Thursday, October 6, 2011

First steps: mapping out a new territory

by Meg Tuomala

I started as digital archivist at Washington University in St. LouisUniversity Archives in August. So I guess you could say I’m a digital archives newbie. And today, on this first Day of Digital Archives I thought I’d write about my first digital archives project in this position. So here goes--

Like I said, I started as digital archivist at Washington University in St. Louis’ University Archives in August. In this new position (for both me and the Archives) my first task was to assess the amount, types, and provenance of the digital objects and materials we already have in our collection. Born digital stuff, digital surrogates of traditional archival materials… A way to get a handle on the lay of the digital land. A survey of things as they are now, in order to map out how we see them (would like to see them?!) existing in the future.

So I poked around files, dug into directories, and explored the larger digital landscape of the libraries and the university. I didn’t look through the stacks for those disks hidden in boxes… yet (that’s another project) but I did do some serious surveying in places where I know digital assets do, should, and well, maybe-or-maybe-not live.

Of course I found a lot of great stuff we already have--recordings of campus lecture series, a huge amount of scanned images from the Archives, born digital administrative files...

But after taking a better look at what we do have, what I really started to think about what we do not yet have, what we’d like to have (digital University publications would be just one thing that tops that list). Because chances are if it’s not in the Archives, it’s probably not being properly cared for. And this is especially true for digital materials.

I believe that my preliminary survey of the digital assets we have will be useful. First of all, it introduced me to what I’ll be working with right off the bat. Secondly, it highlighted unexplored territories and places that need more work. And finally, it can and will help us make a case for resources that we’ll need to get in order to begin responsibly managing and preserving what we already have, and what we hope to have in the future. Exciting!

So if you’re just looking for a place to start I’d suggest doing your own survey. It’s a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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