Arranging and Describing Electronic Records

On March 8, 2013, in Research, by Chris Prom

Although I haven’t posted for quite some time, I’ve been very active with e-records issues lately.  In particular, I would like to note that I developed a course for SAA’s Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) curriculum: Arranging and Describing Electronic Records.  I have taught the course four times now; three times as a one day course and most recently as a two day course at the University of Texas Arlington. Each time I have taught the course, it has seen full registration, which has made for lively and informative discussions.

In one sense, the content of the course summarizes much of what I set out to learn and communicate during the the sabbatical project that gave rise to this blog.

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As I mentioned previously, I selected Thematic as the parent theme under which I am am developing a new website for the University of Illinois Archives.  Over the past several months, I set up the basic site structure, colors, fonts and layouts.  I am preparing to dive into deeper customization, but before doing that, I would like to list some resources that I found helpful in learning about Thematic and in customizing the site.  Then, I will describe some of the steps I took to actually customize the site.  If you want to see the work to date, a screenshot is below the fold.

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In a series of earlier posts, I noted that I am currently using WordPress to implement a new website for the University of Illinois Archives. Over the past several months, I have intermittently worked to choose a theme and begin customizing it.  In addition, Angela Jordan has help me move content into the theme system.

At this point, I have a functional website in place, and by early August, we will be enabling the site.  At the same time Jameatis Johnson, our new Archivist for Outreach and Engagement, will begin a round of iterative usability testing on the site.    Before we begin that project, I would like to describe the rationale for the decisions taken to date, as well as to outline some of the basic work that has been completed to set up the site.

Firs, a bit of review:  In my first post, I described the rationale for attempting to run an archives website as Content Mangement System powered by WordPress. My second post covered the basics of WordPress installation.  After I had installed the site, I decided to blow it away, and to reinstall with WordPress enabled for a multisite installation; I covered this topic in my third post. Finally, I gave some background on the WordPress Hooks  system, since understanding hooks is a necessity if you want to do serious customization work with WordPress.

Now it is time to discuss theme selection.

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Since at least the time of my graduate training in history, I have been interested in the question of how legal, regulatory, financial structures affect people, how they shape behavior, and how they can facilitate or impede prosperity.  Partly for that reason, I wrote a dissertation concerning the activities and impact of mutual aid societies on the lives of English working men and women, prior to the foundation of the British welfare state.

Now that I am an archivist, I retain an interest in these topics, but with the twist that I also like to keep tabs on how records about financial history are generated, used, saved, uncovered, preserved, and used.  I typically spend  a portion of my lunch hour reading about economic topics.  For the most part, these topics are documented via the ephemeral communication formats used in modern society: blog posts, PDF reports, tweets, instant messages and—especially—email messages.  The news regarding our economic problems provides a strong rationale for society’s need to identify and preserve records that have permanent archival value.

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Draft: Facilitating Archives in Facebook Era

On July 16, 2012, in Research, by Chris Prom

As I mentioned several months ago, I had the pleasure to speak at the 17th Brazilian Congress on Archival Science.  The Congress was great, and I hope to post more information about the speakers at a later time.  For now, I would simply like to post the text of my remarks, which describe the rationale for a project I am currently beginning.

Since these remarks will be revised for publication, please see the important notices at the bottom.  Also please note that no citations are included here; if you would like a copy of the paper with citation, please contact me.

Facilitating the Generation of Archives in the Facebook Era

Keynote Address: 17th Brazilian Congress on Archival Science

Rio de Janeiro, June 21, 2012

Last November, I boarded a train at Union Station in Chicago, Illinois.  I had just a left a meeting of the Society of American Archivists’ Fundamental Change Working Group.  This group was charged with revising the Fundamentals Series, which comprises the heart of our society’s publishing program. Everyone at the meeting was acutely aware of two facts: 1) that newly trained archivists need a sophisticated set of digital skills, and 2) that our new instructional manuals must facilitate these skills.

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Happy Day: UDFR Released

On July 3, 2012, in News/Current Events, by Chris Prom

As I noted several years ago , many digital preservation efforts depend on the ability of archivists and curators to accurately identify and represent the contents of individual files.  For example, tools such as DROID compare the contents of files the to PRONOM digital file registry.  However, the PRONOM registry was supported by the UK National Archives, and competed with another registry, the GDFR, necessitating a merger and the development of a sustainable resource.

Today that service was announced, and it is a great day for practical approaches to electronic records because all kinds of useful tools and services can and will be developed from the UDFR knowledge base.


Carol Kussmann of the Minnesota Historical Society just sent me this wonderful review of checksum verification tools; most of the applications listed in her guest post not only calculates checksum values, but allows you to verify whether they have changed over time.  Using a tool like this is really a foundational element of any digital archives program, and I think you’ll find Carol’s review, which I’ve posted below as a guest post, to be extremely useful.  I know that I’ll be checking these tools out, with thanks going to Carol.

Author: Carol Kussmann, May 30, 2012

Checksums are one method available to assist with preservation of digital files.  Calculating and re-calculating checksum values on files over time allows archivists to monitor the health of their digital files.  Checksum values should remain the same over time, if they do not; the file has been modified or corrupted in some way on the bit level (the ones and zeros a computer uses to read a file).

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Next month, I’ll be presenting a paper at the 17th Brazilian Congress on Archival Science.  I just submitted the following title and abstract for my remarks.  (The service I will describe has received pilot funding from the University of Illinois Library Innovation Fund.)

Facilitating the Generation of Archives in the Facebook Age

If the goal of records preservation in the digital age is to preserve evidence of human activity—as it must be—most archival work must take place before electronic records are accepted by an archives.  Otherwise, there will be no record left to preserve, or, in the best case, there will be an inadequate, unrepresentative, and inapt record—that is also difficult to preserve.  This problem is particularly pressing because the formal recordkeeping systems previously used by many organizations for electronic records have died or have one foot firmly in the grave.  At the same time, the habits that individuals use in producing, consuming, storing, filing, searching, and interpreting records are themselves undergoing constant change.  People adopt new communication technologies at an ever-quickening pace.   Divergent personal practices, rather than the centralized electronic systems, are the harsh reality that confronts our profession.

Archivists and all of humanity have a shared interest in building tools that facilitate the aggregation, management, and control of dispersed records sharing a common provenance.  This paper will outline the conceptual model one such service, which might be dubbed “myKive” (My Archive).  The talk will list functions that the service would provide, outline its core architecture, and describe a potential model for its development and sustenance.



Yahoo Mail Download

On May 18, 2012, in Software Reviews, by Chris Prom

Courtesy of Seth Shaw and Ben Goldman, who pointed this out to me, I’d like to take note of an email program that has very specialized, but potentially important, use: the YPOPs program.  This is a Windows application which can be used to establish an IMAP or POP3 Connection to Yahoo email account, from which you would be able to download email for preservation purposes.

The project seems to be dormant, but there is a project website at   and a sourceforge site at


The University of Illinois Archives is current searching for a full-time Archival Operations and Reference Specialist.  The position will report directly to me and will have responsibilities for overseeing the American Library Association Archives and for providing reference services for University Archives.  Although this is initially a two-year appointment, there is a possibility that it could be extended or made into a continuing appointment, depending on funding.  It offers the ability to work with a wide range of archival functions, from pre-custodial work through access.

A copy of the position description is available at

If you are interested in learning more about this job, please contact me via email.