Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Best Practices Exchange: day three

Memorial Hall, Pennsylvania State Museum, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 21 October 2015.
The 2015 Best Practices Exchange (BPE) ended just before noon today. I spent most of the afternoon and early evening driving home, and I need to spend the rest of this evening unpacking and getting ready to go to work tomorrow, so I'm going to put up a few more substantive posts in the coming days. However, one of the things that I love about the BPE is that it often makes one look for connections between seemingly disparate things, and this morning I took a look around the museum and noted that our very surroundings seemed to be reinforcing points made in various presentations.

This year's BPE sessions took place in the Pennsylvania State Museum building, and attendees repeatedly passed through the Museum's Memorial Hall, which is dedicated to the vision of Pennsylvania founder William Penn as they made their way from one session to the next. Memorial Hall features a mammoth, strikingly modernist sculpture of Penn, a reproduction of Pennsylvania's original colonial charter, and a mural by Vincent Maragliotti depicting the state's history from the colonial era to the mid-1960s.

Painted beneath the mural are quotations from over a dozen prominent Pennsylvanians. I scanned them this morning as I was heading to a session, and several of them seemed strikingly resonant.

 BPE attendees tend to be thoroughly practical, in part because we've all seen large-scale information technology projects end miserably. Doug Robinson, the executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, noted during a plenary address that the spectacular failure of numerous government IT projects -- failures rooted in the desire to solve all problems at once and in repeated changes in project scope and direction -- is finally moving state CIOs toward an agile, incremental approach to software and system development.

The BPE exists because archivists, librarians, and other people recognize that the processes and policies that worked so well in an analog world don't work so well in the digital era. This year, many presenters detailed how they're developing and documenting new processing workflows and drafting new preservation and records management policies. We're creating these things not because we wish to sow discord or promote ourselves but because our mission -- preserving and providing state government and other born-digital content -- demands it of us.

BPE attendees have always stressed that failure can be just as instructive as success, and Kate Theimer stressed in her plenary address that we need to create organizational cultures in which failure is recognized as part and parcel of innovation. I would argue that demonstrating a certain degree of compassion is part and parcel of this effort. Most of the people who self-select to become archivists and librarians were conscientious students who took pride in having the "right" answer, and we have to keep gently reminding our perfectionist peers that failure itself is neither unusual nor a sign of incompetence. Failure to learn from a failure is far more damaging.

I don't know whether the "irresistible right arm shall divide the waves," but as Pennsylvania State University records manager Jackie Esposito emphasized in this morning's plenary address, those of us who are actively grappling with digital preservation and electronic records management are doing so in part because the risks associated with not doing so -- financial losses, legal sanctions, tarnished institutional reputations, inability to conduct business -- are even greater than the risks associated with wading into the deep waters of digital preservation and electronic records management. We don't have any choice but to keep going forward, even if the only right -- or left -- arms pushing against the waves are our own.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Best Practices Exchange 2015: day two

Utility marking in front of the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex, North Third Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 20 October 2015
The experiences I had today at the 2015 Best Practices Exchange (BPE) highlighted highlighted precisely why I love this conference so much: I listened as other people shared some thought-provoking insights, discussed how my own institution is addressing some electronic records challenges and encouraged others to share how their organizations are tackling the same problems, learned about some great new tools and their uses, and spent lunch and dinner catching up with friends I rarely get to see.

It's late, tomorrow's plenary starts at 8:30 AM, and as a result I'm going to devote this brief post to Kate Theimer's incisive plenary presentation. Kate's planning to post the full text of her talk -- and, perhaps, the full text of an alternate version she opted against writing for the BPE -- on her own site, and I don't want to steal her thunder. As a result, I'm simply going to underscore what, in my view, was her most essential point:

Archivists don't set out to be innovative, and "innovation" isn't the preserve of the library or archival profession's elite. Innovation is what happens when we try to figure out how we can do our jobs more effectively. In most instances, innovation occurs when we're confronted with some sort of problem or challenge and decide that we're going to try to do something about it. If you've figured out some way to improve your organization's processes or services, you're an innovator -- even if your solution is less than perfect.

Good night.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Best Practices Exchange 2015: day one

Light fixture, Pennsylvania State Museum, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 19 October 2015.
The 2015 Best Practices Exchange (BPE) got underway at the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg earlier today. The BPE is a conference that brings together archivists, librarians, information technologists, and other people who seek to preserve born-digital state government information, and it emphasizes sharing lessons learned (i.e., lessons taught by failure) as well as success stories. It's my favorite conference, and I always leave the BPE feeling energized and inspired.

I'm a little under the weather and am still thinking through some of the things I heard about today, so this post is going to be brief. However, I did want to pass on something that really piqued my interest:
  • A group of Michigan archivists and librarians doing hands-on digital preservation work have formed a grassroots organization, Mid-Michigan Digital Practitioners, that meets twice a year to exchange information. The group has no institutional sponsor, has no formal leadership structure, and charges no membership dues; however, the website of Michigan State University's Archives and Historical Collections includes information about and presentations delivered at past meetings. Mid-Michigan Digital Practitioners has capped its size in an effort to ensure that it remains small enough to allow members to form a tightly knit, geographically concentrated community of practice, and I think that this is a good thing. Local and regional professional organizations and regional, national, and international communities of practice are all incredibly valuable, but local, less formalized communities can propel enduring collaboration and can be far less intimidating to people who are just beginning to grapple with digital preservation issues. I would love to see lots of little, unstructured, and locally based digital preservation groups pop up all over the place.
I also want to share a couple of key points that a pair of experienced professionals made about making the case for electronic records management and digital preservation:
  •  The technologies we will use to manage and preserve archival records are the same technologies we will use to preserve records that are not permanent but which have lengthy retention periods. When making the case for digital preservation to CIOs and other high-ranking, we should consider focusing less on the former and emphasizing that we can help care for the latter. If we create an environment in which people are comfortable sending records that have long retention periods to an archives-governed storage facility -- just as they are currently comfortable sending paper records that have long retention periods to a different archives-operated storage facility -- we can easily take care of preserving those records that warrant permanent preservation.
  • All too often, we think in terms of what records creators must do in order to comply with regulations, laws, or records management best practices. We should instead assess the environment in which records creators operate, identify the problems with which creators are struggling, and then stress how we can help to solve these problems.
 Finally, one attendee made a comment that struck me as being so basic that it's often overlooked:
  • When we talk about "electronic records," many people simply assume that we're advocating scanning paper documents and then getting rid of all paper records. We need to make sure that people understand that we're focusing on those materials that are created digitally and will be managed and preserved in digital format. How do we do this?
More tomorrow.

Monday, August 24, 2015

SAA 2015: Cleveland Digital Public Library

Main lobby, Cleveland Public Library, East 3rd Street and Superior Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-22. This is what a library should look like.
The annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists ended early Saturday afternoon. I then visited the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library. I fell in love with this library as an undergraduate, and I was pleased to see that the original building, a Beaux Arts beauty, has received some much needed care and that a sparkling 21st century addition now sits immediately to the east of the library's reading garden.

I was particularly pleased to discover that earlier this year, the library launched the Cleveland Digital Public Library, which supports digitization of historically significant materials owned by the Cleveland Public Library, other cultural heritage institutions, and organizations and individuals in the Cleveland area. Cleveland was one of four large public libraries that received Library Services Technology Act and Ohio Public Library Information Network funding that supported the purchase of high-resolution scanning equipment and storage, and Cleveland's program is unique in that it allows community members to use its scanning equipment and to add copies of the resulting image files to the library's permanent digital collections.

I know that the Cleveland Public Library isn't the first institution to create and maintain digital images of manuscript and archival materials that remain in the hands of their creators, but it may be unique in that it puts community members in charge of determining whether their materials should be added to the library's collections and enables them to create and donate copies of their materials at their convenience. Almost all of the other "scan and add" projects with which I'm familiar have sought to collect copies of materials that focused on a given event (e.g., the Civil War) and make their scanning services available to community members for only a few hours or a few days at a time.

I imagine that, in at least a few instances, the community-created images added to the Cleveland Public Digital Library's collections will strike archivists, librarians, and other members of the community as less than preservation-worthy. However, judging from the videos embedded in the Cleveland Digital Public Library's web page, this program will help to ensure that some fascinating Cleveland lives and stories are preserved and made broadly accessible. It pleases me deeply that the Cleveland Public Library is taking a 21st century approach to collecting and facilitating access to the city's historical record.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

SAA 2015: thinking about access

Glass globe (1925) based upon a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci, main branch of the Cleveland Public Library, East 3rd Street and Superior Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-15.
The 2015 meeting of the Society of American Archivists ended early yesterday afternoon, and I spent the remainder of the day thinking about . . . well, a lot of things, but mainly about the conference and my hometown.

By my count, there were five sessions -- four listed in the preliminary program and a fifth "pop-up" session that came together shortly before the meeting began -- that focused on making born-digital records accessible to end users. I heard a little grumbling about the weight given to this particular topic and to electronic records generally, and I also heard some griping about the timidity and complexity of the access solutions and systems that were discussed. As I walked through the Cleveland Public Library this afternoon and visited various suburban bookstores this evening, the subject of access to records kept popping into my mind.

I agree that in some instances, we allow fear -- of embarrassment, of reprisals, of vague and undefined consequences -- to play an inordinately large role in shaping our access policies and procedures. I also agree that it's quite easy to develop online access mechanisms that force users to jump through additional hoops instead of providing a seamless entree into one's digital holdings. However, it's important to remember that our hangups regarding access aren't merely the product of fear.

In some instances, access restrictions are the result of negotiated agreements with donors. In other words, we've made a promise that we need to keep -- in part because it demonstrates our trustworthiness and in part because -- generally -- it's the right thing to do. One can argue that the terms embedded in a given agreement are excessive, needlessly complex, or downright unreasonable, but I don't think that any archivist would assert that we should treat donor agreements lightly.

In other instances, restrictions are imposed by law. Is every law that might bear upon access to records well written, easy to enforce, and in alignment with archival principles. No, no, a thousand times no. However, archivists generally seek to operate within the bounds established by law and those working in government repositories may have a legal as well as an ethical obligation to uphold the law.

Moreover, upholding laws relating to records access is, in some instances, a matter of social justice, particularly when public records are involved. Over the course of my career, I have encountered records that a) concern individuals who are quite likely still alive and b) contain detailed documentation of injuries and illnesses, identify victims of sexual assault, document psychiatric histories, or plumb the family histories of minors who came into contact with the criminal justice or social welfare systems. Releasing such records might very well do these individuals substantial psychological harm. If the records document abuses that these individuals suffered while being "served" by government-operated facilities and programs, their improper disclosure may rightly be regarded as perpetuation of that abuse.

On one of the sessions (I forget which one), one of the panelists (again, I forget which one) said that she thought it would be a good idea if archivists focused less on the harms that inadvertent disclosure might cause ill-defined third parties and more on advocating for the interests of end users. Keeping in mind the perspective of end users is absolutely appropriate, but we need to remember that some of the people documented in our holdings have claims that may be even more compelling.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

SAA 2015: making born-digital records accessible

Terminal Tower, Public Square, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-21. Until 1991, Terminal Tower was the tallest building in the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio. I have loved this building as long as I can remember.
SAA 2015 is in full swing. Today, I sat in on two sessions -- Arrangement and Description and Access for Digital Archives (session 401) and Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Reading Room (session 507) -- that focused on on providing access to born-digital materials. I was tardy in arriving to the first and had to leave the second in order to travel to an offsite meeting, so what follows is a partial listing of things I found interesting or useful.
  • One repository is providing access to a born-digital body of materials that is subject to varying copyright and donor restrictions by loading copies of the files onto a laptop that is not connected to any network and has disabled USB ports. This approach isn't perfect, but archivists shouldn't wait for perfection to start making their holdings accessible. (Moreover, as another archivist pointed out, this approach requires minimal IT support.) 
  • No two collections are the same, and processing is always time-consuming. Another repository assesses each collection of born-digital materials for quality of data, authenticity of data, complexity of the access restrictions associated with copyright and donor stipulations, and anticipated level of use. Records that contain high quality and authentic data, lack complicated access restrictions, and will likely receive high use receive more intensive processing than those that don't meet these criteria. 
  •  The amount of processing work we do will likely vary. One institution has some born-digital collections that consist of flat groupings of items and some collections that consist of files arranged in directory structures. In other instances, collections are mixtures of analog and digital items, and the archives wants the arrangement of the digital materials to correspond to that of the analog. 
  •  We don't yet have a firm sense of what our users want. Some of our users are comfortable with doing keyword or other types of searches, and others are accustomed to box-and-folder hierarchies. We may discover that we need to try to meet the needs of both groups. 
  • Access solutions are varied, constantly changing, and have a way of emerging in response to pressing user requests. We need to remain flexible and mindful of the fact that solutions that work at one institution might not work at another. 
  • We need to publicize our born-digital holdings, and we need to make sure that colleagues who do reference work are comfortable working with these materials and highlight their existence to researchers when appropriate.
The question of making restricted materials available online also came up, and one presenter recommended making use of the redaction functionality being incorporated into BitCurator and informing end users of their responsibilities regarding inappropriate disclosure of information that may be subject to various restrictions. The latter approach was also explored quite extensively in a Thursday afternoon pop-up session that centered on issues raised by recent events at the University of Oregon, and the discussion included making access contingent upon entering into formal, online agreements.

I find this an intriguing approach, but most most government archives will likely be very slow to embrace it. Some state open records laws specify that records creators and archives cannot impose limitations on the use of information that is disclosed in response to freedom of information requests; if a record contains restricted information, the creating agency or the archivist must redact it prior to disclosing it. Moreover, governments tend to be risk-averse -- sometimes excessively, and sometimes with good reason. However, I can envision some scenarios in which government archives might well adopt this approach; using a click-through agreement to highlight the presence of records potentially covered by copyright isn't quite the same thing as hoping a researcher will abide by an agreement prohibiting disclosure of information found within psychiatric case files.

Finally, in response to a question concerning whether we should embed all of the metadata we're creating as we work with digital materials into our finding aids, one of the panelists in session 401 said something that's been on my mind for some time: we need to start thinking about moving away from document-based finding aids. I like Encoded Archival Description (and well-crafted MARC records make me feel as if there is an inner logic and order to the world), but it's high time we stopped thinking of archival description solely in terms of "fast paper."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

SAA 2015: new approaches to documentation

Album cover, The Impressions, People Get Ready (1965), and hat (c. 1981) and jacket (c. 1981) owned by Curtis Mayfield. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-20.
 The annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists is in full swing, and I put in a full day attending sessions and catching up with people. I am not going to blog about every session or meeting that I attend-- I no longer have the stamina needed for that sort of thing -- but will instead post about the most interesting, compelling, or useful session or idea that I encounter each day.

Today, I attended two very good sessions that concerned balancing privacy and access considerations as they relate to electronic records. I also found thought-provoking a session that focused on how and whether one should document communities that either do not wish to be documented and on how some of the assumptions and understandings embedded in archival practice can perpetuate the past injustices done to indigenous peoples. However, for me, a lunchtime forum entitled "The Secret Life of Records" was the high point of the day. What follows probably will not do it justice -- as is usually the case when I'm at SAA, I've been sleeping wretchedly -- but I wanted to sketch out a few thoughts before crawling into bed.

Sponsored by SAA's Diversity Committee, this forum highlighted several recent efforts to document the Black Lives Matter movement and other responses to the recent high-profile police shootings and other actions that resulted in the deaths of African-American citizens. As panelist Jarrett Drake (Princeton University) noted, the news media and substantial segments of the public tend to accept the narratives embedded in police reports and other government records. However, recent events have highlighted the fact that these records may contain inaccuracies, distortions, and deliberate untruths and that they must be supplemented by materials created by individuals and communities affected by police misconduct.

The panelists discussed numerous approaches to capturing these materials in the digital age. Bergis Jules (University of California at Riverside) detailed how he and his colleagues were capturing tweets (i.e., Twitter content) relating to African-Americans who died in police encounters and to the Black Lives Matter movement. Nadia Ghasedi (Washington University) discussed how her repository established an Omeka-based website that enables area residents to upload copies of still images, video and audio recordings, and other materials that documented the community protests that took place in the St. Louis, Missouri area following a police shooting that resulted in the death of a young African-American man in the suburb of Ferguson. Stacie Williams (University of Kentucky) and Jarrett Drake detailed how an online discussion between archivists throughout the United States gave rise to an online repository and oral history initiative documenting citizen experiences of police abuse in Cleveland, Ohio.

I find these projects intriguing for a number of reasons:
  • They're a striking departure from the traditional archival approach to acquisition of records, which involves allowing time to pass before attempting to take in records documenting a given event, careful evaluation of potential acquisitions, and, in many instances, the privileging of records created by institutions or individuals that wield significant social and economic power. These projects involve proactive capture of materials soon after creation and consciously seek out materials created by individuals and organizations that are all too often marginalized.
  • They involve copying materials that are born digitally and will, in all likelihood, be maintained digitally and leave the originals in the hands of their creators (or, in the case of tweets, the online service used to disseminate them). If the "custodial" approach to preserving electronic records represents one horn of a bull and the "post-custodial" approach to preservation represents the other horn, this approach sails through the space between these horns.
  • They suggest that creating an "archives" as we currently understand the term may not be the only model for preserving the history of a community. The Cleveland project is propelled by a geographically dispersed group of archivists, doesn't have a formal institutional home, and may well never "belong" to a single "archives" as we currently understand the term. I suspect that we're going to see a growing number of informal, online-only "archives" (and I hope that the Internet Archive will capture them, because some of them may well perish otherwise).
  • They underscore the fact that archivists will still have to grapple with questions of power and privilege -- and may find that working in an online environment heightens them. As Bergis Jules noted, a Twitter user may come to regret a given tweet -- and be shocked to discover that an archives captured and preserved said tweet without asking her permission. Stacie Williams and Jarrett Drake asserted that they were painfully aware that they were privileged strangers who were asking Cleveland residents to trust them even though they lacked detailed knowledge of the community's history and struggles. The speed with which one can find collaborators online and establish a presence on the Web means that one can get a project underway very quickly, but winning the trust of potential donors/interviewees will no doubt continue to require a substantial commitment of time and effort. I suspect that a growing number of archivists are going to find themselves grappling with such conflicts.
Off to bed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I went back to Ohio, and my city was . . .

. . . looking pretty darned good, actually.

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) is meeting in Cleveland, Ohio this year, and I've been pleased and surprised by the changes that have come to the city's downtown in recent years. I grew up roughly twenty miles east of Cleveland, and I have vivid memories of the city's bad old days. Things have changed. Downtown is full of new restaurants, hotels, shops, and the sights and sounds of construction are everywhere.

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, East 9th Street and Superior Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-18.
 SAA is meeting in the Cleveland Convention Center, and attendees are scattered throughout a number of downtown hotels. Judging from my Facebook feed, many of my friends are staying in upper floor rooms that have panoramic views of the city skyline. I'm staying in a lower floor room that faces away from the downtown core, but the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, which was built in 1848-1852 and extensively reconstructed in 1946-1948, is directly across the street from my window. I've already gotten used to hearing its bells chime every quarter hour.

John Morrell, "Life Is Sharing the Same Park Bench," East 9th Street and Rockwell Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-19.
 Just down the street from my hotel is an appealing wall mural that I at first found both appealing and oddly familiar: "Life Is Sharing the Same Park Bench." A quick Web search revealed that it was painted by Rochester, New York artist John Morrell and that the Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups made this image its logo at some point in the 1970s.

This morning, I walked down East 9th Street to the Galleria at Riverview; given that no river can be seen from this building, the name is a bit odd. The Galleria was a shopping mall that opened to great fanfare in 1987, but it rather quickly fell on hard times. Cleveland was a lot rougher around the edges in the 1980s and the 1990s, the Galleria itself is located on the outer edge of downtown's core, and the facility didn't get the foot traffic needed to sustain the relatively high-end shops that were its first tenants. The Galleria is currently home to several popular restaurants and a large YMCA branch is slated to open in a few months, but quite a few of its storefronts are still vacant.

Cleveland Hungarian Museum, Galleria at Riverview, East 9th Street and St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-19.
I didn't go to the Galleria to ponder real estate development gone wrong but to visit one of its newer tenants: the Cleveland Hungarian Museum. The Cleveland area has long had a large and vibrant Hungarian community, and there was talk of creating a museum that focused on the community's history well before I moved away. When I discovered that the museum was located two blocks away from my hotel, I figured I should check it out.

Folk embroidery, Cleveland Hungarian Museum, Galleria at Riverview, East 9th Street and St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-19.
The museum, which is quite small, features two permanent exhibits. One traces the rise of Hungarian immigrant communities in Cleveland and the United States and profiles prominent Hungarian-Americans. The other focuses on Hungarian and Hungarian-American folk art.

Panel from "End of the Cold War: The Fall of Communism in Hungary and Eastern Europe" exhibit, Cleveland Hungarian Museum, Galleria at Erieview, East 9th Street and St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-19.
The museum also has a temporary exhibit space, and the exhibit currently installed in this space concerns the end of communism in Hungary and Eastern Europe. The panel above depicts events that took place during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. After the Soviet Union reasserted control, a substantial number of Hungarians managed to make their way to Cleveland. (My father ultimately hired one of them. He was looking to expand his engineering team, and he figured -- correctly, as it turned out -- that anyone who possessed such formidable technical knowledge and responded to the question, "Why did you leave your most recent position?" by saying, "Russian tanks," and leaving it at that would make a good addition to his work group.)

Three very kind, very helpful volunteers were staffing the museum at the time of my visit. They answered all of my questions with cheer and grace, and they had some interesting questions for me. (What brought me to the museum? Where did I live when I lived in the area? What precisely is the difference between a librarian and an archivist? What does "born digital" mean?) In the course of our conversation, I discovered that we used to live a couple of blocks away from one of the volunteers.

Cleveland Trust Rotunda, East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-19. To the right, you can see the lower floors of the 9 Cleveland (formerly known as the Ameritrust Tower and as the Cleveland Trust Tower). This Brutalist skyscraper, which was completed in 1971, was the only high-rise building designed by Marcel Breuer and Hamilton Smith
After I left the museum, I headed south on East 9th Street with the intent of exploring another quirky treasure: the Cleveland Trust Rotunda at East 9th and Euclid Avenue. This building, which was completed in 1908 and sat vacant from 1996-2014, is now home to a supermarket operated by Heinen's, a local grocery chain.

Interior of the Cleveland Trust Rotunda, East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-19.
Heinen's has done an amazing job of preserving the building's historic character.

Dome of the Cleveland Trust Rotunda, East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-19.
If this isn't the most beautiful supermarket in North America, it's certainly among the top ten.

View from the corner of East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-19.
 Every city is a mix of the old and the new, but I kept finding all manner of interesting juxtapositions today. After I left the Cleveland Trust Rotunda and crossed Euclid Avenue, I turned and looked westward and realized that I could see the tower of Terminal Tower, which was the tallest building in the city of Cleveland -- and the state of Ohio -- until 1991, a hodgepodge of early and late 20th century architecture, and part of Triple L Excentric Gyratory III (1980), a kinetic sculpture by George Rickey.  

Cleveland Convention Center, Lakeside Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015-08-15
 I found another interesting melding of past and present as I made my way into the Cleveland Convention Center for meetings this afternoon. The Convention Center, which was completed in 2013, is almost completely underground, and I don't know whether the mirrored pillars that anchor the eastern corner of the entry way are decorative or encase some sort of functional component of the building. I do know that they frame the Key Bank Tower -- the structure that replaced Terminal Tower as the city and state's tallest building -- and another new building while capturing the reflected image of the Cleveland's Beaux-Arts City Hall.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Clayton State University seeks a Director of the Master of Archival Studies Program

If you're a seasoned archivist who has extensive real-world experience working with electronic and analog records, enjoys interacting with students, relishes the thought of taking on life-changing (in a good way!) roles and responsibilities, and live or would like to live in the Atlanta area, you should consider educating the next generation of archivists. Clayton State University is seeking to hire a new Director of its Master of Archival Studies program -- and the program's practice-oriented nature means the position is open to people from outside academe. Here's what you need to know:
Position Summary
The College of Information and Mathematical Sciences at Clayton State University invites applications for the position of Program Director for the Master of Archival Studies (MAS). Started in 2010, this program is an online professional master’s program that focuses on the archival practices for born-digital records. This position is a full-time, tenure –track, 10-month faculty position with part-ingtime summer management duties compensated via a summer stipend.

The Master of Archival Studies program at Clayton State is a fully online program that is moving to asynchronous delivery of instruction. Currently the faculty in the MAS program are housed at the Georgia Archives, adjacent to the campus of Clayton State.

Clayton State University is nationally recognized as a leader in the use of information technology to transform teaching, learning and other aspects of the collegiate experience. Clayton State is a Senior Unit of the University System of Georgia and is fully accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC). The university is located at 2000 Clayton State Blvd., Morrow, GA which is approximately 10 miles south of Hartsfield-Jackson-Atlanta International Airport and 15 miles south of downtown Atlanta. Website:

Required qualifications include:
  • Master of Archival Studies, Master of Library Science with archival concentration, MS in Library and Information Science with archival concentration, or Master’s degree in subject area related to archival work with certification in archives;
  • Knowledge and/or direct experience with archival practices related to records that are born-digital;
  • Evidence of current involvement in scholarly research related to archival practice;
  • Eligibility for appointment to the graduate faculty at Clayton State University;
  • Technical expertise required for navigating learning and content management systems, digital archiving and preservation software applications.
In addition to the required qualifications, preference will be given to individuals having experience in
  • Curriculum and program development in a higher education setting;
  • Ph.D. in one of the areas listed above;
  • Successful program administration;
  • Effective online teaching in an asynchronous environment.
Minimum Education Requirements
Master of Archival Studies, Master of Library Science with archival concentration, MS in Library and Information Science with archival concentration, or Master’s degree in subject area related to archival work with certification in archives.

Responsibilities Summary
Reporting to the Dean, an individual in this position will provide collaborative academic oversight of the program and responsibilities include:
  • Developing the two-year course rotation schedule;
  • Leading the development and continuous improvement of the curriculum, including development of asynchronous, online courses;
    Coordinating program assessments;
  • Serving as the point of contact for recruiting and admission to the program;
    Teaching courses to support the program;
    Advising and coordinating advising for the department;
    Representing the program on the Graduate Affairs Committee and Administrative Council;
    Working collaboratively with the Georgia Archives and other organizations to provide experiential learning and internships for graduate students;
    Other program-related duties as assigned.
This position will remain open until it is filled. However, I imagine that both the university and the successful candidate would benefit by having it willed well before the fall term begins: the current Director is retiring at the end of the summer term, and the new Director will need a little time to get up to speed.

Clayton State University is fifteen miles south of downtown Atlanta, and the offices of on-campus Master of Archival Studies faculty are located within the facility that houses the Georgia Archives. Salary seems negotiable, but the university offers a comprehensive array of benefits. For more information and detailed application instructions, consult the position posting.

In addition, please feel free to contact Richard Pearce-Moses, the current Director of the Master of Archival Studies Program, via e-mail (rpearcemoses[at] or telephone (678-466-4427) if you have any questions about the position, the program, or the university.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Texas A&M is looking for a Digital Archivist

I've you've got real-world electronic records experience, want to work for a large research university, and live or want to live in central Texas, you just might be Texas A&M's new Digital Archivist:
Texas A&M University Libraries seeks a creative and dynamic professional to join the Texas A&M University Libraries as a Digital Archivist. This is a non-tenure track “clinical” faculty position. Successful candidates will be expected to engage in professional service activities, consistent with the Libraries’ and University’s requirements for promotion.

Reporting to the Director of Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, the Digital Archivist will establish and maintain a digital archiving program in collaboration with the University Archivist, Digital Preservation Librarian, Cushing archivists and curators, and other Libraries units. Responsibilities include: processing, describing, and providing access to born-digital and digitized archival and special collections materials; demonstrate initiative and innovation in developing and implementing processes for archiving current and legacy electronic and digital materials including document, image, and audio/video files, email, web sites, social media; and digital primary materials acquired on formats such as tape, floppy disks, hard drives, Compact Discs, and mobile devices. Additional responsibilities include acquiring and maintaining legacy hardware and software that may be necessary for providing access to digital materials. Working with the University Libraries Preservation unit, the Digital Archivist will aid in the development, documentation, and implementation of a digital preservation plan as it pertains to Cushing Memorial Library and Archives collections. The Digital Archivist will educate and raise awareness of digital archives issues and concerns within the Libraries, as well as contribute to Cushing outreach activities to the campus and community. The individual also participates in committees and administrative groups, as appropriate.

Required Qualifications
  • Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from an ALA-accredited institution (or International equivalent)
  • A minimum of two years of professional experience working in the area of digital archiving
  • Knowledge of current trends, tools, and protocols in digital archiving and preservation
  • Understanding of principles and techniques for archiving of web sites, email, social media, and other online primary sources
  • Familiarity with metadata standards relevant to the archival control of digital collection materials such as EAD, Dublin Core, MODS, or PREMIS
  • Excellent organizational skills and ability to plan, coordinate, and implement complex projects
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Commitment to diversity and to serving the needs of a diverse population
Desired Qualifications
  • Knowledge of forensic technologies utilized by the archival or cultural heritage communities for harvesting, managing, and preserving born-digital and digitized archival and special collections material
  • Knowledge of legal and ethical issues affecting digital archival and special collections objects
  • Experience with Digital Asset Management Systems
  • Familiarity with major archival software and tools (e.g., Archon, ArchivesSpace, Archive-It)
  • Experience with the creation of online exhibits
  • Relevant coursework or certification in the field of Digital Archives
Applications received by 30 March 2015 will receive first consideration. The successful candiadate's salary and faculty ranking will be "commensurate with qualifications and experience." Texas A&M offers a "health plan and paid life insurance; several retirement plans including TIAA-CREF; paid holidays and vacation;" and funding for professional development. For more information and detailed application instructions, consult the position description.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cornell University seeks a Digital Archivist

If you have theoretical knowledge of and at least some real-world experience with digital preservation, want to work for a large institution that has long been committed to preserving digital materials, and relish the thought of living in an area that has more than its fair share of natural beauty, you need to know that Cornell University's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections is hiring a Digital Archivist:
Under the supervision of the Assistant Director for Technical Services within the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC), the Digital Archivist provides oversight and management of RMC’s digital collections, with a particular focus on born-digital materials. The Digital Archivist will take the lead on developing and documenting workflows for accessioning, stabilizing, arranging, and describing born-digital collections. The Digital Archivist will work closely with colleagues in RMC and other Cornell University Library (CUL) units, in particular Digital Scholarship and Preservation Services (DSPS) and CUL-IT, to ensure coordination and communication around issues of shared interest. Additionally, will participate in RMC’s public services program, facilitating access to digital collections and providing reference services as needed.

The Digital Archivist will work with the University Archivist and the Records Manager in developing policies for Cornell University electronic records, coordinating their acquisition, preservation, and access mechanisms. Will also work with subject curators and donors to assess and appraise digital materials.

In collaboration with technical services staff in RMC, the Digital Archivist will establish policies and workflows for accessioning, describing, preserving, and accessing born-digital materials. Will perform as well as train others to perform preservation tasks related to incoming digital materials, such as creating disk images, performing digital forensics tasks, and collaborating with digital preservation staff in Cornell University Library. Will arrange and describe born-digital archival materials, following archival standards. Will work with CULcolleagues to coordinate the ingest of materials into the digital preservation repository.

In coordination with CUL-IT and DSPS, the Digital Archivist will participate in the ongoing development of access systems for digital collections and born-digital materials. As needed to facilitate management and use, will upload digital collection materials to digital collections platforms for access and/or make access copies for in-house use. Will aid in the development of the Cornell University Library Archival Repository (CULAR) by articulating the workflows and standards employed to the CULAR Manager and development team to assure that appropriate development can be managed within the repository.

The Digital Archivist will also provide reference assistance to researchers, including those requiring access files on obsolete media. Will participate on library-wide committees and will be expected to participate in professional activities related to archives and digital preservation.

  • Master's degree from an ALA-accredited program with a concentration in archives management, or equivalent combination of education and experience.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of archives and records management theory and practice, including experience processing archival records.
  • Knowledge of digital preservation theory and practice, as well as strategies and technologies utilized by the archival community for managing born-digital archival and manuscript material.
  • Knowledge of relevant standards for archival description, including DACS, EAD, and EAC-CPF, and familiarity with other metadata standards such as METS and PREMIS.
  • Familiarity with web archiving.
  • Excellent organizational skills and ability to plan, coordinate, and implement complex projects.
  • Excellent interpersonal, oral, and written communication skills.
  • Ability to work both independently and collaboratively with a variety of staff in a rapidly changing environment.
Preferred Qualifications
  • Two to three years of relevant professional experience, preferably in academic archives. Experience implementing policies, standards, and procedures for stewardship of digital material in an archival or special collections setting.
  • Experience with digital archives tools such as BitCurator, FTK, floppy drive controllers (e.g. Catweasel, Kryoflux), writeblockers, Sleuth Kit, fiwalk, and emulators.
  • Experience with XSLT and programming languages (PHP, Perl, Python).
To the best of my knowledge, there is no closing date for applications. The position description, which includes a link to Cornell's online application process, says nothing about salary, so I assume that it's negotiable. Cornell provides a comprehensive array of benefits.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Florida State Archives is hiring an Electronic Records Archivist

If you live or want to live in the Sunshine State, have substantial electronic records and information systems experience, and relish the thought of working with smart, dedicated people, you need to know that the Florida State Archives is hiring an Electronic Records Archivist (Archivist III):  
Description of Duties
  • Formulates strategies for developing and maintaining a technical architecture for the Division's electronic records and documents programs, including hardware, software, appropriate backup procedures and automated methods for integrity checking. 
  • Identifies electronic records held by Florida government agencies, applies archival appraisal criteria to those records to identify electronic records of archival value, and reviews options and makes recommendations for accessing, data conversion, storage, preservation and access for electronic records appraised as archival. 
  • Conducts electronic records data conversion, migration, transfer, and/or other tasks and procedures necessary to ensure preservation and access to archival records and documents transferred to the Division. 
  • Develops filing arrangements and specialized finding aids, guides, indexes and descriptive materials for electronic public records and manuscript collections. 
  • Recommends to and informs Supervisor of processing needs and priorities for electronic manuscript and public records collections. 
  • Monitors electronic records management and archival electronic records standards, guidelines and best practices, and makes recommendations for incorporating those standards and practices into the Division's electronic records and documents programs. 
  • Monitors state-of-the-art techniques and practices for archival management. 
  • Maintains a high level of expertise through training courses, conferences, professional engagement and information exchange, reading, research and/or other appropriate means. 
  • Provides technical assistance to Florida government agencies regarding electronic records creation, maintenance, preservation, access and archival transfer, and regarding electronic archival resources and the preservation, management and use of records with extended or permanent retention. 
  • Assists in the utilization and maintenance of the Archives' automated archival information systems. 
  • Other duties as assigned. 
Education and Experience Requirements
  • A master's degree in information technology systems, computer science, or library science with an information systems emphasis, archives management with an information systems emphasis, or a closely related field and two years of professional full time experience in information technology systems/computer science -- OR -- A bachelor's degree and four years of professional full time experience in information technology systems/computer science. 
Additional Requirements
  • One year of full time professional experience in a formally established archival program (municipal, county, state, or national historical society, university). 
  •  Coursework or workshops in archives or records management outside of a completed degree or certification. 
  • One year of full time professional experience providing technical assistance to archives, libraries, or government agencies in long-term preservation of electronic records and/or documents.  
  • One year of full time professional experience coordinating programs for the transfer of electronic records and/or documents to a formally established archival or library program. 
  • One year of full time professional experience coordinating programs for electronic records data conversion, migration, transfer, and/or other tasks and procedures necessary to ensure preservation and access to electronic records and/or documents. 
Required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
  • Knowledge of general archival and records management concepts. 
  • Effective oral and written communication skills. 
  • Extensive knowledge of hardware and software used for electronic document management systems, electronic imaging systems, and desktop applications (personal computers). 
  • Extensive knowledge of database management, systems analysis and system development concepts.
The starting salary for this position is $34,501.44, and the State of Florida provides an array of benefits. The application deadline is 26 March 2015. For more information about this job and the application process, consult the position description and the State of Florida's Applicant Guide.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

New York in Bloom 2015

Yes, New York in Bloom (NYIB) 2015 ended on February 22, and yes, I really should be crafting a post entitled "Hilary Clinton's e-mail," but at the moment I'm recuperating from the flu, dealing with  a ton  of time-consuming legal and financial stuff, and feeling the need for a night off. "Hilary Clinton's e-mail" will go up as soon as I feel capable of formulating some coherent thoughts about the former Secretary of State's e-mail issues. Moreover, NYIB posts are something an annual ritual for me, and family obligations compelled me to miss NYIB 2014 altogether and to delay posting about NYIB 2015. At this point in my life, minor rituals mean a lot.

New York in Bloom is the New York State Museum's annual fundraiser for its after-school programs, which serve children and teenagers who live in some of Albany's roughest neighborhoods. It's also a much-needed respite from the upstate New York winter: professional and amateur floral arrangers create displays that complement the Museum's exhibits, and their work brings a touch of tropical fragrance and warmth into the Museum.

Monday, February 16, 2015

University of Georgia seeks a University Archives and Electronic Records Archivist

If you've got extensive descriptive experience and electronic records know-how, relish the thought of working in a large university special collections department, you just might become the University of Georgia's new University Archives and Electronic Records Archivist. Here's what you need to know:
Purpose and Scope
The University of Georgia Libraries seeks a University Archives and Electronic Records Archivist who will be responsible for the development and management of the University Archives, the historical records of the University of Georgia, and the University Records Management program, which handles official university records as prescribed by state-wide guidelines. This position reports to the Co-Director of Technical Services and University Archives of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The position supervises two full-time and one part-time staff, as well as student employees, and participates in the general activities of the Hargrett Library. Some weekend and evening work is required.

Duties and Responsibilities
  • Oversees and participates in the processing of University Archives collections by arranging and describing materials in accordance with departmental procedures, DACS, and other archival standards; creating entries and completing revisions to records in Archivists’ Toolkit; and accessioning new collections.
  • Collaborates with the Co-directors to develop and maintain a robust university archive program by actively participating in soliciting and evaluating materials.
  • Oversees the university records program by interpreting and promoting awareness of state regulations and schedules; developing local policies and procedures for records management; and directing and participating in the intake, evaluation, recording and disposition of records.
  • Coordinates the appraisal, transfer and accession of electronic records into Hargrett Library collections; converts, validates, describes, preserves and makes accessible these records; updates EAD records in the Hargrett Library’s finding aid database.
  • Supervises and trains two records management staff positions, interns, and student assistants through effective communication and a fostering of shared goals that yields knowledge, productivity, and dependability.  
  • Provides reference service to the University community and the general public by participating in staffing the department's reference desk and reading room, by developing and maintaining knowledge of collections within the library. 
  • Contributes to the Hargrett Library, as well as the Libraries, by maintaining awareness of changes in the organization, contributing to the development of policies and procedures, and serving on appropriate Libraries’ committees as assigned or elected. 
  • Develops and maintains professional skills by participating in continuing education and professional development actives, such as workshops and conferences; staying current with the professional literature and engaging in research or other creative activities. 
  • Participates in library-wide communication by reading, responding to, and initiating information transmitted via GRAPEVINE (the Libraries’ listserv) and other communication tools, and appropriate library-wide or departmental meetings and asking questions, seeking clarification, or initiating discussion on library issues. 
  •  Maintains flexibility and awareness of changes and needs in the department and organization by assuming similar duties and responsibilities as assigned.
Required Qualifications
  • ALA-accredited MLIS (or relevant Master's degree with ACA certification expected in 5 years for continued employment) 
  • Two years of experience in an archives or special collections arranging and describing historical collections, or an equivalent combination of education and experience; Demonstrated experience applying DACS and EAD, and familiarity with Dublin Core, AACR2, RDA, LCSH, and MARC
  • Working knowledge of current archival descriptive standards, intellectual property rights, and issues related to born-digital content and digital conversion of archival materials; Experience processing born-digital records; Working knowledge of digital preservation standards, including OAIS, Trusted Digital Repositories, and PREMIS
  • Ability to function as a contributing team member in a production-oriented environment
  • Demonstrated initiative to complete projects
  • Excellent research, writing, and communication skills
  • Excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to collaborate with other departments, as needed
  • Working knowledge of historical research methodology and experience with standard bibliographic tools
  • Supervisory experience
  • Ability to tolerate dust and inactive mold spores
Preferred Qualifications
  • Experience with Archivists’ Toolkit or other archival management systems desired
  • Complex organizational papers processing experience preferred
  • Experience establishing or improving workflows for accessioning, processing, and providing access to digital records preferred
Minimum salary is $39,500. UGA librarians are non-tenured faculty members. UGA offers an attractive benefits program including a choice of health and retirement plans, dental plan, tuition remission and paid relocation, 21 days annual leave, 12 days sick leave, and 12 paid holidays. The application deadline is 8 March 2015. For more information and detailed application instructions, consult the position posting.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Missouri Secretary of State seeks an Electronic Records Archivist

Missouri's Secretary of State, which oversees the Missouri State Archives, is hiring an Electronic Records Archivist. If you have substantial electronic records and records management experience, want to work with some good people, and would like to live in an attractive small city that's close to one of the Midwest's largest wine producing regions, here's what you need to know:
General Function and Scope of Responsibility

This is a specialized, professional position evaluating the administrative, legal, historical, and fiscal value of electronic records generated by state and local agencies in Missouri. The individual in this position provides professional guidance to state and local government agencies; maintains liaison with staff archivists and records analysts concerning appraisal/description work, automated inventory systems, and standards for both; advises on problems with electronic records retention and disposal; is a primary resource for questions regarding the records tracking system; and performs all other tasks as requested by supervising agency director.  

Examples of Work Performed
  • Participates in the development and implementation of records and information management policies and procedures to ensure adequate and accessible records are maintained by state and local agencies. 
  • Assists state agencies with the development of records disposition schedules and presents recommendations to the State Records Commission. 
  • Serves as information source for state and local agencies concerning retention of electronic records. 
  • Develops and delivers training modules and/or presentations to organizations related to the office’s records tracking system and other electronic records issues. 
  • Researches trends in electronic records management with emphasis on storage and media. 
  • Offers other specialized services to state and local agencies as assigned. 
  • Defines concerns to vendors based on feedback from agencies, works with vendor to develop solutions and is the primary tester to ensure solutions meet the needs of agencies. 
  • May plan, assign, and supervise the work of clerical staff, interns, and volunteers. 
  • Promotes the activities of Records Management, Local Records and State Archives through speaking engagements and participating in professional organizations. 
Required Knowledge, Abilities, and Skills
  • Knowledge of records management and records disaster planning standards, principles and practices. 
  • Knowledge of the principles and practices involved with the collection and disposition of public records. 
  • Knowledge of hardware and software used for electronic imaging systems, document management systems, and personal computers. 
  • Knowledge of the concepts, methods, and techniques of project management, database management, and system development. 
  • Knowledge of digital preservation standards and best practices including working knowledge of the OAIS Reference Model and metadata standards such as Dublin Core. 
  • Knowledge of web-page development and design preferred. 
  • Ability to express ideas clearly orally and in writing. 
  •  Ability to read, analyze, and interpret industry periodicals, professional journals, technical procedures, and government regulations. 
  • Ability to effectively present information and respond to questions from associates, state and local agencies, and the public. 
  • Ability of establish and maintain effective working relationships with associates, state and local agencies, and the public. 
Minimum Qualifications
  • A master’s degree in information systems, library science (with an information science emphasis), computer science, business, or other related field strongly preferred. 
  •  Certified Records Manager designation or the commitment to obtain such. 
  • A Missouri Drivers License and the ability to travel statewide.
The starting salary for this position is $3,244 per month ($38,928 per year), and a comprehensive suite of benefits is offered. The application deadline is 2 March 2015. For more information and detailed application instructions, consult the position posting.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

John Kitzhaber's e-mail

It's been quite a week in re: gubernatorial e-mail.

Yesterday, Oregon's governor, John Kitzhaber, announced that he would resign from office. Last October, an Oregon newspaper reported that the governor's fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, had served as an unpaid energy and economic policymaker at the same time as she was running a private green-energy consulting business. In November, the Government Ethics Commission opened an investigation into Kitzhaber and Hayes. Last week, the state's attorney general announced that a criminal investigation was underway.

Earlier this week, the Willamette Week, the Portland alternative paper that broke the news regarding  Hayes' potential conflicts of interest, reported that a Kitzhaber staffer had requested that the state Department of Administrative Services delete all e-mails from Kitzhaber's personal e-mail accounts that were stored on departmental servers. Kitzhaber's camp maintained that the request covered personal messages that had mistakenly been auto-forwarded to state servers and would not result in the destruction of public records. However, Oregon law specifies that personal e-mail messages that discuss government business are considered public records, and Department of Administrative Services staff were keenly aware that multiple media organizations had filed freedom of information requests that included Kitzhaber's and Hayes's e-mail. They sent the administration's request and their concerns about it up the department's chain of command and the department's director decided that the e-mail should not be deleted.

A few hours after Governor Kitzhaber resigned, U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall revealed that a federal grand jury investigation was underway and issued a sweeping subpoena seeking e-mail, memoranda, and other records that documenting Kitzhaber's environmental and economic policy initiatives, and Hayes' state government work, consulting business and clients, personal and corporate tax returns, and use of state credit cards. The subpoena covers eleven state government agencies and includes records that the state's Justice Department and Government Ethics Commission created or collected during the course of their investigations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which never publicly comments upon investigations in progress, also seems to have taken an interest in Hayes's affairs.

What a mess. I imagine that Salem, Oregon is currently experiencing the sort of surreal standstill that Albany, New York experienced in March 2008, but things are going to start moving again, and very quickly. Eleven state agencies will have to devote a lot of time and effort to responding to the federal subpoena and a host of freedom of information requests. The State Archives must scramble to document the administration of a governor who was re-elected a few months ago, who left office with little advance notice, and whose records are of abiding interest to the feds. Moreover, it must do so as it loses the head of its parent agency: when Kitzhaber's resignation takes effect next Wednesday, Secretary of State Kate Brown will become the state's next governor. However, given the clear-eyed, resolute manner in which the Department of Administrative Services responded to the Kitzhaber administration's e-mail deletion request, the Oregon State Archives' recent history of innovation and effectiveness, and Oregon's tradition of (relatively) clean governance, I suspect that these challenges will be met head-on.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jeb Bush's e-mail, continued

Earlier this week, Jeb Bush made available online hundreds of thousands of emails he sent and received during his tenure as Florida's governor. As I noted yesterday, the emails Bush's organization placed online contained Social Security numbers, home addresses and phone numbers, and a wealth of other personal information about private citizens. In the wake of the controversy, the Bush camp pledged to review and redact the e-mails, which are identical to the unredacted e-mails held and made accessible to researchers by the Florida State Archives.

Earlier today, Fortune reported that the e-mails approximately 13,000 Social Security numbers and that roughly 12,500 of these numbers were housed within a spreadsheet embedded within a PowerPoint presentation attached to a message that Governor Bush and approximately 50 other people received in October 2003. The other 500 are scattered throughout the correspondence. The Bush team has been able to use software to identify and redact approximately 400 of them, but as of earlier today approximately 100 were still available online because they don’t conform to the usual XXX-XX-XXXX pattern and thus can’t be easily found.
Fortune also reported that a spokesperson for the Florida Department of State, of which the Florida State Archives is part, stated that: “the Department of State is currently reviewing our process for redacting confidential information from documents given to the State Archives.” Ouch.

To add insult to injury, ComputerWorld notes that the Microsoft Personal Storage Table (PST) versions of the Bush e-mails that the Florida State Archives disclosed to researchers and that were, for a short time, made available for downloading on the Bush e-mail site contain a number of old viruses and Trojan Horse applications. Most of them pose little threat to anyone who has a newer computer and up-to-date anti-virus software, but they might cause problems for people who have older machines or don't have anti-virus software installed.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jeb Bush's e-mail

On Monday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush placed online copies of hundreds of thousands of e-mails he sent and received while in office. Bush is actively exploring the possibility of running for President and has stated that he released the messages to show his commitment to transparency and his embrace of information technology; many political observers have concluded that the release is also meant to prove that he's a dedicated, responsive, and effective executive. Things did not go quite as planned, and the resulting uproar ought to be of interest to any government archivist who might accession electronic records that contain legally restricted information, respond to FOI requests for born-digital or digitized records, or confront the sweeping records requests that invariably occur whenever a former official seeks higher office.

As soon as the e-mails were released, tech journalists and bloggers began exploring the search interface that Bush's staff created and the contents of the messages their searches yielded. They found thousands of Social Security numbers, home addresses, and tons of other personal data that had not been redacted. The Verge, Ars Technica, Buzzfeed, and a host of other media outlets quickly redacted and published copies of numerous e-mails that contained such information, and Bush and his staff quickly promised that they would remove Social Security numbers and other personal data. However, the e-mails – in searchable database form as well as downloadable Microsoft Personal Storage Table (PST) files – were freely available online for almost a day before the Bush team decided to take action.

Bush and his staff were also quick to point fingers. Yesterday, Bush told reporters in Tallahassee that the messages were public records held by the Florida State Archives (which is part of the state's Department of State) and that he and his staff had merely "released what the government gave us." The Bush team also revealed that in May 2014, an attorney representing Bush sent a letter to an unidentified state official asserting that the state was responsible for redacting any legally restricted information found within the e-mails:
We hope these emails will be available permanently to the public, provided the records are first reviewed by state officials in accordance with Florida Statute to ensure information exempt from public disclosure is redacted before release, including social security numbers of Florida citizens who contacted Governor Bush for assistance; personal identifying information related to victims of crime or abuse; confidential law enforcement intelligence; and other information made confidential or exempt by applicable law.
The Florida State Archives holds 26.2 gigabytes of Bush's gubernatorial e-mail, and the catalog record describing the correspondence indicates that the records consist of "PST files" that "must be loaded onto user's hard drive and opened using MS Outlook software." The catalog record makes no mention of access restrictions, and unredacted copies of the files have evidently been disclosed to other researchers. Yesterday, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that many of the e-mails Bush released on Monday had first been disclosed to reporters shortly after they were created or received and that several media organizations, NPR among them, had previously obtained copies of the full set from the Florida State Archives.

At this point in time, I am not going to second-guess or condemn the Florida State Archives. I simply don't know enough about Florida's Sunshine Law, which is more expansive than many other state freedom of information laws, or the Florida State Archives' disclosure protocols to come to any sort of informed conclusion. I do know that the Sunshine Law for the most part bars the disclosure of Social Security numbers, but many freedom of information laws mandate that previously disclosed information cannot be withheld for any reason; given that many of these e-mails had been disclosed to reporters while Bush was in office, the Florida State Archives might have no choice but to release them without redacting them. To date, no one from the Florida State Archives or Florida Department of State has commented upon this matter, but I hope that some sort of explanation will eventually be made.

I am more willing to second-guess Jeb Bush and his associates. As the Miami Herald has pointed out, the May 2014 letter written by Bush's attorney strongly suggests that Bush has been seriously thinking about running for president for quite some time. To my way of thinking, it also suggests that Bush or, at the very least, his lawyers knew that the e-mail contained legally restricted information, decided that the State of Florida was solely responsible for redacting it prior to disclosure, and figured that it was ethically okay to make information that Florida couldn’t or wouldn’t redact a lot easier to find. Requesting a PST file from the Florida State Archives and importing it into Microsoft Outlook doesn’t require a ton of effort or technical know-how, but at least some of the people who are now idly rummaging through the searchable Web database of e-mails created by the Bush campaign probably wouldn’t feel the need to make the effort. Manual redaction and review of e-mail is a pain – trust me on this – but there are numerous tools that will flag and facilitate redaction of Social Security numbers, telephone numbers, and other consistently formatted data. Why didn't the Bush camp make even a modest attempt to weed out the Social Security numbers?

Finally, I must be a bit skeptical about the Bush camp's claims of transparency: the Tampa Bay Times recently reported that Bush used a private e-mail account to conduct all state business and transferred only some of the messages associated with this account to the archives when he left office. Specifically, all messages relating to “politics, fundraising, and personal matters” were removed prior to transfer. I have no problem with purging messages relating to purely personal matters, but the removal of messages relating to political affairs and fundraising efforts raises a few questions in my mind. How were these messages identified? Were they identified as they were sent or received, or was there a massive end-of-term review effort? If the latter, who was involved in the review and what criteria were employed? And, of course, why didn't Bush use a state government e-mail account to conduct state business?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fire at CitiStorage warehouse, Brooklyn

Last Friday, a CitiStorage records storage warehouse in Brooklyn caught fire. The facility housed tens of thousands of cubic feet of records created by several New York City agencies, including the Administration for Children's Services, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, the Department of Environmental Protection, , and the Department of Correction; earlier reports that the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development also had records at the facility have turned out to be incorrect. In addition, it may have housed records created by courts that are part of New York State's Unified Court System; however, some or all of these records may have been stored at an adjacent CitiStorage facility unaffected by the fire. In addition, approximately 300 cubic feet of archival UJA Federation records were destroyed by the blaze; fortunately, the bulk of the federation's archival records had been taken out of the warehouse and transferred to the American Jewish Historical Society well before the fire began.

With the exception of the UJA Federation records, it seems that most of the records destroyed in or dispersed by the fire were ultimately slated for destruction. However, some of them contain information that is restricted under state or federal law -- and the ferocity of the fire, firefighters' efforts to combat the blaze, and weather conditions scattered large quantities of them all over the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. Records found on the streets and waterfront of Williamsburg included "charred medical records, court transcripts, lawyers’ letters, sonograms, bank checks" and a host of other documents containing personal medical, financial, and legal data. Some were marked "confidential," and some contained Social Security Numbers. The City of New York has dispatched contractors to retrieve and securely destroy as many of these records as possible, but "scavengers and artists" and other area residents are also picking up the documents they encounter.

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article that, in an roundabout way, questioned why city agencies "would store thousands of paper records in cardboard boxes stacked floor to ceiling" and why medical records were housed in a commercial storage facility.

As a records professional, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. We place boxes of records on shelves not only to maximize space but also to minimize the impact of fire; stacked boxes of records catch fire more slowly than stacks of loose papers. We generally use cardboard boxes not only because they are cheap and practical but also because they provide records with a modest degree of protection from water used to combat fire and because, unlike plastic, it won't melt.

As far as use of commercial storage facilities is concerned, I would much rather have records stored in a clean, secure, climate-controlled, and adequately fire-protected facility than in some government buildings I have visited. (Of course, one might question whether the CitiStorage warehouse was an appropriate choice: it's literally a stone's throw away from the East River -- in an area that may have experienced some flooding as a result of Hurricane Sandy -- and close to an oil refinery. However, no storage facility is ideal, and cost and convenience may have made CitiStorage seem like a reasonable choice.)

Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the fire, which was actually the second of two fires reported at the facility last Saturday morning, and why the building's sprinkler system didn't douse it before it got out of control. At the time of this writing, it seems unlikely that the fire was deliberately set.

I'm not helping to respond to this disaster, and at the risk of passing on misinformation I'm not going to say much about the response effort. However, I do know that records professionals from multiple government agencies are actively working to assess losses and determine how best to deal with damaged records and that more information will emerge as this effort progresses.