Monday, May 18, 2015

Archives + Digital Scholarship

At my new institution, the library has been pretty active in creating, managing, and implementing digital scholarship projects with faculty and students.  This has resulted in a great deal of interest and momentum in the library and has also resulted in the library being seen as a destination for digitization.  Perhaps we can put that on our new brochure with sandy white beaches and a book scanner. ;)

To better explain what these digital scholarship projects have been like at my institution, here is a genericized set of characteristics to walk you through it:


  1. A faculty member wants to do a project that will provide remote, web access to archival and one-of-a-kind materials (photos, documents, oral histories), specific to a topic, function, or event.  These materials are envisioned to be a "digital collection" (though many call it a "digital archive") where they can live in a research repository for student and faculty scholarship.
  2. The faculty member works with a coordinator specifically for digital scholarship and the liaison librarian that covers their faculty division (e.g., humanities, fine arts, etc.). They develop a plan of action, conceptualize the project team, and identify technological needs. 
  3. The content that is included in the project is often a mixture of:
    1. Existing archival material from the University Archives;
    2. Existing archival material from University offices, departments, faculty, alumni, or other community member; 
    3. Existing archival material from external libraries, archives, historical societies, national organizations, or other outside of the institution; and
    4. Impending content that will be created during the process of the project either by the faculty member involved or by a student (e.g., oral history interviews).
  4. The project emphasizes universal access that is easy to edit and simple to manage/administer content.  This emphasis on usability is mostly due to the fact that much of the project is done by or with student workers and the direct management is often done by multiple staff/faculty members in various roles.  
  5. The final project is also designed to be easy to navigate by users, usually focusing on bright, large photos or audio/video embedding.  This is utilizes platform(s) like CONTENTdm, Wordpress, Omeka, and Open Repository.
  6. The digital collection is designed to be a growing collection, one that will continue to accept material in order to stay current with its designated topic, function, or recurring event.


In many ways, this is an excellent opportunity to help raise awareness for the services that we can provide to our community.  It also increases the availability of archival materials to a new audience, both physically and remotely.

As I was coming into a new environment with this process already well underway (we have had grant money to fulfill projects like these for years), I struggled with knowing where the archivist's role was in this process.  I immediately saw both opportunities and challenges for the archives.

Here are some of the big picture ideas and the questions that I've been chewing on lately.  I don't have the answers to them, but they are certainly things to consider for future digital scholarship projects.  These questions made me realize that it is so crucial for archivists to be a part of these projects at the onset of planning and conceptualization. 
  • Archives/Spec Coll Collection Development -- 
    • Does collecting on this topic already fit within the scope of the archives or special collection's development policies?  
    • Can the record in consideration be classified as a faculty publication, departmental/office record, student organization publication, or any other type of record for which there may already be development procedures in place? 
    • Are any of these materials already subject to institutional records management policies and retention?
    • Are there extra special considerations with regards to collecting on this topic?  Can this be a catalyst to fill in existing archives collection gaps?
  • Digital collection management --
    • Where are the born digital original files going to live outside of the storage/access platform?  Who will be their custodian and active manager?
    • Does any or all content need active digital preservation?
    • Where are the authentic "originals" going to live to which the digital files are referring?  
    • If someone wants to see a real-life version of a digitized image or document, where should they be referred? Who should they contact? Being able to provide original files is crucial for scholarship and research purposes.
    • How will this information be included in the metadata associated with the files?
  • Defining "preservation" and "digital preservation" -- 
    • How does each member of the project team define "preservation" and "digital preservation"?  Be specific - everybody may be using the same term, but meaning very different things.  For example, be sure to specify the archival difference between redundant storage and active digital preservation.
    • How does each member of the project team feel about the need for permanent preservation and retention with regards to this project?
    • Where should preservation happen with regards to this project?  Examples: department / office, library repository, archives' repository.
  • Forms, permissions, rights, etc. -- 
    • Who is responsible for obtaining a deed of gift, records transfer form, or digital agreement for surrogate form for materials going into the digital scholarship collection?  
    • Are there forms in place for transferring custody for digitization?
    • If we are already contacting donors for this information, should we also be talking to them at the same time about donating it to archives / spec coll for permanent retention?
    • Are there any privacy or intellectual property rights to consider for archival permanent retention if it was not originally addressed in the initial contact/agreement with the donor? (e.g., oral history interviews)
    • Does the archives have permission to obtain copies of the digital/digitized content after the project has ended (legacy projects)?  
    • Who is the physical owner of this material?  Library?  Collector?  Faculty member?  Archives?  Who is the intellectual owner?   Who has authority to sign off on the donation of these to the project and/or to the archives?
    • How will this information be included in the metadata associated with the files?
  • Preserving the project in the long run -- 
    • Does the final project fit in with the archives or spec coll collection development policy?
    • Should the final digital collections automatically be granted permanent retention for the life of the preservation of the originals?  What about vice-versa?
    • Does the final project itself require a retention period?
    • What constitutes a "final" project in one that is intended to grow?
    • Should it be archived as a whole for its intrinsic value of faculty and student scholarship and collaboration?  Should it be treated differently than traditional faculty publications because of its format?  

After the project team can consider these issues and answer these questions, it will inform the archivist to what extent he or she should be involved with the project.  Of course, each project is a case by case situation.  For example, if the content of a project is going to be oral histories of alums, some of these questions cannot be answered until the interview questions or the final content has already been created.  If the alum speaks at length at his or her student life as being a catalyst for success, for instance, then that would fit within my archives collection development policy.

Also, it should be considered that projects evolve.  For example, if my institution chooses to use these interviews for public commercial purposes, would this evolve into a records management issue?  Would I feel compelled to collect the interviews as a part of that office's records?  Or would I simply collect the commercial result of the project and leave it at that?

The above list of questions is certainly not a rubric or a way to quantify an answer - it is merely some thoughts that can shape each project's case for preservation and the role the archives and archivist have with it.

If you have any additional thoughts, I'm happy to hear them.  I'm in the thick of it here and would appreciate any extra questions, ideas, or concepts you might have.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Reference Requests to Knowledge Base?

I've come across dozens of binders, which contain reference requests and responses from the last 15 years or so.  On one hand, this is great information to have to help me learn more about my new institution and also to prevent duplicate research if the answer has already been found.  On the other hand, being in binders makes it unsearchable, unwieldy, and it takes up a lot of room.

At first, I thought, "There is no way that I will be able to use these efficiently and quickly" and I started to go through to ditch them.  But, the more I saw the painstaking effort of my predecessor to organize these, I realize that maybe it's not a terrible idea to keep them somehow as a knowledge base.  Alas, I turned to the Twitterverse:



Friday, February 20, 2015

What kind of Collection Development Policy are you?

Okay, so this isn't that kind of quiz (though that would be a fun one to take).

In an effort to help patrons who are considering donating materials to the archives while also supporting offices/departments who may be the first line of contact to accept donations, I've put together a little quiz called "Will the Archives take it?" and is based on our collection development policy, which is pretty standard for small, liberal arts, lone-arranger type repositories.




Monday, January 26, 2015

"Why are you an archivist?"

As part of the ongoing "Year of Living Dangerously for Archives," a call from SAA has come out for archivists to answer the question: "Why are you an archivist?"  Actually, it came out a few weeks ago, but it has taken me awhile to fully get my thoughts together.  I've found that the reasons why I am an archivist now are different than the reasons why I became an archivist.

Today was a day full of dialogue and campus-wide lecture at my institution.  The Day of Learning in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had the theme "Education for Justice: The role of education in the quest for justice."  It featured a keynote lecture by James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and many other books relating education with social justice.  Much of his lecture focused on a societal epidemic where history has become re-interpreted at the expense of cultural groups, which could be righted if people would look closer at factual and archival material.  As a follow up workshop, I attended a workshop hosted by a student organization that is dedicated to actively "fostering discussions and relationships that focus on issues of identity."  The students screened a documentary that recorded the historic events in 2007 that surrounded the campus of community members struggling to express themselves, understand each other, and make positive change for the future.  The documentary pulled on my institution's own history, alluding to the campus' ongoing struggles over 50+ years.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Easy email archiving for Gmail/Google Apps

I've always seen the value of email archiving, but have never really known how to start.  At my institution, we use Google Apps for Education, which means we essentially use Gmail for our email.  In the past, this has been problematic for email archiving.  But, then this morning, I came across a great Google script to download emails as .pdf files right in to Drive.

The website says:
All you to do is apply the label “PDF” to any email thread in Gmail and the message, along with all the included file attachments, will get saved to your Drive. Unlike the previous options that can only work against individual message, this one can save a batch of messages automatically. Just apply the label “PDF” and a copy of those message would show up in your Drive in few minutes. [link]

After a morning of tinkering, I'm happy to say that it works!  I made an "Archived Emails" folder and within a few hours, all 140 emails were in .pdf form that showed the to/from/date headers and included attachments.