DCHDC Seeks Board Members: Get Involved!

It’s hard to believe, but the Digital Cultural Heritage D.C. Meetup is coming up on its 6th Birthday. Starting in September of 2012, the Meetup has hosted more than 60 events with more than 100 speakers. What started out as an event launched and coordinated by four folks shifted over time to be coordinated by myself and Atiba. In an effort to make the group more open and transparent and more sustainable, we’ve decided to try and slightly formalize the process for coordinating the group and invite others into the circle to coordinate this. To that end, we are announcing an opportunity for members of the D.C. Digital Cultural Heritage Community to join the two of us as members of the DCHDC Board.

 

What Will the DCHDC Board Be?

The DCHDC Board will be a a new group that will meet quarterly to coordinate planning the meetup. The core part of this involves coordinating with lightning talk speakers and being on hand for many of the meetups. Beyond that, there are also lots of other potential directions this could go. The group could try out any number of new things too.

 

Why You Want to Consider Volunteering for the DCHDC Board

We’ve gotten a lot out of helping coordinate these events. It’s a great community, and it’s a great way to learn about and network with other professionals in the area. We imagine this could be a particularly good way for some early career or graduate students in the area to get involved and get some experience coordinating and running this kind of programing.

 

What Participating as a DCHDC Board Member Entails

We imagine the board commitment working as follows. Each member will;

  • Participate in quarterly face-to-face board meetings to check in on things and work out a plan for the coming quarter.
  • Sign on for one or two year terms with the ability to stay on or rotate off.
  • Take the lead on programing at least 2 of the meetups each year, including picking a theme and wrangling a set of speakers.
  • Come to as many of the meetups as they can make it to, but commit to being at at least 2-3 of the meetups to help facilitate (ideally including the meetups they have programmed).
  • Envision, propose, and implement any new ideas for ways to further develop the community.

 

How to Volunteer for Consideration for the Board

Send Atiba and me an email before November 1st with the following (akpertilla & trevor.johnowens each respectively @gmail.com.)

  1. A short bio or a link to your bio online
  2. A few sentences about your interest in participating and any ideas you might have for the group (potential themes/speakers and any other ideas you’ve got)
  3. Confirm if you would like to sign on to do this for one year or for two.

 

Plan and Next Steps

We are currently planning out the last set of meetups for the year and our idea is to bring this group together for a meeting in January. So we imagine that the first of these meetings would take place in January.

Advance Praise for The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation

Screenshot of the page for the book on the Johns Hopkins University Press site.

I’m in the hope stretch for the book to come out! It’s got a cover and it’s up on the Johns Hopkins University Press site. You can even pre-order it today, and it should get to you some time in November.

All told, this is bringing to fruition a project that I started back in 2016, It’s been a long road, but I’ve really loved it. The book largely brings together things I’ve learned in dialog with the digital preservation community and I can also say that the process of writing the book in the open felt like a genuine continuation of that learning through dialog process.

It has been really neat to see the book blurbs starting to roll in. I’m floored by the very kind and thoughtful comments I’ve received from people whose work I deeply respect and admire. To that end, below is advanced praise that the press has received for the book.

“Part of a long-standing and worldwide tradition of memory keepers” – David Ferriero

“Acknowledging that we are part of ‘a long-standing and worldwide tradition of memory keepers,’ Trevor Owens challenges us to use the lessons learned in traditional preservation as we approach digital preservation. Distinguishing digital preservation as craft rather than science, Owens provides reassurance to all of us worried about finding the ‘silver bullet.’ It does not and should not exist!” — David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration

“An indispensable handbook” – Matt Kirschenbaum

“An indispensable handbook that will be kept close at hand—used, reached for, and above all really read by those seeking a conceptual framework through which to understand the practicalities of grappling with the complex new reality of digital objects. Opening up the most theoretically sophisticated body of research in digital platforms to an entirely new audience while simultaneously equipping that audience with the conceptual background they need to function as experts in today’s information environment, Owens’s book is a practical, even-handed, and clear-eyed walkthrough of day-to-day situations. I expect it will be widely adopted in library and information science courses.” — Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, University of Maryland, College Park, author of Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing

“His axioms for digital preservation will guide novices and experts alike.” – Deanna Marcum

“Digital preservation, unlike the one-time process for preserving print, is an ongoing, changing responsibility for those who bear the responsibility of preserving our history and cultural heritage. Trevor Owens, a leader in the field, uses his experience and deep knowledge to show how the tools of the futurist can document the past. His axioms for digital preservation will guide novices and experts alike.” Deanna Marcum, Ithaka S+R

“An ideal text for anyone interested in archives in the digital era” – Steven Lubar

“A superb introduction to both the why and how of preserving digital cultural heritage. The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation highlights history and theory, explains technology, and then moves on to practice, offering clear advice backed by examples. This is an ideal text for anyone interested in archives in the digital era.” — Steven Lubar, Brown University, author of Inside the Lost Museum: Curating, Past and Present

“At once historical synthesis, practical guide, and philosophical overview” – Alan Liu

“Owens blends the perspectives of archivist and media archaeologist to provide a richly satisfying appraisal—at once historical synthesis, practical guide, and philosophical overview—of what digital preservation can be. Its standout feature is a wise, practical approach for guiding even the smallest institutions in using technology for the ‘craft’ of preservation.” Alan Liu, The University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information

Student Digital Preservation Consultants Looking for Small Cultural Heritage Organizations

WhatIsDP_DigitalPreservation
For many, this is where we find ourselves in organizations just starting to work on digital preservation.

I’m revising  my digital preservation graduate seminar for the University of Maryland’s iSchool for this coming fall.

I am a firm believer in learning-by-doing. I also think talking about digital preservation in the abstract, outside the very real resource and time constraints of organizations largely misses the point. So, as I did when I taught the course two years ago,  I am planning to have each student work through a series of assignments where they serve as digital preservation consultants to small cultural heritage organizations.

My intention in this approach is to offer both a meaningful learning opportunity for the students, as well as a way for them to start building out a portfolio of work that will be relevant to potential future employers. Based on how this worked last time, I am also optimistic that this can be a way to provide some help to small cultural heritage organizations that could  benefit from learning together with students in thinking through and developing plans  to make the best use of resources to make their digital content more long-lived.

For context on the potential value of this work to an organization, consider this reflection from a preservation specialist at a state cultural heritage institution who worked with one of my students last time I taught this course.

Because of our participation in this course, we have concrete steps forward as we work to develop guidelines and implement good digital preservation practice. The open nature of your course and associated materials has allowed our staff to develop their own subject knowledge and continue research.

With that context, I’m happy to offer some more information about how you (or others you know) can reach out about having a grad student from the course work with you. While students are in the DC Metro area, the assignments can all be completed remotely, so your organization need not be located in the metro area.

For a sense of the range of organizations that this might be relevant for, last time students worked with organizations including; The DC Punk Archive, Milwaukee Public Library,  Litchfield Historical Society, Laurel Historical Society, Bostwick House, Maryland Public Television, 18th Street Singers’ Digital Collection, North Dakota State Library, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources Archives and Library.

Requesting a Graduate Student Digital Preservation Consultant

I think the finish line for digital preservation is a little too close to the starting line here. But it get's at the idea :)
I think the finish line for digital preservation is a little too close to the starting line here. But it get’s at the idea 🙂

If you (and your organization) would be interested in having a University of Maryland graduate student in my digital preservation seminar focus their digital preservation consultant project on your organization please take a two minutes to fill in this 5 question form. I think this is a great opportunity for organizations for a few different reasons.

Here are some reasons to consider filling in the form for your organization. This project is a chance to:

  1. Solicit assistance thinking through digital preservation issues and planning for your organization.
  2. Provide a meaningful learning experience to someone just getting started in the field
  3. Learn more about digital preservation as the student shares what they are learning through the class

Through the course of the assignments, students will;

  1. Document and review current practices with an organization’s digital content
  2. Draft suggestions for potential next steps to improve management of digital content grounded in the resources an organization has access too
  3. Draft a digital preservation policy for consideration for the organization

On the first day of class (August 30th), I will present the organizations that have filled out the survey my students. In the first few weeks of class I will help to pair each student with an organization for the semester.

If you are matched up with a student, the idea would be that you would commit to doing an interview or two with them about your organization’s collection and current practices for digital material and that you would review and provide input on several of their assignments (listed below).

I should underscore that it is completely fine for organizations to be literally at square one in terms of digital preservation practices and planning. So many cultural heritage organizations are just getting started with their digital preservation planning, and while it can be a bit intimidating to take some first steps in this space. There are many simple and inexpensive things organizations can be doing to mitigate risks of loss . The assignment will be most valuable for both students and organizations in cases where there is little current work  being done in digital preservation. As part of this project, students will be blogging about their work, so you and your organization will need to be OK with them sharing information about the project. This can be a bit intimidating, but by having students work on their public writing skills and inviting a broader audience into discussion about how to do this work in organizations it will help to ensure that the quality of that work is stronger and more useful. Through this public writing process, the results of the work will be more useful to both the student and to your organization.

What follows are details about the design of this assignment.

Digital Preservation Consultant Project

Here you can see a student, working synthesizing what they have found and drafting a plan.
Here you can see a student, working synthesizing what they have found and drafting a plan.

An academic understanding of the issues in digital preservation is necessary but not sufficient for  professional digital preservation work. Digital preservation is fundamentally about making the best use of what are always limited resources to best support the mission of an organization. As such, to really learn how to do digital preservation you need to apply these concepts in the practical realities of an organizational context.

Aside from participating in discussion of the course readings through the course blog, the other course assignments will require you to act as a digital preservation consultant for a cultural heritage organization. For a variety of reasons I suggest this be a small institution. Below are the five assignments you must complete over the course of the semester as part of this project.

  1. Identify Small Cultural Heritage Organization and Establish Partnership (by week 4): For most of the course assignments, you will need to find a small cultural heritage organization that you can work with as a digital preservation consultant. I have identified a list of organizations that are up for participating, but you are free to find other organizations as well. The key requirements here are that 1) they have consented to working with you 2) they have some set of digital content but 3)  their collections are not so complex that you couldn’t possibly do the project. Example institutions include an independent organization (like a house museum, a community archive or library), a small department or subset of an institution (say the archives of a student newspaper or radio station, the special collections department at a public library, or the archives in a museum).
    1. Deliverable: The output of this phase is to identify this organization and confirm that you have a commitment from them to participate. We will check in on this in class as we go, but by the date of this assignment you need to have confirmed participation of an organization that meets these requirements and have posted what organization you are working on in a list on the course website. On the site, post the name of the organization, your name (or handle) and two or three sentences about the organization and its digital content.
  2. Institutional Digital Preservation Survey (Draft by week 6 and send to your org, publish with their comments incorporated by week 8): For your organization, interview one or two staff members to get a handle on their digital collections and practices. Draw from the NSDA levels of preservation as an overall framework for conducting your survey. You will want to focus on gathering information about their practices in five key areas.
    1. First, what is the scope of their digital holdings?
    2. Second, how is that digital content currently being managed?
    3. Third, what are the staff at the organization’s perceptions of the state of their digital content (are they concerned about it, do they see it as mission critical or a nice to have, what do they see as their own self efficacy and their organization’s capacity for sustaining their content)?
    4. Forth, what kinds of digital content would the organization like to be collecting but currently isn’t?
    5. Fifth, what, if any resources, do they have that they could bring to bear on this problem (if they have some significant potential resources that’s great, but realize that there may well be very meaningful smaller resources that could be brought to bear. For example, could one staff member spend 2-4 hrs a week on digital preservation, could they bring in community volunteers, how much could they spend on things like extra hard drives etc.)  Throughout all of this, it will be important to understand what the organization’s collecting mission is. You want to begin to probe all the questions above, but you need to be able to map their answers to the NDSA levels.
    6. Deliverable: You will write and publish a post to the course blog (1200-3000 words) in which you present the findings of your survey. The post should first provide context, what is this organization what are its digital holdings what does it want to be collecting them. From there, work through presenting an accurate and coherent report of the themes and issues that came through in your interviews. At this point you are primarily interested in accurately representing the state of their work. Do not get into making recommendations. Simply do your best to succinctly and coherently explain what you found about the five areas of questioning discussed above. Before publishing this, you must present it to your org for their feedback to make sure you have their input on how you are describing the state of their work.
  3. Institutional Digital Preservation Next Steps Preservation Plan (Week 10): Now that you have the results of your survey, it is time to take out the NDSA levels of digital preservation and the rest of our course readings and figure out what a practical set of next steps would be for your organization.
    1. Deliverable: Post your next steps plan to the course blog (1200-3000 words). After a brief introduction providing context about the organization and its collections, you should work through reviewing  the organization’s current work on digital content using each of the areas of the NDSA levels of digital preservation. Complete by identifying three different levels (low, medium and high resource requirement) of next steps they could take to improve their rating on the NDSA levels of digital preservation. Be creative here, for example could they upload collection items to the Internet Archive or Wikimedia Commons? Or could they buy an extra hard drive and make copies and swap it with a backup buddy at another organization in a different region of the country, etc. The point here is to think about how to get them the furthest up some of the levels with the resources at hand.  Before publishing this, you should present it to your organization for them to review and provide input.
  4. Draft a Digital Preservation Policy for Your Org (Week 12): Now that you have put in place a set of recommendations, it is important to also draft up a set of digital preservation policies and practices for the organization. If this is to have any impact you are going to need to be able to articulate what the organization’s policies could be going forward.
    1. Deliverable: Drawing on the example digital preservation policies we read in class, draft up a short policy document for your institution tuned to what you have learned from working with them. Draw from the examples for models for aspects of this document. Share it with them for some input and feedback. Then Post it to the blog (800-1500 words).
  5. Reflecting on Lessons Learned (Week 13): After doing this work,presenting it, and getting feedback from your organization, you need think through what worked and didn’t work for the project. Taking time for reflection and teasing out the lessons you’ve learned about both digital preservation and working with a cultural heritage organization.
    1. Deliverable: Return to each of the documents you created thus far and synthesize 3-5 points about what did or didn’t work or what your take away lessons are from this process. Think through what you will do differently the next time you help an organization improve its digital preservation practices. Bring in references to what you’ve learned from readings in the course and from what you have learned from your classmates work on their projects (800-1400 words).

All images from Digitalbevaring.dk, published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Denmark license and created by Jørgen Stamp.

Catching up to the Present: Join the Born Digital Community of Practice

I was thrilled to have the chance to write the forward to Heather Ryan and Walker Sampson’s new book The No-Nonsense Guide to Born Digital Content. I wrote it last year, but the book just rolled out last month. It’s full of hands on practical guidance that I think complements my own forthcoming book The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation (free OA preprint here). I checked in and Heather was Ok with me sharing it here. Excited to see work like this getting out there! 

When historians tell stories of life in the later half of the 20th and beginnings of the 21st century they will do so from an evidentiary basis of born-digital primary sources. Emails, websites, word documents, PDFs, video and audio files. It is from born digital objects like these that people of the future will come to understand our world. I continue to use the somewhat awkward phrase “born digital” because for most library, archives and museum professionals digitization remains their default conception of what digital collection content is. That needs to change. We need to catch up to the digital present and I think The No-Nonsense Guide to Born Digital Content can help us.

Librarians, archivists and museum professionals need to collectively move away from thinking about digital, and in particular born-digital as being niche topics for specialists. If our institutions are to meet the mounting challenges of serving the cultural memory functions of an increasingly digital first society the institutions themselves need to transition to become digital first themselves. We can’t just keep hiring on a handful of people with the word digital in their job titles. You don’t go to a digital doctor to get someone who uses computing as part of their medical practice and we can’t expect that the digital archivists are the ones who will be the people who do digital things in archives. The things this book covers are things that all cultural heritage professionals need to get up to speed on.  

Classic DerangeDescribe tweets.

I am thrilled to have the chance to open Heather and Walker’s book. I have known both of them directly and indirectly through our shared travels through the world of digital preservation. In what follows I offer a few of my thoughts and observations for you to take with you as you work through this book on a journey into the growing digital preservation community of practice.

To kick off your exploration of this book I will lay out three observations I believe are essential to this journey; we will never catch up, our biggest risk is inaction, and we all need to get beyond the screen in our understanding of digital information. Together, I believe these points demonstrate the need to use this book as a stepping stone, a jumping off point for joining the community of practice engaged in the craft of digital preservation.

Forever catching up to the present

I’ve borrowed part of the title of my forward from a talk Michael Edson, then the Director of Web Strategy, gave several years ago. In that talk Edson implored digital preservation practitioners to help their institutions catch up to the present. I’ve heard many talk about “the digital revolution” like it was a singular thing that happened. It wasn’t. Instead we have entered something that for the time being at least looks more like a permanent state of digital revolution. Punch cards, mainframes, personal computers, the Internet, the web, social media, mobile computing, computer vision, and now things like voice based interfaces, and the internet of things; all varying and distinct elements in the continually changing digital landscape. It doesn’t seem like we will land in a new normal, or that if there is a new normal it’s to expect a constantly changing digital knowledge ecosystem. In this context, there is much for librarians to teach and much for us to learn. We need to move more and more into a state of continual professional learning. We need to be improving our digital skills and chops by engaging in professional development and by taking on ways to become experts in new areas. This book can help you do that. In what follows I will briefly suggest three

Inaction as one of our biggest risks

There is no time to wait. Digital media is more unstable and more complex than most of the media librarians, archivists and curators have worked with. We don’t have time for a new generation of librarians and archivists to move into the field. We don’t have time for everyone to do years of professional development. Instead, we need to make space and time for working cultural heritage professionals to start engaging in the practices of digital curation. This book can be a huge help in this regard.

Get beyond the screen

Digital information isn’t just what it looks like on the screen at a given moment. To be an information professional in an increasingly digital world requires all of us to get beyond the screens in two key ways. First, we all need to develop a base level conceptual understanding of the nature of digital information. This book is helpful in that regard by providing some foundational context for understanding bitstreams and data structures. Second, we need to up our game for working with command line tools and scripts. As the pace of change around digital information develops and changes we can’t depend on the development of tools with slick graphic user interfaces. We need to accept that all the systems and platforms we use are layers and interfaces to our digital assets. That is, your content isn’t “in” whatever repository system you use, that system needs to be best understood as the current interface layer that effectively floats on-top of the digital assets you are ensuring long term access to. The hands on focus of this book and the inclusion of methods and techniques for working with data at the command line is invaluable as a jumping off point for learning this kind of skill and technique.

Embracing the craft

For more on the idea of digital preservation as craft check out my forthcoming book.

When I started working in digital preservation more than a decade ago I was largely confused and befuddled by a field that presented points of entry to the work as complex technical specifications and system requirements documents. It felt like there were a lot of people talking about how the work should be done and not a lot of people doing the work that needed to be done. I’ve been very excited to see the field turn that corner in the last decade.

We are moving further and further away from the idea that digital preservation is a technical problem that the right system can solve toward the realization that ensuring long-term access to digital information is a craft that we practice and refine by doing the work. I think this book can help us all become better reflective digital preservation practitioners. However, it can only do that if you actually start to practice it. So do that. If you aren’t already, go ahead and start to participate in the practice and join the community that is forming around these practices.

You can use this book to help to start learning by doing. You will get the most value out of this book if you are trying to work through the process of getting, describing, managing and providing access to digital content. As you go you are going to need to write down what you are doing and why you are doing it the way you are. One of my mentors, Martha Anderson, would always describe digital preservation as a relay race. You’re just one of the first runners in a great chain of runners carrying content forward into the future. When those folks in the future inherit your content they are going to need to understand why you did what you did with it and the only way they are going to be able to do that is by reading the documentation you produced regarding the how and the why of all the choices you’ve made. So be sure to write that down. I would also implore you to share what you write as you go.

It’s dangerous to go alone, take this community with you.

Around every corner there is another new kind of content. There is another challenging issue regarding privacy, ethics and personal information. There is another set of questions about how to describe and make content discoverable. There is another new kind of digital format, another new interface, and another new form of digital storage. You can’t do this alone. The good news is that everyone working on these issues in libraries, archives, museums, nonprofits, government, and companies can share what we figure out as we work through this process and build a global knowledge base of information about this work together. Take this book as a jumping off point.

Join digital preservation focused organizations like the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, the Research Data Alliance, the International Internet Preservation Consortium, the Electronic Records Section of the Society of American Archivists, and the Digital Preservation Coalition. Go to their conferences, start following people involved in these groups on twitter, follow their journals, their blogs, and their email lists.

It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this book as the starting point of a journey into our community of practice and realize that you are not alone. Even if it really is just you working on digital preservation as a lone arranger at a small organization the rest of us are out here working away at the same problems.

Reading and Working the Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network

I’m working my way toward my goal of reading 30 books this year (here’s my list so far). I wanted to share the one so far that keeps rolling around in my mind. Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network, by Caroline Levine is a book about formal literary criticism that focuses spends a lot of time talking about The Wire. I’m increasingly thinking it has a lot of utility for sorting out how to go about working to maximize the impact you can have in supporting an organization meet it’s mission.

This post is a sharing out of some of my notes and reflections about reading the book and The Wire. There is a good chance that this post will be much more relevant and useful if you’ve read Levine’s book and or are familiar with The Wire. I’ve tried to make the post legible without background in both, but I think it will likely make far more sense if you have some experience with them.

Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network

Levine asserts that “Formalist analysis turns out to be as valuable to understanding sociopolitical institutions as it is to reading literature” (p. 2).  I find that case compelling. The bulk of the book works to identify a set of literary and political forms and their affordances. In her words;

“Though we have not always called them forms, they are the political structures that have most concerned literary and cultural studies scholars: bounded wholes, from domestic walls to national boundaries; temporal rhythms, from reputations of industrial labor to the enduring patterns of institutions over time; powerful hierarchies, including gender, race , class and bureaucracy; and networks that link people and objects, including multinational trade, terrorism, and transportation.”  (21)

The book does a great job clarifying and articulating how these forms work and function both in literature and in society.

The more I’ve thought over the forms the more I see them in all kinds of every day decisions; who is in and out of a given group (bounded wholes), what is the right tempo for meetings and interactions around daily schedules (temporal rhythms), how are a given set of competing hierarchies playing out in any given situation, and what role are different social networks playing out in terms of how things get done.

On some level, it feels like this is a somewhat arbitrary list of forms, but the more I think about them and through them the more they seem like the right set. In many ways, several aspects of these, map into the organizational frames I discussed in a post last year.

There is no single “the system” there are colliding and competing forms

One of Levine’s central conceits is that forms collide. That in any given context there are a series of different competing socio-political forms at play which compete/struggle to resolve into maintaining or rupturing any given status quo. In her words;

“in practice, we encounter so many forms that even in the most ordinary daily experience they add up to a complex environment composed of multiple and conflicting modes of organization— forms arranging and containing us, yes, but also competing and colliding and rerouting one another.” (16)

In this context, Levine proposes that the central question for individuals working within these colliding systems is about how to navigate and work the forms. Fo her, this prompts a different set of tactical considerations for working toward any given set of goals. She asks;

“what tactics for change will work most effectively if what we are facing is not a single hegemonic system or dominant ideology but many forms, all trying to organize us at once?” (p. 22)

This line of questioning pushes us away straightforward notions of resistance or compliance with a system and toward a tactical framing focused on working through and across the collisions of forms.

Levine lands this analysis in an extended reading of the forms at work in one of my favorite works, The Wire, which I will explore further.

The Wire as a Life Coach on Forms

Like many, I’ve have been and remain compelled by the story of The Wire. I came to it late, I think Marjee and I watched the whole series four or five years ago. Since watching it I think of it often. Those who know me well will know I regularly bring it up in conversations about how systems and organizations play out in society. As a digression, I tend to think that the only other text I return to as much for understanding, explaining, and making sense of my world is American Gods.

I feel like Levine has given me a much more sophisticated set of tools for talking about how The Wire offers tools for reading our world. In Levine’s words, The Wire “conceptualizes social life as both structured and rendered radically unpredictable by large numbers of colliding social forms” (p. 23).

Central to the story is a dialog about the power and nature of the system. However, Levine nicely picks apart what that actual system is.

Both characters and critics bewail the power of what they call “the system” portrayed on The Wire, but it is crucial to note that “the system” is less an organized or integrated single structure than it is precisely this heaped assortment of wholes, rhythms, hierarchies, and networks.” (148)

In this context, “the system” is an emergent outcome of the ongoing collisions of forms competing with each other. In Levine’s reading, the central focus of “individual decisions matter only within environments of colliding forms where no individual or elite group controls either procedures or outcomes” (p. 149).

Furthermore, Levine makes the case that the heroes of the story are the people that read and navigate the collision of forms to make their world bend toward being better or more just.

“The few characters who recognize the power and significance of multiple forms—Lester Freeman, Bunny Colvin, and Omar Little— all make strategic decisions which, temporarily at least, permit outcomes that frustrate or elude the conventional distribution of power.” (p. 149)

After finishing the book, and returning to my own reflections on The Wire, I find myself increasingly thinking about reading the various situations I confront in terms of these formal categories. How can I best work within and through the competing forms that work to organize my life and work? How do I establish a trajectory for action that accepts the collision and competition of these forms as a basis to act from and not a system to define myself in opposition to?

I’m curious for thoughts from other’s reading both the book and the show. I feel like the ecological conception of society and organizations that emerges in this approach is really valuable and I’m curious to talk with folks about it more.

Parsimony and Elegance as Objectives for Digital Curation Processes

I’m increasingly convinced that parsimony and elegance are key values for the socio-technical systems that enable long term access to information. This post is me starting to try and articulate what I mean by that and connecting that back to a few ongoing strands of work and thinking I’m engaged in.

Now that the book as been circulating around a bit, I’ve been able to both reflect on it and get to have a lot of great conversations with people about it. Along with that, I’ve been participating (or at least trying to participate when my calendar allows) in some ongoing conversations about the role of maintenance, capacity, care, and repair in library work.

My points of entry into these conversations have been Bethany Nowviskie’s  Capacity and Care, Steve Jackson’s piece Rethinking Repair, Hellel Arnold’s Critical Work: Archivists as Maintainers, and Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel’s work in pieces like Innovation is overvalued: Maintenance often matters more. As I mentioned in a pervious post, I think there is a ton more that I need to sort through in Nell Nodding’s line of thinking on an ethics of care, and that is all tied up in this too. So take those as trail heads to what I think is going to grow more and more into a major part of our professional discourse. Notions of capacity and maintain all implicate notions of sustainability.

Less is More Sustainable and Mantainable

The specific prompt for this post was one conversation where I ended up saying something I’ve said a few times before. Something like; “If you can do it with an Access database then don’t gather requirements for a software engineering project.” Furthermore, “If you can do it with a spreadsheet, don’t build an Access database.” Beyond that, “If you can do it with a text file, then don’t set up a spreadsheet.” The general point in each of these situations is that you want to use the least possible tool for the job and then when the complexity of the work demands it, you justify the added complexity of the next thing.

If when you get to the point where you need something more complex you are going to know a lot about what you really need. Sneakerneting your way through a workflow end to end is going to enable you to figure out what the process really involves and needs. The last thing you want to do is spend three years in meetings gathering requirements based on what you think you might need.

I often recall some smart stuff that the 37 Signals crew have avowed, namely that “Until you’ve actually thrown the ball at the wall, you don’t know how it’ll bounce back.” It seems to be true for software, for workflows, for procedures, for org structures. You name it.

Parsimony and Elegance

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that concepts of parsimony, elegance, and simplicity have a core place as anchors in the work of digital preservation and curation.

For some context, here I intend the definition of parsimony as;

“Using a minimal number of assumptions, steps, or conjecture”

and the definition of elegance as;

The beauty of an idea characterized by minimalism and intuitiveness while preserving exactness and precision

That is, our workflows, processes, and systems are parsimonious to the extent that they use “minimal number of assumptions or steps.” They are elegant to the extent that they are characterized by “minimalism and intuitiveness while preserving exactness and precision.” This isn’t to say that this infrastructure won’t become complex, but to say that it should only be as complex as it absolutely needs to be.

All Unnecessary Added Complexity is a Sustainability Threat

One of the core activities of digital curation and preservation work is imagining what happens when particularly things might go wrong. “What if this thing broke?” Or, “What if so-and-so took a different job, you know the one who built this really complicated piece of software?” Or ,”What if the the other organizations investing developer time in this complex application we are using shifted to invest their time in something else? Or, “What would happen if this company we are paying to provide this platform or service changed their business model?” In all of these cases, the more dependent you are on something the more risk you expose yourself to.

Significantly, you must expose yourself to risks. You’ve got to be dependent on a bunch of things, you just want to be deliberate about what you are being dependent on. You need exit strategies for your exit strategies. But in all of that you can take heart that the less complex the platforms, tools, services, processes you use are the easier it will be to move on to whatever the next thing of those is going to be. Believe me, the next thing is always coming. Whatever tools, processes, systems, methods you use today are just the things you use today. The shiny new thing of today will be the old crummy thing that you want nothing to do with tomorrow.

Relevant Axioms

Below are the axioms from my book that I think are most relevant/imply some of the points I’ve tried to make about parsimony and elegance.

1. A repository is not a piece of software. Software cannot preserve anything. Software cannot be a repository in itself. A repository is the sum of financial resources, hardware, staff time, and ongoing implementation of policies and planning to ensure long-term access to content. Any software system you use to enable you preserving and providing access to digital content is by necessity temporary. You need to be able to get your stuff out of it because it likely will not last forever. Similarly, there is no software that “does” digital preservation.

3. Tools can get in the way just as much as they can help. Specialized digital preservation tools and software are just as likely to get in the way of solving your digital preservation problems as they are to help. In many cases, it’s much more straightforward to start small and implement simple and discrete tools and practices to keep track of your digital information using nothing more than the file system you happen to be working in. It’s better to start simple and then introduce tools that help you improve your process then to simply buy into some complex system without having gotten your house in order first.

4. Nothing has been preserved, there are only things being preserved. Preservation is the result of ongoing work of people and commitments of resources. The work is never finished. This is true of all forms of preservation; it’s just that the timescales for digital preservation actions are significantly shorter than they tend to be with the conservation of things like books or oil paintings. Try to avoid talking about what has been preserved; there is only what we are preserving. This has significant ramifications for how we think about staffing and resourcing preservation work. If you want to evaluate how serious an organization is about digital preservation don’t start by looking at their code, their storage architecture, or talking to their developers. Start by talking to their finance people. See where digital preservation shows up in the budget. If an organization is serious about digital preservation it should be evident from how they spend their money. Preservation is ongoing work. It is not something that can be thought of as a one time cost.

9. Digital preservation is about making the best use of your resources to mitigate the most pressing preservation threats and risks. You are never done with digital preservation. It is not something that can be accomplished or finished. Digital preservation is a continual process of understanding the risks you face for losing content or losing the ability to render and interact with it and making use of whatever resources you have to mitigate those risks.

12. Highly technical definitions of digital preservation are complicit in silencing the past. Much of the language and specifications of digital preservation have developed into complex sets of requirements that obfuscate many of the practical things anyone and any organization can do to increase the likelihood of access to content in the future. As such, a highly technical framing of digital preservation has resulted in many smaller and less resource rich institutions feeling like they just can’t do digital preservation, or that they need to hire consultants to tell them about complex preservation metadata standards when what they need to do first is make a copy of their files.

Digital History Methods Grad Seminar Launching

Screen shot of digital history methods course siteI’m excited to kick off 2018 teaching my digital history course for American University again.

I’ve been increasingly interested in the methodological aspects of digital history (the how not the what of history).  Given that this course is on the books as a tool of research course for AMU history grad students it seemed to make sense to go ahead and slightly reframe it to focus explicitly on methods.

Like my previous courses, this course will run largely through a student written publication on the dighist blog. I’m always excited to have folks outside the class join in on our learning community. So please consider following along on the course blog and commenting if/when things pique your interest.

For some context, I’ve provided a rundown of the topics students will be blogging about below. I’ve also provided a full copy of the syllabus. Most of the readings are open access and the books are relatively inexpensive, so feel free to directly join in and follow along as we go.

Weekly Course Topics

  1. Becoming digital public historians (Jan 17th): This is our first class; we will introduce ourselves to each other and spend a lot of time reviewing the syllabus. I will make sure everyone leaves with an understanding of how to register, post and work with the course blog. By the end of class everyone will have signed up for the weeks they are blogging/presenting on. We will then take a bit of time to quickly read short posts about blogging as an academic practice.
  2. Defining digital history (Jan 24th): This week is largely about developing a perspective on what people mean when they say “digital history” and more broadly “digital humanities.” It’s also about what the stakes in all this are. Across all of the readings consider both the arguments and the genre of writing they are being presented in. Format and genre are critical components of our work this semester and the differences between blogging, books and articles are as much on the table for discussion as the points in these pieces. PhillaPlace is an example of the kind of projects folks are creating in digital history and Wordle is here as a kind of toy for starting to think about visualizing texts and the possibility of visualization as a mode of history communication.
  3. The Web: Participatory? Collaborative? Exploitive? (Jan 31): In history we work to connect audiences and publics with the past. In this vein, the participatory and collaborative rhetoric that surrounds the web fits many of the values of public historians like a glove. This weeks readings explore issues around crowdsourcing and public participation in history on the web. This includes both the potential to connect with the missions and values of cultural heritage institutions and opens questions about what constitutes participation and what becomes exploitive.
  4. Digital analysis: Distant reading, text analysis, visualization (Feb 7th); One of the most active strands of digital history and the digital humanities more broadly focuses on computational analysis of texts and the interpretations of abstractions of those texts. For the most part, “texts” has meant words, but we starting to get into computational modes of engaging with images and audio too. This week is about all of that, in particular, under the heading of distant reading. Throughout this week’s readings think both about the subject (visualization) and about the formats of the readings (blog posts, books, open review publications, etc.)
  5. “Project” as scholarly genre: Designing digital projects:  (Feb 14th): It’s likely that many of you don’t have experience with planning and developing projects, in particular digital projects. So, this week is about planning projects and drafting the documents involved in making a digital project, in particular a web project, happen. Brown’s book is our main text, providing a roadmap for what decisions get made when. The NEH guidelines contextualize the format for a project proposal in a humanities context. The section from Digital_Humanities offers consideration of “project” as a unit of scholarship. Kirshenbaum’s piece get’s at the vexing issue of sustainability. Scheinfeldt’s explores differences between common digital collection platforms.
  6. Proposal pitch week (Feb 21st): Everyone in class is going to give the elevator pitch for the project that they intend to finish. No slides or anything. Just stand up, and in three minutes present the elevator pitch. Answer what you are going to do? Why it’s worth doing? You’ll explain how it is like things before, but also how it’s different. It’s important to be able to give the “MTV Cops” level explanation of your work. So work on that. After discussing the proposals, we will use remaining time in this session to check in on how the course is going. Think of it as a formative evaluation of the content and process of the course. It is great to get this kind of information in the middle so that it is still possible to tweak parts of the course going forward.
  7. Digital archives: What are & aren’t they? (Feb 28th ): Public historians and other humanists have been exuberant about the possibility of providing broad public access to primary source documents and the contents of archives. In this context, the use of the term “digital archive” has become a bit fraught. With that said, there is some valuable productive friction in that fraughtness. Something useful is emerging in the blending of sources, analysis, and intrepretations. This week we figure out what different folks mean by the term in different situations and explore some exemplars of different notions of digital archives and their potential as modes of scholarly output.
  8. Understanding Digital Content: Media, materiality & format (March 7); To really do digital history, we need a very solid understanding of what exactly digital stuff is. This week we try to figure out more about what digital things are. We likely all have a sense of what things like documents, spreadsheets and digital photos and videos are, but it is essential that we go beyond their appearance on the screen to understand a bit about what bits, bytes, files, and file formats are.
  9. Digital exhibition, hypermedia narrative & bots (March 21): What does it mean to collect and exhibit/present/interpret digital objects? This week we explore this issue across new media art, source code and digitized materials. Along with thinking through issues of presenting digital objects we also explore the potential of turning our interpretations and exhibitions over to the machines themselves.
  10. Digital audio: Oral history and sound studies (March 28): A huge area of work in history is oral history and at this point that is basically entirely a digital affair. This week we explore what it means to do oral history in the digital age. Aside from the great work tied up in that particular program, we need to think about how computational approaches to working with audio can change what it is that we do in this space (bring in some pop-up archive links). Similarly, it’s critical to remember that all formats and media have histories and politics, hence why we are using this as an opportunity to better understand that through the introduction to Sterne’s MP3: The Meaning of a Format.
  11. Mobile media, place & mapping (April 4th): Increasingly, the screens people are turning their attention to are in their hands and their pockets. In this vein, there is tremendous potential for mobile media and mobile media has a direct and clear connection to place and location. There are projects like the Museum from Mainstreet app and the Will to Adorn app that try to enable participatory collecting, projects like Histories of the National Mall that work to situate events in historic sites. This week we look at these, and related projects, and read Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media  to add a theoretical layer/framework for thinking about this work. We haven’t talked much about maps and place in general yet either, so we will also consider the “spatial turn” as one of the ongoing developments and areas of interest in digital history scholarship.
  12. Playing the Past: Videogames, interactivity & action (April 11): Videogames have rapidly become potent media for communicating ideas about the past. Historians, librarians and archivists have begun creating games and a range of interactive transmedia modes of communicating about the past. At the same time, many very successful commercial games, like Sid Mier’s Civilization, SimCity or Assassin’s Creed have invited a generation of players to enact or replay models of the past. In this session we will spend half of the class discussing Gee’s book, which will help us unpack a range of ways to think about games and learning and how to read games and the other half discussing how ideas are represented and enacted in games that are specifically about the past.
  13. Opening & Expanding Forms of Scholarly Communication (April 18): Digital technology has changed the possibilities for scholarly communication in the history profession. Historians have long produced scholarly works in a range of media. However, monographs and to a lesser extent journal articles and conference papers have largely persisted as the primary forms of scholarship that “count.” This week we will learn a bit about the development and history of scholarly presses and explore a range of novel approaches and technologies for scholarly communications.
  14. Class Conference Poster Presentations (April 25): Bring a poster reporting on the results of either your research project or your digital project. We are going to run the classroom as a conference and I will see if I can get folks from around the

Digital History Methods by Trevor Owens on Scribd

Reflecting on 2017: Moving and Being Moved

I’ve made it a habit to reflect on each year and post about it here.

You can see my reflections at the end of 2015,  20142013, and 2012 . I didn’t do that last year.

The end of 2016 was hard. I half- wrote that post. I tried to tell an optimistic story about where I’d been and where I was going but it just wasn’t happening. Instead, I ended up recording an album with my own original compositions that was largely about processing the end of 2016. So Before You Rememberwill count as the post for last year.

The world is not really a better place today. But I refuse to be overcome by events and I am here to recount some of the good in this life well lived just inside the beltway. Despite the state of the world, Marjee and I, along with Bowser and Zelda have carved out our niches in this mad world and we are loving the lives we are building together.

So to that end, I return to my regularly scheduled programing of sharing out about various and sundry things that have come to pass in the last year of my research, writing, and work.

The three jobs: Niche building inside the beltway

In early 2017 I was hitting my stride as a manager, leading the team of program staff running the National Digital Platform initiative at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In the middle of the year I found myself as the Acting Associate Deputy Director for Libraries at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. As an aside, “Acting Associate Deputy Director” is such an amazingly federal government name for a job. In particular,  such a 2017 federal government title for a job. I loved working at IMLS, but a chance came to return to the Library of Congress that was just too good to pass up.

At some point across those shifting gigs, I may also have done the rounds on the whole job-talk-campus-visit-thing for being the Digital AUL at an ARL library. I haven’t talked about this much and I won’t talk about it further. I will say, it was a great opportunity to see our lives and work through a different lens. To see how we and how others would see us in the academy. We ended up reaffirming our love and commitment to our lives here just inside the capital beltway.

For us, 2017 ended up being a year for finding and building the context that we want to live in, for this world we find ourselves in. I’m feeling like I’ve found a niche that I really love. A place where I can do good things. A place where I can be the kind of person I want to be. A place where I can grow. A place where I can support others in learning and growing.  I’m thinking a lot about maintenance, repair, emotional intelligence, and cultivating an ethic of care and I aspire for 2018 to be a year where I bring more and more of that thinking into the practice of both my work and my life outside of work.

The National Digital Platform turns three

I devoted three years of my professional life to helping bring about the National Digital Platform for libraries. Looking back at it, I feel extremely proud of the results. In May, I gave a talk Maura had been slated to give at the Digital Initiatives Symposium in San Diego.  That talk, Digital Infrastructures that Embody Library Principles, was a presentation based on a (still) forthcoming chapter in an ACRL book that the NDP team wrote on the role that library values play in the design, development, and implementation of technology in libraries.

By the end of my time at IMLS, I had had a hand in investing  more than $33 million in 100+ projects in support of a vision of a National Digital Platform. It is something that I will be forever proud of. The ability to work part of my public service career for the IMLS was truly a gift. It’s an amazing place with an amazing mission and I will treasure that I was able to chart a part of the institution (and the field’s) course. In 2017 we were also able to put out a whole special issue of D-Lib focused on various NDP projects.

Before I left IMLS, I was working on the start of planning NDP@3, a report and  summit reflecting on the first three years of the National Digital Platform initiative at IMLS and a look toward to it’s future. I’d left a few months before the summit, which I will note was expertly managed and run by the IMLS NDP team. I was lucky to get the chance to participate in the event. I was able to get my copy of the report signed by the team as pictured to the right.

Visiting the place you were, just for a day, and seeing everyone doing it all without you feels complicated. You miss it all. At the same time, you get to see others step up and take things in their own directions. I was so proud to see the team that I had had a hand in building running with what Maura and I had worked to establish.

The Book Cometh

Amidst all the professional changes, 2017 is also the year I wrote The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation. The preprint has been downloaded more than 1300 times from the Library and Information Science archive times since I posted it in July .

Starting in February, I posted drafts of sections of the book. By June, I delivered it to the press. In the fall I got back reader reports, and at this point I’ve sent the revised manuscript back to the press to move into the next phase of the process. I anticipate it will come out late in 2018.

In rereading the draft for this final hand-off  to the publisher, I feel like this is the most authentically “me” of anything I’ve ever written. At some moments, pithy, at others fiery. Sometimes completely eschewing “fancy writing” conventions. At points nerding out about wonky aspects of media theory or the structure of digital information.  Sometimes saying something smart. Generally at my best when I’m talking about the smart work that other people have done.  I see so many of the places and the people that I know, that I’ve learned from, evident in the stories I share in it. It’s still got the semi-breathless run-on-sentence-hedging that is part of conversations where I get caught-up in thoughts and ideas. It’s hard to express how affirming, revealing, and disarming it is to return to a piece of writing that you feel like exposes many of your quirks and vulnerabilities in it, but that you see people responding so positively to.

Building a Digital Content Managment Team

The last quarter of the year has found me back at the Library of Congress. When I started at the end of August I kept running into colleagues in the tunnels that connect the three buildings on capitol hill who would say things like “Hey Trevor, good to see you! It’s been a while. What have you been up to?” To which I would say something like, “Yes, it has! I worked for another federal agency for the last three years.”

The Library of Congress is a big place, the kind of place where you could really have not seen someone for three years. It’s also the kind of place where three years can seem like a blip of time. Library time really is a different kind of time. Being back now there are moments where I feel like I never left. I’m back with many of the same people talking about many of the same things. At the same time so much has changed for the better. I find myself having a chance to help support the development and implementation of a vision for the digital present and future of the institution and it’s extremely exciting.

My first run at all of this has been a really amazing experience. The idea of building out a team of staff for the digital content management section around the web archiving team has been really exciting. Part of my new job involves hiring ten people to round out the new section I’m setting up. In keeping with the nature of the federal hiring process, this ended up involving conducting more than fifty hour long structured interviews from a pool of hundreds of candidates for these positions. It’s a challenging privilege to be present and and supportive for people putting themselves out there in interviews. As the year closes, and this process inches closer to completion I’m excited about the prospect of transitioning from being a planner and hiring manager for this new section to being a coach and a mentor in supporting this team do great work on behalf of the public.

Reading up on Organizational Theory, Care, Emotional Intelligence & Resonance

I’ve been on a kick recently to read a lot of work on organizational theory, management, and leadership. What follows here is some of my rough notes on some of the books I’ve been reading. I’m interested/eager to talk with more folks about various takes on how these areas of work connect/don’t connect with libraries.

Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership

I read Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership back in grad school  and I keep using it as a way talk about organizations. So I thought it warranted a revisit.

Their central concept is that there are four competing frames through which people approach organizations and leadership and that by becoming deliberate about what frame you are working from at any given moment you can make better choices about what an organization needs at any given moment. They identify the four frames as; Structural, Human Resources, political, and symbolic. I’ve included a table from their explanation that I find quite useful below.

I like the concept in this that there aren’t right or wrong organizational frames but that it’s a question of context and that they are all aspects that are present in different organizations given the situation. I also think this is a rather useful tool for approaching others in an organization. My sense is that different people default to different frames and that the best way to work with someone is often to make your case and work with them from their default frame.

With that noted, my default frames tend to be the Human Resource and Symbolic frames and I increasingly see significant connections between those and notions of care and emotional intelligence. In this context, I see those two frames as the heart of work in organizations and the other two (structural and political) as instrumental tools that can help serve the ends that come from the symbolic and human resource frames.

Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education

I’ve been meaning to read up more on notions of care and ethics and it seemed like a good idea to go back to the source on this. So I read Nel Noddings Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education(Side note: how did anyone let me get out of a grad program in eduction without reading this?) I realize that there is a much larger body of work that has grown up out of this line of thinking and I’m excited to dig into that too, but I thought it made sense to try and read my way up that intellectual lineage by starting back with this.

I’m really liking the direction that the ethic of care takes us in and I think there are some significant connections to resulting work in leadership on ideas about emotional intelligence and resonance, which I’ll get into when I talk about the next two books. Here I think I will just share some of the quotes that have stuck with me and that I have been processing.

Noddings suggests that the central tenant of an ethic of care is to “always act so as to establish, maintain, or enhance caring relations.” (xv) and similarly that our “first and unending obligation is to meet the other as one-caring” (17). Which Noddings unpacks; “To act as one-caring is to act with special regard for the particular person in a concrete situation.” Further that. “When I care… There is more than a feeling; there is also a motivational shift. My motive energy flows toward the other and perhaps… towards his ends” (33). Going back to the Human Resource frame in Bolman and Deal, there seem to be some significant connections there with the notions around family as the organizational metaphor and about the idea that organizations best function when they think about how to meet the needs of their people and support and empower them.

But can institutions care? Noddings suggests no, then can’t. That “in a deep sense, no institution or nation can be ethical. It cannot meet the other as one-caring or as one trying to care.” further “only the individual can be truly called to ethical behavior” (103). In this context, what matters is to design institutions as places that support “conditions that make it possible for caring relations to flourish” (xiv). Further “We have to ask how best to cultivate the moral sentiments and how to develop communities that will support, not destroy, caring relations” (xv). I find Noddings’ notion of chains of caring to be useful here; “Chains of caring in which certain formal links to known cared-fors bind us to the possibility of caring. The construction of such formal chains places us in a state of readiness to care” (17). In this context, a core function for organizational design would be to work toward establishing structures and processes that support and encourage the development of these kinds of chains of caring.

On Emotional Intelligence: HBR’s 10 Must Reads

I’ve mentioned emotional intelligence a few times already. I’ve read a good bit on emotional intelligence in the past, and I’m thinking it’s more and more relevant in a range of contexts . I’m becoming all the more convinced that emotional intelligence is a core set of competencies that we need to be working to develop and cultivate. I found the The Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence to be a rather useful set of quick reads for trying to piece together what the implications of work on emotional intelligence are for organizations. Below is a quick blurb about the different skills that have been identified as part of emotional intelligence from the intro of the book.

Of particular note, ideas around empathy and social skill have some rather direct connections to both the human resource frame and notions of caring.  In the intro chapter, Daniel Goleman suggests that “Outstanding coaches and mentors get inside the heads of the people they are helping” (p 18). The whole conception of leaders as coaches and mentors draws from and connects to notions of support and care. 

Here are a few more quotes from chapters in the book that I’ve found to be insightful or useful;

  • “Our limbic system’s open-loop design lets other people change ur very physiology and hence, or emotions” (30). Our emotional states effect each other in rather direct ways, so the result is that that team culture and organizational culture affect the emotional states of all everyone else in the organization. Here again I think the centrality of both the human resource and symbolic frame come into play.
  • A later chapter stresses the need for organizations to establish “norms that encourage a group to recognize the feelings and needs of other groups” (84). I think this connects well with Noddings notions around getting organizations to establish the conditions for care to happen. 
  • There are a series of tables in a chapter titled Building Norms for three levels or group emotional intelligence (88) that nicely map how issues around emotional intelligence bridge from individuals up and out to teams and groups.  Great and detailed table with norms. Starting from “Norms that create awareness of emotions” then “Norms that help regulate emotions.” You can see a copy of that table online here

Becoming a Resonant Leader

The last book I’ll run through today is McKee,  Boyatzis, and Johnston’s Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your EffectivenessI think it nicely bridges a lot of the issues that have come up thus far. They describe their idea of resonance as how leaders “become attuned to the needs and dreams of people they lead.” In this context, the work of leadership is grounded in that human resources frame in the needs and desires of others.

The book is built around the idea that resonant leadership is moored in mindfulness, which is related to one’s ability to manage cycles of sacrifice and renewal and a dialog between our ideal selves and our real selves. In this context one needs to set plans in motion to learn and advance your ability to work across each of these areas.

Much of the book focuses on the previously described functions of emotional intelligence and the role it requires for someone to be present and have presence (29). Given the previously mentioned idea that our lymbic systems are open and that other’s emotional states have direct effects on our own it becomes all the more central for people in leadership roles to manage their emotional states (31). For this reason, one of their core idea is that there are aspects of doing the emotional labor of resonant leadership that are draining and that if leaders don’t build in explicit practices to manage that they can end up getting trapped in a sacrifice syndrome.  This post has some nice diagrams and explanations of these ideas.

The diagram below from a related article by the authors illustrates how they see cycles of renewal and sacrifice from leaders functioning to maintain resonance.

The take away from their approach is that only by making sure everyone builds in time for cycles of renewal and self care can we manage the continued emotional labor of the work we face.

So those are some running notes on a four books I’ve recently read and or re-read and I’m curious for any and all thoughts you might have about the points in them or other reading that complicates or confirms any of these points. I find it interesting to see such strong connections across work in organizational theory and educational philosophy and psychology. With that noted, there are aspects of the business organizational theory work that connect with extractive work around labor and control that I still haven’t resolved. That is, when are institutions being manipulative? Further, it seems more and more clear that this understanding of how people work is something that can be marshaled and used to just about any ends or mission. So it’s clear that outside of this there are broader ethical questions about what kind of work organizations chose to focus on.

 

When Going back is Going Forward: On Returning to the LC

I am overjoyed to announce that I will serve as the first Head of Digital Content Management in Library Services at the Library of Congress.

For the first time in my career I’m going to be an official librarian. In Gov speak, this job is a 1410, I’ve previously been a “information technology specialist (2210) and most recently the most government sounding thing imaginable “miscellaneous administration” (0301). Of the many things I am excited about regarding the position, one is that after more than a decade of working with and supporting libraries I will now be, according to the United States federal government, a practicing librarian.

It’s been hard for me to imagine something that could call me away from the work I get to do at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. But then this came along. This post provides some context on 1) why I’m generally excited to go back 2) why I’m specifically excited to go back and 3) why it’s also so very hard to leave.

A great time to be at the LC

IMLS staff settling in to watch and cheer on Dr. Carla Hayden during her swearing in as the Library of Congress. I’m over in the right corner. Photo Credit Emily Reynolds.

Like librarians around the country, I cheered when Dr. Carla Hayden was nominated to be our Librarian of Congress. I cheered even louder when she was confirmed. I’ve been watching from the sidelines and talking with many of my friends at LC about exciting changes she is bringing to the institution.

It’s clearly a great time to work for the Library of Congress. I’m excited to be a part of that.

I will point out a few top-of-mind examples of exciting work afoot. Kate Zwaard and her team are charting a course for supporting the use and reuse of digital collections. Joe Puccio and his team have established and advanced a smart and bold vision for digital collecting. It’s invigorating to see the Library of Congress so clearly engaging as a partner and a leader in the national community of libraries and librarians. The friendships that came from my previous stint at LC have stuck with me and it is great to see many of those smart, thoughtful, and hardworking friends moving into positions that are enabling them to take the institution to exciting new places.

So that’s some context on general LC things that get me excited, but it’s the particulars of this job that pull me back.

What does being the Head of Digital Content Management entail?

Screenshot from the Library of Congress FY 17 budget justification which explains concepts behind the launch of the Digital Collections Management Section. Note: This document was drafted a good while ago and as such the particulars of the organizational structure and roles in this is likely a bit different than what is outlined here.

Before getting into this, I should kick off by saying that what follows is 1) my personal reading of 2) public information about 3) a job I’ve yet to start at 4) an organization that has changed a lot since I left it three years ago. Further, as is always the case, things on my blog are a) personal reflections b ) not in any way official in regards to any connection with organizations I am now or have ever been associated with and c) last but not least, in no way statements on behalf of the gov. Back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

For some context on where this new Head of Digital Content Management role comes from, I recommend pages 48-49 of the Library of Congress 2017 budget justification. As a general side note, the hefty budget justification tomes are chock full of great info on the institution.

Given that most readers will likely not be cracking open that particular volume, I’m happy to walk through it a bit. On page 48 you can find a description of a request for resources to meet the need for the “establishment of a new digital content management unit … that will be responsible for collecting and managing content for the Library’s collections in digital formats.” There is a bit more context there about what exactly this entails, “The unit will codify and communicate digital content best practices, provide training to staff throughout the Library, and work with Office of the Chief Information Officer to develop the Library’s technical capacity to collect, preserve, and deliver digital collections.” Furthermore, the division “will focus on expanding the Library’s 

acquisition, management, and preservation of digital collections” and “assume responsibility for key born digital acquisitions programs and digital materials not supported elsewhere in the Library, including web archiving.

In short, this involves developing, building out, and supporting a team focused on building capacity for the Library of Congress to collect, manage, and provide access to digital content. It also involves supporting the existing web archiving program, which (IMHO) is a) world class digital collecting program and b) one of the most exciting, dynamic, and growing programs at the Library of Congress.

In short, this is my jam.

If you want evidence of my passion for long term access to digital information look no further than the tattoo on my right arm

This feels like what I have been thinking about and writing about for close to a decade.

Subject matter aside, I’ve also become increasingly passionate about good management and administration. When I moved into a management role at IMLS I delved deep into reading, thinking, and practicing work on organizational culture, emotional intelligence, organizational design and theory, and creating effective teams. The idea of helping build out a unit of the Library of Congress anchored in an ethic of care is (irrespective of the subject) exciting in its own right.

Even more information about digital content management!

But wait… there’s more.

The job posting has, in between standard government-job-speak, some thoughtfully crafted info on how this work is being designed. Again, I’m not on the inside yet. I don’t know exactly how the lived experience of these aspects are developing and coming together. With that noted, the way this job (and the resulting organizational structure it implies) are being described and articulated makes a lot of sense me. I’ve pasted the duties below for context. The thing I want to highlight in these is the connections between this new Digital Content Management Section as three different kinds of things;

  • A custodial unit that manages a set of collecting programs and content;
  • A platform for increasing capacity for digital collecting in units across the Library; and
  • A team that can share out what it learns more broadly in LC and with the field.

In my mind, these seem like three concentric circles nested in each other that can facilitate and support change in both the institution and the field. Below is the exact language from the position listing where you can see these different themes weave in and out. I’ve gone ahead and bolded some parts that connect with those three points I’ve mentioned. I like to stick to my sources and my texts, so here we go.

The Head of Digital Content Management…

  • Coordinates, determines, and manages projects within the section. Serves as a technical expert in the planning, management, and execution of digital collections projects and activities within the scope of the section. Applying broad knowledge of digital libraries and technical solutions provides expert analysis and advice and develops solutions to solve complex issues and problems associated with digital lifecycle management. Identifies and applies new analytical techniques to address situations that are unique or not previously encountered.
  • Oversees the development of requirements related to the management of digital content under care of the section. Directs studies and testing of digital library best practices and standards. Develops cost estimates and IT investment packages to support digital content acquisition and curation programs. Serves as advisor and liaison to the Chief of Digital Collection Management & Services Division (TBD) on matters pertaining to digital collections lifecycle activities. Establishes and maintains effective working relationships with Library staff at multiple levels and across service unit lines on digital collections management.
  • Coordinates digital workflow activities with specialists in curatorial units throughout Library Services, the Law Library, and the Office of Chief Information Officer. Provides training and presentations to staff in stakeholder and curatorial units. Communicates orally and in writing to both technical and non-technical staff concerning digital collections activities.
  • Attends conferences/meetings to make presentations or for professional development to keep abreast of current trends in technology. Works collaboratively inside and outside the section to facilitate and encourage the development and implementation of institution-wide and national best practices and standards.
  • Performs the administrative and human resource management functions related to the staff supervised. Establishes guidelines and performance expectations for staff, which are clearly communicated through the formal employee performance management system. Responsible for advancing the objectives of equal employment opportunity (EEO) by taking positive steps to adhere to nondiscriminatory employment practices in regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability.

But now… the feels

The last few weeks I’ve felt a lot like No Face (pictured above) batted about by waves of feels.

It is really hard to leave IMLS. I love this place. I love the mission. I love the work. But far and above all of that, I love the people. No one outside the organization can ever really understand what it’s like.

The team I have been able to work with has been a gift. My colleagues and staff in the Office of Library Services are amazing. Each of them is brilliant and talented in different ways and together they are incredibly effective and sharp. It’s also a group of thoughtful and supportive people. I like to think everyone in the team knows that they are respected and they are cared for. At least that is how I know I’ve felt. It’s also something I’ve tried to communicate. So much work goes on behind the scenes with very few people. The small but mighty staff of the Office of Library Services, supported by an assortment of other great tiny offices, are who make all of it happen.

Many of the Office of Library Services team at the opening of ALA 2016

Beyond the direct team, the folks in the Office of Museum Services are a pleasure to work with and the various supporting offices are all filled with dedicated people who work to make rules and regulations designed for federal agencies with thousands of people work for one that has a tiny fraction of a fraction of that. I can honestly say I’ve never worked as hard as I’ve worked at IMLS, but the work has always been deeply rewarding. To my IMLS colleagues, I see the work you do and I understand and appreciate it. I’m going to be less than a mile away and I would love to drop just about anything to get coffee and talk whenever. I hope you’ll all still keep me in the loop re: happy hours.

OLS staff sporting their team jerseys. I’m in the back with a Zotero t-shirt on.

It’s hard to leave all that. However, as various people have come and gone in my time at IMLS, I’ve been aware of just how temporary and fleeting places and communities like this are. Reflecting on changes in the time I’ve been there I can clearly count a range of different eras and moments. We never walk into the same river twice and part of what makes the stratigraphy of our lives special and poignant in our memories requires a perpetual moving and shifting around. With all of that said, I’m joining the IMLS alumni network:  a crew of friends I already know quite well.

I am incredibly proud of the work I’ve been involved in. I count myself lucky to have the chance to develop Maura’s vision in the national digital platform framework.  Along with that, I am thrilled that the calls for proposals for FY 2018 continue to support national digital platform projects. I leave in place a team of some of the smartest and most talented people working on these issues in the country. I can’t wait to see all the amazing work that they will support. I also leave with the hope that my understanding of the functions and missions of IMLS and the Library of Congress can support future connections and collaborations between these unique institutions.

I end where I often find myself, humbled and inspired by the opportunities I have been presented with to serve, and hopeful that I can, to whatever extent possible, pay forward what has been given to me by my mentors and colleagues. As we Wisconsinites say, Forward!