I’ve been reading Hannah Sullivan’s The Work of Revision, and really enjoying it. Here are a couple of excerpts from her chapter on T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, centering on Ezra Pound’s editorial input on the poem.
She makes a good case that Eliot’s style of revision indicated a profoundly different aesthetic than the excisive revisions that Pound (apparently vigorously) put forward. It’s a bit of a counter-narrative to the story of a team-up; rather Pound’s revisions antagonized Eliot’s original vision, creating a poem somewhat apart from both of them, but perhaps more in Pound’s camp.
Today is the second annual Day of Digital Archives, an effort to promote and explain what those of us working in or with digital archives are doing on a daily basis.
I wrestle with explaining this every time I’m asked what I do here. If I carry on too long I risk losing interest; too short or technical an explanation and my job remains obscure – not a good thing. I want my work, and the work in digital archives in general, to be widely understood and appreciated.
I work to ensure long-term and reliable access to the digital records of Mississippi government.
It’s perhaps wordy, but the best I’ve come up with – it describes what you get from my work (long-term access to digital public records of the state government) and the scope of the work without getting into the detailed reality of day-to-day tasks and projects.
So–what is that detailed reality? Here’s a rundown of what I’ve been doing lately:
• Working in Electronic Archives to manage a transition to DSpace for our digital repository. This entails metadata scrubbing (using Google Refine) and normalization to Dublin Core, along with writing import scripts, settling on organizational policies, and server administration.
As an example, we’ve just finished a routine to bundle relatively legacy MARC21 data – both a binary .dat file and XML – with the record in its new home. It’s great to retain this data in the event we overlook a piece of metadata in the migration.
I’m very excited about this project – DSpace will serve as a central store and get us closer to the services we would like to offer users when accessing digital material here.
• Processing born-digital records from state agencies and offices. This entails description, scanning for confidential data, format migrations, and generating an online access point for the material.
• Delivering electronic records training to state and local agency staff — I train both local government employees and state staff on best practices in managing their digital records.
• Managing the department’s Flickr account, where we share scans of our archival photos.
• Sharing duties on the Education Subcommittee of the State Electronic Records Initiative.
• Lately we have been looking into state agency web sites and social media to see what content is being made there that should be preserved. I hope to have more news on this in the near future.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s some indication of daily work.
So this is the sort of thing I do. It’s a mix of technical work – stuff like Unix, Python and Java – and applying best practice in the records and archives fields to the unique circumstances here. It’s a good field to be in – lots of creative problem solving, lots of new technologies and tools in development, and you get to work with lots of smart, earnest people — always a huge plus.
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.
Mississippi Department of Archives and History on Flickr
I’m happy to post that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History now has a Flickr page for our archival material. This is in addition to the Digital Archives we host already, along with numerous other scans scattered about in the catalog which are not exhibited.
I’m optimistic that Flickr will add something important to our online presentations. Along with user feedback in the form of comments and tags, Flickr allows us to more quickly highlight and share material not already exhibited or which exists as a single item outside of a collection. We also have our eye on joining The Commons at Flickr once we’ve managed the account for a while.
Some Thoughts on Flickr
So, it’s been a while since Flickr was the new hotness. Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and a handful of other platforms have established themselves as the preferred way for individuals to share photos. There are as well a few articles describing Yahoo’s mismanagement and costly misunderstanding of Flickr’s value and purpose.
(And yes, Flickr missed a few boats – for instance, amplifying its social network. Check out the vestigial Singleness option for you on your profile: Single, Taken, Open, ‘Rather Not Say’ (distinct from simply not filling in the options at all, of course). Not sorry to see this one go by.)
I remain convinced however that there is simply no better social media platform for a cultural institute to share their photos on than Flickr. Despite some rough years, Flickr still offers the very best space for showcasing this type of material.
- It gives the photos adequate space for descriptive and technical metadata.
- It manages and displays high-resolution photos very well.
- Its grouping mechanism of sets and collections aligns well the archives, museums and libraries.
- Built-in support for Creative Commons licenses and an appropriate license for archival material – No known copyright restrictions.
- Again, The Commons.
And there has been an uptick in activity from the Flickr camp of late – a splendid uploader and organizer built on HTML5 being two of them. Flickr still has immense value.
I am especially interested to see how user contributions turn out. This has been a subject that cultural institutes on Flickr have discussed before – see this post by Larry Cebula and the discussion on Flickr generated from it. The issue discussed in those links is how valuable the user contributions are — given the signal-to-noise ratio of great contributions to unhelpful contributions.
I can’t help but feel that Flickr could benefit from a filtering or ranking system that elevates and highlights valuable comments and lowers or hides less valuable or incorrect contributions — a solution suggested in the aforementioned Flickr thread. Wikipedia does this through editing. Reddit does this through voting. Stack Exchange does this through voting and a point-based reputation system linked to site privileges. All potentially valid ways of emphasizing the good over the not-so-great. Flickr could provide purpose and direction to its social network and the resulting content through systems like these (and finally get the confidence to drop the ‘Singleness’ option on its profile pages).
There are naturally any number of wonderful contributions, and any number of trivial or silly ones. It’s just that ratio that is the deciding factor. As I say, I’m interested and optimistic that we can get a good community going, and I’m really looking forward to more engagement with patrons and interested persons through the platform.
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!