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  • On finishing what you started

    In the best of times, “year in review”-style blog posts can be inspiring and provide an important sense of closure. When it’s not the best of times, they can be painful reminder of your own misgivings and missteps. Time has moved differently over the last two years, and the calendar itself no longer feels like a good marker of even the progression of days and months that have intervened. But here I am, wanting for the closure that such a review would provide. It feels dissatisfying not to remember that I have finished many things over the last 13 or 14 months, but the struggle to articulate them all has been incredibly real. While I may not touch on all of them, the goal is to describe some highlights to help me retain some perspective.

  • On Sourcery, or the enclosure(?) of remote access

    In this post, I try to unpack some of my concerns around Sourcery as raised in my Society of California Archivists keynote, and how they relate to the visibility of archival labor, austerity, and enclosure.
  • 🔖 Julia Viebach, "Transitional archives: towards a conceptualisation of archives in transitional justice", *International Journal of Human Rights*, 2020

    This paper seeks to trouble and complicate core assumptions about transitional justice and archives and to critically examine the relationship between them. Records about conflict and dictatorship are like records in general never only a reflection of realities, but they constitute these realities. Following Harris’ plea to find ‘exigencies’ to the transitional justice paradigm it suggests the term transitional archives to highlight the multi-layered afterlife of human rights records. It thereby emphasises the open-ended nature, ‘the in-becoming’, of transitional archives. It argues that by including critical archival studies in our thinking of transitional justice and a violent past, we can push beyond the dominant discourse of healing, closure and reconciliation, and open up space to investigate not only how the past but also transitional justice itself is produced at the intersection of power, memory, narrative and violence.

  • One of the things coming out of the #saa20 Research Forum #saa20rf are the net negative structural and strategic impacts of contingent labor on archival practice. It seems to make poor economic, practical, and long-term sense to rely on it further and it’s disheartening to see that we’ve had to.

  • Linked Data and Archives

    I’ve been involved in modeling archival information as linked data since about 2009. Most recently, this includes work with the ARLIS/NA, RBMS, and SAA Joint Task Force on Art and Rare Materials BIBFRAME Ontology Extension. and Archives and Linked Data Interest Group.

  • Comments on revisions to SAA statement on Diversity and Inclusion

    The SAA Council has issued a call for comments on the SAA Statement on Diversity and Inclusion. As noted in the announcement, the revision includes changes to expand the statement to cover equity as well. Comments are open on the revisions until March 12, 2020, and what follows are the comments that I’ve submitted.

  • 2018: a year in gratitude

    This year was largely complicated and often felt like a massive garbage fire to myself and my crew. I didn’t accomplish a number of my goals and was inconsistent about others, so recapping awesome things I did doesn’t feel appropriate and also happens to be a soft reminder of either failure or things not going as planned. I also tend to hate “best of the year” lists but I find them helpful to remember about where I found joy or the ability to connect to something outside of myself. I suppose this is an attempt to reconcile those things, or perhaps more in line with the end of year spirit, a way to articulate gratitude to the people and things around me that impacted me.

  • ArchivesSpace

    ArchivesSpace is an open source archival management system. During the project’s grant-funded phases in 2010-2013, I worked as a technical consultant during the planning phase, and as Technical Architect and product owner during the implementation phase.

  • Born digital archives

    In my past life, I worked as a digital archivist, focusing on managing born digital collections. Links to some of the past projects I’ve participated in follow.

  • Collaboration Before Preservation: Recovering Born Digital Records in the Stephen Gendin Papers

    For some, the phrase “born digital resources” may be unfamiliar, but Ricky Erway, Senior Program Officer at OCLC Research wrote a brief essay entitled Defining “Born Digital”, which provides a handy, working definition: “items created and managed in digital form.” Manuscripts and Archives, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and Yale University Library overall have had a notable history of working with born digital resources over the past ten years.

  • Emotion, Archives, Interactive Fiction, and Linked Data

    [Edit (Feb 24, 2013): Thanks to the fantastic work of Tara Robertson, the video of my lightning talk is now available!]

    I gave a lightning talk entitled “Wielding the Whip: Affect, Archives, and Ontological Fusion” at the 2013 Code4lib conference in Chicago, Illinois. This lightning talk was one of the most difficult presentations I’ve ever given for a number of reasons, including the emotional aspect of the content itself, as well as the fact that several of the ideas I was trying to articulate weren’t fully baked. I’ve been thinking about this for the four to six months in various capacities and with different focuses, especially as I read more interactive fiction and learn more about it (as well as about hypertext in general). This post serves as an expansion of some of the ideas in my lightning talk and as a way to further the discussion around the following question:

    Can we write interactive fiction and (semi-/para-)fictional hypertext that leverages linked data to create an emotional connection to the “real world”?

  • 24 Hours: The Day of Digital Archives

    Thursday, October 6 was the Day of Digital Archives, organized by friend and colleague Gretchen Gueguen at the University of Virginia. I missed the post deadline yesterday, but it's been a busy week, so I might as well walk through some of the highlights of my work related to digital archives that occurred during that 24 hours from 12 am Thursday to 12 am Friday. 12 AM: It's late, but I'm finishing the last bit of work of writing up lecture notes. This fall, I am teaching a class on digital preservation as an adjunct in the iSchool at Drexel University. The iSchool is on the quarter system, so we have only ten weeks to cover a wide variety of material. Last week the students got an introduction to the Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System, and this week's topics (on which I am writing the lecture notes) are selection and appraisal, assessment, provenance, and authenticity. Some of the sources of the week's material include a forthcoming case study from the City of Vancouver Archives, the DCC Curation Manual's chapter on appraisal and selection, sections of the CLIR publication Authenticity in a Digital Environment, and the final report of the W3C Provenance Incubator Group.
  • Update: Aus-Archivists Not Dead?

    Earlier today I'd posted about the Australian Society of Archivists' announcement about the Aus-Archivists listserv being "lost." Tim Sherratt, an Australian colleague and friend of this blog, announced this post on ArchivesLive, the Ning group created by the ASA seemingly to replace the listserv. Pat Jackson, ASA President, has already responded with an update: The ASA National Office has not lost the Aus-Archivists list-serv. We have moved from an outsourced service provider to managing our new server at the National Office. The Aus-Archivists list-serv was a bit too ancient for our spanking new server to manage. In terms of the posterity of the contents of the list-serv, the wonderful discussions and debate it fostered and engendered, they are not lost. It is our intention to post them to the ASA website where they can be perused. Further to that, it is my understanding that the Aus-Archivists list-serv is also deemed to be permanent under the ASA retention schedule. The ASA will be investigating other methods of storing the list-serv for permanent retention.
  • Goodbye, Aus-Archivists: Listservs and the Commitment to Digital Preservation

    [Update: Aus-Archivists might not be gone for good, as ASA intends to share the entire run of postings on its website. See this post for details.]

    Despite my relative distaste for the A&A list, I have previously found it useful and argued for its retention when it was threatened in 2007. I still agree with most of what I wrote 3.5 years ago, although I might have toned things down in retrospect. In an effort to find other e-mail discussion lists on archives that engaged my interest, I joined Arcan-L (the Canadian archivists' listserv) and Aus-Archivists (the Australian archivists' listserv, maintained by the Australian Society of Archivists).

    Surprisingly, Aus-Archivists had been idle since around the end of October. I noticed this tweet from the Australian Society of Archivists only in passing at the beginning of November:

    The ASA Office would just like everyone to know that our List Serv is still currently unavailable, we apologize for any inconvenience...

    I didn't hear anything else between then and earlier today. I should note that I'm not a member of ASA, and so I can't speak to any communication they had with their membership. However, today a message was sent out by Pat Jackson, the ASA President, to all Aus-Archivists subscribers, announcing that the listserv was lost entirely.

  • Why I Have Given Up On the Archives and Archivists List

    I am certainly not the first person to chime in on this topic, and I certainly hope not to be the last. Inspired by two fantastic posts by Ben Bromley and Maureen Callahan, I have chosen to discuss the reasons why I have given up on the Archives and Archivists List. Unlike Ben and Maureen, who discuss why they choose not to post to the list, I'm also including reasons why I choose not to read or subscribe to the list anymore. For what it's worth, until yesterday, I had been on the A&A List for almost nine long years. I don't think the majority of the traffic is terribly useful. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially there's a question on topic you happen to know something about. Telling someone how to perform a Google search is not an adequate response.Given the signal-to-noise ratio of the list, useful or timely messages can be easily buried. Off-topic messages seem to be the rule rather than the exception.
  • A Bird's Eye View of Archival Collections

    Mitchell Whitelaw is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Design and Creative Practice at the University of Canberra and the 2008 winner of the National Archives of Australia's Ian Maclean Award. According to the NAA's site, the Ian Maclean Award commemorates archivist Ian Maclean, and is awarded to individuals interested in conducting research that will benefit the archival and historical profession in Australia and promote the important contribution that archives make to society. Dr. Whitelaw has been keeping the world up to date on his work using his blog, The Visible Archive. His work fits well with my colleague Jeanne Kramer-Smyth's archival data visualization project, ArchivesZ, as well as the multidimensional visualization projects underway at the Humanities Advanced Technology & Information Institute at the University of Glasgow. However, his project fascinates me for a few specific reasons. First of all, the scale of the datasets he's working with are astronomically larger than those that any other archival visualization project has tried to tackle so far.
  • Bad MARC Rant #1: Leader Positions 06 and 08

    I understand why the MARC leader position 08 is a good idea in theory. In fact, MARBI Proposal 97-07 suggests: a change in definition to Leader/08 code "a" for clarification; making code "t" (Manuscript language materials) obsolete in Leader/06 and using code "a" instead; redefinitions of codes "a" and "p" in Leader/06; renaming the 008 for Books to "Textual (Nonserial); and deleting field 006 for Mixed material. I can safely say that some pretty funky stuff gets cataloged with the leader position 08 set as "a," and much of it is incorrect, at $MPOW and otherwise. What is Leader/08 actually supposed to be used for? MARBI Proposal 97-07 again states: Code a indicates that the material is described according to archival descriptive rules, which focus on the contextual relationships between items and on their provenance rather than on bibliographic detail. The specific set of rules for description may be found in 040 $e. All forms of material can be controlled archivally.
  • Seriously, Follow Our Lead

    OCLC's Lorcan Dempsey makes a great point as usual in his post "Making tracks": In recent presentations, I have been suggesting that libraries will need to adopt more archival skills as they manage digital collections and think about provenance, evidential integrity, and context, and that they will also need to adopt more museum perspectives as they think about how their digital collections work as educational resources, and consider exhibitions and interpretive environments. I doubt that any archivist would disagree with this. Even better, I think this offers a great opportunity to reach out and have those in allied fields really understand how and why we've done things slightly different for so long. I'm glad to see that my new employer has picked up on this holistic approach with platforms like the NYPL Blogs.
  • ICA Releases International Standard for Describing Functions

    The ICA's Committee of Best Practices and Standards released the first edition of the International Standard for Describing Functions (ISDF). Like much of ICA's other work in descriptive standards for archives, ISDF is designed to be used in conjunction with established standards such as ISAD(G) and ISAAR(CPF), as well as standards in preparation such as ISIAH. ISDF will assist both archivists and users to understand the contextual aspects of the creation of records of corporate bodies. Through ISDF and related standards, archivists will be able to develop improved descriptive systems that can be potentially implemented using a Linked Data model.
  • Movin' and shakin' in the archives world

    ArchivesNext recently discussed Library Journal's annual list of "Movers and Shakers," pondering what a comparable list in the archival profession would look like. For those who don't know, the list recognizes "library advocates, community builders, 2.0 gurus, innovators, marketers, mentors, and problem solvers transforming libraries." After some rumination, ArchivesNext is now calling for nominations to generate a similar list. Do your civic duty and nominate either a project, an individual, or even a situation worthy of this recognition!
  • and the Dream of a Web 2.0 Backup System

    I just discovered through Peter Van Garderen's blog post about it. I was entirely surprised that I'd heard nary a peep about it. Some basic examination (running a WHOIS query on the domain) shows that it's still a fairly new project. I have to say, though, that I'm entirely impressed. Those involved have given a whole lot of thought to how they're going to be doing things, as evidenced by those who have signed up to be involved and the DataPortability Charter. To wit, the Charter's principles tend to speak for themselves: We want sovereignty over the profiles, relationships, content and media we create and maintain. We want open formats, protocols and policies for identity discovery, data import, export and sync. We want to protect user rights and privacy. And, of course, the thing that made me squeal with delight like a pig in mud: 4. DataPortability will not inventing any new standards. I mean, that's probably the best news that someone like me could get.
  • Web 2.0, Disaster, and Archives

    Many of Web 2.0's detractors argue about it's real value, but given the wildfires in Southern California, I was happy to see it really put to good use. KPBS, a San Diego radio station, has been using Flickr and, even more shocking (at least for some), Twitter as ways to disseminate information and news quickly. The use of Twitter is particularly interesting as it can send out SMS messages. You might recall a few years ago when protesters in the Philippines used SMS to organize political rallies and warn of police retaliation. The California State Library Blog also has provided information from the California State Archivist about archives affected by the fires. In addition, information about disaster recovery for libraries and archives is available both on a regional level by the San Diego/Imperial County Libraries Disaster Response Network and on the state level by the California Preservation Program. Please hold those affected by the fires in your thoughts, and if you can, contact SILDRN or the CPP to help.
  • Archives Camp: Talking About Archives 2.0

    ArchivesNext recently discussed the possibility of having some "Archives 2.0"-themed events this summer, and I think it's a great idea. Now, we may not be able to throw something together in time for SAA, but it seems like the idea of at least meeting up informally is percolating. There's a wealth of opportunities available for archives and archivists to improve access to their holdings through social software and the like. My vision, as I said in a comment on the post, would be to end up with an unconference along the lines of a Library Camp (or more generally, a BarCamp), maybe with lightning talks if enough of us have something to show off or talk about. Like Library Camp, I'd like to see a "bridging the gap" session where we learn and share ways about how to talk to IT staff and other stakeholders essential to our ideas taking off. I facilitated a such a session at Library Camp East, and although trying at times, it was really instructive.
  • NARA Frees Their Data, Somewhat

    I'm a bit surprised that this hasn't come across anyone's radar, because it seems awfully damn significant to me. According to this post on the A&A listserv by Michael Ravnitzky, the National Archives and Records Administration released an exhaustive database of box holdings of all the Federal Records Centers. He doesn't really say how he obtained this database, but my guess is he just asked based upon his background and interest in public access to government information - I've come across his name on material relating to FOIA before. The file he received from NARA is a 155 MB Microsoft Access database, and soon after he posted about it to the listserv, Jordan Hayes and Phil Lapsley took the opportunity to host the database, converted it to MySQL, and wrote a few simple query forms for the database in PHP. Hayes also provided some basic documentation on how to use the forms since MySQL query syntax is probably not familiar to most people on the A&A list.
  • Sticking My Neck Out

    It's been some time since I've had a substantive post, and I don't really intend to write one now. I figured I should mention, however, that I've been featured lately in print and in the blogosphere. Jessamyn West of interviewed me for an article ("Saving Digital History") in Library Journal netConnect. In addition, I was tapped by the wonderful folks at Booktruck for the latest installment in their "Ask a Male Librarian" series. I swear someday soon I'll write something much more interesting and less self-promotional.
  • Protection From Human Pests

    A few months ago (while I was at NACO training) I got a reader's card at the Library of Congress. For a while I pretty actively went and requested books on Saturday afternoons. In particular, I was interested in archival manuals from outside the United States. One of the most interesting books I found was S. M. Jaffar's Problems of an Archivist, a manual written in Pakistan in 1948. I was struck by the following passage ("Protection From Human Pests"), taken from pp. 28-29: "Human pests" and "White Huns" are the common epithets applied to human species acting as enemies of archives. History has recorded many such instances of vandalism as the wholesale destruction of priceless treasures of art and literature, the burning of big and beautiful libraries, the transport of camel-loads of books to distant countries and the sale of valuable manuscripts at ridiculously low prices. The transfer of artistic and literary treasures of subjugated countries by the conquerors to their homelands to adorn their own museums and libraries has depleted those countries of that wealth.
  • Two Work-Safe Tidbits about Archives and Erotica

    First, via my associates at, I came across a review of the comic book Demonslayer v. 2.2, by a certain Marat Mychaels, et al. at Comics Should Be Good. While the fact that the reviewers pan the comic book seems only marginally of interest to those of us wading in archivy, I should draw your attention to a specific part of this issue. Apparently one of the characters goes to visit the Director of Archives at the New York Museum of Natural History, who has chosen to decorate his office in the style of some seemingly life-sized works by (fellow Peruvian) Boris Vallejo. Secondly, everyone knows how much of a pain digital preservation is, particularly in terms of born-digital cultural materials. So, who should archivists and curators look to for guidance? Kurt Bollacker, digital research manager at the Long Now Foundation (and formerly of the Internet Archive), holds up the pornography industry as a potential leader of the pack. He states that he guarantees "
  • Throwing Out the Baby, the Bathwater, and the Bathtub: The Sad State of the Archives and Archivists Listserv

    Today, Nancy Beaumont, Executive Director of the Society of American Archivists, made an announcement on the Archives & Archivists listserv that SAA would no longer retain the first thirteen years of posts from the listserv. During this time the listserv was hosted by Miami University of Ohio, and last September, the list was moved to an SAA server. This stems from a decision made by SAA Council that they not retain the archives for three reasons: 1) an appraisal decision informed by the SAA's archives at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, 2) a consideration of administrative issues, and 3) a consideration of cost. While the appraisal decision is well-informed by the claim that the list archives do not have evidential value as SAA records, the belief that these records have little informational value does not sit well with me. The list archives document the development of archives becoming a stronger profession in the face of technology and the creation of a tight-knit social network.
  • The State of Open Source Archival Management Software

    It's been a while since I've written here, but other responsibilities at both at home and work have kept me busy. To get back into the swing of writing regularly, I thought I'd take a look at one of the biggest hot-button topics in archives this year: the development and release of open source archival management systems. Between this year's and last year's SAA conferences, there were three sessions that, at least in part, dealt with the development of open source software for archives. In turn, this reflected the three major projects that archivists have been developing: Archivists' Toolkit, Archon, and ICA-AtoM. Archivists' Toolkit is the oldest of the three projects; the first meeting and project proposal date from 2002. It may very well be the best funded of the three projects, as it received a $847,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation. However, it also seems to be the least mature, in my opinion, as I've not seen a live demo that's publicly accessible.
  • Announcing ArchivesBlogs

    Since my last post about syndicating blogs about archives, I've played around with the idea and different software packages to do it, including Planet and Plagger. I'm happy to announce that after a few days work I was able to put something together. ArchivesBlogs is an aggregator for blogs about archives. It runs Plagger and updates hourly, outputting HTML, RSS, Atom, OPML (for import into other aggregator), and a FOAFroll. The site design is simple, but i'm happy with it. I took whatever archives blogs I knew about and added them, so if you know of any others or you want yours removed, let me know.