Sunday, June 23, 2013

New York Archives Conference 2013 recap

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the joint 2013 meeting of the New York Archives Conference and the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York, which was held at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University. I was initially scheduled to give one presentation and agreed at the last minute to speak twice, so I didn't get the chance to attend as many sessions or explore the surrounding area as much as I would have liked. However, I did learn a few interesting things:
  • I attended the Society of American Archivists' Privacy and Confidentiality Issues in Digital Archives workshop, which was held the day before the conference began, and I'm pleased to report that both the workshop and instructor Heather Briston (University of California, Los Angeles) are fantastic. I've a substantial amount of time working with records that contain information that is restricted in accordance with various state and federal laws, and I still learned quite a bit. If you get the chance to take this workshop, by all means do so. 
  • Jason Kuscma, the executive director of the Metropolitan New York Library Council, delivered a thought-provoking plenary address, "(Re)Building: Opportunities for Collaboration for New York's Cultural Heritage Institutions," in which he used post-Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts as an entry point for discussing the concept of collaboration. I was particularly struck by his analysis of why collaboration, which involves sharing of risk, is so difficult: it forces us to admit what we don't know, it makes us confront ambiguity and fluidity, it requires discussion and deliberation, it compels us to share information that we may view as proprietary, it has the potential to expose us to even more conflict than we currently experience, and it makes us worry about who's going to get credit for the successes and blame for the failures. I've been involved in a number of collaborative projects over the years, and some of them went belly-up as a result of some or all of the problems that Kucsma identified. The successful ones worked because people were willing get out of what he referred to as "emotional, cultural, and institutional silos," embrace uncertainty, define achievable goals, and entertain the possibility of working with unconventional partners.  As Kucsma pointed out, Hurricane Sandy is merely a dramatic example of a problem that's too large and too complex for any one organization to take on by itself. Archivists and librarians face a growing number of such problems, and we need to figure out how to tackle them together.
  • Kucsma also highlighted the existence of a recent report that somehow escaped my attention. I2NY: Envisioning an Information Infrastructure for New York State was prepared at the behest of New York's regional library associations, and it assesses the state's current library information landscape, which already features some collaborative initiatives, and outlines how the library associations can move toward building a fully comprehensive, fully collaborative information infrastructure.  The report doesn't discuss born-digital archival records, but it does envision the expansion of the collaborative archival digitization efforts led by the regional library associations (which are now exploring how to incorporate digital surrogates or archival materials into the Digital Public Library of America). It calls for creating innovative professional development opportunities. 
  • I do not envy curators seeking to preserve born-digital works of art. In addition to worrying about all of the hardware and software, data integrity, storage, metadata, information security, and other technical concerns that anyone seeking to preserve digital resources must address, they also have the unenviable task of sussing out the artist's intent and preserving significant properties that may be unique to each viewer/listener or dependent upon external resources.  The interactive (and very cool) short film The Wilderness Downtown requires that each viewer enter an address and then pulls data from Google Street View to create visual content. Static and distortions present on an analog recording of an experimental television show may be the result of media degradation . . . or may be the result of the creator's deliberate manipulations. 
  • Cornell University's Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art holds a host of analog video, old CDs and DVDs that require Mac OS 9 or other obsolete software or hardware, and Internet art.  At present, the archive maintains an array of older hardware and software and focuses on documenting playback requirements, digitizing analog content, archiving Web sites, and developing emulation software. It's also using National Endowment for the Humanities grant funding to preserve CD-ROM-based works of art.  This grant project should allow Cornell to identify how to conduct technical analyses of digital artworks, develop generalizable user profiles for new media art, create a viable data object model and associated PREMIS or RDF metadata profile, and identify a Submission Information Package structure that will support long-term preservation.
  • The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is developing a Digital Repository for Museum Collections that currently houses 60 TB of artwork that was originally stored on floppy disks, CDs, and other portable media.  Archivematica will supply this repository's core processing services, and a conservation management application will be created to house descriptive information and document software and other dependencies.  MoMA is also exploring using emulation to make digital artworks accessible not only to people who visit MoMA's physical exhibit spaces but also to people who access MoMA's website.  MoMA is also in the midst of completing a formal study that compares the fidelity of emulation vs. native hardware and software, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the findings arising from this study.
  • Documentary filmmaker Jonathan Minard, whose work in progress Archive examines the future of long-term digital storage, the development of the Internet, and Internet preservation efforts, highlighted an essential but frequently overlooked truth:  the Internet is a utility, not a library, and its operations are governed chiefly by market considerations. Cultural heritage professionals disregard this truth at their peril. (BTW, part one of Archive, which focuses on the work of the Internet Archive, is available online.)
  • The National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA), a Library of Congress-led membership organization of individuals and organizations seeking to preserve digital cultural heritage materials, is developing Levels of Digital Preservation, a simple, tiered set of guidelines that will allow institutions to assess how well they're caring for their digital holdings. It addresses storage and geographical redundancy, file fixity and data integrity, information security, metadata, and file format issues, and the NDSA group developing it would appreciate your feedback.
  • If you want a DSpace-powered institutional repository but lack the IT resources needed to maintain your own DSpace installation, you're in luck:  DuraSpace, the non-profit organization that guides the development of DSpace and several other digital access and preservation tools, is now offering DSpace Direct, a hosted DSpace service. For approximately $4,000 a year, you can quickly set up your own DSpace institutional repository, select the language customization and other features that meet your needs, and allow DuraSpace to take care of storing and backing up your data (via Amazon Web Services) and upgrading your DSpace software.
Image: This building, now known as Winnick House, was formerly Hillwood, the house that anchored the Gold Coast estate of Post cereal heiress Marjorie Meriweather Post and her second husband, financier E.F. Hutton. The estate was sold to Long Island University in 1951. Winnick House, which is by far the grandest structure on Long Island University's C.W. Post campus, houses the university's administrative offices. This photograph was taken on 4 June 2013.

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