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Archivists Bridge the Digital Divide at SAA 2013

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Canal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Canal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana. Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

We’re big fans and proponents of face-to-face meetings and conferences a means to explore best practices and share lessons learned within and outside of the digital stewardship community. We can’t attend every event, so that’s why I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to go to the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists, August 11-17 in New Orleans, LA.   The program looks great (and packed) as usual!

I’ll be participating in a session on Friday, August 16 at 9:30am, “Building Better Bridges: Archivists Across the Digital Divide”, with a great line-up of professionals: Rebecca Goldman, Media and Digital Services Librarian, La Salle University; Rachel Lyons, Archivist, and Dolores Hooper, Archivist, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation; Jamie Seemiller, Acquisitions Librarian, Denver Public Library; Audra Eagle Yun, Acting Head, Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine; and Rachel Donahue, Grad Student, University of Maryland. Eira Tansey, Library Associate, Tulane University, is chairing the session and Megan Phillips, Electronic Records Lifecycle Coordinator, NARA, will be moderating.

The session will explore the effects of the digital divide, focusing on the challenges archives face dealing with practical steps to manage born-digital materials, particularly addressing the growing gap in the skills archivists know (or are expected to know) in managing digital archives.

We’ll start out with a series of lightning talks on various topics, such as starting an e-records repository from scratch, managing digital projects and staff in a smaller organization, and discussing educational and outreach opportunities, as examples of solutions archivists and information professional can learn from to address challenges. A moderated discussion will follow to explore with the speakers and audience what are some broader challenges and how the profession can work on solutions to bridge the gap.

2011 Personal Digital Archiving Day Event  at the Library of Congress. Credit: Bill LeFurgy.
2011 Personal Digital Archiving Day Event at the Library of Congress. Credit: Bill LeFurgy.

For my lightning talk contribution to the session, I’ll talk about how outreach and programming opportunities can raise digital preservation awareness at the personal level as a way one way to address the digital divide, within organizations and with the general public, using NDIIPP’s personal digital archiving resources.  We developed these basic tips and guidance aimed at individuals to save their digital materials.  We started holding and participating in events to share our guidance broadly – during National Book Festival and participating ALA’s Preservation Week activities and webinars. But we also recognize that local libraries and archives were in a better position to connect directly with the public and their patrons.  Libraries and archives are, after all, very focused public services and community outreach.  Though public programming and outreach events, archivists and information professionals have the opportunity to empower individuals to manage and preserve their digital information.

Admittedly, outreach and communication opportunities and efforts don’t close all the gaps that exist. What are some of the other challenges we hope to explore in the the session?

Archives of all sized face many resource challenges to address the acquisition of born-digital collections, including having tools, services, workflows and support from IT departments to process collections and experienced or knowledgeable staff to manage digital materials.  To address the latter, organizations routinely hire “digital archivists” with the expectation that all their dilemmas of managing the digital deluge will be solved.  They’ll be able to build a digital archive or repository, train existing staff to manage digital collections, provide researcher and user services, and to take on “other digital duties as assigned” (e.g. promoting collections with social media, creating online exhibits).  But within the archives and information services profession, we know there is need for constant learning and exploring about what the emerging best practices, standards, tools and services are to effectively keep information (analog and digital) accessible over time.  An organization can’t rely on one person to perform modern archivists responsibilities. Just because an archivist with “tech skills” has been hired doesn’t mean all their organizations’ digital archiving and preservation problems are immediately solved.

The session will have plenty of time for discussion, and we’re all really interested in delving deeper into the questions around how we can address acquiring the skills to perform the tasks and responsibilities asked or expected of us — and what some of those solutions might be.  If you have any comments on the session topic that you’d be interested in sharing, I’d love to hear your thoughts below.  You can follow along all the action during the conference on Twitter #saa13 and for this particular session #s301 .

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