New year, new look, new archives

New Year’s resolutions are fun to come up with but difficult to execute—am I right, or am I right? Each January, it has become custom for us to start the new year off right by vowing to improve our lives in some way. We may decide to eat healthier, exercise more, keep a cleaner house, read a book series, or something of that nature. Despite the fact that most New Year’s resolutions fail within a matter of weeks, the idea of a fresh start is still a very meaningful concept, not just for our personal lives, but also for our archival lives as well. Early in my graduate school career, Richard Pearce-Moses told me that an archives must have three things in order to thrive: a collection, a place, and a program. The “collection” refers to the archival materials themselves. The “place” is the physical area where the archives are kept. The “program” includes the policies and procedures that drive the archival workflow. As I’ve progressed through graduate school and gained more experience in the archival field, I’ve realized that all three of these aspects can be dynamic. It is up to archivists to not only respond to this dynamism, but also to anticipate it and constantly revisit the way archival work is being done. If we desire our work and our collections to remain relevant, we must regularly question our collection policies, our preservation practices, our technological resources, our description practices, our reference policies, and much more. Now don’t panic … I’m not saying we need to fix things that aren’t broken or randomly disrupt workflows that are working well, but I do think it is important to periodically step back and study the archival workflow of your institution. What is functioning and/or not functioning properly? What can be more efficient? How can we improve current practices? How can we adhere to archival standards better? Each domain of the archival workflow warrants these types of questions; in fact, that is exactly what I plan to do for the Flat Rock Archives—the local community archives where I volunteer. (If you want to know more about the Flat Rock Archives and my involvement with it, see the post I wrote here).

The Flat Rock Archives has a collection (check!), a place (check!), and a program…eh…not so much. The  Flat Rock Archives was not established by an archivist or by anyone with archival expertise; hence, a lot of necessary archival policies and procedures were never put in place during its development. According to James O’Toole and Richard Cox, establishing an archives and developing an archival program requires us to ask specific questions about the goals and scope of the archives. Why has the archives been established? What is it intended to accomplish? Where will the archives be placed? What kinds of records will the archives acquire? What subject areas will be represented?[1] Since these kinds of questions were not answered when the Flat Rock Archives was established, it is up to me to backtrack and revisit these questions in the hopes of developing a stronger archival program that serves the needs of users and also protects the collections. Considering the depth and breadth of archival work and how much effort it takes to develop a strong archival institution, I’m a little overwhelmed by the task in front of me at Flat Rock. There’s just so much to be done. However, as we all know, Rome was not built in a day, and neither is an archives. Instead of focusing on everything at once, I’ve decided to highlight a few basic and achievable tasks within the archival endeavor that I think Flat Rock needs to complete by the end of 2016. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Appraisal needs:

  1. Formal collection policy that supports the Flat Rock Archives mission statement

Acquisition needs:

  1. Accession record/Deed of Gift documentation for new acquisitions (and retroactive documentation for legacy collections)

Arrangement needs:

  1. Records inventory spreadsheet
  2. Intellectual control over collections

Description needs:

  1. Finding aids!

Preservation needs:

  1. Preservation grant
  2. Preservation consultation
  3. Condition reports
  4. Environmental stability
  5. Housing stability (archival folders, boxes, etc.)

Reference and Access needs:

  1. Reference policies
  2. Digitization of select items
  3. Digital finding aids

Outreach needs:

  1. More fundraisers
  2. Increased relationships with local schools and community groups

***

So, what do you think of my list? Am I missing something? Do you think I’m being too ambitious for one year? All thoughts are welcome.

Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s make 2016 a great one!

happy new year

[1] James M. O’Toole and Richard J. Cox, Understanding Archives & Manuscripts (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006), 115-116.

Holiday traditions

During the holiday season, two of my favorite things converge—baking and archives. It’s pretty easy to see how baking fits into the holidays. Between cookie exchanges, holiday cakes, fruit pies, and treats for Santa, simply keeping enough flour and sugar stocked in the pantry is a full-time job. But how do archives fit into all this? Well, in my family, archives are essential to the holiday season, especially when it comes to baking. While it can be tempting to try and impress family members and friends with the monstrously magnificent cake creations plastered on the cover of the Southern Living and Food Network magazines each year, I find myself returning to the “archives” of my family’s recipes for inspiration. The tried and true recipes passed down from my grandmother to my mother and now to me hold a special place at our dessert table because they serve as an extension of our family history. Some of these recipes are not even documented on paper; instead, they reside in the archives of my grandma Ruth’s amazing mind. Such recipes include her red velvet cupcakes, her rich and gooey bubble bread, and her annual Christmas cookie assortment.

In contrast, some recipes in our baking archives come from books that various relatives gave to my mother when she was a newlywed back in the 80s. As I became older and developed a love for baking in recent years, I started incorporating recipes from these books along with recipes I found via the internet into our family’s holiday traditions. Now, many of these treats are so bundled with Christmas memories, we’ve already welcomed them into the family baking archives. A few of these recipes include my popular gingerbread crinkles, brown sugar chewies, sweet potato soufflé, and the cake that started it all—my famous applesauce spice cake (I’ve included an image of the recipe below!).

recipe book 1
I believe this cookbook was published in 1981. Not so “new” anymore right!
recipe book 3
The applesauce spice cake recipe is the one on the right. This was my first major baking project as a child.

My family’s baking archives are special to me because they connect generations of my family in a unique way. On Christmas Eve this year, I will get to watch my eighty-one year old grandmother pour love and marshmallows into her famously rich hot chocolate like she has for as long as I can remember. The next day, she will enjoy the gingerbread and shortbread cookies that my sister and I, the baking “newbies,” created the previous day. Through holiday baking, my family exchanges secrets, remembers history, and celebrates our legacy in a way that only our archives can facilitate.

recipe book 2
As you can see, this cookbook has definitely been used!

I am both comforted and fascinated by the intersection between archives, family, and recipes. That’s why I’m secretly hoping Santa  brings me the new book I’ve been wanting, which is entitled Preserving Family Recipes: How to Save and Celebrate your Food Traditions by Valerie Frey. I guess it all depends on whether or not I’ve been naughty or nice this year … we’ll see!

Do you have an archives of family recipes for holiday cooking and baking? If so, do tell!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all! I wish you joy, love, and peace during this holiday season 🙂

Archivists: solving crime bit by bit

What could an archivist and a private investigator possibly have in common? “Not much,” might have been the answer thirty years ago. Nowadays, that answer has changed dramatically. We especially see this change manifesting itself through the emergence of digital forensics technology in archival contexts. Broadly speaking, digital forensics “is a branch of forensic science encompassing the recovery and investigation of material found in digital devices.”[1] At the 2001 Digital Forensics Research Workshop (DFRWS), digital forensics was defined as “the use of scientifically derived and proven methods toward the preservation, collection, validation, identification, analysis, interpretation documentation, and presentation of digital evidence … for the purpose of facilitating or furthering the reconstruction of events found to be criminal” (qtd. in Gengenbach 2012).[2] Whew. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? This is starting to sound like an episode of CSI or Law and Order! That’s because, well…it kind of is. Digital forensics has its roots in law enforcement, and according to Martin Gengenbach, “it is only in the recent past that practitioners and researchers in digital forensics and digital preservation have recognized the overlap in their respective fields.”[3] When it comes to digital preservation, we see concepts like evidence, proof, and trustworthiness—things we may normally associate with law enforcement and crimes—take on a new meaning. Obsolescence, bit rot, bit flips, unauthorized access, and questions of custodianship are just a few of the many threats to digital materials that archivists must work against. Hence, being able to prove the integrity of digital objects and the integrity of the archives managing the digital objects is crucial.

As digital material becomes more and more prevalent in archival acquisitions, the ability of archival institutions to preserve and manage digital materials in a trustworthy manner becomes more imperative. Thankfully, there are some tools to help us do this. BitCurator is one example. The BitCurator project began through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in October 2011. The principal developers of the project hail from the School of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and from the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland—College Park.[4] The purpose of the BitCurator project is to provide “a stack of free and open source digital forensics tools and associated software” to help libraries, archives, and museums (LAMS) incorporate digital forensics into the archival workflow.[5] BitCurator helps archivists transfer and extract digital materials to and from repositories with integrity and trustworthiness; it facilitates access by helping users to make sense of digital data within the appropriate context; it also helps identify and protect sensitive data that may exist in digital collections.[6]

If you ask me, all of this sounds like a big job for one tool, doesn’t it? Well, that’s why BitCurator isn’t just “one tool.” It’s actually a suite of tools working together to accomplish a variety of functions. This is what we call a modular tool, meaning that it is built from many different parts as opposed to being one, monolithic architecture. Let’s break this down a bit further by exploring a few of BitCurator’s functions and naming some of the tools it uses to complete these functions…

Function: Creating disk images

Example Tool(s): Guymager, dcfldd, cdrdao

Function: Forensic analysis and metadata generation

Example Tool(s): fiwalk, bulk_extractor, The Sleuth Kit

Function: Fixity checking and validation

Example Tool: GtkHash

Function: Facilitating Access

Example Tool: BitCurator Disk Image Access Tool

Function: Locating and removing duplicate files

Example Tool: FSlint

Function: Indexing

Example Tool: Recoll

These are just a few functions and tools, but if you are interested in viewing the entire list, visit the BitCurator wiki at this page: http://wiki.bitcurator.net/index.php?title=Software#Tools_in_the_BitCurator_Environment.

I do not have personal experience using BitCurator, but I’m curious to know if anyone else does. What was your original goal when you began using BitCurator? Were you able to accomplish this goal? What do you like/not like about BitCurator? In your opinion, how user friendly is it?

bits-bytes

[1] “Digital Forensics,” Wikipedia, last modified October 1, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_forensics.

[2] Martin J. Gengenbach, “The Way We Do It Here: Mapping Digital Forensics Workflows in Collecting Institutions,” (MLIS master’s paper, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012), 6, http://digitalcurationexchange.org/system/files/gengenbach-forensic-workflows-2012.pdf.

[3] Ibid., 10

[4] Christopher A. Lee et al., “From Bitstreams to Heritage: Putting Digital Forensics into Practice in Collecting Institutions” (a product of the BitCurator Project, September 30, 2013), 1, http://www.bitcurator.net/docs/bitstreams-to-heritage.pdf.

[5] “BitCurator: About the Project,” UNC School of Library and Information Science, last accessed December 15, 2015, http://www.bitcurator.net/bitcurator/.

[6] Christopher A. Lee et al., “From Bitstreams to Heritage: Putting Digital Forensics into Practice in Collecting Institutions” (a product of the BitCurator Project, September 30, 2013), 3, http://www.bitcurator.net/docs/bitstreams-to-heritage.pdf.

Storytelling

I know why I fell in love with archives, and it’s not because of the scalpels, overhead scanners, onionskin paper, or legacy hardware emulators (even though those are some fun parts about being an archivist!). I fell in love with archives because archives are stories, and stories are and always will be, my first love. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve my mom reading stories to me by my bed before I could read. Our favorite stories came from the Addy books in the American Girl Doll series. In fact, those books are where my love for historical fiction originated.

addy

As I’ve grown older and carved out a life for myself within the archival profession, I am starting to see that my love for stories and my love for archives share a greater connection than I thought. Archives are the stories of everyday people living out their everyday lives. We gain access to these stories through a variety of media, such as letters, diaries, photographs, digital workstations, audio files, social media accounts, rare books, etc. But in another sense, archives create stories as well. For instance, a few years ago I read a wonderful novel entitled The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (she wrote The Girl with the Pearl Earring—another great read). I nearly vacuumed The Last Runaway and genuinely became sad when it ended. I was so desperate for the book to continue, I decided to read all the acknowledgements in the back. My heart skipped a beat when I saw Chevalier acknowledging the archivists who helped her gather historical information for the novel. The Last Runaway exemplifies how archives are not only stories themselves, but they inform subsequent stories.

the last runaway

Lastly, I’ve been thinking a lot about fiction stories that feature archives. One that sticks out to me is a book I read a few years back called The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I’m sure you’ve heard of it! In The Help, archives abound in the form of oral histories. Skeeter records the true life stories of African American maids in Mississippi during the civil rights era; however, to protect the maids, she masks these archives by wrapping them in fiction—a book she calls “The Help.” Whoa. So essentially, what we have is a fiction book (The Help written by Kathryn Stockett) where the protagonist documents true narratives  yet must mask these narratives in a layer of fiction (“The Help” written by Skeeter) . Whew…this is getting Inception-like!  In the example of The Help, the fictitious stories actually preserve the archives!

the help

Where do you see archives in fiction (or even vice versa)? Let’s get those creative juices flowing!