About my research

On August 27, 2009, in Methods, Research, by Chris Prom
For the past several years, I’ve felt a strong need to get a better handle on electronic records as part of my job as assistant university archivist at the University of Illinois. Like many archivists, I’ve found the issue intimidating for several reasons, not all of which are worthwhile discussing here or now.

But one of the biggest problems is simply keeping up with technology–part of the reason for my original proposal to the Fulbright Commission for this research project. I was reminded of this on Friday when talking to my friend and colleague at the University of Dundee, Alan Bell. Alan pointed me to Mark Matienzo’s ArchivesBlogs, which syndicates posts relating to archives and records issues from other blogs

On one hand, it was a bit humbling to realize that my blog is the 207th one on Mark’s list. (On the other hand, its nice to know that if I say something too embarrassing, most people won’t notice.)

I guess the fact that there are some many blogs makes me both a bit intimidated and a bit hopeful as I start off this project on electronic records.  Even leaving the blogs aside, there is an immense and growing published research literature which, at least when I am not on sabbatical, I would not have time to to keep up with, much less master.

The bottom line is that while a whole lot of work is going on with electronic records and archives, it is difficult to say what works or doesn’t work on the practical level.

In my project statement, I noted that I would spend a considerable amount of time studying and learning about electronic research projects based in the UK. At the end of the day, I hope to to assemble an open-source toolset. That will, of course, be a major part of my work here.

But since putting he project statement together last August, I’ve begun to sketch out a methodology for the initial stages of my project: I will assemble at least three sets of electronic records documenting a signficant individual or organiziation and I will evaluate the facility of three differents sets of tools in working with these records.

The three sets of tools that I plan to evaluate are broadly speaking: 1) software developed by the archival/records management community in the UK and Europe, 2) software developed by the archival/records management community in the US, and 3) other open source or commercial software developed for non-archival purposes.

My first step, which I’ll send the next month working on, will be gathering a list of tools to evaluate, assembling relevant documentation, doing a literature review, and developing a detailed evaluation methodology.

Thus, this project serves a dual purpose: Not only do I hope to evaluate electronic records tools, but at the end I also hope to have made some progress in putting together sets of records that can more easily be preserved by an appropriate institution.


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