Professional Development

Rebecca at MARAC

Thursday, April 26, 2012 12:44 pm

I traveled to Cape May, New Jersey for theMARAC (Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference). Why am I at aMid-Atlantic Conference when Wake Forest is clearly not Mid-Atlantic you ask? Besides being a great regional association that is bigger than SNCA and smaller than SAA, I specifically wanted to come to the Omeka workshop that they were hosting on Thursday. Omeka is an open source software created by George Mason’s Roy Rosenwig Center for History and New Media for digital collections and exhibits that is specifically created to include Dublin Core metadata. We have been talking about hosting our own version of Omeka to highlight our digital collections and holdings better than our current system. Although only an introduction to Omeka, this workshop was most helpful in introducing me to the ins and out of Omeka. Rebecca Goldman of La Salle University led the workshop of 35 people. We had to do some pre-work establishing our own hosted Omeka site to play with and download some text files, images, and a csv file of metadata she had already arranged. Once in the workshop, Rebecca showed us how to create “items” that are files (images, pdfs, etc.) with accompanying metadata. She showed us how to batch import a CSV file with image urls if they are already available on the web. If not, you can import the metadata and attach files of whatever it is you are describing separately, etc. In addition to files, you can create collections and exhibits in Omeka. Rebecca walked us through the steps and although the internet connection was quite slow with 35 people simultaneously working on the same website, I found the navigation of the software to be quite easy. Playing around with the themes and plugins, Omeka is quite customizable. Plugins for csv files, exhibits, OAI, simplepages, LC subject headings, and many others exist and there are more being developed every day. During the Q and A, Rebecca mentioned that at Drexel, they have students use Omeka to create their own online exhibits. What an exciting idea that is full of possibilities for students to work with Special Collections in the future!

A very interesting session I attended was “Preservation and Conservation of Captured and Born Digital Materials” moderated by Jordan Steele of Johns Hopkins University. The first speaker was Isaiah Beard from Rutgers University Libraries who spoke of the need forstandards as illustrated in the Rutgers guidelines “Digital Data Curation: Understanding the Life Cycle of Born Digital Items.” He stressed the need to create standards and workflow practices, train staff on handling digital assets, and perform quality assurance. He suggests taking an active role in storage decisions, technical metadata, audit trails, and chain of custody. MAKE SURE that the hardware actually holds when breaking down!

An interesting point that Beard made was the idea that digital assets are easier to destroy and are more readily deleted than physical objects. Physical objects are typically stored, left behind, forgotten and rediscovered. But with digital objects, casual collectors typically delete what they don’t want when they are low on space or see no need to retain content. One keystroke, one unsaved item can be quickly deleted, whereas physical items tend to grow old gracefully. The iterative process of digital curation means constantly looking back at decisions and re-informing what is coming next. Start with the data, ask the creator how it was created, then ingest, preserve and curate. Often,we must accept that de facto industry standards become de facto preservation standards. Sometimes you have to adapt to the software even though it is not what you want to use. Establish a format guide and handling procedures. Document our decisions and rationale. Publish, share, and use the findings! Determine methods of access, how are we gonna share these digital assets. Above all, we do no harm. Do not do anything that will harm the preservation masters, make copies and then change them. Document these changes-make themtraceable, auditable, and reversible. When it comes to format migrations you must periodically reassess the relevant format, migrate, and continue to document.

As you can see, I thought Beard’s presentation was quite good. He made two points in the Q and A that I would like to mention. He said that when it comes to formats, they are not always great, but they are valuable. Even if a picture of a great event is snapped on an IPhone it does not make it less worthy of preservation. Another point that Isaiah brought up that really hit home is that fact that we are entering a digital dark age. Without archivists and institutions making an effort to capture and preserve the born digital assets, the record of our time will be lost forever. Some suggested,,

Next up was Tim Pyatt of Penn State, formerly at Duke. Tim addressed the presence of hybrid collections in the archives. Hybrid collections are analog collections with some portions that are digital. Because users are familiar with accessing analog collections in the reading room, born digital materials can be put in other platforms to provide access to more materials. Tim described a “quick and dirty” project that put some materials in flickr. According to analytics,digital content on flickr gets hit 8 times more than the digital content in ContentDM. Pyatt made the point that when scanned images and born digital items are together, users don’t care if it is a scan or the original.

Gretchen Geugen, UVA Digital Archivist, was the final speaker for this session and she was very encouraging to those of us who might feel a bit overwhelmed when it comes to born digital. She discussed the AIMS project:AIMS Born Digital Collections: An Inter-Institutional Model for Stewardship. This is a 2 year project to create a framework for stewardship of born digital archival records in collecting repositories. UVA, Yale, Stanford, University of Hull are all partners.

AIMS Framework:

Gretchen discussed the next steps that she is taking to tackle the born digital items within UVA’s collection. UVA is using the AIMS framework on Collection Development and Accessioning to make a program specific to their institution. She stressed that this is a work in progress!! The decisions they are making now are affecting the decisions that they will make in the future.

Some points Gretchen brought up:

  • #1 items to work on: Copyright, access, ownership. Realistically, the donor probably doesn’t have copyright or licensing. You must realize that access is different for different items. Perhaps items cannot be made available online right now, your institution can possibly provide online access in future. Gretchen discussed the changing world of ownership. How do you give someone your blog? With digital formats, if the donor still has the original-they can donate it to 10 other archives. Users don’t know what is the institution of record.
  • The idea of “Enhanced curation”-interviewing the creator about their digital habits. Documenting their file naming style or screen shots of how they use it might help when describing it. Digital materials are interactive and you need to know how the creator interacted with the materials.
  • Accessioning: Take file, create bit by bit copy as preservation master, move it to our own preservation secure network, extract some technical metadata, look for duplicates and don’t accession, triage and see if further processing is necessary, update accession records as appropriate. This seems logical but not easy! With ALL the formats, going forward with the accessioning and processing it is not as easy to do. Priority is to inventory, get data off of it, put it somewhere safe and findable. Tasks: inventory, triage, transfer. UVA has aForensic Workstation: FRED Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device. Bought with grant funding, this is a very expensive machine but can be put together piecemeal.

All in all, this was a very interesting session. The speakers all had great ideas and insights on a very challenging aspect of archives.

I heard other wonderful strategies for processing large collections, preservation, and a lot about the History of Cape May county. I am happy to talk about the conference with anyone who would like to hear more. I am grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference and had a great time talking with other archivists.

5 Responses to “Rebecca at MARAC”

  1. This is a very thorough account Rebecca-it sounds like this was a conference full of insight and information that touches us in Special Collections. I especially was interested in Omeka and it’s capability to create digital exhibits; the work with hybrid collections in the archives by Pyatt, and Geugen’s discussion of copyright.

  2. How great that you got to test Omeka! Sounds like the digital curation session was quite informative as well. A fine report!

  3. very thorough, well written report of the conference. Thanks!

  4. The Omeka workshop is very timely. Talk to Thomas about it!

  5. What a great conference. It sounds like you heard some great speakers! (And thank you for sharing it!!)

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