PDA 2012: Academics Session

Very excited for this session on personal digital archiving in the academic setting. Let’s get into it!

Note: These summaries are not in order of presentation because they didn’t follow the schedule and I had already made up the outline of my post.

Voices from the field Smiljana Antonijevic (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences)
This research comes from two projects: Alfalab (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) and Humanities Information Practices (Oxford Internet Institute). Did site visits, observations, interviews, log-file analysis. 95 informants for this study of digital humanities.

Found out about main challenges through this study. Scholars showed a “broad spectrum of technology used and awareness.” Very important to keep in mind that there is a wide-range of skills, practices, and interests among scholars when we are creating tools for them to use. Found that some scholars print out everything and make handwritten notes before writing up their findings. Others do all their work digitally and use databases, visualization tools, and annotation tools before disseminating findings online via blogs, online journals, etc.. Plus, everything in between these two extremes.

Preservation issues stand out in this study’s findings. Very important challenge. Scholars said that their research happens in bursts so not as organized as they (or we) would like. [I can totally relate to that.] Very random preservation practices among the scholars. Limited awareness of cloud storage, etc.. Scholars worried about sustainability of digital resources and archives. Need sustainable infrastructures.

Librarians have their own struggles. What to preserve? How to preserve stuff? What needs to be reformatted? [Same struggles that archivists face.] More advanced users have more advanced problems (probably because they are using more and more varied tools).

One informant: “There is a huge problem of data preservation and archiving.”

Another challenge: Preservation+ Value-added preservation to allow scholars to use their data in new ways after preservation. [I think this is a very interesting point and it is from the user so that is always cool. I wonder how we would do this. Maybe via a similar set-up to DataONE?]

Difficult to move forward because there is such a divergence among scholars about what they want from Digital Humanities tools. Plus, so much variance among use and interest in technological tools.

What’s being lost, what’s being saved: practices in digital scholarship and personal archiving John Butler (University of Minnesota)
Talking about research on data practices of scholars. Called them “primitives” then looked at activities and behaviors. [Butler says this study has been published] 73% of respondents said they need assistance for organizing and storing their materials. 37% said they have unique research collections. Other findings: diversity of resources/media used, methods learned in “traditional” contexts are not easily transferred to digital context, and researchers have interest in sharing data, but only in their own ways.

Other finding: each scholar has own digital processes (not surprising). Advocates for standardized practice. [Wouldn’t every archivist love standardized practice and records? It would make our work a lot easier, but the records much less interesting (in my opinion as I like variety).] Also advocating lifecycle thinking for records [just like archivists have been talking about for years]. You can check out their website on managing your data.

Note: I didn’t catch when this research was completed or I would have included a citation to the research publication or linked to the article if it was in an open access journal.

Tale of Two Researchers by Laura Gurak (University of Minnesota)
Gurak is trained in qualitative research methodologies and storing of data. Talking about how it is easier to be organized in analog
world. Digital media makes storing data more complicated and often in more places than when there was paper recordkeeping. In digital space, different type of researcher. Less motivation to be organized with personal research because no IRB, no concern about reproducibility, etc..

Talking about her Lotus MarketPlace case study (also published as a book). She looked into the protest online in 1990 because of privacy issues (her dissertation research). Looked at emails and Usenet news posting to analyze. Data now lives on a local hard drive.

Other case study: personal research on the ship that brought over her grandmother from Copenhagen. Gurak’s become her family’s archivist and tech support person. Able to find out where the ship was docked in Copenhagen through the internet. But lost trail of her research, got so excited that didn’t save the way she found information. Terrible track of her resources because not treating it as a research project. The information she has lives everywhere.

Faculty Member as Micro-Librarian: Critical literacies for personal scholarly archiving Ellysa Stern Cahoy by Penn State University Libraries
“Library of today resides on the scholars’ desktops.” Looking at critical literacies for personal archiving, based on the information literacy (IL) standards from ACRL. [Stern Cahoy is on a taskforce at ACRL reviewing the IL standards. Oh, please make them more conversant with the IL research coming out of Australia.]

Curation, archiving, and preservation are not part of the IL standards right now. Stern Cahoy wants to include these standards in the next iteration of the IL standards. [I think this would be very cool and useful, especially as I teach information literacy to first-year college students] Also would be more aligned with SCONUL’s Seven Pillars of Information Literacy.

I, Digital: Personal collections as an archival endeavor by Cal Lee of UNC Chapel Hill
Focusing on the archival profession and trends. Many archival institutions have collecting missions that include personal papers in addition to institutional records.

Five trends:
1. Work within collecting institutions have become very professionalized (specialization, profession education and training, conferences, professional associations, specialized language, etc.)
2. Individuals have gained more ability to create and store materials
3. Parts of personal collections are distributed across a diversity of systems, environments, and platforms
4. Researchers have placed more emphasis on importance of personal stories (yay, social history!)
5. Previously distinct communities have realized they have similar issues with dealing with digital materials.

Long-standing division of the manuscripts versus public records traditions in the archival profession. “Evidential turn” of the 1990s in archival literature, inspired by electronic records. This divide has flavored the way the profession has dealt with personal digital archives. Not a lot of focus on these personal records until recently.

Along with other related streams of activity, like electronic recordkeeping, personal information management, and tools for user-generated collections, now influence how we deal with personal digital records. Many recent projects and activities focused on personal digital archives (much funded by the Mellon Foundation).

Just published the I, Digital about work on personal digital archives. (Check it out for more information about this topic).

Huge potential for further collaboration among tech people, curators, archivists, and special collections librarians. Can develop this arena in a way that will get attention to help out the archival profession expand the solutions to personal digital archives.

Take Home Messages
We need to work together to bring more attention to the issues and promises of personal digital archives. I think this is especially important for the archives profession. We must also keep better track of our digital research projects, even if they start out as personal projects, because the personal can morph into something larger and it is important to document. We need to remember that there is a great variance among scholars in the adoption, interest, and use of digital resources when we are creating new tools (repurposing tools) for digital humanities (and really in the creation of any digital tools). Incorporating personal archiving into the information literacy standards would be amazing and very helpful for making students more aware of and able to organize, preserve, and ultimately be able to use their own archives. Academic session for the win! Great talks all.

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  1. Pingback: In a digital Aρχεῖον | Smiljana Antonijević

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