Thursday, June 13, 2013

Class No. 8: Inreach and Outreach for Digital Archives

This week I attended my eighth DAS course, Inreach and Outreach for Digital Archives, taught by Fynnette Eaton. The course is part of the Tactical and Strategic tier of the DAS curriculum, and was an all day, in person event held at the Radcliffe campus in Cambridge. The objectives of the course were to identify the relevant stakeholders surrounding digital archives at our institutions; to learn how to articulate the importance of digital preservation to those stakeholders; to effectively communicate with donors about their born-digital material; and to think about ways to build a digital archives program within the context of our specific institutions. I thought the workshop successfully achieved these objectives.

Though the slides and the discussion focused on managing born-digital material, the general themes of this course would probably be applicable to any collaborative project in virtually any setting. Given the relative lack of born-digital material in my particular institution, I appreciated that; it meant that the discussions were relevant to me, and I was able to participate without feeling like I was thinking only in the abstract. The broad themes as I saw them were these:
  • It is imperative to understand the political and social culture of your particular environment before undertaking any project that will require participation and buy-in from staff and management;
  • Think carefully about who will need to be involved, whether directly or indirectly, and communicate with them early and often. In the context of a digital archives initiative potential stakeholders include management, IT staff, donors, fellow staff, and end users;
  • a collaborative project must provide a clear benefit to every party involved, and the expectations and goals of the project must be well understood;
  • It is a good idea to have a “champion,” somebody who is well-connected, well-liked, and trusted in your institution who can promote your idea;
  • It is important to develop and manage the image you want your stakeholders to have of your project. The instructor referred to this as “branding,” which sounded a little foreign to my ears, but I understood the point and agreed with it. For example, if as a University Archivist you want the professors at your institution to think of the Archives as the natural place to transfer their born-digital files, it’s up to you to give them that idea by promoting the Archives as a safe repository for electronic records, and also by educating them about what files might be suitable for eventual transfer. 
More than any other DAS course I’ve taken thus far, this was a true workshop. We spent a considerable amount of time thinking and talking about the challenges we face at each of our institutions, and worked individually, with partners, and in small groups to brainstorm potential strategies for moving forward with a digital archives program. I thought the instructor did a great job of listening to our ideas and concerns, asking thoughtful questions, and offering useful suggestions. 

I'll be writing again in July, when I'm scheduled to take my ninth and final DAS course. I don't know when or where I will be able to take the comprehensive exam, but as I know more about that I will share it here. Thanks for reading, and as always please share any comments or questions.