October 25 – Archiving and Preserving

//October 25 – Archiving and Preserving
October 25 – Archiving and Preserving 2016-10-24T23:06:10-04:00

Guest Speakers

Janet Bunde
University Archivist
NYU Archives

Lindsay Anderberg
Archivist/User Services Librarian
NYU Tandon School of Engineering


Tanya Clement, Wendy Hagenmaier, and Jennie Levine Knies, “Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future: Impressions of Practice by Librarians, Archivists, and Digital Humanities Scholars,” Library Quarterly 83, no. 2 (April 2013): 112–30;

Paul Conway, “Rationale for digitization and Preservation”, in Museums in a Digital Age, ed. Ross Parry. New York: Routledge, 2010). pgs. 365-376.

Katrina Fenlon, Jacob Jett, and Carole L. Palmer. “Digital Collections and Aggregations.” DH Curation Guide. Accessed September 8, 2015.

Julia Flanders and Trevor Muñoz. “An Introduction to Humanities Data Curation.” DH Curation Guide.

Amy Williams, “Participation, Collaboration, and Community Building in Digital Repositories,” Participation, Collaboration et Développement Communautaire Dans Les Dépôts Numériques. 39, no. 3/4 (September 2015): 368–76.


  1. Isabelle October 20, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    In Digital Collections and Aggregations, one of the recourses offered (Buckland, M. K. “Collections”) states that “an important criterion for evaluating collections is their ability to serve as evidence for learning.” Perhaps I’m still too far entrenched in the concepts of subjectivity and fluidity in the humanities to accept such a statement of objectivity, but the notion of an infallible curator is hard to stomach. Also, it begs the question of whether works of art should be included in specific collections, simply because one doesn’t think that they serve an educational purpose. As we plunge into a more post-modern world, can we really decide what education value any specific work or product has? The impact of the digital world has already encroached on the authority of the curator, does the rise of deconstructionism also threaten said authority?

    On the subject of definitive “truths,” Amy Williams discusses the increase in collaboration and community wit the advent of new digital tools. We’ve discussed this a lot in class as well, as the digital humanities is, almost inherently, interdisciplinary and collaborative. Does the mere fact that multiple people are looking through identical information for archival purposes create a sort of new sense of accountability? Prior to digitization, information was often kept closer to the person who uncovered it, and was presented in whichever form he or she deemed best, in such a way to help his or her argument. But today, multiple people are used for the same archiving projects, which could imply a more objective perspective, since an individual’s subjectivity wouldn’t represent that of the group. We’ve discussed the pitfalls of assuming objectivity of digital work, but is there maybe a greater level objectivity merely through the process of collaboration?

    Williams also briefly discusses the consequences of editing submitted work, which reminded me of an issue with the History Moves project that always nagged in my mind. Williams mentions the feeling of mistrust if the creator of a project heavily edits participants’ accounts. I had the same feeling upon just reading the transcripts from the women in the History Moves project. Certain expressions, pauses, even full words were cut out of the transcripts. One could argue they had no purpose in the narrative, and yet, with such a personal account, doesn’t every sigh count? Of course, with the internet being such a cesspool of poor grammar, misspelled words, and general vulgarity, a digital project probably needs to maintain a standard of editing in order to be legitimate. Should there be a certain standard of “non editing” that creators adhere to? Should everyone be required to represent information in its truest form?

  2. Shoshanah October 22, 2016 at 2:15 am

    Transcendental Curation: Stewardship of the Soul

    I disagree with Paul Conway’s contention that, “the mere potential of increased access to a digital collection does not add value to an underutilized collection.” In ‘Capital Commodity’ Marx discusses different values a commodity has; labor value, exchange value, and use value. I believe increasing access to an underutilized collection would inherently increase both the use value and the labor value (since there is labor involved in digitizing any archive). Conway seems to contradict himself in ‘Rationalization for Digitization and Preservation’ when he goes on to say, “Digital products that draw together, organize, and enhance access to widely dispersed research materials may have transcendental impact on the people who use them.” Wouldn’t inciting a transcendental experience in the user add value to a collection? How can we quantify a transcendental experience? What does it look like and how is it measured? Is it a universal experience, or do different users experience it differently?

    I really liked Conway’s relational exploration of preservation and access:
    Preservation or access — mutually exclusive
    Preservation and access — mutually reinforcing
    Preservation is access — cause and effect
    Preservation of access — preservation is the action and access is the thing (the act of preserving access)
    I wonder, in the case of a crowd sourced archive like Wikipedia, if one could say that access is preservation?

    As mentioned in ‘Digital Collections and Aggregations,’ the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative defines vocabulary standards for collection description. Collection level descriptions are “unitary finding-aids” for discovery, identification, and selection. Is this (sort-of) how a voice recognition program like SIRI works? Keywords in the question you ask SIRI serve as unitary finding-aids; formulating her response?

    After reading ‘An Introduction to Humanities Data Curation,’ I went down a google-search rabbit hole exploring the etymology of the words curation. Today we use the word curator to mean a person who selects, organizes, and cares for items in a collection. However, the word originally meant to care for (specifically the soul): “one responsible for the care of souls.” This brings me back to Conway’s “transcendental experience.” Is the digital curator a steward of transcendental experiences for the soul? How does this view of a curator relate to the acquisition and preservation of ephemera? Is this what Walter Benjamin is talking about when he refers to “aura” and “presence”?



  3. Cristina October 24, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Transparency, Editing and Archiving: Changing Expectations and Evolving Roles

    1. In the helpful list of annotated resources, “Digital Collections and Aggregations,” compiled by Katrina Fenlon, Jacob Jett and Carole. L Palmer, the discussion in section 4, “Descriptive Metadata for Collections and Items” highlights the need for metadata to answer for the “relationship between items and the collection.” These concerns include “Why have these items been brought together as a collection?…What is the collection’s target audience?” These questions indicate an intentionality that is absent from modern archival practice, which attempts a neutral stance as to the foreseeable use of materials. Discuss the pros and cons of circumscribing such boundaries for a collection. Does answering these questions help focus data curation? Is there a risk of excluding potential uses/users? What responsibility do data curators have to serve the widest possible group of users? Does simply providing access to documentation around “strategic points concerning the treatment of this data,” such as “interpretive layering” and “editorial voice” as suggested in the chapter “An Introduction to Humanities Data Curation” by Julia Flanders and Trevor Muñoz fulfill this responsibility?

    2. There is great potential for collaboration and community building facilitated by structural choices like open-source repositories – as mentioned by interviewees in the piece by Tanya Clement, Wendy Hagenmairer and Jennie Levine, “Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future: Impressions of Practice by Librarians, Archivists, and Digital Humanities Scholars” – and by content collection choices – like the online community archives mentioned in “Participation, Collaboration, and Community Building in Digital Repositories” by Amy Williams. From these readings, do you get the sense that there is an implied shared responsibility for the maintenance of such repositories, like in William’s examples of Dorothy Jenkins Fields relationship to the Black Archives? How do you predict this might change the archival profession and training for professionals in that field?

    3. Expanding on the previous question, discuss the changing role of the expert or subject specialist in the Archives 2.0 environment. In “Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future: Impressions of Practice by Librarians, Archivists, and Digital Humanities Scholars,” many of those interviewed were subject specialists that had oversight of large-scale digital projects. How do these new responsibilities change the role of the academic in society at large?

  4. Leslie October 25, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    In “An Introduction to Humanities Data Curation,” I was really taken with the concept of data that changes: “As a compact and provisional definition, we might therefore start by saying that data curation is “the active and ongoing management of datas throughout its entire lifecycle of interest and usefulness to scholarship” (Cragin et al. 2007).”” This makes sense in the digital age, however I’m a little confused on the humanities end. I can get how the study of folklore could have changing data. However, I’m a little hazy on things like literature. Unless there are different translations currently being published, what is the data that would change and need to be monitored in a literary digital humanities project?

    In “Digital Collections and Aggregations,” Fenlon, Jett, and Palmer suggest H.L. Lee’s “The Concept of collection from the user’s perspective” as a resource. The quick description reads, ““Concepts surrounding collections and their functions are examined from the user’s perspective, based on interviews with humanities and natural sciences scholars.” This seems like such an obvious, DUH! thing–of course you would want users to help determine your collection. I’m a little upset I didn’t really think about it concretely (or explicitly?) myself. However, I wonder how manageable this sort of collaboration is. When does it reach a point that there are too many users requesting or suggesting certain things? How often do different users identify different problems and strengths? How does the collection creator sift through such feedback to find what is important and will help the collection in the long run?

    In “Participation, Collaboration, and Community Building,” Amy Williams writes, “Waves of innovation have slowly, but progressively, transformed the field from a place where archivists sat in solitary ivory towers and lorded over their special collections and repositories to a place where archivists are expanding into the digital sphere and shifting their focus to interactions with their patrons. Kate Theimer (2011), author of the blog ArchivesNext, classifies this latter approach as ‘‘Archives 2.0.’’ Theimer defines Archives 2.0 as ‘‘an approach to archival practice that promotes openness and flexibility’’ which ‘‘argues that archivists must be user centered and embrace opportunities to use technology to share collections, interact with users, and improve internal efficiency’’ (60).” I love this idea of democratized (not sure if this is the right word) creation of collections, specifically the creators being from different sorts of institutions and backgrounds. The idea that it is open and flexible is really nice. However, do archivists not still sit in an ivory tower? This sort of work still feels exclusive, in a way.

  5. kcauley October 25, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    The discussion of open-source access and community participation in the Clement/Hagenmaier/Knies piece left me wondering, how do public libraries fit into this equation? The quote by Dorothea Salo that libraries must ‘adapt or die,’ and the specific emphasis on ‘scholarly’ collaboration, led me to believe that this model might be predicting for extinction of the public library. If in fact DH is espoused to the future of librarianship, what role will the general public have in information access and preservation? Will library access revert back to a pre-19th century model, reserved for the elite?

    Theodore H. Nelson says ‘Unfortunately, there are no ascertainable statistics on the amount of time we waste fussing among papers and mislaying things…” in order to support his argument that computers will save half the time of writing (1965?). What can explain such a miscalculation? Consider Conway’s conclusion that 83% of the web is commercial and only 6% is educational/academic. ******* The Nelson piece was withdrawn from our reading list*********

    Conway states multiple times that librarians and archivist have ‘no control over the evolution of the imaging marketplace.” Who really is the imaging industry? And what established its priorities? Why is it that cultural preservation professionals are underrepresented in these innovations? Is it purely capitalistic greed or is there a fundamental difference of digital function priority?

  6. Anna October 25, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    1- In Participation, Collaboration, and Community Building in Digital Repositories; when talking about community archives the author outlines that Flinn, Stevens, and Shepherd define community archives as ‘‘collections of material gathered primarily by members of a given community and over whose use community members exercise some level of control.’’ The author then states that he takes community as “(…) a group of people who share the same ethnicity, religion, gender, occupation, or other identifying factor instead of a collection of materials on a historical topic or a place.” My question concerns is based on the “members exercise some level of control” part. Does that mean that community archives are only archives that convey major ideologies in the community and that minorities are excluded from the process? Does Williams re-integrate the minorities within the processes of creating community archives? And so would Flinn, Stevens, and Shepherd consider the Black Archives a community Archive?
    In page 372

    2- In Rationale for Digitalization and Preservation p368 – The author explains OVER TIME as “ Preservation in the digital world is not absolute, but depends instead of the continuing transformative impact of the digital product on the information work of end-users” What does that mean exactly? Does it have to do with the transformation of choice? To stay over time does the digital product stay within the selection of users and by so continue to show within the first choices when a research is done on the subject?

    3- In Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future: Impressions of Practice by Librarians, Archivists, and Digital Humanities Scholars p4 the authors try to set up a frame and characteristics to define what is a scholarly edition and question what makes a scholarly digital edition. When questioning this term are the author questioning the characteristics defining it like possibly “accuracy, adequacy, appropriateness, consistency,” or even just the nature of it. Meaning does the scholarly digital edition are only digital copies of printed edition or new articles digitally published or does an app for example or a website could fit within the frame of scholarly digital editions?

  7. Zejun October 25, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    In “Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future: Impressions of Practice by Librarians, Archivists, and Digital Humanities Scholars,” the authors point out the archivist’s expert annotation shapes other’s interaction with the archive. (P114) It reminds me about Emily Drabinski’s “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction.” As a librarian, Emily elaborates the controversial library database subject heading of “illegal alien” affect the process of record searching and her identity as a queer person.

    Q1. I am wondering what can be the solutions for minimizing if not eliminating the bias posed by the archivists?

    Q2. For the same article, I am bit troubled by the sample size the authors draw conclusions from. How representative can those five interviewees be with the relatively small sample size and similar institutions and roles they obtain?

    Q3. In “An Introduction to Humanities Data Curation,” Flanders and Muñoz describe the data curation as “active and ongoing data management.” Since the data needs to be constantly maintained and updated to be accessible and relevant, will data’s authenticity diluted when time pass by? Unlike preservation at museums, where the minimum intervention of the object is preferred, digital preservation seems requires greater effort on “intervention.” Will the opposite goals of preservation lead to conflict between a physical object and its digital presence?

  8. Whitney October 25, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    1.) If, as Clement, Hagenmaier, and Knies argue in their article “Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future…”, the role of the scholar is to increase activities traditionally assigned to archivists, at what point does collecting folklore become crowd sourcing for digital humanities or vice-versa? It seems to me that much of what is being argued in the articles for this week promote the digital collecting of data as something different than what has been happening in the field of documenting folklore for decades (in regards to non-academics contributing to storytelling). Is there an actual difference between the two fields, or is this another example of the interdisciplinary function of digital humanities?

    2.) I find the practice of collecting media from a real-time event fascinating, but also see it as a potentially hairy endeavor. Who decides what is valuable in the moment? Is there a standard measure of time between the collection of the data and the evaluation of it? For example, the data collected on Sept. 11, 2001 would read differently in 2002 than in 2016, or 2101, as well. At what point is it even appropriate to approach organizing the archival process for such events?

    3.) In the article “Digital Collections and Aggregations,” authors Fenlon, Jett, and Palmer suggest that metadata should be created with long-term considerations in mind. Is there an agreed upon vocabulary that acceptable metadata can be created from? How is one to know what will be the most useful metadata in the future?

  9. Ariel October 25, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    At the beginning of Conway’s article, he addresses David Mscaulay’s speculation of, “how people 2,000 years from now might interpret the cultural significance of a low-budget roadside motel, Toot’n’C’mon, buried intact under junk mail and pollution. Beyond being a wry satire on the science of archeology, the book is a clever reminder of the danger of trying to interpret the past without documentary evidence.” While I got a good laugh from some of the examples included, I began to think about what is truly the “truth” and how can we know the truth from our own conclusions/assumptions? Is there ever any truth? And if you extend it further, wouldn’t a bad interpretation still be data and who is to say that it shouldn’t be included?

    In “An Introduction to Humanities Data Curation,” the section on responsibility, editorial voice, and debate was interesting as they said, “in humanities data the interpretive layers that accompany and contextualize the base data may be as important as the data itself. These layers represent scholaraly agency and as a result are subject to debate.” Going along with a question in my last question, my thought here is, okay, so where do we draw the line in what data to collect and preserve, and what data does not make the cut?

    In Amy Williams’ article, she includes the quote which says, “to do digital history, then, is to digitize the past certainly, but it is much more than that. It is to create a framework through the technology for people to experience, read, and follow and argument about a historical problem.” This brought me back to the idea that history is written by the victors, and so my question is, does digital history have the same issue of being told by the victors? Or does the digital aspect now allow for more voices to create that history? And, are past histories that are incorrect, being re-examined as they are moved to a digital history form?

  10. lbowen October 25, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    What are the implications, beyond accessibility and greater diversity as examples, of the increase of archives generated by individuals, organizations, and institutions with little to no grounding in archival theory?

    I am intrigued by the suggestion (in “Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future”) that we must remember that librarians are also scholars who, according to one of the interviewees, should play a greater role in scholarly activities such as annotating. To what extent has the role of the librarian (and perhaps also the function of libraries) also changed in this era of digital collections in which the lines between archivists, scholars, users, etc. have been blurred?

    Is it problematic that funding agencies such as the Mellon Foundation are making recommendations as to the types of platforms for digital scholarship? I’m having trouble pin pointing or articulating it, but for some reason reading about this development in “Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future” made me a tad bit weary…

  11. Sarah October 25, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    Failure: How central is a culture of failure to digital humanities?
    “All of these changes have put tremendous pressure on the digital humanities community to be attentive to curation practices, and (perhaps above all) to learn from failure and loss.” (Flanders & Munoz p.9)
    “Report of the lessons learned, particularly the failures and blind alleys help yourself and your colleagues to learn from your mistakes. (Conway, p. 376)

    Translations: How helpful is the comparison of digital to language skills? What counts as language_ numbers, text and also signs and symbols? Is Communication the root of digital?

    Past: With digital preservation (indexing, compressing, enhancing) does the power or the influence of the librarian/archivist/conservator over the record (over the past) fundamentally change?

  12. Lauren December 6, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    The idea of loss was one of the most complex and interesting pieces of many of the text, “The possibility of aggregation – along with other forms of repurposing that might entail loss of context for collections or items in collections – must be accounted for during collection curation: interoperability is essential to sustainability in the networked digital environment. ” Aggregation is a common problem when looking at how to process big data into a summarized view, what are the industry techniques used for this?

    When looking at digital collections – if the curator is too concern about the future audience how do you figure out the correct ways to aggregate when looking over large collections? what is the right meta data to collect? I worry that with there being so much focus on the audience and who is funding the scholarships will force the collections to have unintended affects on the way the materials are curated? is the audience more important than the curator? who holds the power and how has that change when moved to a broader audience in the digital sense? is the role of the expert more important when the media moves digital or is it a more collaborative curration?

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