Friday, October 12, 2012

Day 29

Today was my 29th day of work as the first Records Management Archivist at Johns Hopkins University.  My job encompasses two areas that overlap frequently but not perfectly: management of university records and management of born-digital archival materials, regardless of whether they originate within the university or with external donors. This combination of roles is relatively common in our profession, but I haven’t personally experienced it long enough to evaluate it critically; perhaps that will be a topic for next year’s Day of Digital Archives post.

My first 6 weeks have coincided with the processes of annual reviews and setting individual goals in our library. Although I was initially wary of having to set annual goals so early in my tenure, the timing has been fortuitous because I have been planning my activities for the next 12 months – which I would be doing at this point in a new job anyhow – at a time when my colleagues are all thinking similarly. And if there’s one thing that I can say with certainty about the next year, it’s that it will involve a lot of collaboration: with other archivists, with curators, with developers, with metadata specialists and with project managers, just to name a few.

For the next few months, I will be assessing the current state of our institutional climate, our capacities and our collections as they relate to acquiring, preserving and providing access to born-digital archival materials.  Next, I will be working with my colleagues to determine what capacities we want to develop as an organization. Do we want to do forensic captures of media-based accessions? What kind of preservation activities do we want to undertake? What types of functionalities do we want to build into our digital repository? How do we want to provide access to our materials? Although there will be many details left unanswered at this stage, I hope to be able to address these and similar questions at a very high level within the next six months.

Finally, I will spend the rest of the year developing a three-year road map for how we can get from where we are to where we want to be – or at least, from where we are to moving purposefully and surely toward where we want to be. This will involve identifying gaps in our current technological and human capital, and proposing ways to bridge them.

Of course, the day-to-day activities of the archives will not stop for a year while I figure all this out. Prior to my arrival, no one in our department was charged with focusing to this degree on all the issues surrounding born-digital materials. However, like many institutions, we had still been acquiring them for some time. So while I am doing high-level analysis and planning, I will also be carrying out the day-to-day activities of accessioning and caring for our materials as best I can with the resources currently available. 

I have already made a few changes that bring our activities more in line with, for example, the minimal levels of digital preservation outlined in a recent proposal from NSDASpecifically, I have instituted the use of LOC’s Bagger tool to generate file manifests and fixity information according to the Bagit specification at the time of acquisition, and I am working with library systems to transfer our current holdings to a storage space where they can be more appropriately managed. 

However, I don’t anticipate many other changes in our procedures in the next year. This means that for the next 12 months, we will undoubtedly continue to do some things in ways that I know could be improved.  However, when I do begin to make radical changes in our procedures, they will be guided both by best practices and by our own organizational needs and goals.