Friday, December 7, 2012

Best Practices Exchange, day three

 The 2012 Best Practices Exchange (BPE) ended late yesterday morning, and my colleague Michael and I did some sightseeing in Annapolis before making the long drive back to Albany.  I'm sleep-deprived and still processing everything I learned, so this post is going to highlight some of the insights that Martha Anderson, the Director of Program Management at the Library of Congress's National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program, shared during yesterday's plenary presentation:
  • In a digital world, "selection is rocket science."  We can't preserve everything, and we have to focus our efforts on saving only those things that are truly worth saving.
  • Over the past decade, we've developed a  wide array of good digital preservation tools and processes.  Now, we have to assemble them in ways that meet our local needs.  Wanting one tool to do everything is not realistic.
  • Archivists, librarians, curators, and other people who are trying to preserve digital content are running a relay race, and we should focus more on making sure that we're able to keep our digital content intact and accessible until the next generation of tools and processes emerge (or the next generation of cultural heritage professionals takes our place) and less upon the need to preserve our content  "until the end of time" or "forever."  Thinking of preservation as a ceaseless, ever-present responsibility can induce paralysis.  (It's also unrealistic.  A few years ago, I was chatting with a wise colleague and for some reason started bemoaning the lack of digital preservation solutions that would, in one fell swoop, enable me to stabilize a given set of records long enough to pass responsibility for their care on to the next generation of archivists.  I mentioned that the title of one superb resource -- the Digital Preservation Management:  Implementing Short-Term Solutions for Long-Term Problems workshop and tutorial -- highlighted the problem that electronic records archivists faced, and she looked at me, laughed, and said:  "Short-term solutions for long-term problems?  In other words, digital preservation is just like life.  What makes you think it would be otherwise?")
  • Our British colleagues are more adept than we are at casting their digital preservation needs in terms of the advantages preservation provides to business.  We can learn from them.
  • Earlier this week, influential Internet industry experts Mary Meeker and Liang Wu released a report asserting, among other things, that younger people are moving toward an "asset-light lifestyle." They think in terms of services -- online streaming of music and video, online access to publications and other information, Web services that enable sharing of cars and other durable goods -- instead of physical objects that they will purchase and maintain.  As yet, we don't know what the implications of this shift will be.  Will we move from a culture that views its heritage in thrifty terms or one that views its heritage as an abundance?  Will our next big challenge be selection of content, or will it be provision of access to content?
  • One of the biggest challenges we face when trying to find the resources needed to preserve digital content is our own unwillingness to ask difficult questions.  What are we doing that isn't good for our organization but somehow affirms someone's job?  How can we redirect energy and talent?  How can we use what we have in better ways?
Image:  Rotunda of Bancroft Hall, the mammoth Beaux-Arts dormitory in which all midshipmen reside, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 6 December 2012.  The gifts under the tree are for the Toys for Tots program overseen by the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Best Practices Exchange, day two

Yesterday was the second day of the 2012 Best Practices Exchange, and the sessions I attended were delightfully heavy on discussion and information sharing. I had some problems accessing the hotel's wifi last night and the BPE is still going on, so I'm going to post a few of yesterday's highlights before turning my attention back to this morning's discussion:
  • Arian Ravanbakhsh, whose morning plenary speech focused on the Presidential Memorandum - Managing Government Records and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) efforts to implement it, made an important point that all too often gets overlooked: even though an ever-increasing percentage of records created government agencies are born-digital, government archivists will continue to accession paper records well into the future. Substantial quantities of paper federal records have extremely long retention periods and won't be transferred to NARA until the mid-21st century, and, judging from the nodding heads in the audience, most state government archivists (l'Archivista included) anticipate that they'll continue to take in paper records for at least several more decades. Sometimes, I forget that we as a profession will have to ensure that at least two future generations of archivists have the knowledge and skills needed to accession, describe, and provide access to paper records. At the moment, finding new archivists who have the requisite interest and ability isn't much of a challenge -- sadly, archival education programs still attract significant numbers of students who don't want to work with electronic records -- but things might be quite different in 2030.
  • Butch Lazorchak of the Library of Congress highlighted a forthcoming grant opportunity: the Federal Geographic Data Committee, which is responsible for coordinating geospatial data gathering across the federal government and coordinates with state and local governments to assemble a comprehensive body of geospatial data, plans to offer geospatial archiving business planning grants in fiscal year 2013. The formal announcement should be released within a few weeks.
  • Butch also highlighted a couple of tools about which I was aware but haven't really examined closely: the GeoMAPP Geoarchiving Business Planning Toolkit, which can easily be adapted to support business planning for preservation of other types of digital content, the GeoMAPP Geoarchiving Self-Assessment, which lends itself to similar modifications, and the National Digital Stewardship Alliance's Digital Preservation in a Box, a collection of resources that support teaching and self-directed learning about digital preservation.
  • This BPE has seen a lot of discussion about the importance and difficulty of cultivating solid relationships with CIOs, and this morning one state archivist made what I think is an essential point: when talking to CIOs, archivists really need to emphasize the value added by records management and digital preservation. As a rule, we simply haven't done so.
  • This BPE has also generated a lot of ideas about how to support states that have yet to establish electronic records programs, and in the coming months you'll see the Council of State Archivists' State Electronic Records Initiative start turning these ideas into action. As a particularly lively discussion was unfolding this morning, it struck me that most of the people taking part in established full-fledged programs only after they had completed several successful projects; in fact, intense discussions about the challenges associated with transforming projects into programs took place at several early BPEs. If you don't have any hands-on electronic records experience and are facing resource constraints, it makes sense to identify a pressing but manageable problem, figure out how to solve it, and then move on to a few bigger, more complex projects.  After you've accumulated a few successes and learned from a few surprises or failures, you can focus on establishing a full-fledged program.
Image:  storm drain marker on Randall Street at City Dock, Annapolis, Maryland, 3 December 2012.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

2012 Best Practices Exchange, day one

Today was the first day of the 2012 Best Practices Exchange (BPE), an annual event that brings together archivists, librarians, IT professionals, and other people interested in preserving born-digital state government information. The BPE is my favorite professional event, in no part because it encourages presenters to discuss not only their successes but also the ways in which unexpected developments led them to change direction, the obstacles that proved insurmountable, and the lessons they learned along the way.

As I explained last year, those of us who blog and tweet about the BPE are obliged to use a little tact and discretion when making information about the BPE available online. Moreover, in some instances, what's said is more important than who said it. As a result, I'm going to refrain from tying some of the information that appears in this and subsequent posts re: the BPE to specific attendees.

I'm also going to keep this post short. Our opening discussion began at 8:30, the last session ended at 4:45, and I was in a Persistent Digital Archives and Library System (PeDALS) meeting until almost 6:00. The PeDALS crew then hit the streets of Annapolis, Maryland. We started off with ice cream at the Annapolis Ice Cream Company (yum!), and then three of us split off from the group, rested a bit and caught up on the day's e-mail, and had dinner at the Ram's Head Tavern (also yum!) The BPE resumes tomorrow at 8:30, and I'm presenting at the end of the day, so I'm going to highlight the most interesting tidbits of information that I picked up today and then head to bed.

Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) was this morning's plenary speaker, and he made a couple of really interesting points:
  • CIOs are juggling a lot of competing priorities. They're concerned about records management and digital preservation, but, as a rule, they're not worried enough to devote substantial attention or resources to improving records management or addressing preservation issues.
  • Cloud computing is now the number one concern of state CIOs, and CIOs are starting to think of themselves less as providers of hardware and software than as providers of services. Moreover, the cloud is attractive because it reduces diversity and complexity, which drive up IT costs. Robinson suspects that most states will eventually develop private cloud environments. Moreover, a recent NASCIO survey indicates that 31 percent of states have moved or plan to move digital archives and records management into the cloud.
  • CIOs are really struggling with Bring Your Own Devices issues and mobile technology, and the speed with which mobile technology changes is frustrating their efforts to come to grips with the situation. Citizens want to interact with state government via mobile apps, but the demand for app programmers is such that states can't retain employees who can create apps; at present, only one state has app programmers on its permanent payroll.
  • Cybersecurity is an increasingly pressing problem. States collect and create a wealth of data about citizens, and criminals (organized and disorganized) and hacktivists are increasingly interested in exploiting it. Spam, phishing, hacking, and network probe attempts are increasingly frequent. Governors don't always grasp the gravity of the threats or the extent to which their own reputations will be damaged if a large-scale breach occurs. Moreover, states aren't looking for ways to redirect existing resources to protecting critical information technology infrastructure or training staff.
  • Most states allocate less than two percent of their annual budgets to IT. Most large corporations devote approximately five percent of their annual budgets to IT.
I had the privilege of moderating one of the afternoon sessions, "Tearing Down the Borders: Coast-to-Coast Archives; Record-Keeping in the Cloud," in which Oregon State Archivist Mary Beth Herkert discussed her state's development of a cloud-based electronic records management system for state agencies and local governments, Bryan Smith of the Washington State Digital Archives detailed some of the Digital Archives' recent technical innovations. They then discussed their joint, National Historical Publications and Records Commission-funded effort to explore expanding Oregon's records management system to Washington State and ingesting Oregon's archival electronic records into Washington's Digital Archives.

I was really struck by Mary Beth's explanation of the cost savings Oregon achieved by moving to the cloud. In 2007, the Oregon State Archives was able to develop an HP Trim-based electronic records management system for its parent agency, the Office of Secretary of State. It wanted to expand this system, which it maintained in-house, to all state agencies and local governments, but it couldn't find a way to push the cost of doing so below $100 per user per month. However, the State Archives found a data center vendor in a small Oregon town that would host the system at a cost of $37 per user per month. When the total number of users reaches 20,000 users, the cost will drop to $10 per user per month.

Bryan made a couple of really intriguing points about the challenges of serving as a preservation repository for records created by multiple states.  First, partners who don't maintain technical infrastructure don't always realize that problems may be lurking within their digital content.  Washington recently led a National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program (NDIIPP) grant project that explored whether its Digital Archives infrastructure could support creation of regional digital repository, and the problems that Digital Archives staff encountered when attempting to ingest data submitted by partner states led to the creation of tools that enable partners to verify the integrity of their data and address any hidden problems lurking within their files and accompanying metadata prior to ingest.

Second, the NDIIPP project and the current Washington-Oregon project really underscored the importance of developing common metadata standards. The records created in one state may differ in important ways from similar records created in another state, but describing records similarly lowers system complexity and increases general accessibility. Encoding metadata in XML makes it easier to massage metadata as needed and gives creators the option of supplying more than the required minimum of elements.

I'm going to wrap up this post by sharing a couple of unattributed tidbits:
  • One veteran archivist has discovered that the best way to address state agency electronic records issues is to approach the agency's CIO first, then speak with the agency's head, and then talk to the agency's records management officer. In essence, this archivist is focusing first on the person who has the biggest headache and then on the person who is most concerned about saving money -- and thinking in terms of business process, not records management.
  • "If you're not at the table, you're going to be on the menu."
Image:  Maryland State House, Annapolis, Maryland, 4 December 2012.  The State House, which was completed in 1779, is the first state capitol building completed after the American Revolution, the oldest state capitol that has been in continuous legislative use and the only state house that has an all-wooden dome.