Eira Tansey

Concerns about SAA’s FY17-19 proposed dues increase

I just got back from an incredible week in Cleveland — I have begun thinking of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual meeting as my archivist booster shot, and lord did I need it by the time I drove up I-71. So great to see old friends and make new ones, listen to others discuss their work, and share some of my own. SAA’s staff, the Program committee, and the Local Arrangements committee did a marvelous job of bringing so many of us to one of the Midwest’s crown jewels for fellowship and learning.

If anyone was at the business meeting yesterday, you may have heard me raise concerns about the SAA dues structure, and what appears to be a flat increase on arguably an already regressive* structure of membership dues. The business meeting had a discussion period regarding the proposed dues increase for FY (fiscal year) 2017-2019. The dues increase will be voted on by the membership later this year.

The problems with distribution of dues is obscured at first glance because SAA commendably breaks out dues into categories by income, something that I hope they will continue to do. My concern is that as a percentage of income, those on the lower-income bands pay a higher rate proportional to their income compared to those who are on the higher-income bands. The proposed increases appear to entrench the existing regressive structure, rather than shifting it to a progressive structure.

If you look at the lower bands of each income bracket, here’s what you see (e.g., if you fall within the 30-39k income membership level, this example assumes you make $30,000):

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 10.15.03 AM

So in the example shown above, if you currently make $20,000, you pay 0.53% of your gross income for SAA dues. If you make $40,000, you pay 0.4%. If you make $60,000 you pay 0.38%, and if you make over $75,000, you pay 0.33%.

If the proposal is approved by the membership, by FY19, those making $20,000 pay 0.58%, those making $40,000 pay 0.44%, those making $60,000 pay 0.41%, and those making over $75,000 pay 0.37%.

All my figures, including what the same numbers look like from the top and mid-point of each income range, can be found in this spreadsheet. It’s an Excel spreadsheet so you are welcome to plug in your own numbers and play around with it.

A few points I want to make:

  1. I believe it is inherently unfair to make our lower-income members of the profession pay a larger proportion of their income for membership dues. These are already the members less likely to afford attendance at SAA’s annual meeting and workshops due to the costs. In addition, because workshop and annual meeting registrations make no allowance for income-based registrations, they arguably pay a greater share of their incomes to be professionally involved at an active level than those making higher incomes.
  2. I believe that SAA’s elected leaders and staff should immediately consider how to shift the dues structure to a progressive structure, in which the proportion of dues you pay relative to your gross income increases as your income increases. Currently it appears that in all hypothetical membership scenarios (based on lower, mid, and high ranges of each band), lower-income members pay a larger share of their income as compared to those with higher-incomes. The current dues increase appears to entrench the currently regressive* structure.
  3. Although I am generally supportive of a dues increase and believe SAA is a good steward of our membership dues, I would like to see SAA address these points before I make my final decision on how to vote. I stated yesterday I would vote for this, but after running the numbers I really need to hear SAA’s position on this before I make my final decision. In my ideal world, the proposed schedule of increases would be re-structured to be more progressive over the next three years. Current dues for those at the lower-income bands would be frozen, while those with higher-incomes would pay a higher share than they currently do. According to the brief (distributed at yesterday’s meeting), there may be time to revise the current proposed schedule of increases (see bottom of page 2).
  4. I plan to write a letter to SAA’s leadership in a few weeks to obtain more information and more formally express my concerns stated above. I really want other archivists, from all ends of the income spectrum, to co-sign the letter with me as a statement of solidarity on behalf of our lower-income colleagues. If you would like to co-sign it with me, please send me an email to eira.tansey@uc.edu so I can include you on a draft. You may also leave any questions or comments on this page about things I should include in the letter.

*I am not an economist (though if time and money were no object, I’d probably go back and get my degree in it), so please forgive me if I’m not using some of this language the way economists would.

My talk at Personal Digital Archiving 2015

I’ve been meaning to put the text of this up since I spoke at Personal Digital Archiving back in the spring on the ethics of web archiving. A 5-minute talk was probably not the best vehicle to knit together both the ethics of web archiving and the huge-o topic of the right to be forgotten, but I gave it my best shot. You can see me blast through it somewhere in one of the Friday lightning talk videos. There is also an annotated bibliography I released shortly before the talk.

Side note: The work Ed Summers and Bergis Jules have done on web archiving with Ferguson and the terrorism in Charleston has made me massively re-assess my thoughts on the balance issue when it comes to work in the public interest and elevating voices too often missing from the archival landscape. With that in mind, I still think as a profession we need an ethical framework for determining what’s okay for us to accession into our repositories when we are working with materials for which we have no donor agreement.

The text below is what I prepared for my talk in New York, though I tend to ad-lib quite a bit once I’m at the lectern.


Large-scale archiving and the right to be forgotten

Public is not universal

People often say, “Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t want to be seen or shared by the whole world,” which I suspect is an easy thing to say if your personal online content has never been used in ways you didn’t anticipate. Last year, news spread that a team of university researchers at the University of Southern California were studying the phenomenon of black Twitter. Many users initial reaction to the research study likened it to forms of historical surveillance activity against black Americans, and questioned the research ethics since there was no informed consent from those being studied {Kim, 2014, Kim, 2014, Newitz, 2014}.

The idea that if self-published personal content is publicly findable on the web, it’s fair game for journalistic, academic, or archival re-use is so common that few question it or consider the downstream effects. This deeply concerns me, particularly with large-scale archiving of personal content when we have not worked to secure permission from individual users. I realize this provocative position flies in the face of how archivists must race to save the ephemeral digital record before it’s lost.

I am not advocating to stop archiving others’ self-published personal content. Indeed, as many have pointed out, harvesting and archiving online content before it disappears is critical to preserving the voices that are often missing from traditional archival custody. However, I am asking us archivists to consider how we balance openness and privacy from the point of accession to access. For example, consider if we archive and publish content around a political disruption that has long-term ramifications. How should we respond if authorities subpoena the archives? Would our response be different if we learn that the subpoena came after activists removed their content offline, fearing for their safety? What are our responsibilities to either party?

Public vs. Private

While US courts have generally assumed that if you put something on the web, you’ve surrendered your right to privacy, user’s online privacy expectations are dramatically different from the court’s usual treatment of the public/private dichotomy.

Few users who engage in social media or other forms of online self-publishing view their output as fitting a definition of public consistent with the courts’ interpretation. Researchers have shown that users have different degrees of privacy expectations depending on their intended audience for disclosure {McNealy, 2011-2012}, and that they often rely on obscurity to stand in for privacy {Hartzog and Stutzman, 2013}.

If you sit outside and have a conversation with your friend about your horrible sister, it’s understood that the context, not the setting, means that it’s a private conversation. Saying public things online are fair use misunderstands that our understandings of privacy are not easily muted in an online environment.

Right to be Forgotten

Many research communities are beginning to formulate ethical best practices when working with self-published online content. It’s time for archivists to work through ensuring privacy in an environment where large-scale archiving of online user-content does not include a donor agreement, and where archivists don’t always seek user consent. We need to have this conversation now, because if the right to be forgotten gains traction, the legal landscape may force our hand before archival ethics have caught up.

The right to be forgotten is an idea gaining ground and is intended to give users the right to request removal of their content in many situations. The right to be forgotten was recently tested in court, when a Spanish citizen unsuccessfully attempted to get a newspaper to remove digitized back issues documenting his previously foreclosed home. The man felt that the Google search results linking to the digitized back issue arguably damaged his reputation, despite having cleared his debts. The European Court of Justice ultimately ruled against Google, requiring it to remove search result links to the Spanish newspaper story.

Even in the current EU proposal, a significant revision recently watered down the right to be forgotten to a right to erasure, and explicitly allows archives to process personal data in the public interest with a recommendation for further work on issues of archival confidentiality {European Parliament, 2014}.

Archivists are very familiar with how records over history have been abused to hurt those not cognizant of how their public statements could be captured and used out of context against them. It is imperative upon us to ensure that however we archive other people’s online public lives, we do it in a way that protects their right to privacy.



European Parliament. “European Parliament Legislative Resolution of 12 March 2014 on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data (General Data Protection Regulation),” October 14, 2014. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P7-TA-2014-0212&language=EN.

Hartzog, Woodrow, and Frederic Stutzman. “The Case for Online Obscurity.” California Law Review 101 (2013): 1.

Kim, Dorothy. “Social Media and Academic Surveillance: The Ethics of Digital Bodies.” Model View Culture, October 7, 2014. https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/social-media-and-academic-surveillance-the-ethics-of-digital-bodies.

Kim, Dorothy. “The Rules of Twitter.” Hybrid Pedagogy, December 4, 2014. http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/rules-twitter/.

McNealy, Jasmine. “Privacy Implications of Digital Preservation: Social Media Archives and the Social Networks Theory of Privacy, The.” Elon Law Review 3 (2012 2011): 133.

Newitz, Annalee. “What Happens When Scientists Study ‘Black Twitter’?.” io9. Accessed April 21, 2015. http://io9.com/what-happens-when-scientists-study-black-twitter-1630540515.



Lord make me an instrument of thy peace

Before going to bed last night I hopped on Twitter, and Twitter was doing what it does best: providing breaking news and commentary about a heart-rending story hours before mainstream news outlet picked it up. It was the mass shooting (which, I hope and pray will be investigated and classed as an act of domestic terrorism) at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect is a young white man, and 9 people have died as I write this.

This story is gutting on many levels. It breaks my heart to see a house of worship, often safe harbors for people sheltering from many of life’s storms, to be the site of such tragedy.

Many people on Twitter were saying many of the hard truths that this country — and specifically white Americans — need to wrap our heads around.

And here we are, repeating everything that much of America would like to think it solved decades ago. In particular, that an attack on a black church is terrifying precisely because it cannot be alienated from its historical context; black churches were routinely targeted during the civil rights movement, with the most horrifying act of white violence against black church-goers culminating in the deaths of four little girls.

It’s worth remembering that what’s happened since Trayvon Martin was killed is a sliver of the staggering amount of contemporary state-sanctioned and societal violence against black Americans since the passage of federal civil rights legislation. In my hometown of Cincinnati, you might know that fatal shootings by police officers happened a lot in the 1990s/early 2000s. But what’s happened in the past year is, without a doubt, a magnifying glass on how insidious and well-established structural and cultural racism continues to embed itself within America, and how saying Black Lives Matter is still heard by many white Americans as a statement, as opposed to a truth.

I think what marks the terrorism in Charleston as a particular zenith of horror is for many people, houses of worship are a bedrock of one’s community and an avenue for renewal. It’s bad enough that black Americans cannot walk down the street, spend time in their community, or be at home without being harassed, abused, and targeted by white and state-sanctioned violence. Targeting a church, a space that people rightfully expect to be safe in, and an important place in the history of black America’s struggle for justice, takes it to a whole new level of evil.


And yet, as many people point out, if you know your history, a shooting attack on a house of worship is par for the course when hate-fueled people are looking for convenient scapegoats. This is not new, and indeed it’s happened several times in the last 10 years alone.

To recap:

In 2008, a Unitarian Universalist congregation was targeted during a children’s musical performance by a white man with “hatred of Democrats, liberals, African Americans and homosexuals.” Two people died, including “an usher who deliberately stood in front of the gunman to protect others.”

In 2010, abortion provider George Tiller was killed while he was ushering at his church, by a white man who had harassed and intimidated abortion providers since the 1990s. The gunman threatened “two others who tried to prevent his departure.”

In 2012, a Sikh gurdwara was targeted during services, by a noted white supremacist. Six people died, and the government treated the attack as an act of domestic terrorism. The president of the congregation died while trying to prevent the attacker from inflicting any further harm, and his actions helped many of the children get out of harm’s way.

In 2015, as the news develops about the Emanuel AME massacre in Charleston, we are seeing indications that the young man who perpetrated this act of terrorism also identified with white supremacy.

…and this short list doesn’t even begin to include the many acts of vandalism and intimidation against houses of worship, in particular black churches, mosques and synagogues, that are fueled by racism and bigotry.

We know in this country that one of the largest threats of domestic terrorism comes from right-wing extremists. These extremists are overwhelmingly disaffected white men who direct their anger at people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and non-Christian faiths. But what we talk about when we talk about terrorism and community violence does not seem to indicate that we take threats of domestic terrorism carried out by white men seriously. We perpetuate white privilege by treating white gunmen as lone wolves, or people who had “mental issues,” while we hold entire communities responsible to higher standards. The point is, white privilege gives white people the permission to be judged as individuals while it does not afford the same to others:


I did not quite appreciate the reality of violence at houses of worship until I began dating my now-fiance, who is Jewish. The first time I attended services with his family was during Rosh Hashanah, and law enforcement was very visible walking up to the synagogue. Having grown up attending suburban Episcopal churches, this sight was pretty jarring the first time I saw it (and if I’m being honest, I still haven’t gotten used to it). I have a pretty small sample size, but visible security measures and/or armed law enforcement have appeared at every Jewish congregation I’ve had the privilege to visit so far.

What does it do to people’s spiritual health to have to contemplate their own physical safety while spending time at their congregation?


I drifted away from any semblance of spiritual practice for most of my late teens and twenties. My parents  married in a UU church, and I grew up Episcopalian. My father  attends a notably progressive Presbyterian church. For years he has been involved with  anti-death penalty activism as an expression of his faith in action. I was involved with anti-war activism when the US invaded Iraq, and many of those I worked with came from a Catholic and mainline Christian social justice background.

For much of my adult life I’ve been a “devout agnostic” — contemplating the existence of God and spiritual matters seemed like a luxury, an unknowable question that distracted from working towards the “real” questions of poverty, war, bigotry, and environmental destruction. Even as I didn’t attend church or cultivate a sense of spirituality, I still silently prayed when ambulances went by, on behalf of whoever they were heading to. I’m guessing that when an ambulance is heading your way, it might be one of the worst days of your life. I have no clue if anyone’s listening, but doing it felt like the right thing to do.

I’m not sure what flipped to inspire a search for spiritual nourishment, but it happened at some point last fall. I think it was in the aftermath of Ferguson and a feeling of growing helpless rage at the trajectory of our country. I was angry so many friends of color were terrified for their own and their children’s futures. I was angry that my fundamental human right to control my own reproductive decisions remain under serious threat. I was angry that the rich were getting richer, that destruction of the planet was a key indicator of economic growth, and how very helpless I felt.

I’m still angry about these things. I show up and do the work of activism when I can, but it still doesn’t address my inner fatigue. I knew I needed to find a way to channel my anger constructively, or else it would consume me and prevent me from being the advocate and compassionate human being I want to be. I knew I needed a community, and something led me to a Quaker meeting. The Quakers were always on my radar because of my college-era anti-war activism. I’ve been attending a meeting for several months now. While I’m not sure yet if it’s a way station or a permanent home, I  recognize it’s filling a vital spiritual need for me, in a way that I never would have anticipated had fury and rage not flung me towards something bigger than my own helplessness.


So where does this leave us? For those of us who incorporate aspects of faith in our lives, it seems that a universal value is challenging ourselves to bear witness to the suffering of others. The golden rule doesn’t mean shit if you’re willfully blind to the pain and agony of people who don’t look like you or live your life’s circumstances.

One of the most insidious responses you see whenever a national tragedy occurs is a rush to tell people not to politicize it. The problem is that bearing witness — acknowledging other people’s pain and agony — cannot be separated from “politics.” If a central article of faith is to do unto others, you have to square that with recognizing how privilege, systemic bigotry, and structural violence is used over and over to hurt communities who have asked you to recognize injustice time and time again. You cannot do unto others unless you recognize what is being done to others. You cannot bear witness until you learn how to listen as much as you learn how to speak.



Annotated bibliography for my talk at Personal Digital Archiving 2015

I am super excited to speak at Personal Digital Archiving this week in New York. My lightning talk is titled “Large-scale archiving and the right to be forgotten,” but as I dove into the literature, and wrote and re-wrote it many times, I realized what I’m really interested in is a larger discussion on archival ethics, online privacy, and the future of individual control over how data is used by corporations and the state (and also, those who claim to use it in the public interest, i.e. journalists, academic researchers, and cultural heritage professionals). To be specific, when we’re thinking about large-scale web archiving projects which may involve collecting personal online content for which we do not have a donor agreement, we need to think about privacy a whole lot more.

To be honest, a 5 minute talk is probably not the best format, but it’s somewhere to start. The talk will go up shortly after the conference, but in the meantime I wanted to make an annotated bibliography available. I haven’t read all of the resources listed in their entirety, but they’re important, and the structure of the bibliography reflects some of the things I’m bringing up in my talk.

How to keep up with all the archivist/academic librarian literature

With apologies for the click-baity title, I’ve been cobbling together a calendar that I think a lot of other archivists might appreciate, and it’s time to roll it out.

I’m not really sure how I came up with this idea, but several months ago I decided I wanted to become a lot more …thorough? in my approach to keeping up with archivist/academic library literature. So I made a Google calendar that would tell me when to read certain journals, based on the publication schedule. For example, if a journal is published 4 times a year, it should appear 4 times on the Google calendar (with a few exceptions). Rather than assigning journals to a calendar day, they are assigned to a day of the month (so, the first Tuesday of February as opposed to February 3).

I didn’t try to sync up a journal’s new issue release date with a closely matched day, because that way lies madness (so in other words, if the new issue of a journal comes out in May, you might not get around to reading it until July). This whole thing started pretty organically. Right now it’s up to 50 titles. I wanted to share this with y’all because I find that although librarians and archivists are good at organizing stuff for lots of people, we’re pretty bad at organizing it for ourselves.

So you might be thinking “I don’t have time to read that many journals!” Neither do I. That’s why I started this calendar. I rarely do a deep read of more than 1-2 articles a week. I set aside a few minutes every day to check the calendar and pull up the journal. Most days, I just skim the table of contents. If an article title doesn’t REALLY call out to me, I don’t bother reading it. Life is too short.

I keep a large spreadsheet for brief notes on what I’m skimming/very occasionally actually reading. A lot of the notes look like this:

Journal of Library Innovation 1/7/15 Skimmed TOC. One article I glanced at re: integrating an archival collection into classroom instruction

I’m applying the three strikes rule to journals. If a journal racks up three continuous notes of “Skimmed TOC” with nothing else of interest, it’ll get axed from future iterations of the calendar. This is pretty likely to happen because I don’t really vet the quality of several issues of a journal before I add it to the calendar.

I hope folks find this helpful, and please leave me any feedback. I’ve seen a few things out there that say archivists/academic librarians tend to read from a pretty small body of professional literature. This calendar can help broaden everyone’s reading habits.

There are two versions of the calendar: one at GitHub (basically a visual representation in a CSV file, and additional documentation/FAQ on what journals are included and their scheduled frequency) and a Google calendar. You can add this to your own Gcal account if you want. Here is what the Google calendar looks like:

What I learned from a year of reading women

Do you need a 2015 resolution? Let me offer you the one I took on in 2014 — to only read books written by women. I’m not sure if there was any real reason I took this on, besides that I have a penchant for taking on year-long or culture-based projects (I once took a picture every day for a year, and I’m in the middle of winding down a blog in which I watch and review every James Bond movie) and I’ve identified as a feminist for as long as I can remember. Regardless of why I chose to take on this project, I was far from alone in this pursuit.

Because any resolution worth keeping needs some ground rules, these were mine: I was allowed to read books authored by men if it was chosen by a book club I was participating in, and I was allowed to read books written by anyone if it was closely related to my professional work as an archivist. I allowed myself to finish any male-authored books I had started in 2013. This is what I ended up reading.

What I learned is that if one is conscientious and deliberate about their reading habits, this isn’t anything remotely resembling what I’d call a challenge. To call something a challenge indicates that one must resist their ingrained impulses, that one must learn how to love something that doesn’t come naturally.

In looking at my previous lists of what I read each year, my women vs. man ratio has been all over the place. These have been my rates over the last several years (‘Multiple’ is indicative of works authored by at least one man and one woman, or of an edited work of chapters authored by a number of different individuals).

Women Men Multiple
2008 50% 33% 17%
2009 25% 75% 0
2010 0 90% 10%
2011 25% 62.5% 12.5%
2012 83% 17% 0
2013 56% 44% 0


It’s worth noting that I only ran these numbers as part of writing this blog post, and sitting here and looking at them, I have no idea what to make of them. The only thing that really stands out to me is that I never went below 17% of my reading choices in the last several years for men authors, while in 2010 I did not read anything exclusively written by a woman. For only 3 of the past 6 years did my reading list approach actual population parity.

Only reading women never felt like an intrusive imposition — my general response whenever someone recommended a book written by a man, or when I added a book to my massive to-read list was “Maybe I’ll read it in 2015.” Which I said or thought so often that I want to ensure that I don’t tilt in the other direction where I revert to previous habits and 2015 turns into the year of reading only dudes.

Reading only women over a year could be as easy as cueing up the greatest hits of Women Authors — Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Joan Didion, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Alice Munro, and a bunch of other ladies who I’m going to stop listing because I’m realizing how embarrassed I am that I haven’t read something from all of them.

But if you’re a broad (no pun intended) reader committed to reading works authored by women as opposed to All The Famous Women Authors You’ve Heard Of, ensuring you’re only reading women occasionally presents some interesting situations. Especially in areas of writing that are often heavily male-dominated. And it’s in these areas where only reading women brought me into contact with some stories I might not have encountered otherwise.

One day I was pottering about downtown Cincinnati with some free time and was suddenly struck with the desperate need to pull up at Arnold’s (the only bar in Cincinnati that survived prohibition!) for some food and a beer. I needed some reading material, and stopped by the venerable Ohio Bookstore. Now, Ohio Bookstore is awesome y’all. It’s old, it’s rambling, and you never know what weird things you’re going to find since it’s a used bookstore. It was right around the start of baseball season, and I was so happy to be back for my first Reds season since moving back home. I wanted to read something about baseball.

It turns out that finding books authored by women about baseball is hard. REALLY hard, especially in a used bookstore. The only one I managed to find was the colorfully titled You’ve got to have balls to make it in this league : my life as an umpire by Pam Postema, a former professional female umpire who spent years in the minor leagues and was on the verge of making it into the majors. While it had a lot of shortcomings as a memoir, it was fascinating to read about the massive quantities of misogyny she had to deal with on the job. If I didn’t have the requirement of reading women, I likely would have passed over this (I only saw the title at first, but came back to double-check the author when I didn’t have much luck finding anything else on the shelf).

Likewise, when I was struck with a hankering to read some nature/philosophy writing I wanted to reach for Thoreau’s Walden but did my homework on what woman author would scratch the same itch. I found my way to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which was lovely (and much better than The Maytrees which I gave up on).

Every year when I read other folks’ “what they read this year” lists, I get sad because I feel like in comparison I read so little. But this year, I read far more books than I have in previous years. I’m not sure if it’s directly attributable to only reading women, or maybe my love of reading has finally returned after being in hibernation after college & grad school.

I wish I had read from a more diverse group of women — in retrospect my reading choices skewed towards a mostly white, primarily North American demographic. And those words “in retrospect” are key – it’s so easy to realize in hindsight your reading isn’t nearly as varied as you think it is. This is why the Vida counts are so powerful. If you’re not automatically saying “I will read more books from ___ this year” or something similar, then it’s easy to backslide into reading stuff by folks with the most powerful voices in the cultural cannon.  I wish I had started off my year with a better consciousness of reading much more widely beyond simply “women”. I think if I had, this would have led to less flinching when I revisited my final list.

As I’ve concluded this year, a lot of folks have asked what my favorite books were. Luckily that’s an easy question. Here they are:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — I have always loved novels about immigrant’s lives and experiences in adjusting to a new country (see also White Teeth and the Buddha of Suburbia). Americanah does this so well, but also looks at a lot of the manifestations of race in the US. Adichie has so many brilliant things to say, and if you like this book, make sure to check out her Ted talks on feminism and the danger of a single story.

Interpreter of maladies : stories by Jhumpa Lahiri — I first started reading this while adjusting to some pretty intense jet lag during the first part of a trip to Israel, and finished it a few months later (the great thing about a short story collection!). Lahiri’s short stories were perfectly paced for waking up in the middle of the night, and while I usually forget a lot of what I read, the vivid imagery in her stories has stayed with me.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed — Strayed’s memoir of walking the Pacific Crest Trail while processing the grief of her mother’s death and her own spiraling life is bad ass to the max, and also made me sob in several parts. It was the most influential thing I read this year, because thanks to reading it I developed a pretty intense interest in hiking, and recently took my first overnight backpacking trip. This is major, as someone who did not grow up in an outdoorsy family. Thanks, Cheryl. (And in case you’re wondering, I just saw the movie adaptation and endorse it.)



SAA14 trip report

This year’s annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists took place in Washington, DC. Many of my session reports first appeared on the SNAP blog as session recaps.

Some general thoughts about this year’s conference:

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) meets annually, but every 4th year the meeting is held in Washington DC. This was the third time SAA had a joint meeting with the Council of State Archivists (COSA) and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA). The meeting in Washington DC usually receives the highest attendance, and this was the largest meeting on record (exact attendance to be announced — but there were 2,300 pre-registrations . Many thanks to the SAA office staff, director Nancy Beaumont, the COSA/NAGARA/SAA program committee, and the Washington DC local arrangements committee for putting on such a great conference!

I approached this conference somewhat differently than I have in years past. I tweeted less and took more notes by hand, attended section and roundtable meetings normally not on my radar, and didn’t feel obligated to attend every single session.

Although I had a jam-packed schedule, I did not feel obligated to attend and do ALL THE THINGS. This ended up being a very good idea — I was approached a few times during the conference to join panel proposals for future conferences, or to discuss collaborative projects. Because I wasn’t committed to attending something in every single time slot, I was able to have many spontaneous meetings with people. This is good, because I’ll be leaving this conference with many “starts” for future presentations, research, and collaborative partnerships, which will be crucial as I make my way on my library’s tenure track.

I’ve often heard long-time conference attendees mention that the most valuable part of a conference experience happens in the hallways, not in the presentation rooms. After this year, I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. Because I was focused more on seeking out people working on similar projects and research interests, I feel like I strengthened my professional network significantly this year.

I don’t know if I could point to one single theme of this year’s conference. It’s worth noting that the events in Ferguson started over the weekend before SAA, and ramped up over the week (and still are continuing as of this writing). I saw this come up occasionally in the #saa14 Twitter stream  as early news reports were lacking in sufficient documentation, and how archivists’ work intersects with documentation to serve social justice. Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see because I started and ended the week on an advocacy note, but I do think I saw more emphasis on the power of archives this week, to paraphrase Rand Jimerson  In many ways, SAA is a big enough conference that it’s a “choose your own adventure” kind of thing, so I gravitated to sessions on strengthening the archival profession and our connections outside our field, rather than solely sessions on technical practice.  In other words, my experience of SAA this year was more of a focus on the “why” of archives, instead of the “how.”

A note about some of the reports: you may notice some of my reports on particular meetings or panels are very heavily detailed while others are not. I volunteered to recap a number of sessions for the SNAP Roundtable, so for sessions I was covering, my note taking was pretty intense. You may want to check the #saa14 Twitter hashtag and session-specific hashtags for more information (usually specified such as #s502 or #s411), as well as the SNAP blog for more information on the events during the conference.

Day 1/Monday: 

I attended the workshop, “Advocating for Archivists,” taught by Jelain Chubb and David Carmichael. They both have extensive experience in managing state archives, and the workshop purpose was to help archivists develop advocacy strategies. The workshop was interesting because archival advocacy has a lot of overlap with archivist professional identity, how our society values cultural heritage, the increasing use of metrics and ROI, and so on. Advocacy is something that is vital to the archival enterprise, and my favorite archivists also happen to be some of the fiercest advocates I’ve ever met. Some of the takeaways from the workshop for me were:

  • It sounds obvious, but you can’t just ask for “space” or “more staff.” You must frame these needs as part of a defined goal.
  • Recruit and cultivate people to carry your message for you; these voices often have more resonance than your own (or, “Who do the people you want to influence listen to?”)
  • Don’t always stick with the “historical treasure trove” (aka “the trivia trap”) of archives as a selling point — this is not compelling for a significant part of the population. Tell stories about how archives have literally saved lives, saved jobs, stimulate the economy, etc. Give stakeholders reasons to agree with you.
  • Appeal to what is right (an unchanging message), but also tune your message to the audience (and their self-interest)
  • Think of interesting ways to present your usage — one member of the workshop mentioned that he created data visualizations to show archives use. One of our instructors had done tourism impact studies of out of town visitors to the archives, showing that they spent 4 nights in the state, and generally visited at least one other city for personal travel during their trip.
  • Always have a specific “Ask” when you are meeting with someone to discuss your concerns or needs.

We concluded the day with writing an advocacy plan — similar to what I was planning to do anyway for kicking off some digital forensics planning at UC. So it was a very helpful and useful exercise. Many thanks to our instructors and SAA for offering this extremely low-cost workshop — only $40!

I then attended my first SAA Council meeting — or, rather, my first half-hour of a Council meeting. Shout-out to Kathleen Roe for encouraging folks to attend Council meetings, which are open to the public. She did a fantastic job of taking me around to meet all the Council members. Advocacy in action!

I closed out the night by kicking off the first Lunch Buddy (dinner, actually) outing of SAA 2014. Lunch Buddies has been my baby since I helped create it through SNAP a couple years ago, but I let the reins go this year when SNAP fully took over the spreadsheet wrangling. I’m so proud of this effort, and I really hope people will continue to use and benefit from Lunch Buddies in years to come.

Day 2/Tuesday:

I attended a few papers at the annual meeting research forum. I really enjoyed Christine George’s paper titled, “You’ve got a Better Chance of Finding Waldo: Archivists in Pop Culture and Why Their Lack of Visibility Matters” regarding the lack of archivist visibility in pop culture was intriguing. I took the rest of the afternoon off to attend the wonderful Andrew Wyeth exhibit at the National Gallery, and to also do the world’s quickest stop at the National Archives to catch a glimpse of the Constitution.

Day 3/Wednesday:

I kicked off the day with a run by the National Cathedral, and then I led a Lunch Buddy trip to the National Zoo in order to see the Zoo’s pandas. We saw a couple — one in a tree, and another chowing down on bamboo for breakfast. I got back in time for the latter half of the SAA Leadership Orientation and Forum, something I thought I should attend because I’ve recently been elected to SAA’s Records Management roundtable. Then it was off to a meeting for Nominating Committee, as we continued to hash out our slate of candidates for the 2015 elections.

In the afternoon attended the International Archival Affairs Roundtable, which is not something that is often on my conference schedule, but was pretty awesome! In attendance were representatives from the International Council on Archives (ICA). ICA is engaging in some interesting activities to develop opportunities for new professionals, and also developing resources for African archives and archivists. Then we heard from Bill Maher, SAA’s representative to WIPO. Some of the copyright conversations at WIPO collapsed this year. You can read more about that here.

I attended the joint meeting of the Lone Arrangers and SNAP Roundtables. The two main content presentations of this were two separate panels on being an archives consultant, and archival internships from the supervisor’s perspective. As topics on archival employment, education, and internships frequently do, there was fairly lively discussion.

Later I led a SNAP Lunch Buddy group up to the fabulous restaurant Ted’s Bulletin, where several of us got food before a night out on the town.

Day 4/Thursday:

I had a fantastic meeting with my Navigatee. This is a service that SAA provides to match up new conference goers with seasoned attendees. We had a great conversation about some of our shared interests, and discussed how to get the most out of the conference. I highly recommend that all veteran SAA-goers offer to serve as a navigator at future conferences (and you don’t have to be super-experienced — I think most people could step into this after about 3 conferences). Conference first-timers, be sure to sign up to be matched with a navigator!

The first session I attended was Session 107: Archivists AND Records Manager?! This session focused on the challenges faced by dual-title individuals (i.e., Archivist/Records Manager), as well as archivists who encounter records management concerns unexpectedly (and vice-versa). The session opened with an introduction to the Records Management for Lone Arrangers guide  Lisa Sjoberg (Concordia College) shared the rests of a survey that was conducted on dual archives & records management programs. These programs are usually based on a centralized or decentralized model. The survey was mainly distributed to archivist listservs, which may have influenced the results. Major concerns expressed by individuals who administered joint archival/RM programs were electronic records, and how to strengthen compliance and cooperation with program goals.

The other participants Holly Geist (Denver Water) and Alexis Antracoli (Drexel University) talked about some of the challenges of doing records management and archival work in parallel. A fun fact I learned from this session — apparently Denver Water coined the term ‘xeriscaping’. The main takeaway from their presentations is that the impact of electronic records has sometimes made it difficult to ensure records management practices are being adopted uniformly across all areas. Geist had a brilliant tip for how to ensure records are not lost when someone leaves the institution — regularly get a retirement list from HR so retirees may be contacted to ensure proper disposal and/or transfer to archives of their records before their departure.

This was the first year I attended the Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA) business lunch. I took the ACA exam last year and passed, and thought it’d be interesting to see how the Academy conducts its business and what the governance structure looks like. As part of my research on job ads, I’ve read a lot on the origins of archival certification, and its relationship to professional identity and archival education. As this was the 25th anniversary of ACA, there were brief presentations by long-time ACA members on the history of the academy and its future.

Gregory Hunter made the following points in his presentation, which closely mirrored much of what I’ve read from archival literature:

  • 1989 was not the beginning of archival certification — a significant amount of groundwork had been laid before then, and the idea of archival certification had been around for some time
  • The ACA would not have come into existence without the altruism of its early founding members, many of whom poured significant time and resources into its founding
  • At the time the ACA was founded, certification was viewed as a first step, and not the last step within the archival profession. Many archivists at this time supported not only individual certification, but also the accreditation of graduate educational programs and the accreditation of archival repositories.

Mott Linn recently conducted a large survey on the geographic distribution of certification. This was fascinating, as it confirmed much of what I’ve long suspected based on anecdata seen over my own early archival career.

Something that has continually surprised me is what a polarizing issue archival certification is, and how often it seems to break down along geographical lines. My first post-college archives gig was five years at Tulane University in New Orleans. Louisiana is in the Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA) region, and it always seemed to me that SSA is a core stronghold for Certified Archivists. Many prominent archivists in this region have their CA, and when I started at Tulane, I was expected to sit for the exam as soon as I qualified (i.e., finished my graduate degree). When I was preparing for the exam, I helped run a very informal study group for all the local archivists planning to take the exam when SAA met in NOLA in 2013. When I’ve encountered outright hostility to the concept of archival certification (some of the feelings understandable, others not so much), I’ve almost always found it coming from archivists who were educated or had their first job outside of the SSA region (or to put it bluntly and less diplomatically, from the upper East Coast, mid-Atlantic area, and some parts of the Midwest).

Linn’s research on this issue will appear in a forthcoming issue of American Archivist. I hope that he includes as many of the fun color-coded maps as were in his slide deck. As someone whose undergrad work was in urban geography, this was a great presentation. Here were some of the highlights —

  • The Mississippi River appears to be the major dividing line between who has the CA designation and who does not
  • There are 15 Certified Archivists (CAs) per 100 Society of American Archivist members (SAAs) east of the Mississippi River
  • There are 30 CAs per 100 SAAs west of the Mississippi River
  • In the Society of Southwest Archivists region, there are 40 CAs per 100 SAAs (to which beloved Dr. Gracy shouted out his trademark ‘Hot dog!’)
  • A figure which will likely not surprise anyone, the weakest area for CA membership is New England

I really look forward to seeing this work published. While I have some issues with aspects of archival certification (the steep exam fees, the exam structure), I do think there is continuing value in certification. I tend to be a “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” reformer, rather than a “burn it down!” revolutionary. I have significant concerns about the monetary costs associated with certification, and this concerns me because I worry about how financial barriers prevent and actively discourage our profession from reaching a real form of diversity. While I support time and study barriers as qualifiers for entering the profession, I think financial barriers have real effects on our goals of diversifying the archival workforce. I hope this is an issue we can address, not only within ACA but elsewhere in our professional organizations. As someone astutely noted, as expensive as the ACA exam can be, it’s still cheaper than the full set of SAA’s DAS courses.

Later on Thursday afternoon, I attended Session 203: Talking to Stakeholders about Electronic Records  This was a fun, interactive session in which we discussed how to make the case for electronic records management issues to three groups of stakeholders (records creators, administrators, and IT). The content of this panel was quite similar to the advocacy workshop I took earlier in the week. Our presenters started off with these introductory points to keep in mind:

  • We know electronic records are important and need certain forms of management, but do others?
  • There is not a “one size fits all” approach to making the case. Depending on the type of stakeholder, different messaging strategies will have more meaning. Identifying shared interests between the archivist/records manager and the particular stakeholder is the key to a successful relationship. In addition, always trotting out a “doomsday scenario” is not always a great way to get buy-in
  • We have ignored the heavy lifting needed for managing electronic records for too long, and we can’t do it anymore

Jodie Foley of the Montana Historical Society noted that when it comes to advocacy, it’s not “one and done,” but it is critical to sustain relationships over time. When it comes to the concerns of records creators, shared interests often revolve around legal concerns (I have heard this in my own work — people are terrified to get rid of anything lest they find they need it for a future lawsuit), efficiency across business processes, and managing records well so they can be easily located. Foley talked about the perception among some records creators that records managers often “get in the way” and how our outreach must be conscientious of this perception. Records creators may think “IT is taking care of it.” When we counteract this message, we must also emphasize that we work in cooperation with IT — not that we are antagonists, or competing with them. Obviously this must go beyond messaging to forging real relationships with IT — more on that in a minute.

As part of this panel, we would break off into discussion groups to work through a set of scenarios, and then reconvene to share our talking points, and move on to the next speaker. After Foley spoke, we broke into groups to discuss the first scenario: explaining how to manage electronic records to a state’s Department of Transportation. We worked through talking points, and then each discussion group came together to share their best ideas:

  • It’s in their best interest to identify and manage vital records early as part of disaster prevention
  • Good electronic records management can help your area avoid embarrassment
  • Empower others to “CYA”

Next, Jim Corridan of the Indiana Commission on Public Records spoke to us about how to craft messages for administrators. The concerns of this group is also centered on legal compliance, and business efficiency. In addition, they are also significantly concerned with a public relations disaster and a hit to institutional reputation. They also may be pressured to respond to calls for increased transparency and accountability. One concept I heard frequently in this session was “tripping points,” which I took to mean a form of challenges one might encounter in the advocacy process.

Corridan was very clear that using historical value as a selling point is often not effective with many administrators, since history is seen as a luxury. He suggested that an effective formula to use with administrators (and likely, all stakeholders) is “Here’s a problem, here’s a solution, here’s how we can work together.” We returned to our discussion group to discuss messaging for a scenario of a public university panel considering new projects, and pitching the archives’ need to transition to managing electronic records. Ideas from our group and others included:

  • Noting that the archives has a statutory mandate to manage records, but that without the support needed to make electronic records, we’re not in compliance
  • Universities view themselves as cutting edge — do they want to keep doing things in a way that is no longer satisfactory?
  • Look at what “competitor” schools are doing

The final group of stakeholders we considered were IT. Information Technology teams have specific concerns around storage and management costs (often fee-based in many organizations), security standards, system efficiency, etc. IT has its own definitions that often depart from archivist/records managers’ definitions (e.g., “archive,” “governance”). It can be useful to look at what work is happening that intersects with RM from influential IT organizations such as NASCIO  In other words, find out who your institution’s IT people listen to. Because CIO positions often have frequent turnover, this presents a challenge for building relationships. The last scenario our discussion group considered was how a state archive might gain IT support for why electronic records need special consideration beyond normal practice. The ideas generated in the room included:

  • Emphasizing that we can help reduce IT burdens by identifying what can be removed from systems
  • Framing collaboration with IT as a new and exciting project. Help them share in the glory of success.
  • Do a self-assessment before approaching IT so it’s clear what your needs are and how they can help

This was a great session, and what I liked about it was the participatory nature. The panelists left us with some final thoughts:

  • Go for low-hanging fruit to snowball successes
  • Do your research about hot-button issues in your organization you might not be aware of
  • COSA/NAGARA/SAA are going to begin some joint advocacy efforts for electronic records
  • Keep an eye out for the next Electronic Records Day— held annually on October 10 (1010 — get it? If not, read up on binary code)

The final official thing of the day I attended was SAA’s Acquisitions and Appraisal Section meeting. Appraisal is arguably the most critical function performed by an archivist, since it is the major step in shaping what historical record survives and what is designated for destruction. Some archivists say that good archivists know what to keep, better archivists know what to destroy. I’ve often thought appraisal is what distinguishes archivists from hoarders.

This is a section meeting I normally have not attended in the past, so it was interesting to see what was on this section’s radar. They announced the creation of a new blog, and the main portion of the meeting featured a number of panelists discussing tools that assist with appraising and accessioning electronic records. The following tools were highlighted:

  • BitCurator— a packaged set of tools to create digital forensic disk images, and tools to work with those disk images
  • An as yet unreleased tool to acquire electronic records out of Dropbox, in development at NYU
  • Archivematica— tools for processing electronic records, including normalization and format identification
  • ePADD— a tool that detects email patterns
  • Various tools from AVPreserve

Day 5/Friday:

The first order of the day was to attend the Write Away! breakfast. I attended because I am interested in pursuing research and writing opportunities. This breakfast featured some of the publications board staff and editors affiliated with SAA’s publication outlets (American Archivist, various publications, and Archival Outlook). Chris Prom, SAA Publications Editor, shared news on efforts to publish case studies by SAA Component Groups, and future editions of Trends in Archival Practice. Greg Hunter, editor of American Archivist, discussed the journal, noting that there are currently 150 peer reviewers associated with it. He mentioned that because the journal is now over 75 years old, he is interested in retrospective articles on a variety of topics (e.g., “75 years of appraisal in American Archivist”). Amy Cooper Cary, Reviews Editor, noted that anyone can get in touch with her if they are interested in reviewing a book or another resource. Although only a few reviews make it into each issue of American Archivist, additional reviews are published on the reviews portal.

Later, I attended Session 305, Managing Social Media as Official Records  Lorianne Ouderkirk of the Utah State Archives and Records Service discussed the educational and operational challenges of applying records management guidelines to social media. She noted that people now expect to be able to communicate with government through social media, which has led to a significant rise of governmental entities using various social media channels. These can be hard to keep track of, although in Utah there is an excellent dashboard which lists all the various state agency social media channels. The Utah State Archives has situated education on social media records around the following factors:

  • Risk
  • Identifying records
  • Applying retention

In addition, they have issued a draft document titled Preliminary Guidance on Government Use of Social Media. These guidelines were adapted from the New York State Archive’s guidelines. Ouderkirk noted that in Utah, most records fall under existing records schedules under Correspondence, Publication, Core Function, etc. She noted that over the course of training, most attendees wanted information on agency guidelines, but after a follow-up, many found they did not have time to implement what was learned in records training.

The next speaker was Geof Huth of the New York State Archives, who discussed the risk aspects of agency social media use. He showed some fairly amusing (and redacted!) screenshots of social media activity from state agency and political offices. It is not unusual for constituents to leave vulgar and/or highly-politicized rhetoric on social media channels. Although not all social media may constitute a record, many social media postings, pictures, and status updates do constitute a record. Huth noted that not only does government use of social media tell us how government functions, but also about how government wants to be seen.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks with social media is that there is no such thing as true local control, because the use of social media necessarily involves using a third-party application. Social media use has the potential to be inefficient, increase an agency’s vulnerability to cyber attacks, risk of public embarrassment, and an inability to produce records if called upon to do so quickly. Huth stressed that when possible, it’s important for agencies to take control of their data, presumably via some form of export to local systems and active management.

Huth stressed the necessity of the following policies and procedures:

  • Determining content creation issues — do all postings require approval by an agency head or delegate before going public?
  • Appropriate use — who at an agency gets to create social media postings?
  • Security — who has the password? How will risks be monitored?

Determining “what is a record” can be difficult among any group of records, but applying records definitions to social media presents its own set of challenges. Some of the options are to either treat a social media channel/site as one entire record, or examine content of each record to determine retention/disposition.

When considering capture of social media records, the following questions must be considered:

  • Should records be retained for a long or short time period?
  • How frequently should records be captured?
  • Quantity — do you need everything or simply a sample?
  • What should be done if it turns out the popularity of a social media channel is short lived?
  • Is it possible to extract only the data you need?

Huth reminded us that “capture is not preservation,” and agencies may want to consider specialized tools — there are some open access tools for web harvesting and social media capture (for example, Heritrix and Social Feed Manager , as well as commercial tools such as ArchiveSocial and RegEd.

The final speaker of the panel was Darren Shulman, attorney for the city of Delaware (Ohio), on implementing a social media plan. Full disclosure, I have the privilege to serve with Darren on the Ohio Electronic Records Committee. Darren walked us through creating a social media plan, which can help guide records-related decision making. Ideally a plan should be created before a social media channel is adopted. A social media plan can help with the following issues:

  • Security — who has the password? This is important information in case of staff turnover or cyberattack.
  • Roles and responsibilities — defining  the roles of records management, business units, legal, and IT
  • Moderation and participation — how will responses be monitored?

Darren noted the following distinctions between things an agency posts, versus things other people post:

With things you post:

  • Is it a record, or a copy of something that was originally posted elsewhere?
  • If it is a record, how will you maintain it?

With things other people post:

  • Are comments a public record?
  • How to treat vulgar comments? There are a few options:
    • Delete
    • Leave up, with a visible disclaimer
    • Capture for internal records and then delete from public view (this was a suggestion from the audience, but may pose issues unless you have a posted policy somewhere)
  • May constituents use social media channels as a way to make a report or file a complaint?

If anyone would like to download the social media plan, you can find the template here.

After lunch I headed to Session 501: Taken for Granted: How Term Positions Affect New Professionals and the Repositories That Employ Them  Grant-funded temporary positions (aka “project positions”) are prevalent in the archival profession, and are often funded for somewhere from 1-3 years, and occasionally longer. The panel consisted of early-career archivists who discussed their project positions, hiring managers who had hired many project archivists, and a representative from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which provides a significant number of grants to fund temporary processing projects at American institutions.

The two early career archivists discussed the challenges of being a project archivist — often times the critical difference for their job satisfaction was a manager who helped them access professional development funding, and helped integrate them into the overall infrastructure of the archive’s operations and administration. Mark Greene, director of the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, echoed this sentiment, noting his efforts to invite project archivists in his center to all department meetings, and many others. He has built in professional development funds to temporary position salaries, and has attempted to (it sounds as if there are HR or agency barriers) also factor in salary increases.

Dan Santamaria, recently of Princeton, gave a fairly sobering presentation on his experience with hiring over 30 project archivists over a 10 year period. He noted that not only does this lead to a workplace with two classes of archivists (permanent and temporary), but it is also an enormous time burden on a hiring manager to always be in some state of hiring or training. Santamaria noted that for the vast majority of employees (permanent and temporary), it takes them about 6-12 months before they feel comfortable and familiar with the workplace. Of course, by that time, a project archivist may be getting ready to move on. Due to this turnover, Santamaria noted that he experienced approximately 4 entire team turnovers during his time at Princeton. Santamaria noted that the past model of project work (assuming one archivist working on one collection) may no longer be as relevant in some repositories, and urged the profession to reconsider offering project positions just because we can.

Finally, Alex Lorch of NHPRC, noted that processing grants means jobs, even during the recent recession. He reviewed his own job history (which included some temporary positions), and noted that ‘project archivist’ does not always connote entry-level work. He included some tips for grant applications — you have to write a job description for each grant, justify the salary, and keep in mind it’s common for project archivists to leave before the grant is up (due to the necessity of job searching before the grant is over), and that it takes a lot of time to screen applicants.

The last session of the day was the SAA Records Management Roundtable. In the interest of disclosure, I was recently elected to the Records Management Roundtable steering committee. Unfortunately I got there about 20 minutes late due to a scheduling snafu, so I missed the first few items of business. The roundtable will soon be voting on new bylaws, including that of the continuity of vice-chair/chair-elect/immediate past president, and staggering the steering committee elections. Currently the entire roundtable leadership is re-elected each year, which leads to some confusion and inefficiency. A proposal was made from the floor to elect 6 steering committee members, 2 each on a 3-year cycle. We were also asked to consider whether we still need a newsletter considering the roundtable has a blog, Twitter, and microsite.

Following the business meeting, we moved into the “unconference” portion of the meeting. We broke off into self-selected groups to discuss various topics that had been posed. I chose to join the group to discuss “getting records management buy-in at your institution.” My group consisted of archivists at public and private universities, as well as those working in the corporate sector, and within a federal agency. An archivist from a large Midwestern university noted her efforts to implement a records management program, which took about 10 years to get fully off the ground. She said her persistence and strong relationships with IT (especially when they have the purse strings) were key to her success. The archivist from the federal agency noted how a colleague of his at another branch had a “Biggest Electronic Loser” contest to award employees who disposed of the most electronic data. I also ran some of the ideas I had about increasing records compliance at my university past this group. They enthusiastically endorsed my ideas, and offered some good advice.

Towards the end of the slot, we all shared some of what we discussed with the larger group. Luckily all of these notes were captured in this crowdsourced document representing the work of each discussion group. Check it out!  The Records Management Roundtable has an active presence during the year. You might want to check out some of the Hangouts they do, as well as the thoughtful blog, The Schedule.

The evening rounded out with a wonderful reception at the Library of Congress (poking around in the old-school library card catalog with a bunch of archivists might be the night’s highlight) and the revival of Raiders of the Lost Archives. You can check out some of the tweets for the Raiders program here.

Day 6/Saturday:

The last day of SAA always feels mellower than the first couple days — probably because a lot of people have already left, or energy levels are lower? Not totally sure. I attended Session 705, Young, Black, Brown and Yellow: Diversity Recruitment Practices from the Field. The panelists discussed the Knowledge Alliance program to recruit a diverse workforce to librarianship and archives. The panelists emphasized the importance of connecting with people’s individual interests, and the impact of having librarians and archivists of color in visible positions. Often, students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups simply don’t have these fields on their radar, and it makes a large impact to have contact with a librarian or archivist who looks like you. Tabling at career fairs is critical — students can’t be recruited into librarianship and archives unless they know it even exists at a job fair. Steven Booth shared a great anecdote about a student who showed interest when she asked if his work was similar to Olivia Pope’s father’s cover.

The panelists also noted that recruiting student workers and paraprofessionals is also an excellent way to develop a diverse professional workforce. These individuals are already exposed to library and archival work. Booth told us that if a library is interested in diversity recruiting strategies, to contact diversity@ala.org.

The final meeting of the day was the Annual Business Meeting. Every year I get on Twitter and exhort people to show up at the business meeting if they are still in town. I feel quite strongly about this, because I have occasionally witnessed business meetings where an action is being taken that might disproportionately affect newer and/or underrepresented members of the profession, but few members of those  groups are often at the business meeting. Unlike in previous years, our quorum threshold was met right away (usually this is measured by seating all members in a roped-off section of the room).

Shortly after the meeting was called to order, Executive Director Nancy Beaumont shared some very sad news with us — Nadia Seiler, a manuscripts cataloger at the Folger Shakespeare Library — was en route to the conference when she was struck and killed. Her fiancé had alerted the conference staff to share this news. We held a moment of silence in her memory. I had not met Nadia, but my heart goes out to her friends and loved ones.

We adopted the meeting’s agenda with no items added from the floor. Nancy Beaumont took the lectern to deliver her annual report as Executive Director of SAA. The highlights of her speech noted how SAA was meeting the goals outlined in the current strategic plan:

Next, Mark Duffy, Treasurer, gave his annual report. The highlights:

  • SAA’s finances are strong enough to be able to do some levels of experimentation with the annual meeting model
  • Staff and administration overhead are a large part of the finances
  • Council has agreed to set aside funds for a Technology Reserve fund in the neighborhood of $220,000 to enhance e-Publishing, new communication technologies, etc
  • The FY15 budget is 5% larger than FY14, with a 74% increase in advocacy spending
  • SAA is exploring new methods of delivering Archival Outlook online, and providing affordable childcare at meetings
  • Maintaining all staff salaries at living wages is a priority
  • SAA is examining activities it may drop in the future, that are no longer useful to the organization
  • Membership dues are approximately 30% of total revenue, but membership growth has been limited since 2012. The benchmark goal for membership revenue is approximately 34% of finances, and Mark told us we should expect to hear about dues in the coming year, but did not elaborate further
  • The SAA Foundationwill step up its planned giving

Amy Schindler, immediate past-chair of Nominating Committee, reviewed the slate of candidates presented to the membership in early 2014. Full disclosure, I was nominated for Nominating Committee and won. More about Nominating Committee’s work can be found here. Amy noted that this year’s election turnout was 20% — still far too low if you ask me, but better than the previous year’s rate of 17%. Is it too ambitious to hope for a 25-30% turnout in the 2015 election?

Kathleen Roe then took the lectern to deliver her first address as new incoming SAA President. She opened with the song from the musical RENT, Seasons of Love, which counts a year in minutes (525,600 to be specific). If you’ve ever spent 5 minutes with Kathleen, you know that her jam is advocacy, and this will be her theme over the next year. I’m excited — some of the most inspiring literature in our field is centered around archivists’ need to advocate for our communities, our users, our “stuff,” and ourselves. Kathleen reminded us that advocacy is something we know we need to do, but for many archivists it is not yet a natural act. Kathleen invited us to a “year of living dangerously,” as we work to spread the message that archives change lives. I’m fired up and ready to go.

See you next year in Cleveland, friends.

HILT trip report

In early August, I attended the Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching institute (HILT) at the University of Maryland. I attended the Digital Forensics course, and kept a daily trip report during my week. It took me a while to clean it up, and while there’s still some informal language (and possible tense-switches!), I didn’t want to procrastinate any longer on getting the report up.

DAY 1:

Our instructors: Kam Woods (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Porter Olson (UMD PhD student, Community Lead for BitCurator).

Our group: seven archivists/librarians/students

The first part of our workshop was based loosely on the 2-day SAA workshop on Digital Forensics. We did lecture content for the first few days, and then moving on to doing hands-on digital forensics work with the disks we brought later in the week.

We started by reviewing the general concepts behind digital forensics, and how they apply to archival workflows. Digital forensics originated in the law enforcement community as a way to obtain legally admissible digital evidence. The methods have been adopted by the digital archives community in order to establish the authenticity of a record and to demonstrate what interactions took place with a record over time. Digital forensics techniques are used to capture a larger package of files (e.g. a disk image) than what can be see with “the naked eye” through the GUI. Capturing a disk image ensures that digital archivists have access to metadata, file structures, and hidden files critical to preserving the archival qualities of electronic records.

The second half of Day 1 dug into the many technical challenges associated with digital forensics. This was primarily about understanding how data is stored on disks. This took us on a whirlwind tour of thinking about different levels of digital representation (data as part of a group of digital objects, data as a single digital object, data in a GUI, data through the file system, data’s physical manifestation). As our instructors pointed out, even electronic records have some form of physical representation because of the method in which the data is recorded (e.g., pits on a CD).

Kam then gave us a long lesson on counting in binary. If you’ve only ever been used to counting in base 10 (e.g., each “place” in a number represents a power of 10 — 152 is 1 one hundred, 5 tens, and 2 ones), learning to count in binary feels like a real brain teaser at first. Data can be compressed by identifying the duplicative parts of the bitstream and making substitutions for their representation.

At the end of the day, we had a lecture by Tara McPherson who spoke about some of the digital humanities projects on her radar. It was during this talk where it really struck me how much the digital humanities and librarian/archivist communities need to talk to each other. McPherson talked about her regret that they did not talk to librarians sooner when starting Vectors — and admonished the audience to work with their librarians more. This caused some discussion on Twitter — I guess I am still a bit shocked that someone starting a big project involving questions of open access and data management would not think to consult librarians. This says a lot about the gap between what we know we can provide and others’ willingness (or even knowledge of!) to use our services.


DAY 2:

Day 2 of our workshop we finished off the lecture content. For a long time I’ve understood that taking disk images is a best practice for working with digital archives, but I’m not sure I could really articulate why until today. A disk image involves making an exact replica of the entire bitstream of a disk. Not having a computer science background, I never really thought about the ways in which data is stored on disks, much less what happens when you delete data.

I understand now that when data is deleted, it isn’t wiped (typically) clean automatically. When you “delete” something, that space on the disk is reallocated to be written over in the future, and the data sits there until its written over. This is probably CS101 for many, but was a big revelation for me. In addition to diving into the deep end on file system architecture and file allocation  we talked about the nature of files themselves — for example, I did not know that names of files are not inherently part of the file itself, but essentially a directory entry. This crash course in computer science was something that I don’t think many archivists and librarians are exposed to on a regular basis, as was clear from our group’s discussion on the way to lunch, when we kept trying to remember how we would explain slack space to someone else.

When you begin learning about what’s really on a disk — whether it’s a USB thumb drive or a laptop’s hard drive — you quickly learn that what is seen through the GUI is only a small portion of what’s actually there. This is why digital archivists have widely embraced making disk images — much of the data and files needed to prove the authenticity of files over time, and to support the metadata and preservation needs of material — is simply not visible from the GUI. A disk image allows capture of that information that is normally running under the hood.

A point that our instructors made over and over was that while taking a complete disk image might not be necessary for all projects all the time, it is the best way to capture all the essential information of a potentially archival nature one might want now or in the future from digital materials. In addition, using digital forensics methods allows interaction with material without inadvertently writing over it. We heard many examples of how access/modification dates, file names, and file content can be significantly altered when directly interacting with materials. When using digital forensics methods, one would use some kind of write-blocker — hardware and/or software. A write-blocker is a physical device or software that allows the archivist to reads the source material, but not to write over it.

The best analogy our instructor shared was this — simply copying and pasting files off a drive without a disk image would be like accepting a box of photocopies of manuscripts instead of getting the original documents. This means that when we do disk imaging, we are not making “copies” per se, we are getting the originals — not some kind of partial material. We were encouraged to image materials first, and do analysis later. This really flips the archival process of appraisal and accessioning on its head — appraisal is usually done prior to accessioning in traditional archival workflows. In a model of digital forensics, the archivist makes an early appraisal decision when deciding which disks are worthy of imaging, imaging (i.e. accessioning) the data, and then doing additional appraisal post-accession to decide how to handle various files comprising the disk image.

We ended the day by taking an early journey with BitCurator, and learning about forensic disk image file formats (AFF is being phased out, E01 is the most commonly-used, and while it remains proprietary, it has been reverse-engineered), and comparing checksums. We made some disk images, and learned how to compare checksums.


HILT Ignite was the final event of the day. It was similar to a set of lightning talks. Here were some of the presentations:

French pamphlets translations and digitization at UMD College Park, funded by http://mith.umd.edu/research/project/digital-humanities-incubator/

@keenera of Northwestern on Digital Apparatus for Renaissance texts

Nabil Kashyap of Swarthmore on translation of Russian texts and creating middleware to visualize translation activities

Arden Kirkland (@ardeninred) of Vassar on various projects — she started with Vassar costume collection — she’s building CostumeCore for a metadata profile for historic clothing http://www.ardenkirkland.com/costumecore/

George Williams @georgeonline on Accessibility in digital environments — will be having a series of workshops, the next two are in Nebraska and Atlanta http://www.accessiblefuture.org/

Jim McGrath on the Our Marathon Boston marathon “crowdsourced archive” — will eventually become part of Northeastern’s SpecColl. Uses Neatline, add-on tool for Omeka http://marathon.neu.edu/bca This looks super duper awesome too — http://www.northeastern.edu/nulab/

Chip Oscarson from BYU — ecological networks and linkages — “topic modeling” — this seems to be a form of text cluster analysis (to what degree are words and terminology showing up in text?)

Priscilla Pena Ovalle of University of Oregon — idea for a pedagogical tool on hair — how does the appearance of hair influence his/her agency in media depictions? SO AWESOME! This was in the Idea stage, she is considering phone or website app

Raffaele Viglianti from UMD “Performing the Digital Edition” — performing a digital edition of a music score — scores that can listen to you to figure out where to turn the page automatically. Music Encoding Initiative — like TEI. Plotting breath marks over a digital score.


DAY 3:

Today we worked with bulk extractor to get a glimpse behind what was going on with our disk images. By doing this, we were able to see what sorts of URLs, emails, PII, or other sensitive information might be in our files. If one were to make a large disk image, these things turn up with surprising frequency. Knowing where on the disk this information resides allows archivists to make redaction or embargo decisions regarding content or files that might otherwise be made public.

This probably says a lot about my priorities while traveling away from home, but one of the highlights of the week was eating at the Maryland Food Cooperative — aka the cooperatively owned sandwich shop in the UMD student center. It was everything I hoped it would be — funky and delicious. Yum. Definitely check them out if you’re ever in College Park.

During Wednesday afternoon, we attended a number of field trips to check out local cultural heritage organizations. I went to the Holocaust Museum — during Q&A with the curators, I was able to ask a question that has often been on my mind at various points during my career, which is how cultural heritage professionals deal with intensely disturbing and traumatic materials encountered in their work. At my last institution, I often handled plantation records that had evidence of profoundly violent things done to enslaved people and their families, as well as vivid descriptions of scenes during the Civil War. More than once while working with these materials I had horrifying nightmares. I’ve always wondered how others handle these issues, and I’m very grateful that the USHMM staff shared their thoughts about this with me.


DAY 4:

This was the day we really got in the weeds and put all our legacy media we brought with us to work. We started off with thinking about a very common question digital archivists might encounter— if we get a big stack of floppy disks, where do we start? Floppy disks have a variety of formats, sizes, encodings, operating systems, etc. There is no single source that can tell you exactly what you have in hand, so it’s important to look for whatever clues are available on the disk itself. Wikipedia has an extensive list of disk formats, which is critical information when making disk images. Some of the forensics tools require the user to instruct it how to read the disk, meaning you must have the disk information, including capacity, number of tracks, density, and so on.

Much of this day we spent in the UMD MITH lab, in the basement of Hornbake Library. MITH is a great space, and our group set up at several computers containing all manners of drives. The middle of this article on building a forensics workstation has a good picture of  the set-up. I brought a massive bag of legacy media, and a partner and I tried imaging the following items: a 5.25” floppy with a finding aid, several 3.5” floppies, an optical disk (i.e., CD-R, which are deceptively easy to image, though I didn’t appreciate how susceptible they are to damage until I tried to image one. Thousands of sectors were identified as damaged — though it was still readable), and a USB drive. Where necessary, we used write blockers to prevent accidentally writing over the data. It is still pretty easy to image most 3.5” floppy disks (new and cheap 3.5” floppy to USB drives are available online), but 5.25” drives are no longer made. This means the archivist must buy a used one, and many libraries use a device called FC5025, which is a controller that allows connection of a 5.25” floppy drive to USB. This will likely reveal my age, but I had never handled an 8” floppy until today — though apparently they’re still quite popular for US nuclear capability. Unfortunately finding a way to image these has proven a significant challenge for the profession.

The Special Collections at University of Maryland has a FRED machine that we also visited, though we did not use it. FRED machines are widely used for law enforcement purposes, though an increasing number of cultural heritage institutions are buying them. Although they do many cool things, the machine still requires purchase of external floppy drives, and FRED machines are expensive. Many institutions choose to create their forensics workstations iteratively by starting with a DIY workstation, and adding on components gradually with an eventual purchase of a FRED if the situation warrants it.

After our class, I spoke with Trevor Munoz from MITH about their efforts at beginning a Digital Humanities incubator  that targeted librarians for its first rounds of programming. A major topic in general at the conference has been how digital humanities projects factor into RPT criteria. I believe a related concern for librarians is how they acquire new skills, and receive the required support, to be successful in these new areas of digital work.


DAY 5:

On our last day, we reviewed a few of the additional tools in BitCurator. One of the pretty cool ones that can be used in the command line  is sdhash , which essentially compares the content of two differently-hashed files to assess the similarity between the file contents.

One of the highlights of this day was our discussion with Matt Kirschenbaum. Kirschenbaum is a UMD faculty member, Associate Director of MITH, and co-PI on BitCurator. Kirschenbaum has done significant work with digital forensics in born-digital archives. We discussed the nature of this changing set of skills, and how access to digital archives may change over time. I really respect the connections Matt has actively cultivated among archivists, and it was a great way to cap off our coursework.

At the final event of the week, all the groups were asked to prepare a brief (5 minute!) show and tell.


Concluding thoughts:

I went into this course not feeling very confident about the hands-on work associated with digital forensics. As a result of the several days we spent together, I feel much more comfortable returning to my institution and doing some early groundwork on recovering material. Of course, this means that I will be assembling a proposal to build a DIY digital forensics workstation. Even though this course exposed me to a lot, it’s clear I still have a lot to learn in this area. We covered so much of the “first steps” work of accessioning materials, but it seems  there is still a lot of question about the access aspect of born-digital archives.

Overall, the entire HILT MITH experience was phenomenal. Many thanks to our instructors, Kam Woods and Porter Olsen for a superb job. The folks at HILT put together a hell of a week for us, and next year it sounds like the show will be on the road towards my neck of the woods — look for the next round to be held at IUPUI. This was a wonderful event that had many librarians and archivists in attendance — I hope y’all will consider putting it in your conference and travel budget requests for the upcoming year.



The recommended pre-readings for our course

  • Garfinkel, Simson, and David Cox. “Finding and Archiving the Internet Footprint.” Paper presented at the First Digital Lives Research Conference: Personal Digital Archives for the 21st Century, London, UK, February 9-11, 2009.
  • Kirschenbaum, Matthew G., Richard Ovenden, and Gabriela Redwine. “Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections.” Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2010. http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub149/pub149.pdf
  • Lee, Christopher A., Kam Woods, Matthew Kirschenbaum, and Alexandra Chassanoff. “From Bitstreams to Heritage: Putting Digital Forensics into Practice in Collecting Institutions.” September 30, 2013. http://www.bitcurator.net/docs/bitstreams-to-heritage.pdf
  • Ross, Seamus, and Ann Gow. “Digital Archaeology: Rescuing Neglected and Damaged Data Resources.” London: British Library, 1999. http:// http://eprints.erpanet.org/47/ 
  • Woods, Kam, Christopher A. Lee, and Simson Garfinkel. “Extending Digital Repository Architectures to Support Disk Image Preservation and Access.” In JCDL ’11: Proceeding of the 11th Annual International ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries, 57-66. New York, NY: ACM Press, 2011.

Readings that were directly or indirectly referenced during the Digital Forensics workshop — some recommended, some I found Googling around on my own

Things I got to through internet rabbit holes that have me thinking about the intersection of DH and archives/libraries

Interesting things I saw on the #hilt2014 Twitter feed


On the concerns of new archivists

<standard disclaimer about these only being my own views>

If you’re an archivist active on Twitter and/or in SAA, you probably know about the #thatdarnlist brouhaha and the recent discussions over the SAA code of conduct. I’ve mostly stayed on the public sidelines of these discussions for many reasons. However, something I’ve observed* is the idea that those pushing for new approaches to the listserv and/or the code of conduct are newbies to the profession who have an ax to grind, and should turn their attention to real issues.

Let’s be clear: using someone’s professional status as a newbie to dismiss their concerns is one of the most toxic attitudes established professionals can transmit to their newer, typically younger, often more professionally vulnerable colleagues. And if anyone is wondering about my own consistency, I believe ageism is one of the few (only?) -isms that actually cuts in two directions, and have asked people not to use language such as “old guard” which I feel is decidedly uncool. We are at our strongest when we realize our challenges are truly multi-generational.

Perhaps I find dismissive attitudes to the concerns of newbies so disturbing because I’m going through my own period of professional transformation. I still very much identify as a new archivist, and only graduated in 2012. On the other hand, I’m lucky to have started a professional position last year, and have leadership roles in the profession. This means I no longer feel quite like the very new, very shaky baby archivist I was just a few years ago. Numerous established archivists have graciously shared their knowledge, contacts, stories, and ideas with me, and I am profoundly grateful for their generosity. It’s made my transition to a professional career undeniably easier knowing that sound advice is a phone call or email away. The overwhelming majority of archivists I’ve dealt with are supportive and caring colleagues.

And this is the way it should be, for everyone. Using someone’s length of time in the profession, whether measured in decades or months, as a proxy for the validity of their ideas, is intellectually lazy. Ideas should stand or fall on their own merits, not on the CV length of those supporting or arguing against them. This is why the concept of blind review continues to hold weight in academic publishing.

Let’s talk for a minute about institutional (or perhaps more accurately, professional-organizational) knowledge. This often gets mixed up with the idea that newbies don’t know what they’re talking about, because they don’t remember “The Great Battle of What-Have-You in Fill-in-the-year”:

1. Let’s reject the idea that time in the profession is a barrier to understanding the broad scope of institutional history. Yes, it’s different if you were there in person. There’s no way lived experience can be replicated for someone who wasn’t there. That doesn’t mean those of us who weren’t there aren’t capable of reading back through the literature, talking to our mentors, and learning about long-standing professional areas of disagreement. Put me on your archival history pub quiz team, I’ll take Committee for the 1970’s for $400, Alex.

2. Recognize there is a line between saying, “Hey, here’s what happened the last time our profession addressed this issue, and here were the outcomes. You should understand this and have this information going forward if you decide this is a battle worth your time” versus saying “Hey, here’s what happened the last time our profession addressed this issue, and it never worked out, therefore your ideas are not worth considering.” We are a profession that ostensibly professes to be open to change, to new ideas, and to incorporating the voices of those not often heard in the public when it comes to building the archival record. It’s time to do the same with the way we think about concepts of professionalism. Even in perennial points of argument, the factors around unresolved issues change with each generation.

In closing…The archival record is only as good as the archivists charged to care for it. Archivists who are told their voices are not worth listening to because they are new will have difficulties developing into the thoughtful leaders we need. And we desperately need to grow these leaders to fight for the continued survival of our profession and our institutions.

*for those unaware of my MO, I do not single out or link to specific examples on my own website, and would appreciate the same within the comments