It’s been a while since I posted, since I’ve been busy writing a few articles, participating in a programme review (internal quality assurance) of the Center for Archive and Information Studies, getting ready for the Practical E-Records Seminar which took place last Friday, and, most of all, tying together loose ends in the Recommendations section of this blog. In addition, the past weekend was a glorious time to be in Scotland–best weather we’ve had since arriving–as you can see from the photo I took early Saturday morning. We spent most of the weekend out and about. The weather has finally turned, the days are long, and most everyone around the Ferry is out and about for the long (and hopefully pleasant) summer.
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I have a few posts about e-records issues waiting in the wings, since I was gone all last week to the Fulbright Orientation in London and didn’t really have time to keep up with posting due to the sessions and events. I won’t go into all of the details from the sessions–just a few general impressions.
First, I was very happy to see that there is a great deal of interest in electronic records issues among the other Fulbrighters (bios are here in PDF, 9.3 MB). The other Fulbright projects supply me a steady diet of ideas and or possible collaborations for my own work here. I hate to pick out just a few since the group is extremely dynamic, but just to give you a flavor of the projects Fulbright has funded, I’ll discuss several.
Michael Trice, a graduate student in communication studies at the University of Texas, is working at the Center for Digital Citizenship to set up wikis for groups considered silent or underrepresented. They will use these wikis and other digital media to document their experiences–my first question of course is, “how do we know this information will still be around in 50 years,” when in would really be interesting for research. Another Fulbrighter, Vicki Szabo, is an assistant professor of ancient and medieval history at Western Carolina University but trained as an archeaologist. She is hoping to set up a database to assist in the identification of whale bones, to trace the earliest developments in whale hunting. Marc Schollseberg, an Associate Professor of Planning, Public Policy and Management at the University of Oregon is focusing on sustainable design and community based participatory mapping (another issue near and dear to my heart since we are currently living without a car with 3 children–it actually is quite easy to do even here in our suburban village, Broughty Ferry.) We also have a NYPD officer researching ways to investigate financial crimes, a graduate student in Royal College of Arts creating graphic desings for non-profit and charity social interventions, another investigating how protein misfolding can be prevented or reversed (a very important topic since misfolded proteins underly many diseases including Alzhiemers), and another looking at the changing definintions of property ownership and types of banks in the UK (many of which evolved from working class mutual aid associations I had investigated during my Ph.D research.)
Second, I feel humbled to be part of this group, which is composed of people with a huge amount of drive and vitality and who, quite honestly, left me feeling a bit out of my league. I guess that’s why the most impressive part of the orientation for we was the panel discussion led by former Fulbrighters, in particular the remarks by Paul Berkman. Paul encouraged us to be bold and reminded us that even if our projects seem small or we feel overwhelmed, we should aim high. We should remember that we can make the world a better place. But, it takes sustained effort in conjunction with our colleages inside or professions as well among those we wouldn’t immediately think to work with in other areas.
Paul made a bit impression on me since I’d be feeling quite frankly a little overwhelmed by the complexities of digital preservation and the need to read so many standards, learn about so many projects etc. He reminded me that what archivists do is really, really important. As I explained my project to others Fulbrighters, I began to see some of them understand why the keeping of records is important; it does give us both power and responsibility (putting on my Rand Jimerson hat for a second). Paul encouraged us all to take real risks with our projects. Even if we end of looking silly or failing, the contacts we make will outlast the project, and set the stage for future work. I know it probably sounds trite when repeated here, but I really did find that the exposure to so many important projects and the wisdom of someone like Paul critical to re-convincing me that, as archivists, we can be leaders, not only in our profession, but in society as a whole. Maybe the idea is naive, but it will be a lot more fun to shoot for the moon than to sit back and let others solve e-records problems in their own way, or complain incessantly about our low status and lack of respect among the general public or other IT professionals.
Second, Linda, Andy, Grace, Molly and I had a great time exploring London after the formal orientation events were over. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of the world, but London is quite simply an amazing place for kids. It really is wonderful to see their faces as the rode on the tube for the first time, saw Shakespeare acted out (when we toured the Globe, we say two songs in full dress rehearsal from Love’s Labour’s Lost), or just wandered through Bloomsbury.
Third, the British REALLY know how to do musuems and parks for kids. We had noticed this before when visiting the Discovery Point and the Verdant Works in Dundee, but this trip really drove the point home. The Science Musuem is filled with hands on interactive exhibits, particularly in the Launchpad. They teach not only kids but also adults in a fun way–not just plop them in front of a meaningless video game or computer monitor. The zoo is also, by far, the best I have ever seen for getting you close to animals, as you can see from the photo I posted. (The only part that disappointed us a bit from the kids point of view was the British Musuem, the collections are incredible and well curated for adults. But to me it seems they have put much more money into their huge courtyard centered around the old Library reading room than in thinking about how to encourage children to understand the collections or learn some history. So if you come here with kids wait until that are at least 14 and/or can stand reading lost of long dense text to understand the significance of the objects on display.) Aside from that, the kids just ate up the whole trip, and Linda and I hope so much we can take them back.
The practical e-records blog is intended to share information concerning a research project I am directing at the Center for Archive and Information Studies (CAIS) at the University of Dundee. The project aims to evaluate software and conceptual models that archivists and records manager might use to identify preserve, and provide access to electronic records.
Electronic records (as well as analog records) are the artifacts of daily existence left behind by organizations, families and people. They tell the world who we are and what we do. They record our thoughts and our aspirations, our fears and our dreams. As George Orwell pointed out may years ago, individuals and societies cannot retain accurate memories without accurate and complete records. As my colleague Pat Whatley here at CAIS pointed out out to me, Virginia Woolf is reputed to have said, “Nothing has really happened until it is recorded.” Ironically, using online sources, I have been unable to verify the veracity of that quote.
The challenge for archivists lies in ensuring that future generations can verify the veracity of the digital traces we leave behind. The task is doubly tricky since the flood of materials being created is immense. Should we preserve everything? Hardly possible. But how do we decide what to preserve, and how do we preserve it, much less provide access to it.
In this blog, I hope to wrestle with these issues on a practical level and, at the end of the day, come up with a few techniques and recommendations that other archivists and records managers might find useful. In addition, I’ll probably include a few reflections on the things that my family and I do in Scotland while were here on a Fulbright scholarship.
Hope you find it interesting enough to check back from time to time!