Why I voted yes

On November 18, 2015, in Personal/Other, Policy and Leadership, by Chris Prom

As most Society of American Archivists (SAA) members know, we have just been invited to vote for a dues increase, to be phased in over three years.

It is no exaggeration to say that the proposal is controversial. Not only is the US economy hobbling along, but member salaries seem flat.  Many of us struggle to make ends meet, working in positions that pay but a fraction of the value we provide to society.  And student members worry about the future, understandably so.

So why increase dues now?  And why vote yes?

Here is why I did vote yes, and with enthusiasm!

First, whatever your income level, SAA membership is a incredible value.

Personally, I have benefitted many times over from my membership dues.  Entering the profession in 1999, I found an instant home: a place to discuss substantive issues, a place to shape professional discourse, a place to grow in my knowledge and understanding, and a place to commiserate with my peers.   In Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville argued that “[t]he health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”  And in America, the way that private citizens best express ourselves is through  associations like SAA.  Associations give as a place to talk to each other, to systematize our knowledge, and to advocate for change.

Without SAA, archivists would lack the means to speak with a common (but not necessarily unitary) voice on issues of vital importance to the future of our country and world.

Second, SAA provides us these opportunities on a shoestring budget.  It may sound trite to say that members are the organization, but it is true!   SAA’s talented and hardworking staff play a critical enabling role.  But without adequate income from dues, meeting attendance, publication sales, and education, the members simply cannot exist as a positive force; that is to say, as a national association. Dues are a critical pillar in the foundation that supports SAA, and they provide us the opportunity to extend our effectiveness far beyond what we can achieve alone.  Even more to the point, they heighten the value our work provides in our individual institutions, our communities, and our other professional associations.  Each of these groups has a complementary role, but they can’t duplicate or replace that of SAA.

Third, SAA is a responsive organization.  In short, SAA works!  Members objected (in quite productive and collegial terms) to the intial dues increase proposal. Council carefully considered the objections, reshaped the proposal, and provided a very rational and effective response, one which holds the line on dues at the lower income levels, while introducing modest increases elsewhere and moving us toward a more progressive structure.   This is a process and result that put SAA’s best attributes on vivid display!

And finally, the proposed dues increase represents the minimum amount that is necessary to support core functions of the Society–functions like education, publishing, and technology.  Each of these functions is critical to the long-term health of our profession, not just our professional association, even while they enable related activities that are critically important to the health of SAA — like information exchange, best practice development, and standards creation/maintenance.

At different times in my career, I’ve been a student, a member of the lowest membership tier, the middle tiers, and now the highest one.  But whatever my status, I have received much much more from my SAA membership than whatever the monetary cost I incurred each year.

I’ve learned to be a better archivist.  I’ve been mentored by people who are much wiser than I’ll ever be. I’ve expanded my knowledge through top-notch meetings, books, workshops, and courses.  And most of all, I’ve made and continue to make many friends.

And that is the type of value we can all take the bank!

[updated 8:26 PM CST, Wed Nov. 18, 2015 and 1:20  CST Friday Nov 20]


Rights in the Digital Era

On February 27, 2015, in Research, by Chris Prom

When working with electronic records, we often feel like we stand on shaky ground.

For example, when I teach my DAS course, some of the most difficult questions that course participants raise are related to rights: “How do we know what is copyrighted?” “How do we identify private materials?” “How can we provide access to ________”  “How can we track rights information?” “What do we do if we get sued?”

As archivists, we like to provide as much access as possible to the great things our repositories hold.  How can we do that and still sleep soundly at night?

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Arrangement and Description of Electronic Records

On February 23, 2015, in Research, by Chris Prom

Over the next few days, I’ll be updating the curriculum for the Society of American Archivists DAS course, “Arrangement and Description of Electronic Records,” (ADER) which I developed several years ago.   Ania Jaroszek from the SAA Eduction Office tells me the course has been taught 17 times since May 2012  and that it is scheduled for an additional four offerings between now and September, making this a good time to undertake a thorough update.

The ADER course seeks to put into practice the philosophy that led me to start this site in the first place: to demystify digital preservation techniques as they apply to archival practice, facilitating practical methods and steps that can be applied in any archival repository.

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ADER Accession Tracking Spreadsheet

On February 11, 2015, in Research, by Chris Prom

We’re building out a basic tracking spreadsheet for use in the SAA DAS Course, Arrangement and Description of Electronic Records:



E-Records Examples

On February 11, 2015, in Research, by Chris Prom

Here are a few examples of Processed Electonic Records, as cited in my SAA DAS course, Arrangment and Description of Electronic Records

Organizational Records

Personal Papers


In summer/fall 2012, I posted a series regarding the implementation of WordPress as an content management system.  Time prevented me from describing how we decided to configure WordPress for use in the University of Illinois Archives.  In my next two posts, I’d like to rectify that, first by describing our basic implementation, then by noting (in the second post) some WordPress configuration steps that proved particularly handy.

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Knight News Challenge Proposal

On September 30, 2014, in Research, by Chris Prom

Imagine a world in which everyone’s life story can be made preservable and accessible.

The Mykive project seeks to provide people with a flexible set of tools that they can use to help people preserve, aggregate, and make accessible the digital legacies that are currently trapped in “the cloud” or in other locations that make them difficult to access, preserve, and use. By aligning the work of several innovative projects into a broader software environment and archival framework, myKive seeks to enable the development of the trusting partnerships that underlie successful archival acquisitions, and ultimately to build a storehouse of personal digital archives that are open to research, interpretation, analysis, and innovation.

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Resources for the Accidental Digital Curator

On May 7, 2014, in Research, by Chris Prom

Today I am speaking with Sam Meister and Erika Farr at a Lyrasis Town Hall Meeting, The Accidental Digital Curator: Acquiring and Preserving Digital Archives​​.  In my talk, I will describe the “More Product Less Process” approach to processing born-digital materials at the University of Illinois.  Here are some resources that I’d like to cite, as supplementary resources to my talk, or having some value for those who are  just getting started with the acquisition, management, processing, and access to born digital archives:

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Email Transfer Form

On May 6, 2014, in Research, by Chris Prom

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with an administrator whose email will be provided to the University Archives for permanent retention.  Since the materials in question are not being donated the the University, but are being preserved as records, we do not secure a deed of gift.  Instead, the following form provided an effective way to gain informatory about the records and to inform the individual of actions the archives will be undertaking to preserve the records, as well as the management principles that lie behind those actions:

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Thematic Theme Structure, Hooks, and Filters

On April 14, 2014, in Research, by Chris Prom

One of the most useful resources I found when developing a child theme in the wordpress thematic theme framework was the theme structure document formerly found on the bluemandala.com website.

With permission from Deryk, I am reproducing it here:  http://e-records.chrisprom.com/manualuploads/thematic-structure.html.

And, here is another great resource for development using Thematic:  http://visualizing.thematic4you.com/

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