Category Archives: year in review

Digital Preservation, Digital History, & Digital Curation: A 2019 Year in Review

As the end of the year comes to a close, I make time organize and synthesize what I’ve been up to across different parts of my work each year. You can see my reflections at the end of 2018, 2017, 20152014, 2013, and 2012. I’m a big fan of the value of metacognition, so I tend to feel like I get a lot out of taking a little time to round up, reflect, and try and synthesize things at least once a year.

This year I’ve organized things into work managing and coaching teams at the Library of Congress, work communicating about digital preservation, and broader engagements in teaching, learning, and scholarship in digital history and digital curation. 

From Start-Up to Highly Productive Teams

DCM team members developing shared values. More on this on The Signal

In 2018, I worked to bring on 10 new staff who joined the Web Archiving Team as part of the newly formed Digital Content Management Section at the Library of Congress.

This year I was continually impressed by how the team was able to deliver results,  continuously improve our approach to planning, tracking, and executing projects, and at the same time have a lot of fun. You can get some sense of the kinds of things folks have been up to on the team through posts from the group on The Signal

In 2019, the team refined and published a set of values that guide our work, provided a deep dive into how web archives data works and published a series of derivative file datasets from web archives, (images, tabular data, audio, PDFs, PowerPoints). We also were able to complete  a multi-year effort to define and publish policy and guidance on managing digital collections in the Digital Collections Management Compendium. We helped advance parts of the Library of Congress Digital Collecting Plan, in areas including acquiring, preserving, and making available open access children’s books and open-access Latin American monographs. We were able to make available a corpus of 1.7 million digitized images from more than a hundred years of U.S. Telephone directories. We also had a great time hosting ARL’s Digital and Inclusive Excellence Fellows for a day to share information about various areas of work at the Library of Congress. Beyond The Signal, the team also published analysis of file extensions in the Library of Congress digital collections. I should note that the highlight reel from The Signal and our publications is just the tip of the iceberg of the work our section is making happen. Most of our work is inwardly focused and it’s only a small portion of the work that we draw attention to online. 

As our section moved out from its start-up phase into highly productive teams this year, we also worked through a series of transitions. Over the course of the year, four of the original ten team members that came on board in the beginning 2018 ended up advancing their careers into other roles at the Library of Congress or other libraries. Since then, two new team members have come on to fill their shoes and are already making great contributions to the work, and we are in the process of bringing on additional team members as well. I’ve been thrilled to see how throughout those transitions the teams have done a great job of prioritizing, rebalancing, shifting, and supporting each other as we review what we are able to pull off. I’m personally very proud of the culture and values we have established which I think is working to ensure that we can respond to change and ramp up and put on hold work as needed. 

Continuing to get the word out on Digital Preservation

This year I continued to spread the word about digital preservation and digital collections management. My third book, the Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, came out at the end of 2018. I’ve been thrilled with the great response it received over the course of 2019. In 2019 the book won two major awards the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services 2019 Outstanding Publication Award and the Society of American Archivists 2019 Waldo Gifford Leland Award. I found it deeply rewarding to win this kind of recognition from both the librarians of the ALA and the archivists of the SAA. 

Alongside the awards, in 2019 the book was positively reviewed in at least eight different journals; Archivar,  Mid-Atlantic ArchivistLibrary Resources and Technical Services, the Journal of Archival OrganizationMetropolitan Archivist, The Journal of the Archives and Records Association,  College and Research Libraries, and Archivaria. Mid way through the year, Johns Hopkins University Press reached out about publishing a second printing. It’s rewarding to see such a great response to the book and to hear about how it is helping a range of working librarians, archivists, and curators to advance their craft in ensuring enduring access to digital content. 

Presenting on Digital Preservation at the United Nations in Geneva.

Over the course of the year I was gave a series of major talks about digital preservation. I gave opening keynotes on digital preservation at the Federal Depository Libraries Conference, the Lapidus Initiative Digital Collections Fellowship Symposium, and the Simposio Internacional de la Maestría en Conservación de Acervos Documentales in Mexico City.  As an opening keynote for the Project Muse Partner meeting, Sayeed Choudhury interviewed me about key issues for scholarly publishing relating to digital preservation. I also gave invited lectures on digital preservation at the United Nations  in Geneva and the Zentralbibliothek Zürich.

Beyond talks specifically drawing from the book, I participated on a panel on preserving eBooks with colleagues from the British Library, Library Archives Canada, and the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek at the International Digital Preservation Conference in Amsterdam. I was invited to present as an expert on modeling digital preservation risks to the NIH sponsored National Academy of Sciences workshop on Forecasting Costs for Preserving, Archiving, and Promoting Access to Biomedical Data. At the Digital Library Federation Conference, I was invited alongside Dan Cohen, and Chela Weber to be a respondent to Carol Mandel’s recent work exploring the state of digital collecting and preservation. All together it was a great year for continuing to share out about digital preservation. 

Ongoing Digital History and Curation Teaching, Scholarship, & Service

Talking about design thinking at the University of Maryland.

Outside my digital preservation work, I continue to be engaged in a range of teaching, scholarship and service relating to digital history and digital curation more broadly.

I wrote a post on this blog asking some questions about the history of using the term archive as a verb. A chapter I wrote on service in archives, Archives as a Service: From Archivist as Producer and Provider to Archivist as Facilitator and Enabler, was published in Archival Values: Essays in Honor of Mark Greene. A review I wrote of Science in the Archives: Pasts, Presents, Futures was published in American Archivist. I also participated in a really fun panel on Documenting Online Cultures at the American Folklore Society’s Annual Meeting. I started working through some new material in an opening keynote I gave on The Centrality of Design Thinking and Scholarship for the Future of Library Practice at the University of Maryland’s Libraries Research and Innovative Practice Forum. 

In the spring taught my Digital Public History Methods graduate seminar for the 6th time at American University’s History Program. In recognition for ongoing work and teaching related to digital history, the program upgraded my title from lecturer to Public Historian in Residence. I continue to be impressed by the creativity and innovative thinking of students in the program.

In the Fall I taught a new course on Digital Curation Policy and Ethics for the University of Maryland’s iSchool. This was the first fully online course I’ve taught, so I was curious to see how it would go. Overall, I was consistently impressed by the quality of work students did. I hope many of those students go on to refine and revise some of the excellent papers they worked on for the course for publication. Students wrote about everything from ethical issues in algorithmic curation of news, to legal issues in digital reproductions of artworks, to ethical issues surrounding labor practices relating to digitization contracts. 

Teaching those two courses brings the total number of graduate seminars I’ve taught since 2011 to ten. I continue to enjoy the way that working in the classroom helps keep me sharp and offers me a chance to stay fresh on some of the fundamentals in both digital history and in digital curation. 

Along with  teaching and research,  I continued to participate as a board member for the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, as a founding board member of Digital Cultural Heritage D.C., as a member of the CLIR Hidden Collections Digitization Program review panel, and as a member of the Digital Library Federation Advisory Committee. In short, I keep busy.

The book wall from readings this year.

I got a lot out of reading this year. I finally made time to read Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences and I can confirm it is indeed an outstanding resource for connecting work in science and technology studies with  work on knowledge infrastructure in library and information science. I read both The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex and Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do BetterBoth offer powerful critiques on the effect of philanthropy on society. I’m thinking a lot about The Revolution Will Not be Funded. I think it opens up some really fundamental questions about how non-profits and philanthropy function in society. I got a lot out of readings on stoicism,  scrum, and re-reading Getting Things Done, and am still processing some of the ideas from the polemical It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. 

Marjee and me as Kurt and Courtney.

Beyond all these aspects of work, Marjee and I had a lot of fun with other projects, friends, and family. She was the maid of honor and I was the best man at my Mom and Todd’s wedding outside Milwaukee. We both caught up with my family at an Owens’s family reunion in Holly, Michigan. I had a ton of fun backing up Marjee on two days of shooting footage at the Small Press Expo for what will be an amazing forthcoming documentary film. Last but not least, I think we made a pretty good Kurt and Courtney for Halloween.

Overall, this has been a great year. I very much enjoy the ability to work inside a huge cultural heritage organization and at the same time manage and develop teaching and scholarship along with that work. It seems like I’m hitting a good balance there. As far as goals for next year, the biggest thing I’ve been trying to focus on is being very deliberate about what kinds of projects I take on. I ultimately aspire to be able to spend more time focusing on fewer things.

 

Building, Growing, Learning: Looking back at 2018

It’s hard to believe that another year has gone by. 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 2017,  2015,  2014, 2013, and 2012. I’m a big fan of the value of metacognition, so I tend to feel like I get a lot out of taking a little time to round up, reflect, and try and synthesize things at least once a year.

This year, I was able to build, support, and learn from the new Digital Content Management team at work. I made the list of Library Journal “Movers & Shakers” where I was given the headline “Access Forever,” which I feel like captures a lot of what I’m into. I had the chance to teach new iterations of two graduate seminars. I joined a few different boards that are helping me stay engaged in communities that matter a lot to me. Also, my book came out! I get into all of that a bit more below

Building the digital content management team

Most of the new Digital Content Management Section (and colleagues) on the stage at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center (Photo by Mike Mashon)

Over the first three months of 2018, the Digital Content Management section at LC went from seven folks to sixteen. Setting up the functions and structure of the new team and connecting out to all the great work going on across the organization was an exciting, exhausting, and invigorating adventure. I wrote about this a bit on The Signal. I’m really blown-away by how quickly everyone has jumped into things, and very excited by how quickly we transitioned from getting up to speed to doing meaningful and productive work.

I’m particularly thrilled with how I think we have been able to consciously build, maintain, and work to improve a and supportive culture and learning community. You can get a sense of some of the things we have been up to in Signal posts on topics such as; metadata for web archives, animated GIF datasets, library carpentry workshops, and archiving science blogs. Stay tuned for more on our crew’s work on The Signal.

Growing as a coach and manager

As part of my work at the Library of Congress, I was lucky to get to participate in the pilot of a new intensive cohort program focused on developing leaders in the five core qualifications areas for Senior Executive Service; Leading Change, Leading People ECQ, Results Driven, Business Acumen, and Building Coalitions. The program involved 19 days of expert facilitated leadership workshops complemented by a sequence of three 360 reviews on leadership practices, emotional intelligence, and trust.

Workshops covered topics such as; Coaching and Mentoring, Crucial Conversations, Leadership Essentials, Leading at the Speed of Trust, DiSC, Getting Things Done, Leadership Practices, and Navigating Change in Turbulent Times. It was challenging to juggle the program and getting everything up and running. With that said, a lot of the training was particularly pertinent to the work at hand in getting things going. The 360 reviews were especially helpful in getting me feedback from the team on what I could improve on.

My third book dropped

Holding the book when it came in

It’s been a long time coming, but just this month my book The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation shipped. Most of the work on the book was done last year, but I did do a bit of work responding to some comments and making some revisions in response to comments that came up from the readers of it for peer review. Over the course of the year the pre-print was downloaded more than 2,600 times. I’m really excited to see what kind of reaction the print copy receives over the course of the year.

This is my third book; the first was a local history book with scans of postcards from Fairfax County VA, and the second is the result of my dissertation research on how power and control work in the design of online community software systems. I really like both of those books, but I feel like this is the first one is the most “me.” Even reading it now, I feel like I’ve found my voice and area where I am able to make my best and most meaningful contributions. Alongside the book, I wrote up a little piece about parsimony and elegance as guiding principles in digital library systems, some reflections on the amazingly good book Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network, and the forward to the No-Nonsense Guide to Born Digital Content.

Getting out there and getting the word out

Pointing at a slide at NLM. Realizing that cardigan got a lot of mileage this year.

While I did a lot less work-related travel than I have in previous years, I did still get around a good bit. I was invited to give a talk as part of the National Library of Medicine’s History of Medicine Lectures series.

I ended up with a great turn out for my talk, Scientists’ Hard Drives, Databases, and Blogs: Preservation Intent and Source Criticism in the Digital History of Science, Technology and Medicine.” At some point, I hope to turn that talk into an article. But it’s likely going to be a while before I get around to that.

I gave opening keynote addresses at two very different conferences. At the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archivists Association’s Conference I gave a talk called Start Today: Digital Stewardship Communities & Collaborations. At the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries, I gave a talk titled We Have Interesting Problems: Some Applied Grand Challenges from Digital Libraries, Archives and Museums. I had a ton of fun at both events and got a great response from attendees about the talks.

I also ended up going to Boston twice. Once as a participant in MIT Libraries’ Grand Challenges in Information Science and Scholarly Communication Summit and to the International Conference on Digital Preservation. Both were very engaging thought provoking meetings. I was also able to get out to the Digital Library Federation and the National Digital Stewardship Alliances conferences. It was great to be able to get out to and participate in these events and continue to stay in the loop on developments in the field.

Service work and engaging in communities

This year I moved into a series of new roles to serve and support a series of communities that matter to me. I joined the board for Anacostia Trails Heritage Area Inc which supports community development around history, culture, and nature in Prince George’s County Maryland. I also joined the Digital Library Federation Advisory Committee and have now participated in two of the advisory board meetings.

I became a member of the CLIR’s Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives standing review panel. I also helped to transition the Digital Cultural Heritage D.C. meetup to a model where it now is organized by a board of six of us working on digital cultural heritage issues in the metro area at different institutions. I really enjoy the opportunity to contribute my time and effort to these different groups and their efforts and I feel like it’s something that helps me keep learning and connecting with others working on issues that matter a lot to me.

Teaching digital history and digital preservation

In the spring I taught a revised version of my Digital History graduate seminar. This was the fifth time I’ve taught the course in the last seven years. Given that the course counts as a “tool of research” course for American University’s history and public history programs, I reframed it as “Digital History Methods.” I really like how the course ran. Students came up with a range of smart ideas for digital history projects. You can see links to their projects and reflections here. I’m now gearing up to teach another instance of the course this spring.

I’m just wrapping up teaching my fall semester Digital Preservation graduate seminar for the University of Maryland’s iSchool. This is the fourth course I’ve taught for the iSchool and the second time I’ve taught the digital preservation course. It was also the first time I’ve been able to teach the course using the digital preservation book. Last time I taught the course the course syllabus largely became the format for the structure of the book. I think it worked out well to anchor the course in the book and then supplement it with additional readings each week. I’m really impressed by the results of the work that the digital preservation students were able to do as consultants for small cultural heritage orgs as part of the course. You can read the results of their work on the projects page of the course site.

NOLA, Central Europe, and some good shows

Alongside these various strands of work, Marjee and I also made some great excursions. We were graciously hosted by a good friend in New Orleans for a week early in the year and took off for two weeks for our tenth anniversary to visit Copenhagen, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Krakow. If you’re interested, both of those trips are rather well documented on instagram.

We also saw a bunch of great live music this year. I will likely forget something, but we saw; Chad Valley, Rasputina, Tash Sultana, Jack White, Andrew Bird with the NSO, Erasure, and RJD2.