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. After this I head to bed.

7:30 AM: I've just gotten up and I'm using some downtime to catch up on mailing lists and blogs while I have my morning coffee. I have the chance to briefly look through the current draft of the Reference Model for Economic Sustainability of Digital Curation, currently under development by Chris Rusbridge and Brian Lavoie. I may incorporate part of this into my class as we're spending a week talking about resource allocation and sustainability. I also use this chance to look through the review of different storage and versioning options, including Git, Boar, and CDL Microservices, for digital curation, as written up by Richard Anderson at Stanford University.

8:15 AM: I'm walking up the hill from my hotel to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Library for the second day of an ArchivesSpace technical planning meeting. ArchivesSpace is the project to merge the functionality of Archivists' Toolkit and Archon and to create a next-generation archival management system. On the walk up, I was talking to Joe Pawletko from NYU about case studies and other good literature to get an overview of electronic records issues. I give him the heads up about the forthcoming issue of Archivaria for which I was guest editor, our forthcoming whitepaper on the AIMS project Yale participated in with University of Virginia, Stanford University, and the University of Hull, and the CLIR report Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Institutions co-edited by Matthew Kirschenbaum, Richard Ovenden, and Gabby Redwine.

9 AM to 5 PM: The rest of the work day is booked solid with the ArchivesSpace meeting. We spend some time picking apart architectural requirements, data model issues, and look at the possibility of revising the data model to include an abstract notion of events. While not an intentional decision, several of us in the room realize that we're inadvertently approaching an object model that looks a lot like that of PREMIS.

7 PM to 9 PM: Most of the ArchivesSpace team goes out for a lovely project dinner at Berta's in Old Town San Diego. Over dinner we start discussing the issues - particularly in terms of flexibility - surrounding the implementation of METS.

9 PM to 10:30 PM: Brian Tingle from the California Digital Library and I meet up with our friend Declan Fleming from UCSD and his wife for good beer. We discuss the potential for organizing a CURATEcamp during SAA next year in San Diego and  possibility of organizing an off-the-grid unconference (possibly in the Pacific Northwest). We also talk a bit about UCSD's Digital Asset Management System and its flexibility provided by representing all of the metadata and relationships within the DAMS as RDF. We argue a bit about how librarians may not feel constrained enough when they have to think beyond implementation of a specific schema or set thereof.

11 PM: I'm back at the hotel and ready to pass out. It's been a long day, and I'm positive I'll start dreaming of electric sheep.

How to Hack SAA

Inspired by my friend Declan Fleming's "How to Hack Code4lib," I have been motivated to put together a guide to surviving and enjoying the Annual Meeting. It can be a seemingly scary (and potentially lonely) experience if it's your first conference, and we archivists are not always known for our extrovertedness. So, without further ado, here is my brief list of suggestions - again, some of which have been shamelessly stolen adapted from Declan's guide.

Hop on Twitter (#saa11) and read for a while

Unlike code4lib SAA doesn't have an IRC channel, but we do have a pretty active backchannel on Twitter. I'm not necessarily trying to convince everyone to join Twitter, but you can search for the conference hashtag (#saa11) and see the current conversation, which ranges from discussion of session-related points to making social plans. Be warned that the level of discourse on the channel can be very similar to how a group of friends would be talking around a table full of drinks. The topics range from inside jokes about bacon and sad hairstyles to esoteric explorations of provenance.

Listen 90% of the time / Talk 10% of the time

SAA is jammed with characters who are passionate about some aspect of our profession. Ask a question or two then sit back and bask in the output. Don't worry, you'll have the chance to talk about what you are working on when your companion stops to drink beer.

If you don't have a lot to share, at least try to be funny

My dirty little non-secret is that I love SAA but I'm not really a typical archivist. I'm a technical-type, but I love hearing what's new in the field. I often don't have much to offer in terms of processing plans or outreach strategies, but most people can appreciate a sense of humor.

Don't be sexist/racist/*ist

It's great to be funny, but be careful about steering into areas that make segments of the world uncomfortable, or even feel attacked. We have a wonderful opportunity to attract and promote equality in our field and there's no reason to make an underrepresented group feel unwanted just to get a couple laughs.

One group that gets beat up on a lot is vendors. There's a healthy debate that comes and goes about whether it's good to have a place to vent, or if making vendors the butt of jokes limits their interaction in the community. One of the great strengths of the community is that the norms are constantly in flux and openly discussed and debated.

Be willing to laugh at yourself

I've found that making fun of myself is a safe outlet for being bitingly clever. And once you've shown people that you don't mind being a target, they'll let their hair down and pick on you too. Besides, why not beat everyone to the punch.

Don't be intimidated by what looks like the "in crowd"

There is no in crowd - but there are many social circles. There are people who jump in and participate - both to the conversation and the ongoing work involved in promoting and supporting SAA. You'll see them as the center of things until you actually get involved - a little at first to learn the social norms of the group, then more and more until you realize that new people are seeing you as part of the in crowd. Now your job is to make the new people feel included.

Share your passion about any one thing

Being an archivist for any amount of time infects you with the depth and longevity of the problems that need to be addressed. Supporting a profession that has such a long tradition, and helping to bring it into the present and future is more satisfying than I ever thought possible. I have a passion for technology and making things talk to other things in easy ways. I've shared this a few times in bar conversations and formal talks. Nothing got people talking to me more than this.

Be ready to learn new stuff

Listen to others' passions and see if any of it strikes a chord in you. There are times when I'm listening to a talk, or on Twitter, and I'll just make lists of things I've never heard of. Later, I'll start Googling around and end up a little smarter.

Expect 80% of the value of the conference to come from things other than the presentations

I used to feel mightily guilty about spending my money - or my employers' money - to sit in a presentation and feel like I got nothing from it. Adding the backchannel to my stream of awareness either helps me ping the crowd for more depth on the presentation, or helps me see that others are struggling as much as I am. Admittedly, the backchannel can be quite distracting, but if you let go and get all Zen and let it flow over and through you, you'll be surprised how much you come away with!

Don't feel guilty about skipping sessions to do other things

Everyone needs downtime to recharge, have a meal or drink with non-archivist friends, or even to check work email. You can give the conference the best when you're not totally overloaded mentally. You can also use session, section or roundtable time to socialize and have valuable conversations with your fellow professionals.

Relax, have fun, and go outside your comfort zone

Sure, you think you want to be a manuscript cataloger or a photo archivist, but you'll have a lot of fun with the electronic records folks, the government types, and even the academics. See you in Chicago!

Tweeting Up at SAA2011

Thanks to the great work of Lance (@newmsi), Rachel Donahue (@sheepeeh), and Angelique Richardson (@RandomArchivist) last year, the first SAA Tweetup was pulled off successfully in Washington, DC. Given that this year's SAA Annual Meeting is just a few weeks away, Hillel Arnold (@helrond) and I have elected to organize one in Chicago, as well.

We're holding this year's Tweetup on Thursday, August 25, starting at 9 PM, at the Clark Street Ale House, which is about a mile from the conference hotel and easily walkable and accessible by public transportation. Feel free to join us after the alumni mixers - and please join us even if you don't use Twitter.

Please RSVP at http://twtvite.com/saa11tweetup; while RSVPs are not required, they will help us and the bar plan ahead.

Supporting Hyatt Workers and UNITE HERE Local 1 at the 2011 Annual Meeting of SAA

Some of us archivists have growing concerns regarding the long-standing labor dispute between UNITE HERE Local 1 and the management of the Hyatt Regency Chicago, the location of the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists. Most recently, this labor dispute has led to a one-day strike of housekeepers, dishwashers, bellmen and other hotel workers on June 20, 2011.

SAA has not given its membership any guidance to its membership about how to support UNITE HERE Local 1 and the Hyatt's hotel workers. Accordingly, my colleague Hillel Arnold and I have put together an website for archivists to find and share ideas.

This website, Support Hyatt Workers at SAA2011: An Unofficial Resource, is now live, and provides ideas for actions that anyone can perform, plus lists of those specifically for individuals who have either chosen not to attend and for those that are attending. This site allows anyone to contribute and comment either generally on a given page or in response to particular ideas. We are particularly eager to find new suggestions that we can incorporate into the site, and if people to prefer to submit their suggestions through us privately, they can do that as well.

For those who are curious, the site is powered by WordPress and Digress.it, a WordPress plugin that provides paragraph-level commenting in passages of text. Please let us know your ideas, and feel free to share this link wildly.


Sumer Is Icumen In

I have spent the last several months in a fog. Emotions tend to get the better of me whenever faced with a barrier in my work life. It's gotten increasingly difficult for me to see the forest for the trees, no matter how much I tell myself that my work is for the greater good of my unit, my institution, and archivy. Self-doubt creeps in, as does stress, frustration, depression. Positivity begins to wane, with optimism replaced by apathy and sarcasm. You stop seeing the good in things and other people, and you stop being inspired. You desperately want to get away, pull the plug, clean the slate, or otherwise just put everything to a grinding halt. You stop asking "why can't I do that?" and start asking "why should I care?" instead.

I don't think this is the first time I've faced burnout, and while it certainly won't be the last, the extent to which it's affected me this time around is astounding. I should add that I love my job, and I'm extremely lucky to have a great supervisor. It scared the pants off me that I couldn't get excited about archival/library/digital humanities/whatever things IN THE LEAST and it's still oh my gosh so frightening. This is the type of mindset that people change careers over, and I am nowhere near confident that it's an appropriate response for me to do so. No, I need to be much more rational and find a way to get over, under, around, and through this.

So, I'm trying to get past this and see things in a new light. Sumer is icumen in, lhude sing cuccu. I haven't gotten very far yet, and I only have a handful of ideas, so I'm eager to hear more. Offhand, I have been doing my best to give myself the following advice as words to live by.

  • Remember what you love outside of work. I've started cooking in earnest again, after inconsistently eating like a bachelor during the week given that I split my time between New Haven and New York. I've also tried to get more serious about my passion for beer, and spent time trying to actually learn something.
  • Know your limits; say no. (This one should be obvious.)
  • Force yourself to do something different.
  • Stop seeing yourself as a general; see yourself as a sapper instead. Of course, this one is hard if you're not getting clear marching orders.
  • Surround yourself with smart people, and only engage in the conversations when you're ready to both speak and listen.
  • Realize that your conversations with other people might actually get them excited about things - don't just do it for your own good.

It's a difficult process to get out of this rut, but I'm getting there. I am at my best when I'm excited about things, so it's in my interest to keep myself moving forward. Last, but not least, I have to thank the following folks for helping me remain engaged and at least somewhat positive, regardless of whether they knew they were doing it were not. So... thanks to (in no particular order) Julie Meloni, Matt Kirschenbaum, Amelia Abreu, Corey Harper, Erin O'Meara, Hillel Arnold, Courtney Mumma, Simon Wilson, Bess Sadler, Aaron Rubinstein, Laura Tatum, Mike Rush, Caro Pinto, Daniel Lovins, Ann Green, Michael Forstrom, Kevin Glick, and of course, Chela Weber. I might have been able to do it without you, but it would have been a much longer and more complicated process.