On Discovery

Saying that there is no discovery in libraries and archives, because all the discovery has been pre-coordinated by librarians and archivists is putting the case for the work we do too strongly. It doesn’t give enough credit to the acts of discovery and creativity that library users like Papaioannou perform, and which our institutions depend on.


Help the Digital Preservation Q&A at StackExchange

Stack Exchange Q&A site proposal: Digital Preservation

Join us.

I’ve recently committed to the Digital Preservation Q&A proposal at StackExchange. This is a resource I really hope  comes to fruition, as there’s a lack of sites to support exchange of strategies and advice for people involved in digital preservation, as well as to field questions from persons familiarizing themselves with the practice.

This latter audience has been on my mind particularly since leaving the DPOE program last year. Although we have fielded questions over an email listserv, this venue has a few significant weaknesses:

  • It’s difficult to bookmark or reference back to advice or information within a thread.
  • The email body and thread is not friendly to text formatting, links, and other formatting that would make information more readable, digestible and inclusive.
  •  The information is unstructured — one can not apply tags, select a topic as a favorite, vote up a discussion, or track edits in any systematic way.

By contrast, the StackExchange approach is a mix between a question-and-answer site and Wikipedia, with some reward elements to provide incentive for good contributions. There are a host of topics covered under the network, from gardening to LEGOs to electrical engineering. The network hosts an Area 51 site, which maintains all the topics proposed presently that users are interested in, but which are not yet formal sites. There’s a lot there, and you’d likely be interested in a few.

Why StackExchange? It features all the methods to structure information I described above. I really can’t imagine a better format (at least, not one already set up and sorted out) for building up a knowledge base in digital preservation, and one that can adjust with time. Digital preservation is a practice that will change immensely with time. There will be an assortment of questions and procedures, ranging from the obscure rescue efforts to large scale and contemporary migration processes.

As part of the state archives here in Mississippi, I do a good bit of training to state employees on electronic records management and preservation. Required retention periods for born-digital objects can range from three to fifteen or more years, while many are marked for permanent retention and will be deposited here at the archives. Considered planning for digital content repeatedly comes up. A single good resource to point them to would be very welcomed.

Consider committing if the topic interests you. It’s especially helpful if you’re already engaged in other StackExchange sites, and as noted there are a whole lot of topics to join, so there’s ample opportunity to get involved with StackExchange. Any interest does help!

Goodbye Goodwill Computer Museum, Hello Museum of Computer Culture

Museum of Computer Culture

I’d like to call attention to a big change for the Goodwill Computer Museum, where I volunteered in Austin, Texas, and worked with many incredibly smart, fun people like Russ Corley, Virginia Luehrsen, Stephen Pipkin, Austin Roche, Phil Ryals and lots others.

The big change is that, because of organizational and aspirational differences between Goodwill and the museum, the museum was taken out back and shot.

No, I kid. But the aforementioned team has amicably parted ways and is now reborn as the Museum of Computer Culture.

The mission remains broadly the same:

We are an Austin, Texas nonprofit organization seeking to inspire and educate the public with engaging exhibits on the evolution of computer history and its influence on our common cultural experience, develop and support digital archival studies through services to universities and other institutions, and conserve computer history information through digital preservation.

I wish them, and Austin Goodwill Computerworks from which the team got its start, the best of luck!

Phil has already posted a thorough, technical and first-hand account of his work as a technician for the Autodin, the Department of Defense’s first computerized message switching system.

Thoughts On Electronic Records Training

The Age of Electronicus record cover
In window of Hollywood Boulevard vinyl store, flickr user Rich_Lem

In October I ventured to three locations in Mississippi with a coworker to deliver records management training to municipal clerks. My portion of the training addressed electronic records in the state. Here I discuss strategies I used and share some thoughts on teaching what is frequently dry material for an (often reluctant) audience.


A little context on government records in Mississippi: for local government, all electronic records are managed and maintained by the originating agency. If electronic records are scheduled as permanent, they’re kept with that agency forever — they don’t go to the state archives.

By contrast, there are two primary supporting resources for state agencies. The first is a tape backup service offered by us, as well as the ability to take their permanent electronic records into the state archives. The second is the counsel, services, and guidelines of the state IT department. Local government of course has our counsel with any of their records concerns, but we don’t offer any services to them.

Because few municipalities (if any) have the resources to employ a records manager, it’s not atypical for electronic records management to be distributed among all municipal employees in an ad-hoc and uncoordinated manner. Professional document or records management software is out of scope for most, since such packages are too expensive and the volume of electronic records produced is typically too low to consider the purchase. The same is true of email archiving services. Open source would appear to be ideal but those solutions really do require dedicated IT administration, which is limited for many municipal projects.

My portion of the workshop lasts an hour, and the goal was to give attendees the knowledge to manage their electronic records better than they do now. Outside of the constraint that all record management has to occur with the agency, there are a few other hurdles to teaching effectively in this hour:

  • Little foreknowledge of each municipality’s specific tech setup or electronic records management strategy.
  • Little foreknowledge of each attendees’ computer literacy.
  • No foreknowledge of attendees’ specifics jobs or the records they regularly handle.

Unfortunately these constraints were outside of my control. However as I hope to share this doesn’t mean the hour can’t be successful.

Continue reading “Thoughts On Electronic Records Training”

DPOE National Calendar

I want to give a brief shout out to the DPOE National Calendar, brand spanking new as of June 2011.

The idea is to have a single, general purpose calendar that covers digital preservation workshops, talks, etc., across the country. If you’re giving a talk or workshop, no matter how small the audience, consider submitting it here. And of course you can check the calendar to attend events, whether online or local to your area.

A longer post on DPOE is still forthcoming.

Next Week: Digital Preservation in D.C.

Next week I’ll be attending a train-the-trainer workshop hosted by the Library of Congress in D.C. I’m thrilled to be attending and I’m really looking forward to meeting the other participants.

The Digital Preservation Outreach and Education (DPOE) program is a recent initiative by LOC to “foster national outreach and education to encourage individuals and organizations to actively preserve their digital content.”

Since attendees are coming from a variety of institutions, it’s going to be really interesting to discuss the different contexts in which digital preservation can be introduced. Audiences and clients can make a big difference in how you articulate a subject – and identifying the core issues within those variations is a (perhaps lofty) goal of mine for this workshop.

That, as well as feedback on training and workshop execution, of which my position requires a good deal of, cannot be too welcome!

I hope to have a post or two on the workshop during or shortly after.

Old Site Exhumed, Mostly Gone

Lulu glares out from a sea of compression artifacts.

During my last two years of high school (c. 1998 to mid-2000), a friend and I began an “art website.” Our intention was to have a place to post our writings and visual work, and to solicit similar submissions from others around Internet. Our mascot was the enraged chimp pictured above, Lulu. The site received some modest interest from various users around the Web, and from a few of our friends at school. All in all, not an unsuccessful project.

However as high school came to a close, we grew tired of maintaining the site. We tossed around the idea of maintaining it while we went to our respective colleges, but eventually decided to shut it down. We would be too busy with better endeavors, and no one wanted to log into our hosting service to keep  the old high school art site afloat. We posted the EOL announcement on the site and applied a bullet wound to old Lulu with MS Paint. It was most certainly over.

Continue reading “Old Site Exhumed, Mostly Gone”