Practical E-Records software and tools for archivists Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:24:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Putting This Site on Ice Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:24:49 +0000 I haven’t updated this site in a while and plan no further postings or updates.  That said, practical e-records will remain as an archives, at least for the time being.

In the meantime, please check out my new project and site, from which I’ll be blogging and sharing stuff henceforth:


Why I voted yes Wed, 18 Nov 2015 22:21:20 +0000 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 Fri, 27 Feb 2015 20:31:10 +0000 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?

These are the kinds of questions that led the SAA Publications Board to commission the newest entry in our Trends in Archives Practice Series, Rights in the Digital Era.    As with the courses in the SAA Digital Archives Specialist curriculum, I see the current and forthcoming works in this series as falling very much within the original spirit of this blog, making digital archives work practical and accessible.

Rights in the Digital Era, for instance, lays out risk management strategies and techniques you can use to provide responsible access to analog and digital collections, while meeting legal and ethical obligations, whatever your professional status or repository profile  As Peter B. Hirtle notes in his introduction to the volume, “A close reading of the modules will provide you with the rights information that all archivists should know, whether you are a repository’s director, reference archivist, or processing assistant.”

  • Module 4: Understanding Copyright Law by Heather Briston – provides a short-but-sweet introduction to copyright law and unpublished materials, emphasizing practical steps that can be taken to make archives more accessible and useful.
  • Module 5: Balancing Privacy and Access in Manuscript Collections by Menzi Behrnd-Klodt – navigates the difficult terrain of personal privacy, developing a roadmap to the law and describing risk management strategies applicable for a range or repositories and collections.
  • Module 6: Balancing Privacy and Access in the Records of Organizations by Menzi Behrnd-Klodt – unpacks legal and ethical requirements for records that are restricted under law, highlighting hands-on techniques you can use to develop thoughtful access policies and pathways in a variety of repository settings.
  • Module 7: Managing Rights and Permissions by Aprille McKay – examines provides methods and steps you can take to control rights information, supplying many useful approaches that you can easily adapt to your own circumstances.

It gives me and the entire SAA Publications Board great pride to see the fruits of our authors’ thinking and of our society’s work emerge in high quality, peer reviewed, and attractively designed books.

But don’t just take my word for it—read Rights in the Digital Era or any of the dozens of other publications that comprise the SAA catalog of titles!



Arrangement and Description of Electronic Records Mon, 23 Feb 2015 15:21:32 +0000 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.

From my perspective, the best thing about teaching the course has been the sense of community that it seeks to engender.   Sure, the course provides everyone who attends some practical and achievable steps you take to get digital materials under intellectual and ‘physical’ control.  But more than that, it offers an opportunity to think deeply and to learn from each other, to grow in a common understanding of what it means to be an archivist in the digital age.

That goes as much for me as it does for course attendees.  Every time I teach, I come away with new ideas to implement at the University of Illinois and to make the course an even better experience the next time I teach it.

In this respect, I’ve integrated many direct suggestions from participants over the years, as well as some tool guides provided by Carol Kussman.  In addition, Sam Meister and Seth Shaw, the other course instructors, have helped improve the course in meaningful ways.  Over time, we’ve worked on incorporate more and more active learning concepts and activities into the two days we spend together, since we don’t believe people learn all that much just by hearing us talk non-stop for two days!

Over the next week, we’ll be doing a larger-than-normal update to the course materials, using tips from many course participants.  I’ll be teaching this version of the course for the first time at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.  For those of you looking to enhance your skills in a wonderful setting–it is not too late to register, the early bird deadline is March 1st.

Specifically, we’ll be making the following enhancements to the course:

  • Increasing emphasis on tool demonstration and use–integrating more direct demonstrations and directed use in small groups
  • Revising tool lists and providing a tool selection grid.
  • Introducing additional community building elements (collaboration spaces)
  • Adding a processing workflow demonstration and discussion
  • Improving the overall class ‘flow’ by tracking specific arrangement and description tasks to a model workflow
  • Adding new (and better!) sample collections to use in day two exercises (1) planning to process, (2) arranging records, and (3) describing records

Updated 2/28/2015:  I’ll also be adding in the following enhancements.

  • Provide overview of the class on day one, so people know what is covered on day one and on day two at the outset–put in slides.  (e.g. get to day two)
  • Provide additional examples of the AIP structure showing a few different options.
  • Add content to address accruals and deaccessioning
  • Discuss processing of disk images as it relates specifically to processing

All of these suggestions were provided directly by prior participants.  In this respect, and in many others, the course is a true collaborative effort of the Society, putting into practice SAA’s core organizational values.    Hope you can join me in Hawai’i–but if not, ADER is scheduled to be taught three more times between now and September–and it can be hosted elsewhere.  SAA lists its many fine educational offerings on its education calendar.



ADER Accession Tracking Spreadsheet Wed, 11 Feb 2015 19:02:37 +0000 We’re building out a basic tracking spreadsheet for use in the SAA DAS Course, Arrangement and Description of Electronic Records:

E-Records Examples Wed, 11 Feb 2015 19:01:08 +0000 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

Configuring WordPress Multisite as a Content Management System Fri, 19 Dec 2014 14:56:35 +0000 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.It’s an opportune time to do this because our Library is engaged in a project to examine options for a new CMS, and WordPress is one option.

When we went live with the main University Archives site in August 2012, one goal was to manage  related sites (the American Library Association Archives, the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, and the Student Life and Culture Archives) in one technology, but to allow a certain amount of local flexiblity in the implemenation.  Doing this, I felt, would minimize development and maintenance costs while making it easer for staff to add and edit content.  We had a strong desire to avoid staff training sessions and sought to help our many web writers and editors become self sufficient, without letting them wander too far afield from an overall design aesthetic (even if my own design sense was horrible, managing everything in one system would make it easier to apply a better design at a later date).

I began by setting up a WordPress multisite installation and by selecting the thematic theme framework.  In retrospect, these decisions have proven to be good ones, allowing us to achieve the goals described above

Child Theme Development

Thematic is  theme framework, and is not suitable for those who don’t like editing CSS or delving into code (i.e. for people who want to set colors and do extensive styling in the admin interface.   That said, its layout and div organization are easy to understand, and it is well documented. It includes a particularly strong set of widget areas, so that is a huge plus.  It is developer friendly since it is easy to do site customizations in the child theme, without affecting the parent Thematic style or the WordPress core.

Its best feature: You can spin off child themes, while reusing the same content blocks and staying in sync with WordPress best practices.  Even those with limited CSS and/or php skills can quickly develop attractive designs simply by editing the styles and including a few hooks to load images (in the functions file).  In addition to me, two staff members (Denise Rayman and Angela Jordan) have done this for the ALA Archives and SLC Archives.

Another plus: The Automattic “Theme division” developed and supports Thematic, which means that it benefits from close alignment with WP’s core developer group. Our site has never broken on upgrade when using my thematic child themes; at most we have done a few minutes of work to correct minor problems.

In the end, The decision to use Thematic required more upfront work, but it forced me to  about theme development and to begin grappling with the WordPress API (e.g. hooks and filters), while setting in place a method for other staff to develop spin off sites.  More on that in my next post.

Plugin Selection

Once WordPress multisite was running, we spent time selecting and installing plug-ins that could be used on the main site and that would help us achieve desired effects.  The following proved to be particularly valuable and have proven to have good forward compatibility (i.e. not breaking the site when we upgraded WordPress):

  • WPTouch Mobile
  • WP Table Reloaded (adds table editor)
  • wp-jquery Lightbox (image modal windows)
  • WordPress SEO
  • Simple Section Navigation Widget (builds local navigation menus from page order)
  • Search and Replace (admin tool for bulk updating paths, etc.)
  • List Pages Shortcode
  • Jetpack by
  • Metaslider (image carousel)
  • Ensemble Video  Shortcodes (allows embedding AV access copies in campus streaming service)
  • Google Analytics by Yoast
  • Formidible (form builder)
  • CMS Page Order (drag and drop menu for arranging overall site structure)
  • Disqus Comment System

Again, I’ll write more about how we are using these, in my next post.


Knight News Challenge Proposal Tue, 30 Sep 2014 20:19:56 +0000 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.

Intrigued? Read more and comment at

Resources for the Accidental Digital Curator Wed, 07 May 2014 14:20:43 +0000 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:

Email Transfer Form Wed, 07 May 2014 03:43:40 +0000 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:

University of Illinois Archives

Transfer Form for Administrative Email Records


Employee Name: _________________________________________________________

Position Title: ____________________________________________________________

Email Address: __________________________________________________________

The University Archives acquires email records with the intent of preserving them for their continuing value to the University. The materials will be managed under the following principles:

  • The Archives will consult directly with me, and/or a designated person from my department, to identify issues/topics that should be addressed when records are deposited.

  • I will be given the opportunity to remove private/non-University records from the records to be managed by the Archives.

  • The Archives will supply tools and/or work with me to identify and remove private/non-University records.

  • Staff from the University Archives in consultation with University Counsel will help identify University records that have a need for continued restriction after deposit (e.g. student records, recommendations, proprietary information):

    • When records have a demonstrated need for restriction, the Archives will consult with depositors and will develop an access policy that is appropriate to the specific records requiring restriction (a variety of conditions can be considered specific to each case).

    • People requesting access to restricted email will be required to agree to access conditions before access is granted.

    • Access to all email will be indirect and mediated by the Archivist.

    • Email will not be placed on websites or directly downloadable, unless prior agreement is reached with the depositor or depositing department.

Private and Sensitive Information

As noted above, the Archives will attempt to identify items that contain private/sensitive information. We may contact you for additional instructions concerning these materials. As appropriate, such materials will be placed under an access restriction or removed from the deposited records.

Please indicate below whether or not the email is likely to contain sensitive information:

    ______ Student records protected by FERPA

    ______ Personnel or employment records

    ______ Protected intellectual property or reseach

    ______ Records protected by attorney client privilege

    ______ Social Security numbers

    ______ Passwords or PINs

    ______ Credit Card numbers

    ______ Financial records

    ______ Medical records/HIPPA protected records

   ______ Licensed or pirated software

    ______ Other materials that have privacy concerns, please specify:


Please supply any information that may help us identify private or sensitive records:


I understand the principles outlined above and I agree to work with the Archivist to achieve the goal of identifying, transferring, and securing email messages in my account having enduring value.


Signed:____________________________________ Date:________________________