The past few weeks have been dedicated to an analysis of the ALA website, creating a spreadsheet to survey their electronic records. In order to gain a better understanding of staff, technology, IT support, and records organization, Liz and I created two documents specifically tailored to surveying the ALA: a brief web survey for various ALA offices and an in-depth on-site interview form. Although we originally contemplated open-source survey software, such as LimeSurvey, we eventually settled on a commonly known application.
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Last week, I had an interesting lunchtime conversation with Geoff Barton, who directs the bioinformatics group at the University of Dundee’s College of Life Sciences. Going into the conversation, I had hoped that it might prove possible to work with his group to identify one or more datasets and/or applications that would be suitable for inclusion in a pilot deposit project for a pilot ARMMS e-records repository. In the end, that did not prove as feasible as I hoped, but in the process I gained a bit of insight into the particular challenges of working with the electronic ‘papers’ of faculty members.
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“What should I do to get the files ready for you?” Any archivist knows that such a question, coming from a potential donor, is inherently problematic—especially if the archivist has not yet surveyed the records in question. Records creators with good intentions can cause unwitting damage in reorganizing paper files. Those with less transparent motives are tempted expunge records that that they feel could be misinterpreted or would cast them in a bad light. Such possibilities are even more acute in the electronic realm, where mass deletions are only a click away. When donor take matters into their own hands, the historical record is altered forever—notwithstanding the complete of heroic measures using forensic tools.
Nevertheless, donors are going to ask this question, and we need to be prepared to answer it. This point was driven home to me when Patricia Whatley asked me to prepare some ‘simple’ advice ARMMS could give to a potential donor, prior to ARMMS assessing the e-records. It seemed to me that any e-records program would need such a document to hand off to donors—if only to assist them in preparing for a complete records survey. As a result, I’ve posted the results on my recommendation page. Feel free to use or modify it if you see fit.
- Transfer Guidelines for Corporate Bodies or Associations (MS Word Document)
- Transfer Guidelines for Individuals (MS Word Document)
It seemed to me the key point was to craft a document with two simple aims. First, donor should ‘do no harm’ if they follow the recommendations. Second, the steps had to be simple enough for donors to understand and implement in a short period of time (several hours or less). If you have any thoughts as to how the document can be improved, please let me know.