Thursday, October 6, 2011

Digital Roundtable

Last year, a colleague visiting Austin for a conference took me out for drinks after work. At some point she asked what Austin-area archivists were doing to get together. Well, I didn’t have a good answer, and she told me to get to work on that.

So I started thinking about what would bring us together as a professional group. (Can you guess where this is going?) We’d already toured each other’s repositories, and meeting up at the bar didn’t carry the intellectual rigor that would draw busy professionals. At the time I was just finishing up work on a digitization project that was funded by IMLS and administered by the Texas State Library and Archives. It had been a three-year project with a strong focus on training and collaboration across institutions and across the disciplines of librarianship, museum studies, and archives. So I was also thinking about ways to continue and cultivate the relationships built during the project. The project had brought together various institutions and their materials based on a common, usually regional, theme. It showed us that we could share resources and talk about things like scanning, metadata, storage, and display with our peers outside our organizations—even if we were not experts.

So that’s what we’ve done. I contacted Jennifer Hecker of the Archivists of Central Texas, the group that got those repository tours and happy hours happening, and we set up a roundtable discussion. We got a couple of folks to commit to sharing their recent projects to get the conversation started, and some people promised to pipe in and keep the discussion going. Turns out we didn’t need the ringers, and the discussion was lively and engaged. Everyone got to speak some, and we listened to each other’s projects and some challenges and successes. Our next meeting is today, October 6, and we plan to continue meeting regularly.

We decided on the roundtable discussion format rather than inviting speakers to give presentations because we felt there is enough training and information out there. What we needed was a place to talk and get to know each other and our projects, and network and build relationships, so we’d have resources and help when we needed it. Many of us were not trained in digital archives, but most of us have to deal with digital objects in some aspect of our jobs.
Right now we’re calling the meetings the Digitization Roundtable, and we chose that name on purpose. We wanted to create a certain comfort level, and felt that the words digital archives, born digital, and digital humanities would scare off people who were just getting started, perhaps without all of the resources they’d like. I expect the name to change at some point as the group grows and our conversations evolve.

And that’s what the Archivists of Central Texas are doing on the Day of Digital Archives.

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