Archival Links

The semester is in full swing, so, instead of something long and drawn out, here’s what I’ve been reading this week.

  • On the delicacy of records: on Saturday, a fire in Brooklyn destroyed more than four million boxes of records from hospitals, New York State courts, and the Administration for Children’s Services. On the same day, in Russia, another fire destroyed more than one million historic documents dating back to the 16th century. The disaster is being called “a cultural Chernobyl.” These disasters bring up an important, urgent point about the way we store our records, emphasized by Parker Higgins, who wrote yesterday: “A library in Moscow and a records facility in NYC are burning right now, and publishers still sue to prohibit book scanning projects.” Disasters will happen, no matter how much we prepare and how properly we store. What can we do about it?
  • This has made all the rounds and then some, but in the New Yorker last week, Jill Lepore had a great piece last week on the Internet Archive. Right now, it’s a disorganized, unsearchable (unless you know exactly what you’re looking for), chaotic mess of information. It’s also innovative and intriguing. The Internet Archive is capturing everything it can: the important, the breaking news, the mundane, the blogs, the LinkedIns, the old arcade games, and everything in between. And that’s great. You won’t find an archivist who doesn’t think it’s a wonderful thing. But there’s so much! So much that it’s unorganized and inaccessible if you’re a researcher. This is the future of the archival profession, right here: an influx of valuable information that we need to organize and preserve. A worthy challenge.
  • On that same note, here’s a story from the New York Times about the importance of appraisal. It’s not just the Internet that can be chaotic and unorganized, it’s physical stuff, too.
  • One more thing out of New York, while we’re at it: Building Inspector. From the site: “The Library is training computers to recognize building shapes and other data on digitized insurance atlases. Via these easy, bite-sized tasks, you can check the computers’ work and capture other valuable information.” It’s a crowd-sourced initiative, and it’s awesome. New York Public Library Labs is a wonderful organization doing really innovative things.
  • Not a link, per sé, but archivist Jarrett M. Drake had a fantastic string of Tweets last weekend related to the Internet Archive. Here’s what he said: “(1) In some ways, capturing the Web is basically taking everyone’s Facebook profile picture: websites are organizations’ best view of themselves. (2) As archivists, we gotta do better than just accept that basic profile pic and roll wit it; get the unpublished, invisible, yet powerful stuff (3) Websites of people and organizations are basically that: a self-curated rendering of their narrative told to reflect well to the public.” He’s dead on, and it speaks to the role of archivists of the future. The Internet allows anyone – anyone! – to tell their story, in any way they’d like. It’s not that this wasn’t possible years ago, because it was: people have been crafting their own histories for as long as they’ve been alive. The difference between the Internet, though, and everything else? The Internet is a platform that publishes these thoughts immediately. Twitter, built-it-yourself websites, WordPress, Facebook. We’re creating documents that reflect who we are and how we want to be seen. More often than not, we’re in complete control. Our LinkedIn profiles don’t reflect our professional failures, because why would they? And why should they? Drake constructs an interesting narrative about our responsibility as archivists: do we take everything at face value – no, no – or, do we dig deeper? (Also: scroll through his feed, and you’ll see that Drake brought up the hilarious, but astute, question of web archiving: are we sure we’re saving everything? What about the cat videos? And the porn? There’s so much porn. As he says: pioneer the first archive of Internet porn, and you’ll have grant money and funded projects until you die.)

And this isn’t a link either, but:

Because I missed the deadline for the Midwest Archives Conference, I submitted a poster proposal for the Society of American Archivists’ Annual Meeting about the forty-year history and the importance of state historical records advisory boards, and what the next forty-years of archival collaboration might look like. Fingers crossed!

And now, back to homework.

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