Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Desk Organization

Desk - Music and Sound Design from Aaron Trinder Film:Motion:Music on Vimeo.

Are you interested, as I am, about how people organize their desks? Filmmaker Aaron Trinder found out for us.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review of Celebrating Research: Rare and Special Collections from the Membership of the Association of Research Libraries

Celebrating Research: Rare and Special Collections from the Membership of the Association of Research Libraries

My review of Celebrating Research: Rare and Special Collections from the Membership of the Association of Research Libraries. Edited by Philip N. Cronenwett, Kevin Osborn, and Samuel A. Streit. (Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, 2007).
Published in Libraries & the Cultural Record, 44(4) 2009.

To commemorate its 75th anniversary, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) published a book displaying a robust array of holdings from 118 member libraries in the United States and Canada. Celebrating Research: Rare and Special Collections from the Membership of the Association of Research Libraries presents richly illustrated and highly readable profiles selected by Philip N. Cronenwett, Special Collections Librarian Emeritus, Dartmouth College Library; Kevin Osborn, Research & Design Ltd.; and Samuel A. Streit, Director for Special Collections, Brown University Library.

In the introduction, Book Collector editor Nicolas Barker recounts ARL’s history and his experience working with many collections in the volume. He commends ARL’s leadership to “grow and develop local assets into a whole that is one of North America’s greatest cultural assets” (25). Special collections “encompass the distinctive, the rare and unique, emerging media, born-digital, digitized materials, uncommon, non-standard, primary, and heritage materials” (5). Their purpose has shifted since ARL’s 1932 founding, notes Barker: “Where once special collections were regarded as the top dressing on the solid cake of main library management, they are now regarded as distinctive signifiers, almost trademarks ... ARL libraries want to be known for their distinctive collections, not by some characteristic shared by every other library” (15). Indeed, the showcased collections are only a sampling of the substantial holdings of research libraries.

Arranged alphabetically by institution name, the two-page profiles include a description of the collection’s acquisition, development, and use, captivating photographs, and a web address. The profiles cover the range of human achievement and experience in the arts, industry, and science. The collections bear evidence of the cultural history of specific groups, including African-Americans (Emory University), Chicanos (University of California, Berkeley), German and Jewish intellectual émigrés (State University of New York, Albany), Italians (University of Wisconsin, Madison), and women (Duke University), among others. A full range of artistic expression is represented, including alternative press (University of Connecticut), comic art (Michigan State University), and New Orleans jazz (Tulane University). The eclectic and unexpected include public health films (National Library of Medicine), human sexuality (Cornell University), and the 19th century spiritualist movement (University of Manitoba).

The collection overview section summarizes the additional special holdings of contributing libraries and contact information. A subject and proper name index completes the volume, to assist in identifying similar collections at different institutions. The collections are also available online and through the volume’s companion website, www.celebratingresearch.com.

As compelling as the collections themselves are their origins from passionate individuals driven to preserve memory. For instance, the University of Alberta’s 2,300 volumes on North and South American aboriginals was collected by Gregory Javitch, a Russian Jew who fled France to Palestine to escape the Nazis, and then immigrated to Canada. His experience created sympathy to the displacement and genocide of indigenous civilizations of the Americas, and he collected rare books about them, which were donated to the university in 1980. Similarly, enthusiastic collector George Harry Beans, a seed company owner, knew no Japanese, yet composed a world-renowned collection of Tokugawa Era maps, held at the University of British Columbia Library. Stories of equally ardent librarians and archivists are also included. For instance, University of California, Irvine, librarian, Anne Frank founded and almost single-handedly nourished the school’s Southeast Asian Archive during her 40-year tenure. Donald G. Wilson, a librarian at University of California, Riverside, acquired—under initial ridicule—the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature, the largest publicly accessible collection in its field. Exuberant collectors can also become curators, in the case of Professor Ruth M. Baldwin. The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature at the University of Florida Libraries began as a birthday gift from her parents and grew to 100,000 children’s books published between 1668 to the present; Baldwin became its curator in 1977.

Celebrating Research: Rare and Special Collections from the Membership of the Association of Research Libraries represents a spectrum of collections from antediluvian items to the future of knowledge preservation such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s DSpace@MIT, a digital research repository, and Wayne State University’s Digital Dress: 200 Years of Urban Style, a digital image collection of American and European garments. The volume, highlighting the exceptional collections of North American research libraries supporting current and future scholarship needs, is recommended for academic and public libraries and museums.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is the biggest unsolved issue for digital preservation?

The biggest unsolved issue for digital preservation is advocating and enforcing better ways that it continues throughout the lifespan of a digital document. Preservation should not become an “add-on” feature for born- or made- digital items.

As Lavoie and Dempsey point out, digital preservation has been treated as a solitary, technical problem, rather than an issue of digital stewardship. They write, “…digital preservation is not an isolated process, but instead, one component of a broad aggregation of interconnected services, policies, and stakeholders which together constitute a digital information environment.” The authors believe the preservation is not about rescuing endangered materials, but about managing digital items from their creation to assure their future. Digital preservation is a social, cultural, legal, and economic process, not just a technical one.

Conway offers a similar view of preservation when he writes that, “in the digital world, preservation is the creation of digital products worth maintaining over time.” In breaking down that sentence, he notes that long-term preservation must begin at system design. In the context of digital conversion, preservation must not be a process delayed until technical solutions are developed. Instead, items that have enduring information value must be selected for preservation.

Digital stewardship comes into play because there must be strong relationships between preservation purposes of the digital product, the characteristics of source materials being converted, and the capabilities of scanning technologies available. Responsible custody of information must be present throughout the lifecycle, maintaining over time the value of the document.

Rosenthal et al. defines the goal of a digital preservation system is to make information “remain accessible to users over a long period of time.” They point out that problems stem from the fact that the time that a digital item should still be accessible will outlive computer equipment, systems, and formats.

In their summary of threats and strategies, the authors note that problems do not stem from purely technical obsolesce or failure. Natural disasters, attacks from outside and inside the system also affect preservation. Budgetary and organization problems also affect how information in digital form also influences preservation. Digital preservation costs money, especially compared to physical preservation; compare the astronomical costs of power, cooling, bandwidth, and system administration of preserving digital film as compared to preserving physical film in cold storage. Again, digital preservation must be envisioned as a strategy to create holistic, flexible systems that will continue to keep a digital item usable. Digital preservation is a commitment for the long haul, cooperatively shared by stakeholders.

Works Cited

Conway, P. “Overview: Rationale for Digitization and Preservation,” in Handbook for
Digital Projects: A Management Tool for Preservation and Access. 2003. http://nedcc.org/oldnedccsite/digital/ii.htm

Lavoie, B. and Dempsey, L., “Thirteen Ways of Looking at … Digital Preservation,” D-Lib Magazine 10:7/8 (July/August 2004). http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july04/lavoie/07lavoie.html

Rosenthal, D. et al., “Requirements for Digital Preservation Systems,” D-Lib Magazine, 11:11 (November 2005). http://www.dlib.org/dlib/november05/rosenthal/11rosenthal.html

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review of Navigating Legal Issues in Archives

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives

My review of Navigating Legal Issues in Archives by Menzi L. Behrnd-Klodt (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008).
Published in Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(3), 2009.

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives is an updated version of 1985’s Archives and Manuscripts: Law from the Society of American Archivists’ Basic Manual series. Since the earlier volume’s publication, laws have changed significantly and society has become increasingly litigious. Attorney and archivist Menzi Behrnd-Klodt created a new handbook for an intended audience of “archival professionals, including employees, consultants, and volunteers in public and private institutions; in business/corporate, religious, academic/scholarly, historical society, museum, and governmental settings; those who spend their professional lives among archival colleagues, and those who are ‘lone arrangers’” (v). In other words, anyone who works with records of enduring value will find this book useful at all stages of their career.

Aiming to provide a volume to serve archivists for decades, Behrnd-Klodt provided general legal information in succinct chapters. Divided into four sections by theme, the volume is to be “dipped into” when archivists need “complex issues … explained simply” (vi). The first section sets the legal framework for the rest of the book, explaining policies and procedures, working effectively with counsel, and explaining legal processes and civil litigation. Section 2 explores issues of acquisition and ownership, including transfer, appraisal, loans, abandoned materials, tax issues, and risk management. The third section—the largest—deals with administration and access to the archives, privacy, and confidentiality, as well as implications of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Family and Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and cultural property laws. The final section provides advice on copyright and intellectual property law.

The chapters stand alone and are accessible as need and time permits, which enhances the book’s value as a source of timely advice flexible enough in format to serve as a ready reference book. Each chapter explains why the content is important and who will find it most useful, allowing the busy professional to select chapters relevant to their interests. For instance, laws regulate access to legal, educational, medical, public, and presidential records; those who do not work with these records may want to skim or skip chapters pertaining to them. Of particular interest to most archivists, especially in smaller institutions in which records programs are part of their duties, is the chapter on legal issues of records and information management. Also included are sample legal documents and forms, such as donor, deaccession, and loan agreements; important statues; a copyright term chart; and an extensive notes section.

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives
offers vital, laconic information for the industrious archivist seeking informed discussions and practical recommendations for the myriad legal issues abounding in an increasingly complex information age. This reference book of legal information through the prism of archival management deserves a rightful place on the bookshelves of all archivists.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reappraisal and Deaccessioning: A Literature Review Part 5 of 5

This post is part of a series on a literature review of reappraisal and deaccessioning in archival collections. Click on a link below to read further:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Whatever the circumstances, reappraisal and deaccessioning are useful tools for preserving records of enduring value when used strategically rather than on a case-by-case basis. Reappraisal and deaccessioning should be “public and transparent … as normal a part of standard archives administration as cataloging and reference” (Greene, p. 8). Wojcik noted that reappraisal and deaccessioning guidelines built trust with state agencies to transfer records to the State Archives of Michigan. Knies’ project was touted to stakeholders as a way to reduce costs, although it was one of many benefits. Greene observed that donors supported deaccessioning as a tool to improve access for researchers using their records.

The articles presented reappraisal and deaccessioning projects as beneficial to archives. The goals of the projects were to make deaccessioning consistent across all collections; construct better guidelines for acquisitions, appraisal, reappraisals, and deaccessioning; achieve greater intellectual and physical control over the records; and understand why records were preserved. Materials of marginal value are deaccessioned before valuable time is invested in processing them. Archivists may then concentrate their efforts solely on records with confirmed archival value. Knies was the only author to review the success of the project after its completion. Seven years later, he notes that paper records are no longer a problem as they once were because of the growth of technology. The larger problem we face is a decline in the quality of records being captured for transfer, as well as missing documentation that exists primarily in electronic form. However, this is another issue for the professional literature to debate.

Works Cited

American Association of Museums. (1994). Code of Ethics for Museums. (Washington, DC: American Association of Museums).

Ericson, T. (1991) ‘At the rim of creative dissatisfaction’: Archivists and acquisitions development. Archivaria, 33, 66-77.

Greene, M. A. (2006). I’ve deaccessioned and lived to tell about it: Confessions of an unrepentant reappraiser. Archival Issues, 30(1), 7-22.

Ham, F. G. (1984). Archival choices: Managing the historical record in the age of abundance,” American Archivist, 47(1), 11-22.

Knies, H. M. (2006). Reappraising and reaccessioning Wisconsin state government records: An agency-wide approach. Archival Issues, 30(1), 35-43.

Pearce-Moses, R. (2005). A glossary of archival and records terminology. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists) Retrieved February 5, 2009, from Society of American Archivists Web site: http://www.archivists.org/glossary/index.asp

Wojcik, C. (2002). Appraisal, reappraisal, and deaccessioning. Archival Issues, 27(2), 151-160.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reappraisal and Deaccessioning: A Literature Review Part 4 of 5

This post is part of a series on a literature review of reappraisal and deaccessioning in archival collections. Click on a link below to read further:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5

Interestingly enough, space seems to be the catalyst for reluctant archivists to reappraise, as in the case of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which outgrew its repository. Since the 1950s, the Wisconsin state government became a “profusion of regulatory functions, the concurrent proliferation of bureaucratic systems, and the resultant explosion of records” (p. 36). Knies describes how the collection increased based on appraisal policies that were reevaluated during reappraisal. The “Wisconsin Way” of accessioning public records while also soliciting manuscripts with “expansive and sometimes even exhaustive” documentation dates from the mid-nineteenth century (p. 37). He writes,
One finds appraisals in the archival case files describing both the content and context of records series and assigning values for acquisitions decisions that derive from the larger collecting interests of the Historical Society’s manuscripts holdings and its North American history library. For example, these [appraisal values give] primary significance to the records’ contribution to potential researchers’ understanding of topics of health, welfare, economics, crime and punishment, social mores and others. Only secondarily would the appraisal credit the importance of how the records defined the original regulatory function (p. 38).
Additionally, the public record appraisal process evaluated “individual series one at time, largely out of context, and without any supporting records management structure” (p. 37).

Similarly, Wojcik describes factors—a larger facility, professional staff increase, and vague appraisal criteria—that contributed to the considerable backlog at the State Archives of Michigan. Archivists accessioned records that were not scheduled for preservation due to poor quality retention and disposal schedules developed by records management services. Archivists also accessioned anything with potential value, planning to weed them during processing.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reappraisal and Deaccessioning: A Literature Review Part 3 of 5

This post is part of a series on a literature review of reappraisal and deaccessioning in archival collections. Click on a link below to read further:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5

The articles advised that a strategic reappraisal and deaccessioning plan was needed to avoid the possibility of negative reactions from resource allocators, peer institutions, donors, researchers, and colleagues. Reappraisal and deaccessioning are controversial because the archives symbolize permanence, and archivists view themselves as impartial guardians of the past, which are both illusions. Greene writes, “We have inadvertently weakened our repositories and our professional standing by our unwillingness and lack of action,” and the profession is difficult “not because we are good at saving things, but because we are able and willing to decide what does not get saved” (p. 8, 11).

He also notes that the professional literature rarely discusses reappraisal and deaccessioning. For instance, Terry Cook’s 2000 appraisal bibliography reports that 3.5 percent of the listings were about these topics. Some articles inadvertently discuss it, such as Timothy Ericson’s 1991 article “‘At the Rim of Creative Dissatisfaction’: Archivists and Acquisitions Development,” which urges archivists to define “collecting focus” for better acquisitions (p. 66). Wojcik used reappraisal strategies to define why records were preserved (the “collecting focus”) at the State Archives of Michigan.

Greene believes that archivists avoid reappraisal because reconsidering past decisions may dramatically change their collections. Wojcik reports fiery debates among her own colleagues regarding reevaluation for this reason. She writes, “The goal of these projects was not to influence a radical shift in the State Archives’ collecting practices (the scope and purpose of the collection), but to document why certain records were preserved and others were not” (p. 154). Additionally, the staff questioned reevaluating past decisions, when the backlog was believed to contain many records of marginal value. Greene writes,
Gerry Ham, who issued a famous jeremiad against archivist becoming “nothing more than a weathervane moved by the changing winds of historiography,” a decade later embraced reappraisal and deaccessioning as a “creative and sophisticated” act “that will permit holdings to be refined and strengthened. It allows archivists to replace records of lesser value with collections of more significance, and it prevents the imposition of imperfect and incomplete decisions of the past on the future.” (Ham, p. 13, as cited in Greene, p. 9).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reappraisal and Deaccessioning: A Literature Review Part 2 of 5

This post is part of a series on a literature review of reappraisal and deaccessioning in archival collections. Click on a link below to read further:

Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

In “I’ve Deaccessioned and Lived to Tell about It: Confessions of an Unrepentant Reappraiser,” Mark A. Greene discusses how the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming regularly performs reappraisal and deaccessioning based on comprehensive analysis of major collecting areas. Greene reports that 60 percent of deaccessioned records were placed at other repositories, while 20 percent were returned to donors (p. 11).

Caryn Wojcik explores reappraising government record backlogs at the State Archives of Michigan in “Appraisal, Reappraisal, and Deaccessioning.” The archivists ranked government agencies by their potential to produce archival records, similar to the Minnesota Method of appraising modern business records. They constructed an appraisal mission statement, criteria, mechanics, and methodology, which they applied against the backlog.

In “Reappraising and Reaccessioning Wisconsin State Government Records: An Agency-wide Approach,” Helmut M. Knies discusses a four-year project to reduce Wisconsin Historical Society’s collection by 40 percent. The archivists approached the records by agency, rather than by series, assuring that the project “eliminated the records of no single agency in toto, and as a general practice deaccessioned entire series only rarely” (p. 36). Knies describes the “almost archaeological quality” of constructing a “genealogy” the agencies in the context of their antecedents, related agencies, and administrative and regulatory functions (p. 36, 39).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reappraisal and Deaccessioning: A Literature Review Part 1 of 5

This post is part of a series on a literature review of reappraisal and deaccessioning in archival collections. Click on a link below to read further:

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

This literature review examines reappraisal and deaccessioning as discussed in three Archival Issues articles about multi-year projects conducted at large institutions. After describing the projects, I offer a critical assessment, exploring reappraisal and deaccessioning experiences that can better inform archivists considering such undertakings.

A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology defines reappraisal as “the process of identifying materials that no longer merit preservation and that are candidates for deaccessioning” due to flawed original appraising, collection policy modifications, or changes in the records’ perceived value (Pearce-Moses). The glossary defines deaccessioning as “the process by which an archives, museum, or library permanently removes accessioned materials from its holdings.” These records may be returned to donors, transferred to other institutions, or destroyed.

Reappraisal may lead to deaccessioning, but not always. Conversely, deaccessioning often results from reappraisal, as well as other reasons. Deaccessioning is not weeding, or the removal of unwanted documents during processing; rather, it removes entire series, collections, or record groups from a repository.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review of M-libraries: Libraries on the Move to Provide Virtual Access

M-libraries: Libraries on the Move to Provide Virtual Access

My review of M-libraries: Libraries on the Move to Provide Virtual Access. Edited by Gill Needham and Mohamed Ally. (London: Facet, 2008).
Published in New Library World, 110(5/6), 2009.

Mobile devices are getting smaller and more powerful as everyday tools, even in the developing world. M-Libraries: Libraries on the Move to Provide Virtual Access, based on the 2007 First International M-Libraries Conference at the Open University (OU), United Kingdom, explores how mobile technologies have revolutionized information provision and services. With delegates from 26 countries, the conference examined how research, education, and recreation have been revolutionized by the global adoption and growth of mobile devices. To meet contemporary information needs, librarians and educators must design and deliver information on mobile phones, PDAs, palmtop computers, smartphones, and other devices. Editors Gil Needham, Head of Strategic and Service Development at the OU Library, and Mohamed Ally, Director of the Centre for Distance Education, Athabasca University (AU), Canada, emphasize the importance of developing mobile libraries (“m-libraries”) in an evolving information landscape.

Traditional libraries combined place, people, and services, vertically integrated around collections. A networked environment, however, only provides services. In the foreword, Lorcan Dempsey, OCLC’s Vice President and Chief Strategist, notes that, “The position of the library as a functionally integrated, discrete presence, whether on the web or as a physical place, becomes diffused through various manifestations (a physical space to meet, a toolbar, a set of services in the course management system, a Facebook application, a set of RSS feeds, office hours in a school or department, and so on)” (xxviii). Anytime availability challenges libraries to provide services without diluting core values of universal, equitable information access.

Moving from the general to the specific, the book is divided into four sections. Part 1 examines the changing landscapes of mobile technology and libraries in a networked society. The second part explores technology and the development of mobile information delivery. M-library initiatives, innovations, and challenges are examined in Part 3. The final part presents case studies of mobile technologies in libraries around the world.

In “Libraries in a Networked Society,” John Naughton, Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology, OU, examines media theorist Neil Postman’s theory that communication change creates cultural change. The ubiquitous Internet has changed competencies and expectations in knowledge construction and collaboration that are only just beginning to be understood. An information literacy gap has grown between those who have matured with the Internet and information professionals raised with earlier technologies. In a networked environment, librarians are no longer intermediaries between patrons and services, and they must keep pace with mobile technologies to remain relevant.

In “An Effective Mobile-Friendly Digital Library to Support Mobile Learners,” Yang Cao et al. discuss how distance education has shifted to mobile learning. The authors write, “Digital libraries delivered through mobile devices could offer increased flexibility in terms of access and forms of content; increased interaction between students, instructors and tutors; and increased hands-on learning opportunities” (109). The authors discuss how AU library systems have accommodated many devices through template-designed dynamic pages, rather than redesigned pages for every new device.

In “Open Library in Your Pocket—Services to Meet the Needs of On- and Off-
Campus Users,” Hassan Sheikh et al. discuss how OU has adapted mobile technology to deliver specialized services and content, optimized to render on smaller devices. Creating flexible, suitable materials and just in time applications for mobile users is challenging because of their unique requirements.

Mobile technology’s biggest impact will be to increase the level of education in the developing world. Mobile devices bridge the digital divide, providing educational opportunities to economically, socially, or geographically remote or disadvantaged areas. Case studies explore teacher education in sub-Saharan Africa, mobile SMS and OPAC delivery at the University of South Africa, and information access for community-based health workers.

The conclusion explores the conference participants’ opinions on the future role of libraries, technology, content, and personalization. This section could have been improved with more summation and fewer direct quotes. Throughout the book, more illustrations of information presentation on mobile devices would have been informative, especially in the case study chapters.

M-Libraries: Libraries on the Move to Provide Virtual Access offers a compelling mix of theory and practice, assisting libraries to create information systems that keep pace with technology and patrons on the move. Information professionals seeking strategies to improve access for itinerant or remote patrons would benefit from reading this volume.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Records Schedulng

Archival management, as a field onto itself, originated in the 1930s with the establishment of the National Archives and the Society for American Archivists, as well as the Historical Records Survey (HRS) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The subsequent involvement of records management as a specialized business-oriented enterprise occurred in the 1950s. The expanse of governmental activity and its subsequent records spurred a need to reduce the quantity of records while retaining the quality of records of enduring value.

Records scheduling identifies and describes records, usually at the series level, and provides information on their retention periods, which differ depending on their nature and origination. Records scheduling provides mandatory instructions for disposition, which may include the transfer of permanent records to an archives or the destruction of temporary records. Archives acquire records after their initial purpose—Schellenberg’s “primary values”—is complete. Records are retained because of their continuing informational, evidential, and intrinsic values.

Both archivists and records managers share the primary tasks of the efficient, systematic arrangement, description, and preservation of documents for future retrieval and reference. The professions of archives and records management meet at records scheduling, because consistent standards for transfer of records from an organization to an archives create better, representative collections. Archivists have discovered that traditional or analog-based records scheduling and accessioning methods have not proved effective with born digital records. A current challenge in archives and records management is the development of new skills to facilitate the transfer of electronic files and to assess file format longevity and authenticity.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is Appraisal a Science? Part 2 of 2

Eastwood (1993) agrees with the mediatory role of archivists, stating that, “Archivists do not act as historians. Archivists do act as students of the originary nature of archives in order to find ways to protect the evidence of human action. Archivists properly leave questions of the meaning of the intelligence or information communicated by the archival document to posterity to investigate” (243-4). Eastwood sharply criticizes archival theorist Brien Brothman (1991), and others who think like him, for statements, such as, “archival practice, in other words, remains an art” Brothman believes that archivists act like historians, determining history when processing records. Eastwood disagrees, stating, “The archivist is not a processor of information, as Brothman suggests, but a keeper and protector of the integrity of evidence and a mediator of the many interests wrested in the positive act of its continuing preservation” (237). He writes further, “The purpose of the archivist, and therefore of the social role of archival institutions, is to preserve the integrity of archival documents as faithful and trustworthy evidence of the actions from which they originated” (237).

These articles approached appraisal theory and methodology from many angles, while trying to answer the bigger question of defining the role of archivists. The common thread between the readings is that archivists act as mediators between creators and users. Although appraisal is not a science, a methodology that reflects current best practices yet is appropriate for the repository is needed in order to preserve historical documentation.

Appraisal theory and methodology seems to be debated in professional literature more than any other archival process. By reading some of the well-known articles on the subject, I can begin to get a better understanding of this important theoretical practice.

Works Consulted

Brothman, B. (1991). Orders of value: Probing the theoretical terms of archival practice. Archivaria, 32, 78-100.

Craig, B. (2004). Practising appraisal–common grounds and common problems. In Archival Appraisal: Theory and Practice (81-109). New York: K.G. Sauer.

Duranti, L. (1994). The concept of appraisal and archival theory. American Archivist, 57, 328-344.

Eastwood, T. (1993). Nailing a little jelly to the wall of archival studies. Archivaria,35, 232-252.

Ham, F. G. (1984). Archival choices: Managing the historical record in an age of abundance. American Archivist, 47, 12-29.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review of Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America

Women's Roles in Seventeenth-Century America

My review of Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America by Merril D. Smith (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008).
Published in ARBAonline, August 2009.

In Women’s Roles in Seventeenth-Century America, independent scholar Merril D. Smith examines how colonial beliefs about women affected their lives and demonstrates how significant women were in shaping the world around them. Smith considers the lives of white, African, and Native American women between 1600 and 1700 in the British North American colonies. She observes that while the phrase “women’s roles” connotes static responsibilities, in reality, women’s roles were fluid and overlapping in a time of change, conflict, and confusion in the Western world. As wives and mothers, women created families and preserved the social order, while being impacted by revolutions in political, religious, and scientific thought.

Readers will find the narrative chapters scholarly yet accessible, interleaved with illustrations and primary source excerpts. Historically well-known women, such as Puritans Anne Hutchinson and Anne Bradstreet, Quaker Mary Dyer, Indian captive Hannah Duston, and free black landowner Mary Johnson, are discussed, as well as the lives of everyday women recorded in court papers, ship records, church minutes, diaries, and letters. Popular culture sources, such as advice books and ballads, provide indications of gender perceptions during this period.

Chapters elucidate women’s importance in the family, law, immigration, work, religion, war, education, literature, and recreation, and a chronology and selected bibliography accompany the text. This volume is part of Greenwood’s Women’s Roles through History series, which impetus was the excellent reference Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilizations (ARBA 2000). It is highly recommended for high schools with strong history or women’s studies programs.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is Appraisal a Science? Part 1 of 2

Ham (1984) discusses problems with the age of abundance when administrating modern records, such as bulk, redundancy, and impermanence. The growing preservation demands of modern records coupled with the sacrifices made by pursuing less effective alternatives, Ham argues convincingly, require archivists to ensure optimal use is made of scarce resources through effective planning and evaluation of archival options. Ham cites six important elements in archival collections management—interinstitutional cooperation, documented application of appraisal procedures, de-accessioning, pre-archival control, record-volume reduction, and analysis and planning—which he maintains, while by no means all-inclusive, will, if applied judiciously, rationalize and streamline archival acquisition and appraisal. He states that archivists need to create practices that work for their repositories, rather than following past practices blindly.

Craig (2004) agrees with site-specific practices, as she discusses the history and uses of macro-appraisal, documentation strategy, and the Minnesota method. She compares the three types of appraisal and seeks common elements between strategies. She also stresses the need to create appraisal policies by committees, so that holdings cannot be skewed by an individual’s viewpoint.

Duranti (1994) offers a theoretical approach to appraisal, rather than methodological or practical one. She asks, “Should appraisal be made an integral and necessary component of archival science and, as such determine a revision of all its accepted methods and practices?” (330). She examines concepts of perpetual memory and public faith, ideas that originated from Roman law, and states that archivists are mediators between creators and users. Duranti follows the tradition set down by Jenkinson: the archivists’ primary duty is to preserve the evidentiary nature of the archives, known as the “moral defense of the archives” (337). Archivists would betray their primary responsibility “if [they] did not try to preserve the societal archive in its integrity, with its characteristics intact, and do so impartially…and as objectively as…possible” (343). For Duranti, archivists are not documenters, interpreters, or judges of societal deeds because they have “a responsibility to future generations of letting them…judge…society on the basis of the documents it produced” (343).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Does Archival Selection Shape History? Part 2 of 2

Kaplan (2000) examines the role of archives and archivists with identity, because archivists preserve “the props with which notions of identity are built. In turn, notions of identity are confirmed and justified as historical documents validate their authority” (126). She traces the roots of the American Jewish Historical Society, founded by a diverse group of American Jews, with a common purpose to collect records to show their patriotism and value to American society. We are lucky enough to have the stenographic record of their founding meeting. Kaplan writes, “The archival record doesn’t just happen; it is created by individuals and organizations, and used, in turn to support their values and missions, all of which comprises a process that is certainly not politically and culturally neutral” (147).

Sauer (2001) reports on a survey of 80 manuscript repositories to see if they have collection development policies or cooperative collecting activities. She wanted to demonstrate the benefits of using both and to discover why some repositories did neither. She writes, “Although based on a small sample, the survey results clearly demonstrate the usefulness of written collection development policies (especially in dealing with one of the most unpredictable and untamable forces in archival collecting—donors), while engaging in cooperative collecting understandings was shown to increase the degree to which referrals for collections are made to, or received from, other repositories” (331).

Although the phrase “collection development” (and perhaps some of the theory) originated from libraries, the concept is important for archives because it guides acquisitions and the scope of the collections.

I admired how Phillips applied collection development concepts from library science to the archives, especially examining the present strengths of the collection, present collecting level, present identified weaknesses, and desired level of collecting to meet program needs.

Works Cited

Endelman, J. E. (1987). Looking backward to plan for the future: Collection analysis for the manuscript repositories. American Archivist. 50, 340-355.

Kaplan, E. (2000). We are what we collect, we collect what we are: Archives and the construction of identity. American Archivist. 65, 126-151.

Phillips, F. (1984). Developing collecting policies for manuscript collections. American Archivist. 47, 30-41.

Sauer, C. K. (2001). Doing the best we can?: The use of collection development policies and cooperative collecting activities at manuscript repositories. American Archivist. 64, 308-349.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review of Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions

Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions

My review of Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions. Edited by David Nicholas and Ian Rowlands (London: Facet, 2008).
Published in New Library World, 110(3/4) 2009.

In Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions, editors David Nicholas and Ian Rowlands, both from the School of Library, Archive, and Information Studies, University College London, create a manifesto for survival in a “ubiquitous information environment, where information professionals and knowledge providers are no longer the dominant players nor, indeed, the supplier of first choice” (5). An international group of contributors discusses how the Internet’s massive information access has affected information professionals and how they must respond to remain viable. Topics include digital consumers in the information marketplace, libraries in the digital age, information consumption trends, and the psychology and behaviors of digital consumers with a special emphasis on Generation Y.

The authors consist of members of the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER), University College London, including Maggie Fieldhouse, Paul Huntington, and Peter Williams, and their associates: Tom Dobrowolski of Warsaw University, Hamid R. Jamali of Tarbiat Moallem University in Tehran, Iran, and Richard Withey, former global director of interactive media for Independent News and Media.

The editors specifically employ the term “digital consumers” because all information users “…are fundamentally consumers, and learn their habits in the wider marketplace—a whole new level of expectation is being established through instant access, downloadability, the ability to time-shift consumption and involvement in the creative process” (30). Online shopping has so significantly affected how information is utilized that consumers have started to demand that information be presented similarly to online stores. Given the phenomenal success of Amazon, why don’t more library catalogs look and perform like the online giant?

In the introductory chapter, Dobrowolski, Nicholas, Rowlands, and Withey write, “Because the internet is an encyclopedic, multi-purpose platform that people use, rather like a superstore, to obtain a whole range of things…it is now almost impossible to say what information is and what it is not, what is information seeking and what is not” (1). The boundaries between information professionals are also becoming less defined, and traditional gatekeepers of information are no longer needed as digital consumers undertake information-seeking work themselves. The essayists warn, “Disintermediation has triggered an information-seeking frenzy on a truly massive scale” (5). The absence of information professionals to vet sources along with a lack of information literacy skills creates an environment of information overload.

In “The ‘Google Generation’—Myths and Realities About Young People’s Digital Information Behaviour,” Fieldhouse, Rowlands, and Williams cite that increased technology has not improved information retrieval or evaluation skills. The authors find that young people are not more digitally savvy than older people. Information literacy throughout school may relieve this problem, but for many consumers, “convenience and user satisfaction will triumph, even over content, any day of the week” (214). Consumers will satisfice, a portmanteau of “satisfy” and “suffice,” rather than search for an optimal solution. The authors add, “What we know currently about the information-seeking behaviour of today’s young people and how their practices may impact on the role of information providers and the delivery mechanisms they put in place” (159).

A pivotal chapter, “The Information-Seeking Behaviour of the Digital Consumer: Case Study—the Virtual Scholar” by Dobrowolski, Huntington, Jamali, and Nicholas, is based on the 2001-2008 Virtual Scholar research program conducted by University College London’s CIBER group. Based upon eight years of deep log analysis techniques, the researchers gauged user satisfaction and information-seeking outcomes. The team analyzed the number of page views, downloads, journals used, repeat visits, and sessions of research; time spent viewing a page and in a session; content and format type; site penetration; and searching style. The study focused on “emergent, strategic digital information communities” and found that digital scholars act more like online shoppers and characterized their information seeking activities as “frenetic, promiscuous, volatile, and viewing in nature” (114). They found that users tend to enter search terms into Google, jump around a variety of sites, scan content and abstract pages, and leave. This contrasts established literature on information seeking. For instance, the study showed “bouncing,” a form of behavior where users view only one or two pages of a site, never to return again, which may be the result of poor information literary skills and lazy searching by users and poor content and design from content providers. As content choice and routes for finding content increase, bouncing will increase as well.

Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Professions provokes information professionals, especially librarians, to change their mindset regarding new information-seeking behaviors. The last chapter ends with the stimulating statement: “…never forget that [digital consumers] have choice, remember that we are all part of a much bigger information universe now…the information community must stop thinking that it knows best, otherwise it will be in danger of becoming irrelevant. The consumer knows best” (216). Knowledge workers should respond to this book as a call to action if they want to stay germane and adapt to the evolving digital environment of information production, categorization, management, distribution, and consumption.

Does Archival Selection Shape History? Part 1 of 2

Collection development and accessioning interests me because it is the starting point of all archival collections. I was also surprised that many institutions do not have collection policies, as noted in Sauer (2001), even though they could create drafts of their broad scope.

Sauer (2001) notes eloquently, “Written collection development policies are advocated as a way to ensure that collections have coherent and well-defined focus, while cooperative collecting practices are seen as a way to ensure that related materials are not scattered among far-flung repositories and that repositories’ scarce resources are not needlessly squandered on unnecessary competitiveness for collections” (308).

The archival profession has advanced enough that archivists have transitioned from collecting everything to choosing what to collect, given the abundance of 20th century materials. Archival selection shapes history because diplomatic choices must be made to represent the historical record.

Phillips (1984) notes collection policies seek to “eliminate future problems, lessen competition, and provide an avenue for deaccessioning,” and edits the ALA’s “Guidelines for the Formulation of Collection Development Policies” to use with manuscript collections (30). Phillips (1984) remarks that an archives acts unethically when the collecting policy is so vast that papers cannot be processed in a timely manner, effectively blocking them from research.

Endelman (1987) writes, “Use of the collection analysis methodology takes archivists away from their traditional role as custodians of the past and moves them toward a more active one as shapers of the historical record” (353). She reflects on collection analysis at Minnesota Historical Society, Sate Historical Society of Wisconsin, and Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. The studies revealed that even when archivists believed subjects were adequately covered, they were not. She mentions SAMDOK, a contemporary documentation program that led to a coordinated effort of all Swedish history museums to collect material representing the full spectrum of their national identity, which could be replicated in regional repositories in the United States.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review of Managing Congressional Collections

Managing Congressional Collections

My review of Managing Congressional Collections by Cynthia Pease Miller. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008).
Published in Metropolitan Archivist, Summer 2009.

Managing Congressional Collections, a project of SAA’s Congressional Papers Roundtable funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, assists archivists who preserve the manuscripts of members of Congress. A senator generates approximately 100 boxes of archival material a year. These papers are historically significant, yet are often underused and poorly understood by researchers and repositories. Holding “tremendous, and often untapped, historic value,” congressional collections simultaneously document national, regional, and local public policy issues, displaying complex relationships between senators, representatives, and the people they serve (2).

Author Cynthia Pease Miller, former assistant of the House of Representatives, staff archivist for three senators and a Senate committee, and founding member of SAA’s Congressional Papers Roundtable, steers readers from acquisition to outreach. Chapters also focus on administration, transfer, processing, and reference. She offers advice on calculating space, personnel, and budgets; offers ideas for sustainability and external funding sources; and proposes cost-saving strategies. She also discusses access issues regarding classified, declassified, and reclassified documents.

Appendices include a chronology of advances in managing congressional collections, network information, a sample deed of gift, a congressional office staff list, guidelines for file disposition, frequently asked questions, and a bibliography.

The manual’s publication is well timed in an election year and after Congress’ resolution urging members to save their papers for public use. Beginning with the establishment of a Historical Office in the Senate in 1975, scholars, librarians, archivists, and administrators have advocated improving the management and use of these records of enduring value. House Concurrent Resolution 307, included in the volume, was passed by the House on March 5, 2008 and the Senate on June 20th. The resolution states that congressional papers should be properly maintained; that each member should take necessary measures to manage and preserve their papers; and that they should be encouraged to donate their papers with a research institution that is properly equipped to preserve them and to make them available for use. While the resolution does not define the content or scope of the papers, it states the members’ belief in the manuscripts’ value “as indispensable sources for the study of American representative democracy” and in the importance of preserving documentary evidence that results from national service.

Managing Congressional Collections benefits all archivists, who encounter in their collections similar difficulties that congressional manuscripts present, as they “epitomize every management problem associated with twentieth and twenty-first century records,” including high profiles, elevated donor expectations, significant costs, and obstacles to access (5). Congressional papers are the fabric of our democracy, the primary sources of our nation’s history. As archivists, we must rise to the challenge of preserving and presenting congressional documentation.

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 6 of 6

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Pitti, D. (2005). Technology and the transformation of archival description. Journal of Archival Organization 3(2/3), 9-22.

Pitti, Associate Director, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia, suggests liberating archival description from the limits of traditional media through technology by integrating the functional strengths of markup and database technologies. Traditional archival description has employed a “single records-oriented apparatus,” such as the finding aid, which describes all records with a common creator, which can be complicated for mixed-provenance records. Pitti notes that by developing semantics and structures for records and their complex interrelations, flexible, dynamic, and sustainable descriptive systems can be created which are more useful than traditional finding aids.

Yeo, G. (2008). Custodial history, provenance, and the description of personal records. Libraries & the Cultural Record 44(1), 50-64.

Yeo, Lecturer, Department of Information Studies, University College London, argues that traditional methods of description do not capture the complex provenance of personal papers, such as those of Sir Richard Fanshaw (1608-66). Archivists need to reinterpret traditional binary distinctions between “organic” fonds and “artificial” collections with more complex relationships of the records; fonds are groups determined by context of creation, while collection is determined by custodianship. To assess the challenges of description, Yeo surveyed 120 description projects at 46 UK archival institutions by University College London graduate students from 2003 to 2007. He found that their provenance lacked information about the nature and historical development of the collection and its custodial history.

Works Cited

MacNeil, H. (1995). Metadata strategies and archival description: Comparing apples to oranges. Archivaria 39, 22.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 5 of 6

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Millar, L. (2006). An obligation of trust: Speculations on accountability and description. American Archivist 69(1), 60-78.

Millar, an archival and information management consultant and educator, considers the role of archival description for organizational and social accountability. Comparing the answerability of traditional post-hoc archival description to continuum-based records management, she finds that while they are suitable for their fields, neither ensures the wider accountability of institutions to themselves or to the community at large. She envisions blending the accountability strengths of the post-hoc and continuum-based models into a larger, more holistic framework. This description architecture will support expansive institutional and social accountability to ensure the integrity of records of enduring value and the larger spectrum of functions of the organization responsible for creating and preserving those records.

Peters, V. (2005). Developing archival context standards for functions in the higher education sector. Journal of the Society of Archivists 26(1), 75-86.

Peters, Research Archivist, Glasgow University Archive Services, discusses a research project, which used records of Scottish higher education institutions and made the results available on GASHE (Gateway to Archives of Scottish Higher Education). Believing that archival description based on traditional principles of provenance and original order is limited, Peters borrows from records management practices in which the fundamental relationships of records are their functions and activities, rather than their creators. Description of function is more helpful for archivists and researchers, rather than description based on a single, static arrangement, such as administrative structure, which cannot fully preserve the context of the records. This functional provenance approach allowed records of Scottish institutions, dating back to 1215, to be described seamlessly with current records.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 4 of 6

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Hedstrom, M. (1993). Descriptive practices for electronic records: Deciding what is essential and imagining what it is possible. Archivaria 36, 53-63.

Hedstrom, Associate Professor, School of Information and Library Studies, University of Michigan, questions whether traditional approaches to description are applicable to electronic records. She suggests using the challenges of digital records to define the purposes of creation; to reassess description’s objects, agents, and timing; and to develop approaches that exploit technology while aligning with archival practice. Description’s essential purposes must allow users to identify, access, understand, authenticate, and interpret meaning. Unfortunately, digital environments focus on data structures and content, not contextual information adequate to support the records’ use as evidence. Hedstrom assesses that the gap between existing practice and the potential for electronic data will narrow with the possibility of exploiting metadata in automated systems, so archivists can capture, rather than create, descriptive information.

Hurley, C. (2005). Parallel provenance: (1) What if anything is archival description? Archives and Manuscripts 33(1), 110-145.

Hurley, a thirty-year veteran of archives programs in Australia and New Zealand, notes that through description, archivists create a single perspective of provenance and a fixed internal structure for the collection. Hurley views provenance as more than simple relationships between units that tell stories of context and structure. He argues that the dynamic relationships and formation of records and the functions in which they took part cannot be properly described within the narrowness of the internationally standardized idea of archival description. Instead, he suggests a parallel provenance that contextualizes alternative narratives about the records into a single ambient description with multiple provenances that enriches the evidential meaning of the records.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 3 of 6

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Duff, W. M., & Harris, V. (2002). Stories and names: Archival description as narrating records and constructing meanings. Archival Science 2(3), 263-285.

Duff, Professor, Information Studies, University of Toronto, and Harris, Archivist, South African History Archive, advocate descriptive standards that allow for a plurality of representation. Archivists must relinquish their control of access to and interpretation of records through description. Although the authority of archivists remains an obstacle for implementing descriptive architectures that allow user annotation, the authors believe that the benefits of presenting a more complete historical record outweigh the costs. User-created annotations in archival description provide opportunities for the marginalized to be heard in addition to authoritative, standardized archival-provided description. Duff and Harris demonstrate the importance of balancing the integrity and authority of archivists, while allowing for alternative voices in description.

Hadley, N. (2001). Access and description of visual ephemera. Collection Management 25, 39-50.

Hadley, Senior Archivist, College of William & Mary, states that description of ephemera varies between institutions, depending on the types of access points and the levels of description required. Using examples from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center of the Houston Public Library (HMRC), she notes that description is determined by the aesthetic and artifactual aspects of the materials, as well as if the ephemera collections are provenance based, artificially created, or within larger collections. Descriptive systems should explicitly reflect the presence of ephemera, be firmly linked to other description systems in the repository, be consistent across holdings, provide the type and level of description appropriate to the nature of the materials, and anticipate their likely use.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 2 of 6

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Beattie, H. (2008). Where narratives meet: Archival description, provenance, and women’s diaries. Libraries & the Cultural Record 44(1), 82-100.

Beattie, Archivist in Description and Client Services, Hudson Bay Company Archives, discusses how archivists can improve description of personal papers and diaries by expanding provenance to include the writer’s motivation, intended audience, custodial history, and the archivist’s representation. Although archivists tend to remain neutral custodians of the historical record, Beattie urges using description methods and aspects of provenance taken from the humanities, which offer richer portrayals of diaries—women’s diaries, in particular. Deeper contextual information, rather than literary, overly subjective interpretations and descriptions, will assist users to better understand these intimate records. Beattie illustrates her points with passages from three women’s diaries at the Hudson Bay Company Archives and the Archives of Manitoba.

Chaudron, G. (2008). The potential of “function” as an archival descriptor. Journal of Archival Organization 6(4), 269-287.

Chaudron, Assistant Professor, Manuscripts, Mississippi State University, notes that while functional analysis has been used for appraisal methods, such as documentation strategy, the Minnesota Method, and macroappraisal, it can also be used for description. Influenced by records management practices, functional analysis allows archivists to examine the structures, processes, and activities of the organization beyond record creation, providing users with a broader view of how records reflected, and were part of, the functions of the organization. However, function cannot be applied as the principal descriptor for all records; while it works for institutional records, it has limited use with manuscripts. When used with traditional descriptive methods, however, functional descriptors can enhance information quality and access.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Review of Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field

Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field

My review of Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field by Toni Weller. (Oxford: Chandos, 2008).
Published in Journal of Documentation, 65(5), 2009.

Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field investigates how the values of our contemporary information society have guided scholars to examine our data sensemaking throughout history. Emergent is a key word, as the field has only begun to formulate itself. Author Toni Weller, associate lecturer and honorary fellow at City University, London, creates a historiography, exploring how different schools of thought have investigated the social, technological, economic, and cultural constructs of information. Using an interdisciplinary approach of historical and information science research, the book is aimed at undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals in History and Information Science.

The first chapter introduces the concept of information history, tracing its development and the current dominance of British, Nordic, and North American scholarship. Weller writes, “Information history is the study of information in past societies—how it was understood, used, organised, managed, collected, censored, feared, revered, published, disseminated, presented, displayed ... [It is] strongly related to the disciplines of library and information science, which emphasise the role of information in contemporary society and from which the first movements of the field of information history emerged” (4). Although a fledgling field, information history has validity as an area of study.

Information professionals will be interested in reading about the significance of information history in their vocations in the second chapter. Weller writes, “Although information history is academically attractive as a field of historical, sociological or philosophical enquiry, it must also be shown to be relevant to students and funding bodies in a climate that often emphasises and values the skills and ‘usefulness’ of degree content” (50). Universities must respond to the marketplace by teaching “economically valuable skills,” as the Leitch Review of Skills (2006), a study of the UK’s optimal skills mix for 2020, recommended (30). These competencies include retrieving and filtering information, judging provenance, organizing and analyzing content, and evaluating information design and presentation. She writes, “Not only could the profession itself, and those working within it, benefit from having a more holistic sense of its own development and history, but also such an understanding could affect in a very real and positive sense the way in which information professions contribute to the debate and policy of the contemporary world of information” (47-8).

Key schools of thought in current scholarship are discussed in the third chapter, the highlight of the book. Library and book history, one of the oldest academic traditions of the five discussed, is the area where the first movements of information history materialized. Information systems and infrastructure history has an overly technological interest in history. Much has been written about the cultural impact of the telegraph, what science and technology journalist Tom Standage termed the “Victorian Internet.” Some scholars believe information systems appeared as recently as the 1990s with the popularization of the Internet. Others, such as Daniel Headrick, Professor Emeritus of Social Science and History, Roosevelt University, Illinois, argue that it emerged in the Age of Reason with the communication, display, and storage of information through maps, dictionaries, and graphs. History of the information discipline is the practical history of how information is used, understood, and developed in social and professional capacities, as the disciplines matured and created bodies of professional literature. It explores the work of those in libraries, museums, and archives, with growing interest in female information pioneers. Social and cultural explorations of information considers how information affects and is affected by human society and culture. Weller notes, “While exploring the infrastructures of information and the history of information technologies and disciplines is important and necessary, we must not become blinded by technology and forget that these aspects of information are all essentially part of humanity and its development” (73). The origins of information society concentrates on fundamental characteristics of the modern information society, with specific focus on its economic origins. For example, in 1870, English, French, and German news agencies Reuters, Havas, and Wolff agreed to pay today’s equivalent of £15,000 pounds per month for telegraphed information—an astonishing amount that points to information’s value.

The fourth chapter reviews the practice of information history. Essential questions to shape study are “How can we look for information in the past?” and “How do we avoid imposing modern understandings of information on past societies?” Since information history allows interdisciplinary approaches, professors can adapt its study to their expertise. The field will mature through teaching, and Weller offers several exercises for class discussion.

The final chapter forecasts the next ten years of scholarship, understanding that only in the last decade of the 20th century did information history begin to be theorized and conceptualized. The future will see more scholarship on information history from regions beyond the Western world. Assisting the next generation of information discourse, new topics of study, and issues of the information age that have not yet surfaced will also be studied.

Information History—An Introduction: Exploring an Emergent Field
is an accessible overview of information history. The book is an amuse-bouche; it provides just enough satisfaction, but leaves the readers craving more. Scholars will be interested in exploring the references section, which includes many contributions from Alistair Black, Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois, formerly of Leeds Metropolitan University, a vocal advocate of information history as a theorized field of study. It is surprising that the field has only recently developed, and this book is the first solely dedicated to its historiography. Here’s hoping for many more.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Annotated Bibliography of Archival Description Part 1 of 6

This post is part of an annotated bibliography about archival description. Please click below to read further:

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“Description…captures and communicates knowledge about the broad administrative and documentary contexts of records creation within an organization as a whole as one moves further away from the original circumstances of creation. Its purpose is to preserve, perpetuate, and authenticate meaning over time so that it is available and comprehensible to all users—present and potential” (MacNeil 1995, 22).

Principles of original order and provenance aim to achieve the objectives of archival arrangement and description, which preserve the context of the archives and safeguard their evidential value and historical authenticity. Most archivists agree that descriptions of collections are often inadequate to capture the complexity of the records. Both an expanded understanding of the provenance and function of records and an acknowledgment that archivists are co-creators of the records could greatly enhance current description practices.

The articles discuss the universal theoretical underpinnings of description, rather than specific descriptive standards. Representing current scholarship in the field, the articles were written in the 1990s and 2000s, with a majority published in the last few years. Articles, rather than monographs or websites, were chosen for their timeliness and their international perspective on description.

The following countries’ perspectives on description were represented by the selected journals: Australia (Archives and Manuscripts), Canada (Archivaria), the United Kingdom and Ireland (Journal of the Society of Archivists), and the United States (American Archivist, Collection Management, and Libraries & the Cultural Record). Archival Science and Journal of Archival Organization are considered international journals by their editorial boards.

Descriptive systems for institutional records, digital records, personal papers, diaries, and ephemera are discussed. The intended audience is archivists at all experience levels, as the articles discuss theoretical approaches that may influence current practices at archival institutions. Archivists informed with current research can create descriptive systems with expended contextual information to assist users to better understand and interpret records.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The “Margins of Archivy”: Archival Description of Visual Materials Part 7 of 7

This post is part of a series exploring archival description of visual materials. Please click below to read further:

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Archival Description for Visual Materials

Archival description of images has sought to combine traditional library and archival practice with the more focused descriptive practices found in the museum and visual resources communities. Description of images remains challenging. Due to the nature of visual material, a standardized approach for description is ideal, but compromises must be made. All images cannot be indexed completely, nor can all resources be expended on indexing only a few collections. Approaches should be equitable, reasonable, and within the means of the institution. While there are challenges to be found when working with visual materials, these objects hold a wealth of information that justifies the additional effort needed to make them accessible. Archivists must draw visual materials from the “margins of archivy” and establish them in their rightful place as records of enduring value and primary sources of informational and evidential importance for future generations.

Works Cited

Alexander, A., & Meehleib, T. (2001). The thesaurus for graphic materials: Its history, use, and future. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 31, 189-212.

Armitage, L. H., & Enser, P. G. B. (1997). Analysis of user need in image archives. Journal of Information Science 23(4), 287-299.

Baxter, G. (2003). The historical photograph: Record, information source, object, resource. Art Libraries Journal 28(2), 4-12.

Burke, P. (2001). Eyewitnessing: The uses of images as historical evidence. Picturing history series. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Dooley, J. M. (1995). Processing and cataloging of archival photograph collections. Visual Resources 11(1), 85-101.

Finnegan, C. A. (2006). What is this a picture of?: Some thoughts on images and archives. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 9(1), 116-123.

Goodrum, A. A. (2005). I can’t tell you what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it: Terminological disconnects in digital image reference. Reference & User Services Quarterly 45(1), 46-53.

Green, M. A., & Meissner, D. (2005). More product, less process: Revamping traditional archives processing. American Archivist 68(2), 208-263.

Huyda, R. (1977). Photographs and archives in Canada. Archivaria (5), 5-16.

International Council on Archives. (2000). ISAD(G): General international standard archival description. Ottawa: ICA. Retrieved May 7, 2009, from the International Council on Archives Web site: http://www.ica.org/sites/default/files/isad_g_2e.pdf

Kaplan, E., & Mifflin, J. (2000). “Mind and sight”: Visual literacy and the archivist. In R. C. Jimerson (Ed.) American archival studies: Readings in theory and practice. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Norris, T. D. (1985). Processing extremely large collections of historical photographs. The Midwestern Archivist 10(2), 129-134.

O’Toole, J. M., & Cox, R. J. (2006). Understanding archives & manuscripts. Archival fundamentals series. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Panofsky, E. (1939). Studies in iconology; Humanistic themes in the art of the Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pearce-Moses, R. (2005). A glossary of archival and records terminology. Chicago: Society of American Archivists. Retrieved May 5, 2009, from the Society of American Archivists Web site: http://www.archivists.org/glossary/index.asp

Pugh, M. J. (2005). Providing reference services for archives & manuscripts. Archival fundamentals series. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Ritzenthaler, M., Munhoff, G., & Long, M. (1984). Archives and manuscripts: administration of photographic collections. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Ritzenthaler, M., & Vogt-O’Connor, D. (2006). Photographs: Archival care and management. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Schellenberg, T. R. (1965). The management of archives. New York: Columbia University Press.

Schmidle, R. (1996). The smile and promise of digital imaging: Preserving photographs in a digital world. Library Hi Tech News, (130), 14-16.

Schwartz, J. M. (2002). Coming to terms with photographs: Descriptive standards, linguistic ‘othering,’ and the margins of archivy. Archivaria 54, 142-171.

Teper, J. H. (2004). Newspaper photo morgues—a survey of institutional holdings and practices. Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services 28(1), 106-125.

Turner, J. M. (1993). Subject access to pictures: Considerations in the surrogation and indexing of visual documents for storage and retrieval. Visual Resources 9(3), 245-247.

Weinstein, R. A., & Booth, L. (1977). Collection, use and care of historical photographs. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History.

Zinkham, H. (2006). Description and cataloging. In M. L. Ritzenthaler & D. Vogt-O’Connor (Eds.) Photographs: Archival care and management. (pp. 164-206). Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The “Margins of Archivy”: Archival Description of Visual Materials Part 6 of 7

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Part 7

Image Description Examples

Teber (2004) discusses a survey that the Audio-Visual Archives (A-V Archives) at the University of Kentucky conducted of 24 institutions with newspaper photo morgues. Each institution reported different degrees of arrangement and description, with 18% reporting that the collections were unprocessed. Of the processed collections, both the interpretation of “full processing” and the resources expended differed by institution. Full processing can range from EADs, item-level description, and rehousing to brief, folder-level description. Although survey responders did not define their interpretation of fully processed, 25% have fully processed collections (with 11% of that total with EADs), 14% had collections that were over half-processed, and 43% had less than one half of the collection processed (p. 114).

Respondents noted that because the collections have high local interest and repetitive images (especially with the advent of roll film), description was often minimal. Ideally, each series of photographs should have the location, date, and subject, searchable by a finding aid or a database. This is especially important if the collection is maintained in the original order produced by the newspaper, which may not easily serve users’ purposes. Although newspaper photo morgues represent a specific type of image collection, with its own distinct attributes and challenges, the results of the survey provided real-world insight into the description of visual collections.

Alexander and Meehleib (2001) note that the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (P&P) catalogers employ practices from libraries, museums, and archives. They evaluate the appropriate description treatment for a given group of materials: whether the images should be cataloged at the item, group, or collection level. P&P catalogers create catalog records and finding aids, frequently using a combination of description levels to facilitate access. This blended approach allows broad control over the holdings at the group level as well as specific control over individual images at the item level. This is especially important for high-demand images, images used in exhibits, or images with high intrinsic or market value. Although P&P represents a large image collection with vast resources, this example demonstrates that evaluative methods determine the level of description required.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Review of Social Implications of Data Mining and Information Privacy: Interdisciplinary Frameworks and Solutions

Social Implications of Data Mining and Information Privacy: Interdisciplinary Frameworks and Solutions

My review of Social Implications of Data Mining and Information Privacy: Interdisciplinary Frameworks and Solutions. Edited by Ephrem Eyob. (Hershey, PA: ICI Global, 2009).
Published in Online Information Review, 33(4), 2009.

In Social Implications of Data Mining and Information Privacy: Interdisciplinary Frameworks and Solutions, editor and Virginia State University engineering professor Ephrem Eyob selected fourteen peer-reviewed papers on current research in data mining, the discovery of actionable information patterns using statistical and artificial intelligence tools. The volume assists researchers, teachers, students, and practitioners to understand data mining’s “competing goals” of collecting data and preserving privacy (xiv). Topics include team building for business, agriculture production, location-based services, national security, and social networking in urban neighborhoods.

Philip Brey, University of Twente, explores principles of information ethics that are universally valid in “Is Information Ethics Culturally Relative?” The concept of privacy has broad historical roots in sociological and anthropological discussions about its attributes and preservation in various cultures. Brey argues that the values of privacy are distinctly Western and culturally relative. Globalization and the emergence of the Internet have created a worldwide community, which requires a moral system that has yet to be developed.

In “Legal Frameworks for Data Mining and Privacy,” Robert Sprague, University of Wyoming College of Business, notes the lack of legal frameworks to restrict data mining, transmission, and warehousing. As technology becomes enmeshed in the daily lives of individuals, information on their activities is being stored, accessed, and used. Society is developing new definitions of privacy in this information environment, but norms have changed enough that data collection has been accepted without much opposition or change to applicable laws governing such issues.

The increasing use of data mining tools in both the public and private sectors raises concerns regarding the potentially sensitive nature of the data being mined. “Business Collaboration by Privacy-Preserving Clustering” discusses a clustering method to protect the underlying attribute values of datasets with high accuracy and low cost. Authors Stanley R. M. Oliveira, Embrapa Informática Agropecuária, Brazil, and Osmar R. Zaïane, University of Alberta, note that privacy preserving data mining achieves the paradox of enabling data mining algorithms to use data without accessing it.

Social Implications of Data Mining and Information Privacy provides an interdisciplinary discussion of contemporary data mining, recommendations, and future trends. As the field matures, individuals, governments, and corporations will continue to find common ground, balancing the individual’s right to privacy and government’s and industry’s need to disseminate information necessary to best serve public interests. Data mining techniques of the future should be effective without dismissing the need to preserve privacy, a fundamental element of free societies.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The “Margins of Archivy”: Archival Description of Visual Materials Part 5 of 7

This post is part of a series exploring archival description of visual materials. Please click below to read further:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 6
Part 7

Challenges of Image Description Part 2

The lack of visual literacy by both archivists and researchers presents difficulties for archival description of image collections. Since the mid-to-late twentieth century and the rise of the history of social movements and under-represented segments of society, historians had neglected non-textual sources in their research (Kaplan & Mifflin, 2000). Burke (2001) writes of the training of historians:
The criticism of visual evidence remains undeveloped, although the testimony of images, like that of text, raises problems of context, function, rhetoric, recollection whether soon or long after the event, secondhand witnessing and so on (p. 15 as cited in O’Toole & Cox, 2006, p. 200 n. 54).
Similarly to historians, archivists have been under-schooled in visual literacy. Library science and archival programs devote little attention to visual materials in the curriculum, although professional development classes in photographs are offered by SAA (Kaplan & Mifflin, 2000).
Schwartz (2002) argues that current descriptive practices relegate images to the “margins of archivy” through the archival profession’s
ideas and standards, practices and actions, whether consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or systemically … By embracing a textual model of recorded information and by adopting a bibliographic model of image classification, [archivists] continue to fixate on the factual content rather than the functional origins of visual images (p. 142-3).
Schwartz notes that it is difficult to apply traditional hierarchical description to visual materials and to understand that hierarchical levels of description are intellectual constructs that may not have material equivalents. She writes:
Traditional item-level description of photographs, indexed by subject and credited to the photographer, but without adequate contextual information about their functional origins and provenance, or clear links to such contextual information, transforms photographic archives into stock photo libraries, reducing photographs to their visible elements, and conflating photographic content and photographic meaning (p. 157).
Schwartz’s criticisms demonstrate deficiencies in archival theory and practice, which remain unable to address the unique challenges of archival description of image collections

Monday, March 30, 2009

The “Margins of Archivy”: Archival Description of Visual Materials Part 4 of 7

This post is part of a series exploring archival description of visual materials. Please click below to read further:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Challenges of Image Description Part 1

Like all other archival materials, images are organized and made accessible based on their original order and provenance, but because of their uniqueness, value, subject matter, and historical significance, they present challenges for description. Unlike archives and manuscripts, visual collections often do not have a clearly defined or pre-existing organizational structure, individual titles, or creator names by which they can be described (Ritzenthaler & Vogt-O’Connor, 2006). Baxter (2003) notes that the use of visual collections shaped their description. For instance, early photography collections held at the New York Public Library were treated at bibliographic materials before their recognition as archival resources (Weinstein & Booth, 1977, and Ritzenthaler, Munhoff, & Long, 1984, as cited in Baxter, 2003).

Additionally, when images are indexed, they may not only be described in terms of being “about” a subject but also “of” a subject and, as a result, descriptive access points can be numerous. This knowledge hierarchy is similar to Panofsky’s (1939) preiconographic, iconographic, and iconology levels and traditional subject-headings like broad term, near term, and related term.

Finnegan (2006) argues that image description is inherently subjective, requiring complex conceptual and ideological processes to determine the subject. “Image archives … function as terministic screens, simultaneously revealing and concealing ‘facts,’ at once enabling and constraining interpretation” (p. 118). Interpretation is needed because, as Huyda (1977) writes, “existing captions are often incomplete, inaccurate, deliberately distorted or irrelevant” and that “the attribution of photographs to particular photographers or studios is a complicated process” (p. 10). Additionally, visual materials have lacked description and lagged behind their textual counterparts in automated access because they have held a lower priority in archives (Turner, 1993).

Description is subjective because information is assigned to images, as they are usually not accompanied by textual information. Image retrieval, therefore, translates the users’ cognitive visual needs to descriptive systems entries. Archivists must be able to assist users articulate their information needs, as well as be able to match that expression to an existing image. Image description surrogates, such as keywords, titles, captions, or cataloging records, act as attributes against which a query may be matched and provide support for browsing, navigation, relevance judgment, and query reformulation (Goodrum, 2005).