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SAA 2007 Session Proposal: Preserving Context and Original Order in a Digital World

Abby Adams, Assistant Access and Outreach Archivist of the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia [1], and I are putting together a proposal for a session at SAA 2007 [2] in Chicago. She and I found each other via my poster at SAA 2006: Communicating Context in Online Collections [3]. We have been pondering many of the same questions related to the effective communication of context and original order in online digitized collections.

Our proposal is for a traditional 3 presentation panel with the title “Preserving Context and Original Order in a Digital World”. All we need now is a 3rd presenter, the endorsement of an SAA section or roundtable and (of course) the approval of the session selection committee. (And some plane tickets!)

This is the current version of our description for the proposal (mostly composed by Abby) :

Now that digitization projects have become more common in archival repositories, user and archivists alike have uncovered problems when it comes to understanding the context of online materials. However, there are various ways to provide more contextual information, thus enhancing the use of digital archives. But, archivists must confront the obstacles surrounding this task by developing best practices and incorporating new software into their digitization projects. In order to simplify the problem, we should return to our traditional archival principles and draw connections to collection arrangement and description in a digital environment. Join three archivists to explore how to improve on “analog” techniques in the communication of context. When done right, the digitization of a collection will not only retain all the same opportunities for communicating context that we are familiar with, it may revolutionize the way that archivists and users interact and understand our records.

The short take on what we want to cover in our session’s presentations is:

Abby’s part of the session, titled “Where’s the Context? Enhancing Access to Digital Archives”, will examine the need for preserving context and original order when digitizing archival materials – focusing on how it enhances online use and access to archives. How can new systems retain the existing ability to communicate context and original order when moving from “analog” to “digital”?

My portion, “Communicating Context: The Power of Digital Interfaces”, will discuss what archivists can do in the digital world they cannot do (or at least not easily) with analog records to communicate context and original order. I will focus on various innovative methods to do this including the use of GIS, hot-linking for ease of navigation, the ability to ‘collect’ digital surrogates for examination and more. I plan to include a combination of exciting new interfaces doing great things alongside new ideas of what could be done. Keep your fingers crossed for us that there is internet access in the session rooms in Chicago.

We have a vision of a third speaker whose talk would consider what the leading standards and software tools are permitting people to do today. How can archivists leverage the existing and evolving standards (EAD [4], EAC [5], TEI [6] and other DTD [7] s) to capture and communicate context and original order in the digital world? In addition, it would provide a high level review of common software packages (Archon [8] , Archivists’ Toolkit [9], ContentDM [10] , and others) and how they address original order and context. Finally we have a notion of a checklist of what to capture when digitizing to take advantage of what these tools and standards can provide for you.

Are you our mystery 3rd panelist that we are having so much trouble finding? Your first tip is that you have already mapped out 5 powerpoint slides in your head and started scribbling a rough draft of the “Archivists’ Digitization Checklist for Preserving Context” on a scrap of paper near your computer.

Maybe you know someone who would be a great person to pitch this to? Or you have advice for us concerning who to pass our proposal along to in the great hunt for that elusive session endorsement?

The deadline looms large (October 9)! Please contact us either via email (jeanne AT spellboundblog DOT com and adamsabi AT uga DOT edu) or in the comments of this post.

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#1 Comment By Rob Jenson On October 18, 2006 @ 11:18 pm

So what is the status on this? Did you find someone? I’ve been juggling in my mind the notion of exploring issues of archiving personal papers in the digital age, but it’s all really nebulous what to do with it. Have you thought about pulling in one of the folks who are dealing with the specification, testing, and implementation of the ERA stuff at NARA? Susan would have the name of the fellow who gave us a tour of the lab last year and would be a good person to talk about how they have tried to frame the problem around their data and services, instead of trying to bolt it into the standards. Of course, if you want to deal with standards and toolkits, I would troll for an archivist who has built a system around the standards you mention (or tried and failed) to give some take-away experience.