The following is a guest post by Barrie Howard, IT Project Manager at the Library of Congress.
This post is part of a series about digital preservation training inspired by the Library’s Digital Preservation Outreach & Education (DPOE) Program. Today I’ll focus on an exceptional individual, who among other things, hosted one of the DPOE Train-the-Trainer workshops in 2012. This is an interview with Jim Corridan, Indiana Commission on Public Records Director and State Archivist, as well as Council of State Archivists (CoSA) Secretary-Treasurer. In both his roles as a state archivist and a CoSA officer, he supports missions to preserve state government information as a public good.
Barrie: Jim, your tenure as a champion of the DPOE Train-the-trainer Workshop parallels your time as a CoSA Board member in one capacity or another. I’d like to eventually focus on what you’re up to with CoSA, but first can you recount a little about your experience hosting the DPOE Workshop and what kind of impact that had on the participants?
Jim: Indiana was fortunate a number of years ago to be able to sponsor a Midwest DPOE regional training. We had participants from more than 10 states interact and go through the week–long training. The train-the-trainers attendees seemed to enjoy the content and the experience. Hundreds if not thousands of people in the Midwest have now benefited from that one week of training, not to mention the benefit of their institutions.
Barrie: The Workshop that you hosted was supported by funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), right? How did that work, and could other state archives do the same?
Jim: Yes; Indiana received a grant from the State Library using IMLS’s Library Service and Technology Act (LSTA) grant funds to hold the conference. We used the grant funds to cover travel, lodging and some meals, as well as the instructors’ costs. If another state archives has access to LSTA funding, or a state library was interested in hosting a statewide or regional DPOE training, that would be a great use of the funds and likely make a significant contribution to the state of digital preservation in the area.
Barrie: Speaking of IMLS funding and training, CoSA has developed a series of institutes through its State Electronic Records Initiative (SERI) with a focus on digital preservation for state archivists and records managers. Can you tell the readers a little about that project?
Jim: The SERI project began about four years ago to provide state archives staff with resources and training on electronic records management and preservation. It’s been a terrific program that has significantly enhanced, encouraged, and of course, educated the government archives community to move forward in the areas of electronic records.
The SERI Institutes looked at DPOE as one of the main training frameworks in our initial planning, among others to develop the week-long basic and advanced programs. About a third of the states and territories attended the primary class held in Indiana and all the states and territories attended one of the two advanced programs held in Richmond, Virginia and Salt Lake City, Utah. Each institute was followed by monthly webinars. The states are going through a process now, an electronic records program self-assessment, to determine how much progress has been made during the past few years. I think the results will be significant in many areas.
Barrie: So the SERI institutes offer training in both traditional in-person learning environments and distance learning options like webinars? What do you think are the merits and challenges of each approach?
Jim: We all have different learning styles. Personally, I become distracted by email, staff or other things when I’m attending webinars. So for me, in-person training is significantly more useful, and CoSA finds there is tremendous benefit to the networking, sharing and sometimes commiserating over challenges and opportunities involved with e-records training.
When addressing complex topics like digital preservation, it’s better to focus on it, rather than trying to learn remotely at a slow pace. SERI’s preference was to follow the Institutes with webinars to look more deeply at specific tasks or topics once the institutes were completed, which allowed for in-depth training in areas where the group may have needed additional assistance or more detail. The webinars have provided information on various topics, and have provided an opportunity for colleagues to share successes and concerns.
Barrie: You wear many hats, as you also sit on the coordinating committee of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance in addition to your above-mentioned credentials. Given your knowledge and experience, what’s missing from digital preservation education and training today?
Jim: The three biggest challenges facing digital preservation, and specifically education, are resources, awareness and leadership. It’s evident the field lacks the resources to educate, develop, research and implement digital preservation programs. It sometime appears we are challenged as a field with an inability to simply and clearly articulate the opportunities and threats to the national digital memory faced by a lack of training and infrastructure. While some efforts are being made around governance, this is an area ripe for a much broader conversation and engagement by our colleagues in digital preservation.
As far as leadership, the nation has been fortunate to have had the guidance of Laura Campbell and her team at the Library of Congress. As NDSA has matured and the Library of Congress has redefined its mission, NDSA is looking for a new host institution and I suspect that NDSA will take the opportunity to review its mission. Perhaps another respected federal institution could take on the role the Library of Congress had provided as the convener and central hub for digital preservation; but it seems to me a centralized resource provider with broad community input, much like NDSA with its academic, corporate, government and non-profit members would be a good partner and leader.
Barrie: Any advice on developing a skillset for managing digital content you’d like to share with aspiring digital archivists and electronic records managers?
Jim: Four things come to mind when hiring an electronic records employee: 1) technical competence; 2) innovation; 3) flexibility and adaptability; 4) articulate communication skills. Competence stands on its own merits. As for the others–in a resource-poor arena–innovation and flexibility are key factors in success. How can I implement or fix “X” within the existing infrastructure, and how can I make things more efficient and easier?
But perhaps one of the most important factors is written and verbal communication. In a complex field with a technical vocabulary, it is essential to be able to accurately and clearly describe the issues at hand. You will work with IT professionals who for instance will have different definitions from our field for the same words, like “archive.” As you work with administrators, the public and IT staff you will eliminate much difficulty if you can quickly grasp the disconnects and articulate the opportunities at hand. In a developing field, grant writing, presentations and clarity are all going to play a factor in a program’s success. I look forward to the new employees joining the field making significant progress in digital preservation, and to continue the success in preserving the nation’s digital memory.