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.

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