Professional Development

Recap: Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 10:12 am

Last week, I traveled to Washington, DC for the Society of American Archivists annual conference and was later joined by Vicki Johnson and Katherine Gill. The whirlwind of activity and inspiration is summarized below!

Tuesday, August 10 was the Research Forum, of which I was a part as a poster presenter. My poster featured the LSTA outreach grant given to ZSR and FCPL (“Preserving Forsyth’s Past”) and explored outreach and instruction to these “citizen archivists.” I got a lot of encouraging feedback and questions about our project, including an introduction to the California Digital Library’s hosted instances of Archivist’s Toolkit and Archon, which they use for smaller repositories in the state to post their finding aids.

Wednesday, August 11 consisted primarily of round table meetings, including the highly-anticipated meeting of the Archivists Toolkit/Archon Round Table. The development of ArchivesSpace, the next generation archives management tool to replace AT and Archon, was discussed. Development of the tool is planned to begin in early 2011. Jackie Dooley from OCLC announced that results from a survey of academic and research libraries’ special collections departments will be released. A few interesting findings:

  • Of the 275 institutions surveyed, about 1/3 use Archivist’s Toolkit; 11% use Archon
  • 70% have used EAD for their finding aids
  • About 75% use word processing software for their finding aids
  • Less than 50% of institutions’ finding aids are online

A handful of brief presentations from AT users followed, including Nancy Enneking from the Getty. Nancy demonstrated the use of reports in AT for creating useful statistics to demonstrate processing, accessioning, and other features of staff work with special collections. She mentioned that AT can be linked to Access with MySQL for another way to work with statistics in AT. Corey Nimer from BYU discussed the use of plug-ins to supplement AT, which I have not yet used and hope to implement.

Perhaps more interestingly, Marissa Hudspeth from the Rockefeller and Sibyl Shaefer from the University of Vermont introduced their development of a reference module in AT, which would allow patron registration, use tracking, duplication requests, personal user accounts, et cetera. Although there is much debate in the archives community about whether this is a good use of AT (since it was originally designed for description/content management of archives), parts of the module should be released in Fall 2010.

On Thursday, August 12, sessions began bright and early. I started the day with Session 102: “Structured Data Is Essential for Effective Archival Description and Discovery: True or False?” Overall summary: usability studies, tabbed finding aids, and photos in finding aids are great! While the panel concluded that structured data is not essential for archival description and discovery due to search tools, Noah Huffman from Duke demonstrated how incorporating more EAD into MARC as part of their library’s discovery layer resulted in increased discovery of archival materials.

Session 201 included a panel of law professors and copyright experts, who gave an update on intellectual property legislation. Peter Jaszi introduced the best practice and fair use project at the Center for Social Media, a 5-year effort to analyze best practice for fair use. Their guidelines for documentary filmmakers could be used as an example for research libraries. In addition, the organization also created a statement of best practices for fair use of dance materials, hosted at the Dance Heritage Center. Mr. Jaszi argued that Section 1201 does not equal copyright, but what he called “para-copyright law” that can be maneuvered around by cultural heritage institutions for fair use. I was also introduced to Peter Hirtle’s book about copyright (and a free download) entitled Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for Digitization for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, which I have started to read.

I wandered out of Session 201 into Session 209, “Archivist or Educator? Meet Your Institution’s Goals by Being Both,” which featured archivists who teach. The speakers emphasized the study of how students learn as the core of becoming a good teacher. One recommendation included attending a history or social sciences course in order to see how faculty/teachers teach and how students respond. I was inspired to consider faculty themes, focuses, and specialties when thinking about how to reach out to WFU students.

Around 5:30 pm, the Exhibit Hall opened along with the presentation of the graduate student poster session. I always enjoy seeing the work of emerging scholars in the archival field, and this year was no different. One poster featured the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries in a CLIR-funded project to process hidden collections in the Philadelphia region — not those within larger repositories, but within smaller repositories without the resources or means to process and make available their materials. The graduate student who created the poster served as a processor, traveling to local repositories and communicating her progress and plan to a project manager. This is an exciting concept, since outreach grants tend to focus on digitization or instruction, not the act of physically processing of the archival materials or creating finding aids.

On Friday, August 13, I started the morning with Session 308, “Making Digital Archives a Pleasure to Use,” which ended up focusing on user-centered design. User studies at the National Archives and WGBH Boston found that users preferred annotation tools, faceted searching, and filtered searching. Emphasis was placed on an iterative approach to design: prototype, feedback, refinement.

I headed afterward to Session 410, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: Archival Collaboration, Community Partnerships, and Access Issues in Building Women’s Collections.” The panel, while focused on women’s collections, explored collaborative projects in a universally applicable way. L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin from the University of Delaware described the library’s oral history project to record Afra-Latina experiences in Delaware. They found the Library of Congress’ Veterans’ History Project documentation useful for the creation of their project in order to reach out to the Hispanic community of Delaware. T-Kay Sangwand from the University of Texas, Austin, described how the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives were processed and digitized, then stored at UCLA. Ms. Sangwand suggested that successful collaborations build trust and transparency, articulate expectations from both sides, include stakeholders from diverse groups, and integrate the community into the preservation process. One speaker noted that collaborative projects are “a lot like donor relations” in the sense that you have to incorporate trust, communications, and contracts in order to create a mutually-beneficial result.

On Saturday, August 14, I sat in on Session 502, “Not on Google? It Doesn’t Exist,” which focused on search engine optimization and findability of archival materials. One thing to remember: Java is evil for cultural heritage because it cannot be searched. The session was a bit introductory in nature, but I did learn about a new resource called Linkypedia, which shows how Wikipedia and social media interact with cultural heritage websites. My search for zsr.wfu.edu is in process at the moment — it should show up soon here.

I caught up with Katherine and Vicki afterward and we headed to Session 601, “Balancing Public Services with Technical Services in the Age of Basic Processing,” which featured the use of More Product, Less Process, aka “basic processing,” in order to best serve patrons. After a few minutes I decided to head over to Session 604, “Bibliographic Control of Archival Materials.” The release of RDA and the RDA Toolkit (available free until August 30) has opened up the bibliographic control world to the archival world in new ways. While much of the discussion was outside of my area of knowledge (much was discussed about MARC fields), I learned that even places like Harvard have issues with cross-referencing different types of resources that use different descriptive schemas.

My last session at SAA was 705, “The Real Reference Revolution,” which was an engaging exploration of reference approaches for archivists. Multiple institutions use Google Calendar for student hours, research appointments, and special hours. One panelist suggested having a blog where students could describe their work experience. Rachel Donahue described what she called “proactive reference tools” such as Zotero groups to add new materials from your collection and share those with interested researchers, and Google Feedburner.

I also had a chance to catch up with colleagues across the nation and talk to other implementers of Archivsts’ Toolkit, who gave me lots of useful advice. Whew! What a week!

3 Responses to “Recap: Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting 2010”

  1. Wow! There is a ton of useful information here. Thanks for the great report!

  2. I’m glad your poster session went well. Lots of good stuff here-esp. the teaching in “Archivist or Educator?”

  3. It was an excellent poster! Thanks for highlighting our project to the larger community.


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