Saturday, August 6, 2016

SAA day two: electronic records

Comb jellyfish at the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia, 2 August 2016.
Even though I always make it a point -- at least when I'm paying my own way -- to attend a few Society of American Archivists conference sessions that have nothing to do with my current job responsibilities, I also seek out electronic records sessions that intrigue me or push me a little past my comfort zone. I attended two such sessions this morning: session 309, "DWG, RVT, BIM: A New Kind of Alphabet Soup, with a Lot More Heartburn," and session 409, "Working Together to Manage Digital Records: A Congressional Archives Perspective."

I'm writing this at 2:30 AM on Saturday because I'm too wound up to sleep, I've been up since 6:15 AM yesterday, and I'm working from notes that I pulled together during a mid-afternoon gap in my schedule, so I'm going to limit myself to identifying some key takeaways from both sessions and then calling it a night. (Or a morning.)

My repository holds only a few Computer Aided Design (CAD) records, but it's certainly conceivably that more will come my way in the reasonably near future. "DWG, RVT, BIM: A New Kind of Alphabet Soup, with a Lot More Heartburn,"which focused on CAD and Building Information Modeling (BIM) records, drew to my attention several things that hadn't made it onto my radar:
  • SAA's Architectural Records Roundtable established a CAD/BIM Taskforce that produced a bibliography of related projects, surveyed archivists working in design firms and in other repositories that held design records, and added several entries about common CAD file formats to the PRONOM file format registry maintained by the National Archives of the United Kingdom. In the future, the group may explore software-based preservation (i.e., emulation), identify use cases, and reach out to companies that create CAD software.
  • Migration-based preservation strategies simply don't scale well. Emulation will likely be the only approach suitable for design firms and repositories that hold large quantities of digital design records.
  • For a variety of reasons, architects often create easily accessible derivatives at various stages of the design process. As a result, archivists who accession records documenting architectural design projects should seek to obtain all of the files associated with a given project, not just the final versions maintained by the firm or delivered to the client.
  • Some archivists have argued that in the absence of clear-cut, practical preservation strategies for preserving three-dimensional CAD and BIM files, creating and preserving two-dimensional PDF files is the most feasible approach. If all you're attempting to do is document the appearance of a structure or landscape, PDFs might suffice. However, if you're attempting to document the changing nature of architectural education and practice or need to preserve records needed for ongoing building maintenance, you need to preserve the original, three-dimensional files.
  • Archivists responsible for describing CAD/BIM files must know how to use the software needed to render them. 
  • BIM models are so detailed and comprehensive that reference archivists need to be aware that disclosing complete  versions of these models might pose security concerns. They also need to have the technical skills that will enable them to remove sensitive data from public access copies of the files. 
  • If your repository holds only a handful of CAD/BIM files and you simply want to view them, free readers that can render the most common CAD file formats are available; however, these readers are rarely supported over the long term. If you have a large body of CAD/BIM files or want to see your files in their native environment, don't hesitate to contact the appropriate software company and indicate that you are non-profit organization doing research. If your repository is situated within an academic institution that houses an architecture or engineering program, you may not need to obtain your own software license.
 My repository holds a relatively small quantity of legislative records. However, "Working Together to Manage Digital Records: A Congressional Archives Perspective" struck me as interesting, and I'm glad I chose to attend it. Key takeaways:
  • A growing number of Senate committees are hiring their own archivists, and this practice is producing noticeable improvements in the management and preservation of committee records.
  • In an environment characterized by intense work and rapid turnover of staff at all levels, stressing to managers that good records management is essential to efficiency and productivity is often more effective than stressing that records management is a legal obligation.
  • Archivists working in Congressional offices are using a variety of tools that could be of use to in a variety of settings: Robocopy and RichCopy (no longer supported) for file copying, DROID for file format identification and checksum generation, JDiskReport for determining how much space files and directories take up on hard drives, PstScanner for analyzing e-mail archives, and Kernel for e-mail processing.
  • Archivists working in collecting repositories that acquire the papers of departing members of Congress need not only to find "the right person to talk to" but also to ensure that subordinate staff know that transfer plans have received senior staff approval. Given that most staff responsible for closing down a legislator's office are in the process of looking for other jobs, ensuring that such approval is conveyed to subordinates can be a real challenge.
  • The Congressional Papers Roundtable established an Electronic Records Committee in 2009. It brings together archivists and records managers who work with Congressional records at all stages of the lifecycle and has produced a series of case studies and step-by-step processing instructions that are likely of interest to archivists working with the records of state or local government legislators or other types of electronic records.

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