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, 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’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
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 Archivist, Library Resources and Technical Services, the Journal of Archival Organization, Metropolitan 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.
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
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.
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 Better. Both 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.
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.