Thursday, October 6, 2011

Seeing the Forest for/and the Trees, or a Day in the life of a Digital Archivist

Greetings all, Sam Meister here to share my tale....

On this Day of Digital Archives I’m going to use a metaphor that seems appropriate to the new regional and geographical context to which I have recently migrated. I’m just starting month number three as Digital Archivist in the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana, a new position that did not exist before my arrival. After two months, there is still some definition of roles and responsibilities occurring, but more and more a clear path is being drawn.

Today I will be continuing the work I have been doing most recently: Project Planning. One of my main responsibilities is developing and implementing a workflow to collect, manage, and provide access to born-digital materials. At the moment, we are in the midst of creating the plan and structure which will frame the process of developing this workflow.

This current mode is a bit like standing at the top of a mountain ski slope, getting ready to take the plunge down to the bottom. Before I take the plunge (or I should say we because there are definitely a number of others involved) I’m attempting to look down the mountain and chart the course. There are some obvious obstacles (Risks) that should be avoided if possible, (think large rocks, cliffs, giant trees, avalanche zones) but the perfect path is not entirely clear. I’m sure that once we start the descent there will be a number of switchbacks, diversions, and course corrections that will occur over time. We will likely need to stop at various points down the path and reflect on how far we’ve come and learn from any mistakes we’ve made.

At this point I have an idea of the type of skis (Tools: Archivematica, Curator’s Workbench) to choose from but haven’t tested too many of them out. Some might be good for certain areas of the mountain, such as the Accession Forest, while others may be better for other areas like the Meadow of Discovery and Access. Luckily, there are a number of tracks from those that have navigated down this slope before (AIMS Project) that I can utilize when negotiating the difficult and unpredictable terrain. There are a few hand-painted signs marking danger zones which others have left to warn those that would follow. I will do well to heed their warnings and avoid where others have fallen.

For now, I am standing at the top of the mountain, charting the course that will hopefully lead to a successful journey to the Valley of Sustainable Stewardship.

At the same time we are drawing the map to ski the Born-Digital Descent, we are also charting the course to navigate the rapids of Institutional Repository River, explore the Cave of Web Archives, and scale the massive cliffs of Sustainable Digital Preservation Strategy. As Digital Archivist I am directly involved in all of these adventures, and am tasked with integrating all efforts into a cohesive Map of Managing Digital Content. The beginnings of this map are starting to surface on my wall, growing more and more as each day goes by…

Planning for the future, now, is a key aspect of working in the realm of digital archives. Being able to balance the big picture with the granular details of testing tools and understanding the risks of technical file format details is a important skill set to master. It’s an exciting time to be doing this work, because while the solutions are still unclear, there are more and more passionate individuals and organizations who are engaged and collaborating to develop the latest attempt to manage, preserve, and provide access to the huge amounts of digital content being created in our contemporary society.

If all else fails I can always start my new career as a creative writer (see above for potential as huge success)....

No comments:

Post a Comment