I know you’ve been inundated with tons of information about the Society of American Archivists’ annual conference over the past few weeks. Craig, Rebecca and Audra have done a wonderful job of describing so many of the sessions and topics that were addressed there, so I can say “Ditto” to all of their posts. But I also want to add my perspective on a few things that I learned while there, so here goes…
At the Roundtable session regarding Archivists’ Toolkit (the database that we use here) the speakers told of multiple updates that have been implemented, which will hopefully continue to decrease the number of “bugs” that we have encountered with it. They also discussed several new modules that had been developed by institutions that use AT. One in particular that caught my attention was the ATReference module created by the Rockefeller Archives Center. It is used to manage reference requests, register patrons, record visits and topics of research and track user statistics. We here at ZSR have always said it would be nice to have such a feature as part of AT, but we don’t have the resources to create it on our own. So, now that someone else has done the hard part, maybe we can investigate using it! We currently use LibStats to track our reference activities, and it works nicely so we aren’t desperate for a system, but it’s nice to know that there is an option available for AT now. Future plans for other possible modules include: Retrievals, Bar coding and Use Tracking, Reading Room Scheduling, and Web Interface and Personal User Accounts.
Skeletons in the Closet: Addressing Privacy and Confidentiality Issues for Born-Digital Materials
On the digital preservation front, I attended a session that addressed privacy and confidentiality issues for born-digital materials. Erin O’Meara from UNC-Chapel Hill, Gabby Redwine from the Ransom Center at UT- Austin and Bonnie Weddle from the New York State Archives discussed privacy concerns with regards to born-digital accessions.
*Erin told about a time at UNC School of Medicine when there was a data breach a few years ago and the confidential information of hundreds of breast cancer patients was accessed. After this occurrence, UNC responded with the creation of the position of Data Security Officer as well as multiple policies to protect the privacy of patient information. There were also numerous retirements and departures of campus administrators who were either somehow connected to the affected departments or who were opposed to the new policies and structure. While medical information should definitely be protected, Erin made the point that there has to be a balance between access and privacy to university records in a public institution.
Their approach is to work with the creator or the records to identify confidential information from the beginning. This is very helpful, but not always accurate. Some confidential information has been found in the donated records even after reviewing it with the creators before the archives receives it. So, they also scan the records with a bulk extractor to look for general expressions or keywords. This helps them pinpoint items that cannot be kept in the repository, but it also very time consuming. Erin said there is a tension between the shift to minimal processing for paper records, but then doing more with the e-records. New training and tools are needed to address the issues such as the best staffing models for dealing with digital information, the best practices that are emerging for digital curation and how to address redaction and restrictions to public records consistently.
*Gabby Redwine discussed the ways that the Ransom Center handles digital information. They deal mainly with manuscripts there, and works of contemporary authors arrive on floppy discs, tapes, cartridges as well as computers. (They have 8 computers with authors’ works on them currently). They want to maintain the original order and provenance as much as possible, and to do this they use forensic software just like law enforcement and government agencies use. This type of software can decrypt passwords, find deleted emails, create an exact replica of a disk, and much more. While great for retrieving information, archivists are then posed with the question of what to retain and what to leave. Do you pull deleted emails back out and keep a copy? Do you create an image of the disk, or just copies of the files? And if it is a collection that you’ve had since long before digital forensics was possible, what do you pull from those old disks, computers, etc.? Since most donor agreements from years past don’t mention the issue of retrieving information from digital formats, it leaves the archivist in a sensitive situation, especially if the donor has died and no family member is reachable. What do you do if you find unexpected or private information on these old formats? These are all ongoing issues that archivists are dealing with, and that have no clear cut answers at this point.
* Bonnie Weddle works in the New York State Archives. Obviously she deals with government records which are very different than the kind of materials we have here, but many of the issues are the same. How to provide access while maintaining confidentiality, how to make the records available online quickly, and the best way to deal with huge amounts of information when you have a small staff and not enough space. We all identified with these themes!
Doing a 180: Putting Ephemera on the Front Burner
I joined this session mid-way through, but got a lot out of it! The presenters told about their projects that were designed to make collections of ephemera accessible online and about the successes and challenges involved. To me it is a bit ironic that there are so many large collections of ephemera around the world when the word itself describes impermanence! (definition of ephemera) We have a huge amount of ephemera here that, to me, is one of the most interesting groups of materials at WFU. I got some good ideas of what other institutions are doing to showcase their ephemera, and hope to do something similar here.
The California Ephemera Project was funded by a CLIR grant. Mary Morganti of the California Historical Society explained:
*Staff were hired to work on just this project and they shared the decision- making for what would be included and how.
*Each contributing institution can edit their own finding aids on line, since they know the collections best
*New institutions can contribute to the ephemera catalog at any time
*The project directors would have “contests” to see what staff member could find the smallest object, largest object, etc. to keep people motivated as they worked to catalog the items
*They would up with an established framework for adding digital images of ephemera to the website, and can use the same steps for scan on demand projects
The Hartman Center – Duke University
Richard Collier told about the collections at the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History. Among the notable collections are:
He also said that they have received materials from Lester Wunderman, who is considered the father of direct marketing (i.e. junk mail). While some see it as junk mail, it is actually the creative product of this company; their artefactual history. There are boxes and boxes of mailings for companies that show the different styles of mailings that went out and to whom. Some are on slick paper, some on regular paper. Some have logos on the envelopes, others don’t. Some are targeted at a younger consumer, others at older ones. An amazing amount of materials, just waiting to be processed!
Which Hat are You Wearing? “You Need What, When?”
This session was helpful because the presenters described ways to juggle multiple duties in an archives and actually accomplish things at the same time. While it came from the angle of “lone arrangers”, it was still very applicable to me and the way we handle things at ZSR. While I’m not alone, there are some responsibilities that fall to me a majority of the time and I need to know the best ways to divide my time.
*Alison Stankrauff from Indiana University at South Bend recommended staying involved in professional organizations, the school and the community in order to “give back” to the profession and to the researchers.
* Lisa Sjoberg from Concordia College talked about how she works on displays, newsletters and bulletin boards in order to publicize the archives’ materials. By also forming relationships with faculty and staff on her campus as well as other archivists in the area, she is able to gain support for her projects and increase publicity as well.
*Chana Kotzin from the Jewish Buffalo Archive Project of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Buffalo described how she collaborated with other local institutions to create a website, locate potential grant offerings, and coordinate small events for their area.
All presenters emphasized how important it is to carve out at least an hour or two each day to have uninterrupted time in order to respond to emails, work on processing, answer reference questions and just keep your sanity. While it’s easier said than done, it’s something I need to implement to stay productive.
Thus ended my first day and a half of sessions at SAA… Summaries of the next two days soon to come!