URLs Aren’t Archives ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and Other Stories

I have not spent much time in recent months following the travails of media organizations such as Gawker and the Gothamist other than to casually peruse tweets on my timeline. A retweet caught my eye the other day, and here we are. Today’s post is mainly in response to “Digital Media and the Case of the Missing Archives,” written by Danielle Tcholakian who in turn seems to have been inspired by an article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Tcholakian’s article provoked a strong reaction from me – sharp, keen frustration. I found the assumptions made by the author to be frustrating. The lack of input in the piece by any institutional archivist, records manager or content management administrator was frustrating. The absence of details, such as the ownership of material posted on sites such as Gawker, was frustrating. The expectation of action on the part of institutions such as the Library of Congress was frustrating. Frustration all around.

I do not in any way wish to devalue the anxiety that journalists or their readership must feel when the URLs to their articles are moved or deleted. Those of us in academic and legal environments have been dealing with link and citation rot for ages. Artists, too, are experiencing the fragility of their online portfolios.

Journalists are not alone.

A Question of Vocabulary

So let us start a mutual conversation with me first asking journalists, what do you mean by “archives”? What are your archives? How are you employing the term? To describe the platform on which your articles are published and disseminated? A collection of PDFs saved on a networked server? Printouts of the articles neatly bound in a Trapper Keeper? Are you including the records of the organization in your definition of archives? The records in which the history of hiring practices, revenue sources, internal policy and decision-making is documented?

Archives the word is a challenging concept. Within the context of archives and records management, archives can refer to:

  • verb, “to transfer records from the individual or office of creation to a repository authorized to appraise, preserve, and provide access to those records”.
  • noun, “an archives”.

Information technologists, data librarians, and information governance professionals may broaden those definitions to include data backups, but generally, archivists tend to shy away from “Big Data” and instead focus on that small bit of material that is deemed archival.

Institutional archives do not have indefinite financial resources. Archivists and librarians are often overworked, underpaid, underresourced, and frankly, undercited. The provision of access and long-term sustained preservation go hand-in-hand. Services such as Archive-It require institutions to make a financial commitment towards server space and the employment of technical archivists to manage institutional collections.

Importantly, modern archivists do not make it a practice of taking things, or blindly capturing online records, without first attempting to identify and secure the right to do so. Violating this principle is wrong, legally and ethically.

I think it would also behoove us to discuss “vital records” for a moment. The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations defines vital records as the essential agency records that are needed to meet operational responsibilities under national security emergencies or other emergency conditions (emergency operating records) or to protect the legal and financial rights of the Government and those affected by Government activities (legal and financial rights records). While important, newspapers are not vital records. Janice Okubo of the Hawaii Health Department was most likely talking about records such as birth certificates and taken far out of context.

Media Archives

Since newspapers and media publication serve a variety of business functions, extant newspapers do not exist purely by chance. In the past, publishers recognized the business value of their print and retained copies for their own identified business needs. Perhaps they wanted to have a reference resource, as shown in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight. Maybe their intention was more mercantile.

Circulation and subscription models expanded to include the sale, or rental, of microfilmed versions of these publications. Publishers retained the original long-lasting microfilm masters to make even more copies from, or add to their business archives, rendering the retention and management of paper versions moot. Computers made it possible to digitize that microfilm, secure it in a database, distribute publications even more widely.

Unlike print newspapers, digital-only news has no physical form. A subscription to digital content usually provides an institution or reader with rented, limited access to files that are managed by the newspaper producer via a digital asset management system, and the legal terms associated with access. There is a critical difference between this short-term access model and long-term ownership. Under this model, archives and libraries usually do not take custody of the digital objects that comprise the “news”— including images, websites, social media, text, apps,  and other content forms.

This is not to say that there are no media archives. Many media outlets maintain internal corporate archives or employ records managers to manage the CMS. There is a degree of archiving required of these folx in their work, but much of their work is curation – making sure that assets are discoverable and maintained.

Examples of media archives who have made this transition include:

WNYC is a smashing exemplar of how institutional archives can partner with the community it serves. While Gawker is under siege by political and economic forces outside the scope of this post, the Gothamist will continue to exist. WNYC received funding from anonymous sources to purchase the intellectual property rights along with the published material. It is crucial to note that the WNYC archives did not take, or “capture,” the Gothamist website. WNYC worked with the Gothamist to obtain the legal right to retain and disseminate the archives for the future.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation is also doing impressive work. They have recently set out to capture Gawker.com with the understanding that the articles disseminated for public consumption are not intellectual assets of Gawker. In other words, Gawker.com is no more protected property than copies of old newspapers found in your grandparents’ attic.

What can journalists do?

Brush up on your information literacy, for one. If your work is changing the world, then you need to carve out some time. Look into services such as Perma.cc and the Wayback Machine. Practice good hygiene in the management of your records. Ask questions at work: does the organization have an archivist or records manager? Who maintains the content management system? What would happen to your work in the event of bankruptcy or a change in ownership? Is our website even technically archivable? Look for opportunities like Personal Digital Archiving for Journalists to expand your knowledge about managing your media for the long haul. Most importantly, please always feel free to reach out to archivists and librarians! Society of American Archivists is one resource. ARMA is another. Explore Open Scholarship with a renewed commitment to maintaining your body of work.

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Next RMS hangout: Records Managers Outside of Archives speak up!

After a few months’ hiatus, the Records Management Section Hangout Series is back!

On Thursday, March 29 at 12:00 CDT, join members of the RMS steering committee in a discussion on ““What RMs Want: Records Managers On What They Wish Archivists Knew About Them (And Vice-Versa)”. Experienced records managers Dennis Larsen (retired, formerly Records Manager for the University of Wisconsin-Colleges and Extension) and Connie Schumacher (Content and Records Manager, Argonne National Laboratories)  will answer questions about their experiences in records management environments in which archivists are removed from the immediate administrative hierarchy, but still interact with the records management staff to fulfill organizational and research mandates. Records Managers in such environments often have very different concerns and priorities than records managers also working as or under an archivist. During the hangout, we will examine those priorities and determine how archivists can work to help meet them, as well as how these different perspectives can benefit an organization’s archival program. (As a municipal records manager under the Milwaukee City Clerk but with working relationships with at least two different City archival or quasi-archival repositories, I will weigh in on this as well!)

To tune in live to the hangout, please visit the YouTube watch page; following the discussion, the recording will be available at that same URL. RMS staff will be monitoring the page feed and social media for questions for our speakers; please use the #saarms hashtag on Twitter to ensure maximum visibility for your question, or leave it as a comment ahead of time at the RMS Blog. Look forward to seeing you there!

I Want to Legal Hold Your Hand

This guest post is by Holly Dolan, MLS, Assistant Manager of Denton County Records Management in Denton, Texas. If you would link to download copies of these valentines for your own re-use, Holly has graciously made this PDF available.

At some point in their career every records manager has felt the air go sour when they’ve walked into a room. What is it about records management that sets people on edge? Perhaps it’s the dense policy documents, the fear of making a mistake, or that dreaded word—compliance—that creates resistance and fear in our customers. Whatever the cause, overcoming this distrust can feel like an impossible task, but failing to address the issue can create communication barriers that make effective records management nearly impossible. So how do records managers build relationships of trust in the organizations that we serve while still gaining compliance?

RMValentines

To build relationships I try to focus on creative outreach, and one easy way I accomplish this is through fun holiday messages. Light-hearted messages make compliance information easier to digest and boosts the knowledge in my organization without relying on formal training. A great example of this type of outreach is our Valentine’s Day cards. When I first designed these cards, the main goal was to make my co-workers in our Records Management division laugh. I quickly realized, with each card having a records management term on them, this was a great outreach opportunity. We sent a copy of the cards to all of our records management liaisons countywide along with a link to our glossary. We received great feedback and even some positive comments from departments whom we rarely have the opportunity to interact with. It was great to see that inserting a little bit of humor into the topic made records management a bit more palatable to them.

Since then, we’ve tried to continue sending creative and upbeat outreach materials. Messages, newsletters, and even policy updates that include fun graphics and colors tend to be well received. For example, new records management liaisons each receive a colorful infographic outlining their duties. Last year’s Halloween message let our customers know that, even though cleaning out your file cabinet can be scary, Records Management can help! I truly believe that since we’ve focused on this type of outreach, our division and its mission has become better received throughout the county.

So why does creative outreach make such a difference? I believe that the nature of our work and the preconceived notions about records management sets us at an immediate disadvantage when attempting to communicate. We need to remain visible to our organizations, but when we just focus on the policy, we tend to exacerbate these communication issues and risk turning people off. Using humor in outreach establishes a mutual humanity with our customers, and when they see that we’re human (rather than the records management robots they were expecting), they may decide that records management isn’t that horrible after all.

Upcoming Hangout: Institutional Placement Survey — Records Management and Archival Services

Mark your calendars for the next Records Management Section Google Hangout!

On Monday, December 4 at noon Eastern, the Records Management Section will be hosting a hangout with Jackie Esposito from Penn State University. She will be talking about the report on her Institutional Placement Survey — Records Management and Archival Services.

Institutional archives and records management programs provide such a wide variety of services that institutions often “struggle to fit” them within administrative offices.

From July to December 2016, Jackie conducted a study on where records management and archival services are located within universities. She developed an online survey and visited all fifteen Big Ten Academic Alliance universities for on-site interviews with a variety of stakeholders. They discussed the needs, issues, successes, and failures for different models of placement.

Review the report and be sure to tune in live to ask questions or watch later at your convenience. You can view the Hangout here.

We will be accepting questions for our speaker from you. If you have a question or topic for discussion please leave it as a comment here or use the #saarms hashtag on Twitter.  We will also monitor the comments on the YouTube live streaming page.

 

Records Management Outreach to Elementary Schools and Colleges

It all started in the beginning of the year.  My school sent out a call to parents and guardians to see who would be interested in coming to our school’s career day.  Guest speakers were sought to provide students with meaningful experiences that motivate and promote career/college readiness.  There had already been curiosity centering on the media center. What did the library media specialist do for the students?

Whenever students had free time (recess and/or lunch), they would volunteer to come and help the library media specialist in the library.  Shelving books was a popular job.  As the same students would come to the media center, they started to make the connection to information collected on them when they would check books out.  What was this all about?

The students started to understand about library records.  The library database could alert the library media specialist when books were overdue or tell her where books were located in the library collection.   All of this information could be found in a record.  The students wanted to know how records could help in different job positions.  To answer this question, Career Day speakers were found to explain their positions which also helped the students understand the importance of records for institutions, media centers, and presidential collections.

CanIhelpYou

Suddenly, the students were exposed to a type of job that they never really thought about—the archivist.  Students found out that this job can be an adventure.  “Without archives many stories of real people would be lost, and along with those stories, vital clues that allow us to reflect and interpret our lives today” (Laura A. Millar, Archives: Principles and practices, p. 74, https://goo.gl/7MVzX2).

This job type helps researchers, such as students, to gain access to information that they may need for various projects during their schooling.  Archivists preserve documents (papers, books, etc.) by keeping them in an order that would help students find the documents when needed but easy to find when stored in bookcases.  The archivist knows the documents and the authors who had written them so that they could better find documents meeting students’ informational needs.  This information can be about something from the past that could help the students understand a topic in the present.

This development started me to create an archive of interested career day speakers who want students to know that people in the information management profession are very important people to know.  This has expanded into a need for my college students as well.

Just because the students are not studying in that major does not mean that they do not want to know about it. They need to be informed that such major and/or position exists.  This will expand and open new possibilities for the students and for all of us.  Actually, this opens new doors to other ways to find information to meet students’  informational needs.

Want to join this archive of career speakers for elementary and college students?  Please fill in the form at this link:  https://goo.gl/forms/ejEOUPImQvveKqzp2

 

 

Managing Federal and Presidential Records

Mark your calendars for the next Records Management Section Google Hangout!

On Thursday, July 6 at noon Eastern, the Records Management Section will be hosting a hangout on the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act. We will be joined by Gary Stern, (General Counsel), Hannah Bergman (Assistant General Counsel), John Laster (Director, Presidential Materials Division), and Laurence Brewer (Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government) all from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

You may have additional questions after reading NARA’s Role in Preserving Presidential and Federal Records by David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, in the latest Archival Outlook. Here is your chance to ask!

Be sure to tune in live to ask questions or watch later at your convenience. You can view the Hangout here.

We will be accepting questions for our speakers from you.  If you have a question or topic for discussion please leave it as a comment here or use the #saarmrt hashtag on Twitter.  We will also monitor the comments on the YouTube live streaming page.

Making it Stick: Records Management Training Approaches

Several weeks ago the University Archivist and I conducted our bi-annual University Archives and Records Management training session, part of our Office of Human Resources Faculty and Staff Development Program. This got me thinking about the various strategies, methods, and approaches records managers employ when conducting training and outreach. I reached out to my peers via SAA’s records management and ARMA’s EDU listservs to get a sense of just that, and hopefully learn some new tips and tricks!

Training Image_Medium

The following is an overview of responses through which themes of visibility, focus, repetition, and trust were reoccurring. Thanks to Peggy Tran-Le, Cheryl Badel-Stevens, Peg Eusch, Chris Wydman, George Despres, and Hillary Gatlin for sharing their insights.

Visibility is vital. While records professionals may want to nerd out on recordkeeping topics, our users may not be as pro-active. So how to improve participation in records management training (RM)? Make it hard to miss. Incorporate records management training classes with new employee orientations, or pair it with your organization’s annually required training on information security or compliance. Reserve a slot in professional development services programs, or space at annual events or expos. In true lifecycle fashion, don’t forget to consider departing employee check-ins and exit interviews as points at which to engage users concerning record transitions and purging.

Focus your approach. Once you’ve captured some attention it’s time to drop some knowledge. Develop training consultations around specific recordkeeping topics such as developing effective filing systems, understanding retention schedules, shared drive management, or email retention. Create job aids like RM cheat sheets, quick reference guides, PowerPoint modules, or a Libguide (which tracks usage stats). Focus on particular needs that users can implement directly in their daily work.

Virtual potential. Many records managers may work in decentralized organizations, with distributed offices or campuses. Providing a virtual RM training presence boosts program visibility and increases engagement opportunities. Rather than reinventing the wheel, co-opt the service of an internal learning management system, like Blackboard, or a platform like YouTube to create training videos. These can range from voice-over PowerPoint presentations and subject specific Skype sessions, to casual discussions describing what RM is all about and off-the-cuff Google hangouts.

Repetition rules. Effective and consistent engagement comes from strong relationships, and that starts at the employee level. Target specific user groups like financial or human resource administrators, IT facilitators, or committees such as an Administrative Data Users Committee. Get more granular by conducting one-on-one consults where applicable. Develop repetitive outreach through quarterly newsletters or monthly emails. Consistency in RM training opportunities and resources leads to buy-in, which leads to trust, the keystone of any relationship.

Have fun with it! The following are some fun outreach ideas you can employ in your organization to build visibility and develop relationships:

  •          Post weekly RM tips on your organization’s media platform of choice.
  •          Monthly quizzes with prizes. Chocolate is effective!
  •          “RM Nuggets”, or short pointed articles, in other department’s newsletters.
  •          RM Literature distributed to departments annually to cover employee turnover, or included in new employee and departing employee packets.
  •          Web tutorials and quizzes reporting on completion by department to up gamesmanship.
  •          At trainings, encourage attendees to introduce themselves and what they hope  to learn. Attempt to address those concerns directly, or use them to craft a new training!
  •          Share RM in the news. Make it real and tangible.
  •          RM on Demand; Quick, topic-specific, ready-to-be shared modules.