Friday, August 30, 2013

The Public Face of an Archives

I've been going around and around in my mind about how I want to present this archive to The World. Since we have no public face yet, I'm pretty open to possibilities. The question that I've been facing over the past couple weeks is one of storage. Where do I want to store our metadata?
Now, for the digital/digitized things, I used CONTENTdm and it works pretty well. It's not perfect, but the perfect is the enemy of the good. I like it well enough, and it seems to like me ok too. The metadata for those items are kept in its brain. But what about the metadata for the collections as a whole? I feel as though I have a couple options in this regard, and I keep going over and over it in my mind, even though I'm not at a point where I can put anything in place anyway.
First option: The Old School
Straight-up MARC cataloging, and paper (well, Excel) accession records. No EAD. Now, this may seem like a dumb strategy, since EAD is what everyone uses, etc etc, but hear me out. In our library, where this archive is a little lost lamb, no one uses nor has heard of EAD. The catalog runs on MARC and RDA/AACRII, and I could, with relatively little trouble, create some pretty ballin' MARC records for the archival collections. I used to do it for a living, and I felt pretty good about the amount of information I could pack into a MARC record. Of course this leaves Future Archivist in the cold a little bit, because damn, everything's in MARC, but guess what? We'd have to do this work anyway so that it could go into OCLC, and I would have the added benefit of getting to use the power of the library's discovery portal for all my collections. That would be nice.

Second option: Archival Management System
I am going to get myself set up with a test system of Archon and we're gonna play around with it. But given the state of our archives and its newness, I am not confident that we could secure or maintain funding for a pay system, and of course Archon is going the way of the dodo and then we'll have to pay at some point. Plus, this is a TINY archive, do I really need that much computing power at this point or even five years in the future (when there will inevitably be something way better to implement)? Also, the discovery portal that the library is using is not compatible with EAD, so catalog records would still be necessary if I wanted to mingle with the library's holdings.

There are a ton of kinks to work out, but I want to try to create a system that overlaps and interlinks, so that even if I'm using a weird mashup of ILS, website, and CONTENTdm, that the user isn't feeling confused or let down by a poorly thought-out system. I have more thoughts on the user-driven model for archives, too, which I will probably talk about more as time permits. I was so glad to see that the SAA meeting was so devoted to exploring the idea of service, because after having been in libraries for several years, I was pretty disappointed in many ways at the way that archives still serve (or don't serve) their patrons.

More on that later.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I remember, when I was starting out in archives, getting excited about every new thing that came across my desk. I was a history major at the time, and every scrap of history was a new world, another little piece in the puzzle of "what happened." My curiosity eventually lost its edge. I mean, I didn't lose my love of history or anything quite so dire, but I definitely gave up on the sentimentality of the historical object. When you see enough old newspapers, you kind of stop caring about every article, every advertisement, every photograph. The sheet weight of all that historical material pressing on your time strips some of the romanticism away from the work.
But today, I got sucked back in. A random newspaper article, with a quote from a very famous man who recently passed away. The quote was inflammatory, and not at all flattering to either our university or the city and its population. It made me really hungry for more information about my university and its place in the history of this community.
Normally archivists don't deal with this. Rarely are we the ones who personally investigate history, but in some instances, we have to be. Because no one else is going to investigate.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.