Perpetual Access and Digital Preservation at #SAA14

A panel discussion at the SAA 2014 conference. Photo credit: Trevor Owens.

A panel discussion at the SAA 2014 conference. Photo credit: Trevor Owens.

I had the distinct pleasure of moderating the opening plenary session of the Joint Annual Meeting of COSA, NAGARA and SAA in Washington D.C. in early August. The panel was on the “state of access,” and I shared the dais with David Cuillier, an Associate Professor and Director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, as well as the president of the Society of Professional Journalists; and Miriam Nisbet, the Director of the Office of Government Information Services at the National Archives and Records Administration.

The panel was a great opportunity to tease out the spaces between the politics of “open government” and the technologies of “open data” but our time was much too short and we had to end just when the panelists were beginning to get to the juicy stuff.

There were so many more places we could have taken the conversation:

  • Is our government “transparent enough”? Do we get the “open government” we deserve as (sometimes ill-informed) citizens?
  • What is the role of outside organizations in providing enhanced access to government data?
  • What are the potential benefits of reducing the federal government role in making data available?
  • Is there the right balance between voluntary information openness and the need for the Freedom of Information Act?
  • What are the job opportunities for archivists and records managers in the new “open information” environment?
  • Have you seen positive moves towards addressing digital preservation and stewardship issues regarding government information?

I must admit that when I think of “access” and “open information” I’m thinking almost exclusively about digital data because that’s the sandbox I play in. At past SAA conferences I’ve had the feeling that the discussion of digital preservation and stewardship issues was something that happened in the margins. At this year’s meeting those issues definitely moved to the center of the conversation.

Just look at this list of sessions running concurrently during a single hour on Thursday August 14, merely the tip of the iceberg:

There were also a large number of web archiving-related presentations and panels including the SAA Web Archiving Roundtable meeting (with highlights of the upcoming NDSA Web Archiving Survey report), the Archive-IT meetup and very full panels Friday and Saturday.

saa-innovator-owensI was also pleased to see that the work of NDIIPP and the National Digital Stewardship Alliance was getting recognized and used by many of the presenters. There were numerous references to the 2014 National Agenda for Digital Stewardship and the Levels of Preservation work and many NDSA members presenting and in the audience. You’ll find lots more on the digital happenings at SAA on the #SAA14 twitter stream.

We even got the chance to celebrate our own Trevor Owens as the winner of the SAA Archival Innovator award!

The increased focus on digital is great news for the archival profession. Digital stewardship is an issue where our expertise can really be put to good use and where we can have a profound impact. Younger practitioners have recognized this for years and it’s great that the profession itself is finally getting around to it.

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