#pda12 panel what’s lost, what’s saved

On February 24, 2012, in Research, by Chris Prom

My notes from a set of presentation and panel discussion regarding “what’s being lost, what’s being saved.”

Cal Lee: I, Digital Personal collections as an archival endeavor.

Lots of institutional archives collect personal materials. Five trends:

  • Specialization, professionalization.  Both assets and problems introduced by this
  • Individuals have more ability to create and store.
  • Personal collections are more distributed in platforms, commercial services, etc.
  • More emphasis on personal stories and collections.
  • Previously distinct communities realize they share challenges.

Will Rodgers:  “Everyone is different, except on different subjects.”

  • In archival world, public records vs. mss/collecting repository tradition.  Evidential Turn in 1990s—record as evidence as transaction.  The divide in profession has put most attention on corporate records, not personal.
  • Related streams of activity emerge 1) forensics, 2) admin of archives, 3) PIM 4) Electronic Recordkeeping.  5) tools to support user generated collections.  All of this can feed into work around personal digital collections.  Example: Paradigm project, digital lives, bit curator, this conference series, AIMS.  Another example of convergence: his I, Digital book.  Includes a bunch of authors that a few years back wouldn’t have been in an SAA book.  Basically, there is a growing community of practice and potential for collaboration.

Laura Gurak, Univeristy of Minnesota  In her research, she finds people have little motivation to be organized, IRB and other research committees don’t care about reproducibility.  “There are too many choices and I have a day job.”  Two cases:

  1. Lotus Marketplace.  Published as a book.  Emerged after index cards but before cloud/network computing.  To print mailing labels, Lotus cancels product eventually.  Had to find all email, which she got from ccsr, Mark Rothenberg.  Got most of the email streams, does unix hacking on it to extract data.  Also has usenet postings.  And ads themselves—people w/ a target on their back.  Today, the data lives in a unix directory—but lost at moment.
  2. SS United States, ship departed Copenhagen 1931.  She shows a ship registry, list of citizens on the boat.  Right before she visits Copenhagen family member finds their passport.  Couldn’t find way to figure out where port was.  When at conferences, she finds postcare of the boat docked, with a very distinctive building in the rear.  Finds photo on flickr.  Eventually she lost paper trail as to how she figured out the location. And eventually she gets there.  What is the archives: hard drive, in various folders, 2 external hard drives, several macs, ancestry.com, flickr, picasa.  There is simply too much overhead for her to figure out a strategy.

In both situations, the culprit leading to loss is speed and the path of least resistance.   Excitement of finding things makes use lose evidence of our own research process and sources.

Smiljana Antonijevic, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

Voices from the Field: her study cover 95 scholars, researchers, developers, funders and and their research practices.  What insight does this give us to changing scholarly practices, and how does it affect archiving and preservation?  This is outcome of two projects Alfalab from Royal Academy and Humanities Information Practices from Oxford Internet Institute.  Visited many research sites.  Also covered case studes such as old bailey online.


  1. Broad spectrum of tech awareness, experience and use.  Seems obvious, but is impt to stress, since tools need to meet this wide range.  Humanities scholars practice both old and new ways of research.  Many find a digital source, then print and write out, spread out on table, etc.  This is still very common.  On the other hand, scholars start from same sources, but develop databases, sort online, blog.  So, practices are varied, w/ many shades of grey.
  2. Preservation issues stand out.  Scholars emphasized that their research happens in bursts, so it tends not to be well organized as they want.  Similarly, preservation practices are haphazard and random.  Keep research files on their computers.  Sharing most common via email.  Dropbox not mentioned.  Limited knowledge of semantic web, cloud computing.  The did worry about sustainability of digital resources, noted that infrastructure to sustain was often missing.  Look to libraries to help give them organization and innovative resources.  Librarians had struggle over what to preserve: data, interfaces, what format, for how long.   More advanced users have more advanced problems. “We are living in the Digital dark ages, we are going to lose a lot along the way.”  “there is a huge problem of data preservation and archiving.  Preserving the data but not the interface is a major misunderstanding.
  3. People want “preservation plus”—ability to use their personal materials in a way that would enable them to do better research.  Data analysis—they are trying to make links and webs of meaning—they want to establish relationships. “You can create webs of connections and relations among objects where the wes themselves call those objects back into play”  “There is a way I can structure my own interpretive track through this materials.  They want to preserve relationships.
  4. Complexity of developing tools and resources?  Basic question:  Who is going to develop the tools?  They see computer science researchers as having a fundamentally different set of goals.  You need a common set of goals.  Other informant notes that humanities scholars lack a frame in which they can describe what is needed out of the development process.   Scholarly practices do not change easily.  One advanced person does not use Zotero, so does not really understand her students’ use of it.  Tension between specifying generic vs. specified tools.  The latter does not work; recommendation is to have flexible, extensive apps that researchers can customize, rather than generic or boutique tools.  Microservices that can be repurposed.  Second, people want virtual research environments, rather than repositories.  Finally, people want linked data rather than non-communicating archives.   They don’t want to do the same type of search over and over again. smiljana@smiljana.org.

John Butler, University of Minnesota.  Practices in digital scholarship and personal archiving.  Will talk about studies of research behaviors, new forces and opportunities; life cycle thinking, and adopting best practices and effective tools –how can research libraries facilitate best practices.

UM study of college of LAS (16 Depts) and did faculty interviews, 50 grad student focus groups, and faculty survey.  Published study.  Funded by Mellon.  Mapped datapoint to practices. Four Primitives: Discover, Gather, Share, Create. For each one, there are many activities, and the activities then attach to datapoints.

  • 37% have unique research collections;
  • 73% need assistance in organizing/storing materials
  • 39% feel like they have inadequate methods for organizing
  • 43% less then effective storing notes
  • 56% less than effective in disseminate research.

Other key findings/affirmations:  There is a strong diversity of resources or media used.  Methods learned in traditional contexts are not easily transferred to digital context.  Researchers have unique collections to be shared, but they want to do it under personally-specified conditions.  Example:  one researcher recently shared 40 years of life work.  Lots of psychological angst over releasing something personal to the web  [CP: what archivist doesn’t know about that.]

New Forces:  Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0.  Scholar as curator and curator as scholar.

Data management plan mandates emerging from NSF and others.  Both a carrot and a stick.  Is motivating people to look at the problem.  NEH is also talking about it.

Taking a life cycle approach to data management.  ‘Managing data to ensure that they are fit for discovery and reuse’  [CP: the emphasis on research data. Doesn’t match up w/ parts of faculty papers that are actually used most, in my experience.  People really want the scholar’s correspondence files, much more often that the research data, even when it is unique.]

Best practices: incentives to support them:  Data management plans [CP: The RM stick doesn’t work for organization records, will it work for personal papers??? Esp since the only think NSF really requires is that you submit a plan, not to acutally manage the data for long term.  I missed the rest of the incentives mentioned.]

Library services:  UM “Managing your Data” page.

Ellysa Stern Cahoy, Penn State. Faculty member as microlibrairan.  Critical literacies for personal scholarly archiving.

She believes that the library of today exists on scholar’s desktop.  It is her job to help them organize their own personal library.  She sees this as the future of librarianship.  What digital literacy skills do they need?   How can we ‘get out’ the message of personal archiving.

Information Literacy Competencies Standards for Higher Ed. ACRL, 2000.  Defines information literacy. Currently, she is chairing a task force that is reviewing these.  She believes that curation, archiving and preservation need to be higher on the list of skills.  [CP: Huge gap to fill given the behaviors that Marshall shows and the others talk about.]  Marshall: poses user challenges :1) accumulation, 2) distribution, 3) curation, and 4) long term access.   These are areas where we can help students and faculty learn better behaviors.  People mainly find it via email.  Takes more search skill to pull known item from own collection than general item from open web.  These can be mapped over to the three Info Lib competencies.

SCONUL Seven Pillars of Info Lit (2011).  Collection management is a critical part of it. Talks about file storage, migration, etc.

Her model:  Share at center.  Surrounded by find, evaluate, organize, use, curate, archive, reflect.

“It has long been a particular vanity of researchers to think that others will be interested in their research.

Question: What about email? Given the talk yesterday, why don’t we have good tools for searching it, and for mining the semantic value out of it for search.  [CP: YES, YES, YES—this is the point that needs to be stressed more than anything.  Show the value of email to their users. ] Laura: email is the killer app.  Every time we switch systems, we make it hard for people to preserve email.  Really fruitful discussion here; so many areas for potential collaboration between libraries (interest to help users make better use of research process and mine data), archives (interest to long term preservation of correspondence), and scholars (interest to get better access to own records).  But the problem to overcome is privacy concerns.

Brewster: IA has moved away from email to Skype.  It is dead here, except for official purposes.


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