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Perpetual Access and Digital Preservation at #SAA14

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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.


  1. I’m a volunteer Cd and DVd repairman at the Claymont Library in Delaware and have developed some techniques for restoring items returned by patrons .If you’re interested ,I can send you what I’ve learned.
    I think polishing machines are over-kill when only one spot is the problem.

    I first wash the disk with soap and water and dry with a small towel

    Then run the DVD;s at 8x speed at note the time the picture freezes.
    Then take the ratio of the time to the total time and then use a graph to tell me how far out from the center I should be looking.

    In difficult problems,I would make a guess and put a dab of yellow mustard on the disk and let it dry 1/2 hr. and play it again .Then see how far the new the new freeze is from the original freeze.
    Then wash the mustard off right away.

    I made up some special tools .Take a hockey stick shaped paddle and glue on a special 8000 or 12000 mesh diamond dust paper from “Micro-surface finishing products”
    at and use with water to polish suspected area and then wash the disk again and rerun.

    If I see pixels on the screen ,I then know that the is too deep and had reached the metal film and the disk is not repairable.

    I use the same method on Cd’s by starting though all the songs quickly ,and after an attempted repair, running the disk normally
    through all the songs..

    If you have some bad disks that you have given up on, I’ll be glad to try to repair them.

    I’m a 90 year old retired chemist from Sun Oil, and father of 7,and grandfather to 11 kids.

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