: A Critical Response by Records Professionals to Born-Digital Records)
  • Victoria Lemieux (University of British Columbia): Traditionally, keyword searching and linear review has been the accepted approach to e-discovery. However, this approach is not scalable. Attorneys and others have been exploring a number of alternatives, including visual analysis, the science of analytic reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces. It facilitates processing of massive sets of data, produces quick answers, and facilitates discovery of the unexpected. It originated in the scientific community and has moved into business intelligence, fraud detection, and other fields, and now it’s moving into e-discovery -- particularly when e-mail is involved. To date, a lot of visual analysis focuses on social networks, but it can also be used to create cluster representations of content. Visual analysis isn't perfect and has yet to be tested in court, but research suggests that doing a “first pass” using visual analysis and then doing keyword searching and linear review is a highly effective approach. (Session 402, E-Discovery and Records Professionals: Overcoming the Digital Tsunami)
  • Jason Baron (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration): Researchers have discovered that keyword and Boolean searches fail to retrieve substantial numbers of documents responsive to e-discovery requests. (Session 402, E-Discovery and Records Professionals: Overcoming the Digital Tsunami)
  • Chien-Yi Hou (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) demonstrated a prototype of the Distributed Archival Custodial and Preservation Environments (DCAPE) system. He used it to detect a virus in a test batch of records submitted to the system, move files from his laptop to a storage location in North Carolina, and did some other cool stuff. (Session 501, Distributed Archival Custodial and Preservation Environments (DCAPE) Project: Status Report and Demonstration)
  • Juan Williams's son once asked him, "What's the biggest building in Washington?" Wiliams named the Capital and several other buildings, but his son kept telling him he was wrong. After Williams exasperatedly gave up, his son told him the answer: "The National Archives, because that's where all the stories are." (Plenary III)

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