Buttered, Fried, and Archived

This past Thursday and Friday I had the pleasure of attending (and presenting at) one of my favorite conferences of the year—the Society of Georgia Archivists (SGA) annual meeting. In short, it was a blast! What could be better than getting together with all of your archival friends from around the state, exchanging experiences and ideas, and enjoying an endless supply of free coffee? Exactly. Be jealous 🙂

Me at the 2015 SGA Annual Meeting
Me at the 2015 SGA Annual Meeting

The theme of this year’s conference was “Archives as Community: Building Bridges and Sustaining Relationships.” This topic is especially of interest to me because one of my main interests in the field of archives is archival outreach, especially to nontraditional communities like K-12 students and minority groups. As you can imagine, every session I attended at this conference was relevant to my interests, but there was one presentation in particular that intrigued me because it was so out-of-the-box. Sara Wood, an oral historian, gave a presentation on the oral history documentation project at her place of employment— the Southern Foodways Alliance (https://www.southernfoodways.org/). Prior to this presentation, I had never heard of this organization in my life. “What on earth is the Southern Foodways Alliance? I wondered.” Better known as “SFA,” the Southern Foodways Alliance is an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. The mission of this organization is to “document, study, and celebrate the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.”[1] (Yes, you heard me correctly).The SFA takes its job very seriously. They accomplish their work in a variety of ways, including research, films, symposia, podcasts, newsletters, and my personal favorite—oral histories.

The SFA’s oral history project documents the voices and untold stories of individuals who make southern food and culture what it is today. Documenting these oral histories is easy feat. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the oral history section of their website (https://www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/). You can search these digital oral histories by location, trails, or in chronological order. These oral histories run the gamut of southern food and talk about everything from barbecue traditions in Georgia to the history of po’ boy sandwiches in New Orleans to the Hot Tamale Trail in the Mississippi Delta (who knew?). These oral histories contain video interviews with the chefs, cooks, farmers, and restaurant owners who are proudly steeped in a beloved tradition of food and culture that characterizes the American South. Their stories are fascinating narratives of how food, love, family, culture, and hard work come together to create the rich and long-standing history of the South.

SFA imageI urge you to explore the SFA website and enjoy the oral history videos, transcripts, and very useful metadata. But before I send you off, I imagine some of you may ask, “Why spend the time documenting this stuff at all? Why is it important?” Well, archives are the records of everyday people and everyday life. Hence, archives are important because people are important. And because people are important, so are their stories. The stories of individuals matter because they all help tell the story of the human condition, a story that is rich in people, expansive in time, and dynamic in culture. *drops microphone*

[1] “About Us,” Southern Foodways Alliance, accessed October 25, 2015, https://www.southernfoodways.org/about-us/.

The “i” in iSchool

Have you ever wondered what the “i” in iPhone, iPod, or iPad means? If you haven’t ever thought about it, try taking away this “i” and see what happens. We’re left with these words: phone, pod, and pad. Okay, these words still make sense, but when we put “i” in front of them, what are we really saying? For most of us, “i” in front of a word has come to suggest something digital. But let’s not forget that “i” also signifies a sense of ownership. Steve Jobs alluded to both of these characteristics in his first presentation of the iMac in 1998. Check it out on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BHPtoTctDY. According to Jobs, the “i” in iMac could stand for a few things, including internet, individual, instruct, inform, and inspire. These same possibilities exist for the “i” in what we now call iSchools.

An iSchool is a concept you may or may not have heard of. According to the iSchools Organization website, iSchools are “a collection of Information Schools dedicated to advancing the information field.”[1] Scholars Richard J. Cox and Ronald L. Larsen provide one of the best explanations of the iSchool movement and its affect on the understanding and teaching of library science and archival studies. According to Cox and Larsen, “iSchools foster the development of an intellectual space where true interdisciplinarity plays out. In so doing, they introduce a range of challenges to traditional university structures and practices … as they create an environment where issues of information are addressed systematically, regardless of disciplinary heritage or presumed ‘ownership.'”[2]

iSchools are institutions that are birthed from library and information science schools, yet they go beyond the scope of traditional library science. As Cox and Larsen suggest, iSchools emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of information access and the many forms it can take. This characteristic is more important than ever in the digital age, especially as it pertains to archival studies. In the past, many archivists “largely ignore[d] the implications of the computer for the creation and maintenance of archival sources”; however, as we ALL know, this is no longer a possibility.[3] Now, archival institutions and libraries alike are constantly searching for newer and better ways to increase user access to information in the digital age. Access to all forms of information, including printed books, e-books, special collections/rare books, primary sources, magazines, journals, newspapers, oral histories, audiovisual material, born-digital collections, etc., is something people need and want on a 24/7 basis. iSchools are institutions committed to addressing the exciting yet challenging request to provide access to information in all its formats and at all times. Mrs. Loretta Parham, the CEO and director of the Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, once said “Why, may you ask, do we need libraries and librarians? To connect people with information in whatever format it may be.”[4] I wholeheartedly agree with Mrs. Parham, and I would add that to continue connecting people with information in all its formats, we need environments like iSchools that can provide spaces for librarians, archivists, museum curators, IT staff, and everyone in between, to collaborate and continuously improve access to information.

Despite their novelty, iSchools are thriving in many areas of the United States and around the world. View a current list of iSchools here: http://ischools.org/members/directory/.

Just like Steve Jobs taught us seventeen years ago, “i” can mean many things. In the case of iSchools, I see “i” as information, individual, interaction, internet, and innovation. What does “i” mean to you??

i picture

[1] “iSchools,” iSchools Organization, accessed October 18, 2015, http://ischools.org/.

[2] Richard J. Cox and Donald Larsen, “iSchools and Archival Studies,” Archival Science 8, no. 4 (2008), 312, http://ezproxy.clayton.edu:2113/docview/214894429/fulltextPDF/1889BA415A304DF7PQ/1?accountid=10139.

[3] Ibid., 311.

[4] “Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library, “Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc., accessed October 18, 2015, http://www.auctr.edu/.

Preservation … and its relatives

Lately, I’ve had a few opportunities to explain to people outside of the archival world what archives are and what archivists do. As we all know, keeping this type of dialogue succinct and to-the-point can be a great challenge, especially when there is so much to explain! For example, when we tell someone that we “preserve” records from the past, how do we know they have the correct understanding of the word “preservation?” How do we help this person understand the difference between preservation and concepts that relate to preservation such as “conservation,” “restoration,” and “reformatting”? Of course, we can’t flood people with all of this jargon, but we can find simple ways to explain these terms and hint at their subtle differences. The first step, however, is making sure that WE understand these terms ourselves. I don’t know about anybody else, but I know I could definitely use a review…

Preservation. Ah, so much to say, so little time. According to the 1974 SAA glossary, preservation was once defined as, “The basic responsibility to provide adequate facilities for the protection, care, and maintenance of archives, records, and manuscripts.”[1] Eh, I would say yes and no. True, preservation is about protecting, caring for, and maintaining materials, but I think this definition leaves out a major goal of preservation: enabling materials for future use. The current SAA glossary reflects this nuance, as it defines preservation as “the professional discipline of protecting materials by minimizing chemical and physical deterioration and damage to minimize the loss of information and to extend the life of cultural property.”[2] In other words, preservation is protecting with a purpose.

I noticed that the current SAA glossary makes a little footnote under the preservation definition, which says, “preservation is sometimes distinguished from conservation, the latter describing treatments to repair damage. “[3] In other words, conservation is “the repair or stabilization of materials through chemical or physical treatment to ensure that they survive in their original format as long as possible.”[4] The main difference here is that conservation is attempting to repair damage that has been done while preservation is attempting to prevent damage from being done.[5] It is possible to consider conservation as part of an all-encompassing preservation program.[6]

Speaking of damage, we also need to address where restoration fits into all of this. In a nutshell, restoration really isn’t used as much anymore in the archival world. Conservation has pretty much replaced it.[7] However, restoration does have a slight tendency to refer to cosmetic or aesthetic improvement, meaning that an item is physically rehabilitated to its original format as much as possible.[8] When I think of restoration, I tend to think of it in the context of artwork. But that is just me.

Last but not least … reformatting. This term is especially related to the preservation of digital materials. Reformatting means “to create a copy with a format or structure different from the original, especially for preservation or access.”[9] Instead of being concerned about preserving an item’s original format, like in conservation or restoration, reformatting protects and maintains materials by copying it onto something else. Some examples of this concept in the digital world would be migration and emulation.

I hope this mini-review is helpful for everybody. Let’s keep our vocabulary game on point!

archivist button

[1] Mary Ritzenthaler, Preserving Archives & Manuscripts, (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2010), 2.

[2] The Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology, s.v. “preservation,” accessed October 11, 2015, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/p/preservation.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology, s.v. “conservation,” accessed October 11, 2015, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/c/conservation.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ritzenthaler, Preserving Archives & Manuscripts, 3.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ritzenthaler, Preserving Archives & Manuscripts, 3; The Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology, s.v. “restoration,” accessed October 11, 2015, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/r/restoration.

[9] The Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology, s.v. “reformat,” accessed October 11, 2015, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/r/reformat.


We all dread it. No matter what’s going on in your life, no matter how busy you may be, there are two words that never fail to stop us all in our tracks: Jury Summons. Yep, that was me these past two days, which is why I’m a little off schedule with my blogging, so I apologize for that! I ended up not getting selected for the jury, but I was one step from it. Between Thursday and Friday of last week, I spent a total of eighteen hours at the Fulton County courthouse standing in line, sitting in court, listening to lawyers interview over fifty of us jurors, and … watching the creation of an endless stream of records. While I won’t be able to see these records until they are publicly available when the trial is over, I enjoyed observing the lawyers, the clerk, and the judge as they created records throughout the jury selection process.

My experience on jury duty sparked my interest in legal issues related to archives. After all, the nature of archives is, in a way, inherently destined to cross paths with the legal system because archival records often serve as evidence. According to the Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, a record can be defined as “data or information in a fixed form that is created or received in the course of individual or institutional activity and set aside (preserved) as evidence of that activity for future reference.”[1] Likewise, Geoffrey Yeo asserts that “records provide evidence,” or in other words, “evidence can be obtained by using them.”[2]

In order to delve deeper into all these issues surrounding evidence, recordness, legalities, and archives, I decided to go back in time and explore some early archival literature discussing the relationship between archives and the legal system. I chose an article written in 1945 by Margaret Cross Norton, a pioneer archival practitioner who served as archivist of the State of Illinois for over thirty-five years. Her article is entitled, “Some Legal Aspects of Archives.” Toward the end of her article, Norton addresses records as court evidence. Norton says, “The first question which the judge asks concerning a document presented in evidence is, ‘Is this actually the document which it purports to be?'”[3] This, my friends, is what we call a question of authenticity. In order to be true records, and particularly, records used in court, there must be confidence in the record’s authenticity; in other words, the record must be genuine, not counterfeit, trustworthy, and reliable. As archivists, our job is to preserve records and their inherent “recordness,” which includes authenticity and integrity. This is a big job with heavy implications. After all, it is common for archives to contain records that need to be used as evidence in a court case or some other aspect of the legal system. In fact, we may even find ourselves handed a subpoena and ordered to serve up a folder of documents, a digital photograph, contents of a floppy disk, or even a copy of a hard drive. So, how do we, as archivists in the digital era, protect evidence? How do we ensure that we are maintaining the trustworthiness and authenticity of both analog and digital records well into the future? Here are just a few strategies I can think of…

  • Document, document, document! It is imperative to document every preservation measure we take, whether it is acid treatment, migration, emulation, scanning, rehousing, whatever. When we document exactly what we did to preserve a record, we can make a much better case for that record’s authenticity.
  • Understand the record’s provenance and/or its chain of custody. We are not always privy to a record’s background before it comes to the archives, but it really helps to know who has handled the record and in what ways because this information can shed light on possible discrepancies within the record or explain characteristics of a record that may be confusing.
  • Consider tools that can protect electronic and digital records, such as write blockers and digital forensic tools. As we all know, protecting the authenticity of electronic and digital records is just plain hard. However, there are tools to help us. For electronic records like floppy disks, look into write-blocking technology that can help preserve the integrity of the content on the legacy media during the preservation process. For digital records, disk imaging and other digital forensic tools make bit-by-bit copies of digital materials and often have verification technology already built in.
  • Use preservation metadata, especially for digital materials. Digital records are more vulnerable to authenticity problems because they logically exist in locations rather than physically exist in them. It is important for archivists to have a work plan to create preservation metadata for these digital objects to ensure that they stay in the proper context. Look into a resource like PREMIS (Preservation Metadata: Implementation Strategies).
  • Use hashes and checksums. Hashes are algorithms that take an arbitrary length file to create to create a fixed-length bit string called a “digest.” A hash will produce this same digest as long as the file has not been altered. A checksum is another resource, and it is used to detect errors during the transmission of a digital object.
  • For paper records, consider options like condition reports, detailed listings of file contents, and supervised access. Although it is more difficult for paper records to be unknowingly altered than it is for digital records to be altered, it can happen. Have policies and procedures in place that help prevent alterations from taking place and that can detect when an alteration has taken place.
  • Be prepared to protect various types of items within the same collection. Remember that many collections contain a wide variety of materials. Some collections even contain a hybrid of analog and digital materials. Different formats have different needs when it comes to ensuring authenticity and preservation.

These are just a few strategies, but as we all know, there are many, many more. And, along with these strategies, we must have the right mindset. The judge last week kept telling me and my fellow jurors how important our job is, the same goes for archivists. Our job of preserving the authenticity of records and providing access to evidence is crucial to our society’s legal system, cultural heritage, sense of memory, and identity.

gavel on white background

[1] Richard Pearce-Moses, The Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology (Chicago, Society of American Archivists, 2005), http://www2.archivists.org/glossary.

[2] Geoffrey Yeo, “Concepts of a Record (1): Evidence, Information, and Persistent Representations,” American Archivist 70, no.2 (2007): 325, http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.70.2.u327764v1036756q.

[3] Margaret Cross Norton, “Some Legal Aspects of Archives,” American Archivist 8, no.1 (1945): 9, http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.8.1.241151083v607381.