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Considering Historians, Archivists and Born Digital Records

I think I renamed this post at least 12 times. My original intention was was to consider the impact of born digital records on the skills needed for the historian/researchers of the future. In addition I found myself exploring the dividing lines among a number of possible roles in ensuring access to the information written in the 1s and 0s of our born digital records.

After my last post about the impact of anonymization of Google Logs, a friend directed me to the work of Dr. Latanya Sweeney. Reading through the information about her research I found Trail Re-identification: Learning Who You are From Where You Have Been. Given enough data to work with, algorithms can be written that often can re-identify the individuals who performed the original searches. Carnegie Mellon University‘s Data Privacy Lab includes the Trails Learning Project with the goal of answering the question “How can people be identified to the trail of seemingly innocent and anonymous data they leave behind at different locations?”. So it seems that there may be a lot of born digital records that start out anonymous but that may permit ‘re-identification’ – given the application of the right tools or techniques. That is fine – historians have often needed to become detectives. They have spent years developing techniques for the analysis of paper documents to support ‘re-identification’. Who wrote this letter? Is this document real or a forgery? Who is the ‘Mildred’ referenced in this record? ... 

Google, Privacy, Records Managment and Archives

BoingBoing.net posted on March 14 and March 15 about Google’s announcement of a plan to change their log retention policy . Their new plan is to strip parts of IP data from records in order to protect privacy. Read more in the AP article covering the announcement.

For those who are not familiar with them – IP addresses are made up of sets of numbers and look something like 192.39.288.3. To see how good a job they can do figuring out the location you are in right now – go to IP Address or IP Address Guide (click on ‘Find City’). ... 

The Archives and Archivists Listserv: hoping for a stay of execution

There has been a lot of discussion (both on the Archives & Archivists (A&A) Listserv and in blog posts) about the SAA‘s recent decision to not preserve the A&A listserv posts from 1996 through 2006 when they are removed from the listserv’s old hosting location at Miami University of Ohio.

Most of the outcry against this decision has fallen into two camps:

  • Those who don’t understand how the SAA task force assigned to appraise the listserv archives could decide it does not have informational value – lots of discussion about how the listserv reflects the move of archivists into the digital age as well as it’s usefulness for students
  • Those who just wish it wouldn’t go away because they still use it to find old posts. Some mentioned that there are scholarly papers that reference posts in the listserv archives as their primary sources.

I added this suggestion on the listserv: ... 

NARA’s Electronic Records Archives in West Virginia

“WVU, NATIONAL ARCHIVES PARTNER” from http://wvutoday.wvu.edu/news/page/5419/

In a press release dated February 28, 2007, the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States (NARA) and West Virginia University (WVU) declared they had signed “a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a 10-year research and educational partnership in the study of electronic records and the promotion of civic awareness of the use of electronic records as educational resources.” It goes on to say that the two organizations “will engage in collaborative research and associated educational activities” including “research in the preservation and long-term access to complex electronic records and engineering design documentation.” WVU will receive “test collections” of electronic records from NARA to support their research and educational activities. ... 

Academy Awards: Archives Highlighted during the 60 second description of the Academy

Last night on the 79th Annual Academy Awards, Ellen Degeneres claimed that she bet the Academy’s President Sid Ganis a dollar that he couldn’t explain everything that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does (beyond the Academy Awards) in under 60 seconds. Off Mr. Ganis went – super speed talking and highlighting all the fabulous things the Academy does when it isn’t on TV giving out little statues. There in the middle was a beautiful cameo for the Margaret Herrick Library and the Academy Film Archives. It was all going so fast it was hard to get more than a fleeting impression of shelves full of film canisters, movie posters and a beautiful research space. ... 

Understanding Born Digital Records: Journalists and Archivists with Parallel Challenges

My most recent Archival Access class had a great guest speaker from the Journalism department. Professor Ira Chinoy is currently teaching a course on Computer-Assisted Reporting. In the first half of the session, he spoke about ways that archival records can fuel and support reporting. He encouraged the class to brainstorm about what might make archival records newsworthy. How do old records that have been stashed away for so long become news? It took a bit of time, but we got into the swing of it and came up with a decent list. He then went through his own list and gave examples of published news stories that fit each of the scenarios. ... 

Should we be archiving fonts?

I am a fan of beautiful fonts. This is why I find myself on the mailing list if MyFonts.com. I recently received their Winter 2007 newsleter featuring the short article titled ‘A cast-iron investment’. It starts out with:

Of all the wonderful things about fonts, there’s one that is rarely mentioned by us font sellers. It’s this: fonts last for a very long time. Unlike almost all the other software you may have bought 10 or 15 years ago, any fonts you bought are likely still working well, waiting to be called back into action when you load up that old newsletter or greetings card you made! ...