Posted by: stackedfivehigh | September 9, 2012

Back to school

I hope everyone had a great summer. I really enjoyed the break from school – I haven’t taken a summer off from classes in a couple years.

My MLS program just began last week, and I’m busily color-coding calendars and trying to devise a good schedule. I’ve found that if I plan in the time for studying and homework, it’s much easier to get everything done and have some time to do other things. I’m enrolled in two classes that are focusing on information as a concept. What is information, how is it organized, etc. MARC and EAD come up, metadata, standards, and so on. There is a lot of reading, but it’s pretty interesting.

The internship is still going incredibly well. My quality control project has mostly been given to interns from other departments while I work on other projects. I just finished writing three pieces of policy, which are now on their way through the complex system of approvals. I’m still learning the writing style of the agency, but it’s surprisingly satisfying to work on policy. A couple weeks ago I wrote an SF 258 to send electronic records to NARA – also satisfying. I definitely prefer sending electronic records over the 7-page box list for my last transfer.

Those are the big things – otherwise it’s normal RM activities; reference work, filing, quality control, policy. We’re getting ready for auditing, so that’s sort of cool, though I’m not going with either team to the district offices for auditing. I’ll be involved when we go through the on-site records, though.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | June 21, 2012

Things they don’t teach you in school

Things I learned this week:

– When done correctly, you can remove folders from the stacks, box them, and put the boxes on a desk fast enough to work up a sweat.

– Driving a book cart can be an ab exercise, if you’re going around corners fast enough

– It’s possible to pull a box out of the cart hard enough that the cart runs over your foot.

– I shouldn’t be allowed to drive a book cart.

– If you’re careful, you won’t get cardboard cuts all over your hands and arms. This is an assumption. I wasn’t careful.

24 boxes of old folders were pulled, and now I’m working on the box list to get them off site.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | June 17, 2012

One project done, two more started

One of my “down-time” projects was to go through the file room and put the files in reverse-chronological order, for each ID/client, and ensure each file had its appropriate sticker indicating the year of the file. I’m not entirely sure how to even ballpark the number of files, but it took a few weeks.

Now that I’ve finished checking the files, I’m going back through and pulling any files that are old enough that they should have been sent off-site already. This isn’t a large proportion, but I already have about 6 boxes and am a third of the way through the files.

Once the cleaning is done, I’ll start on a much larger project. I’m going to review each corporate history file to ensure each paper was put in the right client’s file and to ensure the papers are in reverse-chron order. A little quality control is a good thing. I like these projects because they provide a break from writing/reviewing policy, and I can get up from the desk and move around a bit. There’s a great balance in the office between these types of projects that I really appreciate.

I’m also enjoying doing reference work, though it’s something I still have to ask a lot of questions about. I’m starting to understand the myriad places to search for information, and am working on writing a guide to it, both for myself and so the researchers can get as much information on their own as possible.


Posted by: stackedfivehigh | May 23, 2012

April-May update

Another semester completed – as well as a degree and certificate – and a whole month off before grad school starts. The last month was rather crazy, as the MARAC Conference led into two major papers being due, then finals, but I got it all done. The conference was okay; there weren’t as many topics that I was as interested in as last time, but Cape May was a nice town and it was nice to go walk on the beach for a few hours. And eat (and buy several pounds of) salt water taffy, which I’m still steadily working my way through.

I’m all signed up for my one summer class, and weighing out which 2 of 3 classes I want to take in the fall. I’m hoping to take one in-person and one online whenever possible, but there’s no forecast of online classes, so I can’t plan for it.

At work, I’ve successfully trained, assisted, reviewed, revised, nagged, and filed the people responsible for the file plans/ the file plans themselves for nearly 200 business units. I really enjoyed the project, though it has been my major focus since late February. During that I also made a completely awesome spreadsheet for tracking reference requests, charge-outs, and sending accessions off-site. I’m pretty proud of it and am now able to write vlookup and hlookup directions like a champ.

Now I’m working on policy – writing my own pieces, reviewing for others – and working on cleaning up the files. There’s a really great work balance right now. I get to have meetings where I talk to other people, then focused writing/editing time, then I get to close myself in the records room, put on some music and verify labels/chron order are correct.

And that about wraps up the last month for me.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | April 7, 2012

File Plans!

I’m in the middle of my last two undergrad classes, and getting ready for next week’s MARAC Conference in Cape May. What’s really keeping me occupied, though, is my internship.  I’m in the Records Management office in a Treasury Department agency…and it’s file plan time! I got to help as we gave 177 business units  training on how to write their file plans (almost all of them had one already, but there was training for updating and whatnot). Then I got to do the file plan for the records management office. And that was not as easy as I thought it would be. And now? Now I get to review the 177 file plans, call the people who wrote them to ask follow-up questions and/or request corrections, and other little administrative duties that go along with the project.

The file plan project is literally all I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks, which can be a bit draining, but at the same time I’m really enjoying it. There’s nothing like reviewing file plans for hours to give you a pretty good grounding in the General Retention Schedule and the agency’s retention schedule. I was worried about that when I started reviewing – how was I supposed to know if it was wrong? This is going to take forever – I’ll have to look up every disposition! It really didn’t take long before I could catch the ones that were wrong, and it really gives me a better sense of the governmental standards for retention.

In other good news, I was accepted to the MLS program at University of Maryland, starting in the summer. I’m VERY excited, and spend far too much time on their website reconfiguring class schedules and reading old syllabi. Go Terps!

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | February 2, 2012

Checking in

Another busy semester has begun, with the exciting bonus of a full-year internship in a government records office. I’m waiting to get more information on what, if anything, I can blog about that. For now I’ll just say it’s awesome and makes me lean more toward that part of the life-cycle.

I’m in a Photoshop class right now, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s a little frustrating because the software is SO big, and there are just so many options for image editing. I hope to learn at least the basics for solid digital image preservation.My records management class this semester is on electronic records management – always a timely subject. I really enjoy William Saffady’s textbooks (this is the text, if you’re curious), they’re comprehensive and fairly easy to read. I have to say I’m rather sad that this is the last class in my certificate program. So far it’s a good semester.

Today I registered for the MARAC Spring Conference. I love going through the conference program, picking out (and then changing my mind) which sessions I want to attend. It looks like another fun, informative conference.


Posted by: stackedfivehigh | October 29, 2011

Wrapping up the conference

I attended a couple more sessions that focused on electronic records management. I know, a little heavy on the e-recs, but it’s an important area.

One of the sessions, “Born Digital Records – Moving from Theory to Practice,” discussed the efforts at Tufts University for implementing a more comprehensive electronic records management program. One of the main points the speaker emphasized was that doing something is better than doing nothing. It can be overwhelming to develop an electronic records program, especially because of changing formats, standards, etc, but a basic program is better than no program at all, even if it’s not as comprehensive as you’d like. Some of the technology that was used – not necessarily recommended, but that at least has potential, includes: Dspace, Duke University’s Data Accessioner, ArchNet, and Archivists’ Toolkit.

Another speaker during that session discussed the needs of another university for implementing a larger digitization program; a basic program was already in place. This speaker emphasized the benefits of formal guidelines and boundaries for the program, the inclusion of all interested and relevant parties to relevant committees, and ensuring that a program is simple to follow for the next set of people who will need to follow it.

Another session focused on implementing a digital asset management system – here we again had the emphasis on open source, open access, interoperability, and open standards. An important bit of guidance – if your DAM system does not fit seamlessly with your workflow, it’s probably not right for your organization.

“Creating and Maintaining Web Archives” was really interesting to me. Capturing and archiving entire websites can be quite difficult; the service offered by Archive-IT seems pretty awesome, in that they will do extensive capture and retention for you. This is becoming popular for research – no one wants to have the online sources for their dissertation disappearing, right? Aside from a subscription service to do your capture and retention, there was discussion about storage, copyright concerns, and the difficulties of capturing multi-media content.

Last session – and the one that was actually unrelated to electronic records management (mostly) was about online learning and telecommuting for archival internships and work. I said it was mostly unrelated to electronic records because while that wasn’t the focus, it is one of the areas of archival work that lends itself to telecommuting.  The take-away from this session was that there are growing opportunities for remote work/internships/education in archives. There is no substitute for hands-on processing of a box, of course; reference work isn’t really something you can do away from the archives, and security has to be a priority.

So, that was MARAC’s Fall Conference. What I took away from it? A much greater electronic records understanding, some new avenues of research to explore (namely the various software programs mentioned in the sessions), and many hours spent looking at the archived web content on Archive-IT. It’s pretty interesting. I also learned that I should mix up the sessions I choose a bit more. The electronic records emphasis was useful, but it got to be a bit much. I’m looking forward to the next conference already. In the meantime, back to homework.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | October 23, 2011

More than alphabet soup

I decided to go for a little bit of overkill – an 8-hour workshop on electronic records management, and then the majority of shorter sessions on the same subject. First session – “File Formats: More than Alphabet Soup?”

The first speaker discussed the options an archives has for preservation of digital records. Pros and cons of open source vs. proprietary formats (often cost/support/longevity comparisons), how to do determine if a format is preservation-quality (is it stable? will the company who made it disappear? is it uncompressed and unencrypted?), and the benefits of the PDF/A-1, level A (not to be confused with level B) were discussed. Results? Do the best you can, there aren’t a lot of standards for preservation formats.

The second speaker talked about the problems she has had at the Smithsonian Institute in digitizing files. Some of the most common problems – the font Smithsonian uses in their letterhead/logo will not embed in a PDF/A, so there is an ongoing issue with file normalization. Two problems dealing with file type are misnamed files – a BMP with the extension .JPG, for instance; also the complete lack of file extensions (or entirely obsolete extensions). The speaker said they’ve recently accessioned files that were .ltr, .env, etc.

The third speaker discussed file formats as well as consideration of the scale of digitization (exabytes of data) and the sustainability of preservation formats. One of the problems reiterated throughout the session was that there is no set of steps you can take to preserve digital files, and then you’re done and can walk away. This speaker differed from the others in his acceptance of lossy compression as a real consideration for use. The argument is that it is not practical to avoid compression, and at times lossy compression (so long as the quality of the record is not impacted) may be the only real solution due to space considerations. We were reminded that a loss in data quality is far more likely to result from operator error, internal/external attacks, or organizational/economic failure than because a file was compressed in a lossy format.

The session provided some realistic considerations for preservation-level digitization, how to make the best preservation plan for your organization, and where to look in the future for the next formats. I personally would love to see an internationally supported open source standard that would allow a greater range of embedded data than the PDF/A-1, but the PDF/A-1 standard is a respectable option at this time for many record types.

Also – a useful reference is the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative. There is some great information here about different record types and format options for preservation.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | October 20, 2011

Managing Electronic Records – MARAC conference

Today was full of workshops at the MARAC Conference in beautiful Bethlehem, PA. First, entirely off subject, I need to mention the enormous store filled with Christmas decorations, a couple stores away from a handmade chocolate shop. It’s a fantastic place to be. Now back to the workshop.

I was in a workshop today, hosted by Geof Huth, on managing electronic records. This was an 8 hour workshop, so we covered quite a bit. I typed 20 pages of notes, if you were curious. The major points to take away is to be flexible, to be realistic, use open standards where possible, compromise where necessary, and break the issue into manageable parts.

7.5 hours before we got to that summary, we talked about some of the areas in which electronic records management differs from paper records management, as well as how they are similar. One of the crucial differences, and one that can actually be impossible to work around for some collections, is the need to gain control of the records long before they come to the archives. If you have a manuscript repository and your donations are spontaneous, there’s little you can do to get control of electronic records to encourage preservation. If, however, you are in a corporate or government setting, establishing a retention schedule is a good first step in encouraging retention. The problem with not getting early control is that people delete the records, the files become corrupted, the storage devices are obsolete, etc.

Electronic and paper records are similar in that they have similar steps – appraisal, accessioning, description, preservation, access, security – this exists no matter the medium of the record. With electronic records, however, appraisal has to consider things like whether a repository will be able to maintain readability and functionality. Preservation is also complicated by inevitable obsolescence of hardware and software.

There was a significant discussion of the ubiquitous metadata, but the greatest focus was preservation. Types of normalized file formats for various media were explained, as was data migration, strengths and weaknesses of media formats, and the major guidelines for caring for electronic media.

Access is also an area of much discussion, as levels of access and security must be maintained on the system this is an area that has to formally defined. Redaction is typically approached differently – though repositories have been known to make a hard copy that they can make physical redaction on – and this usually involves file redundancy, with one version of the record available for researcher use. Another key difference in relation to access is that staff need basic IT training in addition to archives training. Staff must be able to use the system and provide basic troubleshooting to researchers.

The last major area of discussion was establishing an electronic records program. Assessing the options available for platforms, for internal and external supports for the program, identifying training needs, and setting priorities and realistic time-lines are all useful steps in creating a functional electronic records program.

It was a really great workshop – I know I glossed over the details, but it was very helpful for understanding how to approach electronic records from an archival management perspective, especially how to control the collection and how to best establish a program for control.

Tomorrow will be two shorter sessions. I will report back soon.

Posted by: stackedfivehigh | October 15, 2011

Finishing up SAA 2011

My excuse for this taking two months to finish is that I lost the notebook full of my notes. We won’t go into how directly in front of me the notebook was when I found it. I’m going to wrap up my thoughts on SAA 2011, because I’m heading to MARAC’s conference this week. I have a wild and crazy plan to blog about the conference while I’m there. We’ll see how well I stick to that.

So, a few more items of interest from Chicago. First, I went to a session called “What ARMA can teach us beyond records management.” This session focused on the difference between the records management industry and the archives industry, considering how each industry approaches business management and tries to “sell itself.” ARMA really highlights the business value of records management, and emphasizes business training for its members more than the archives industry/SAA. Understanding the strategic values and goals, the management “buttons”, the objectives of management and the company; these are the important business tools that records managers are trained to find and utilize so that the needs of the records management program are met. The ARMA conferences have a preponderance of workshops and sessions that focus on how to write a business proposal, how to communicate with upper-level executives, create strategic plans for programs, and align program plans with the corporate vision.

These are excellent points – by contrast, many organizations view archival holdings as “old stuff” with questionable value. If they don’t need it at hand, how likely are they to need it again, except perhaps for legal compliance? The ability to sell the value of an archives program is of great importance to the entire industry, and I agree with the speakers that an increased emphasis on this, and teaching business skills, should be part of the SAA conferences. As an aside, the prohibitive cost of ARMA was mentioned in the session – the annual ARMA conference (which does not offer a student price) would run me about 5 times attending the SAA conference.

One of my favorite sessions was about mobile technology and the archives. The speakers all used different technology, and some were not entirely successful, but it was great to see new outreach being tried in the archival field. One of speakers had used QR codes extensively on a college campus, both marketing materials and exhibits. The use of a QR code on a flyer which would bring the reader to a website with more extensive information that can be kept up-to-date is useful. Even more so, I thought the use of a QR code to link a viewer at an exhibit to more detailed background information was brilliant. These can be used to connect to an audio file, as well, providing a personalized audio tour of an exhibit or collection.

Another speaker had used 4square to try increasing interest in the archives at a university. This was a bit less successful, and the speaker believed the rural location of the university had much to do with that. With a more urban setting and more off-campus activities, tying the university’s archives and library services into 4square could very well be an effective marketing tactic.

And, of course – there’s an app for that. Duke University has an app. Who doesn’t, right? Within that app is a section for the archives’ digital collection. This is a great tool. First, it was visually appealing, the design was great. Different objects in the collections could be highlighted, bringing attention to the value of the archives. It could also be updated, but the app content and design were being managed by an external company. This does lead to delays in implementation, but the quality of the company used also increases the expertise in how the app is managed.

These were a few of my favorite sessions, and I’m looking forward to what MARAC has to offer later this week. I’ll be going to my first professional workshop, where I will spend the entire day learning about managing electronic records.

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