Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Class No. 9: Accessioning and Ingest of Electronic Records

At the end of October I took my ninth (and final!) DAS course, Accessioning and Ingest of Electronic Records taught by Erin Faulder, Digital Archivist at Tufts University. This was an in-person workshop from the Tactical and Strategic tier of the DAS curriculum, held on the Radcliffe campus in Cambridge, MA. The goals of the course were to introduce accessioning and ingest as they apply to digital materials, to go over some current practices and resources, and to provide students with a foundation that could be used to develop policies and workflows for our own institutions.

I thought the course provided a good overview of the issues we face as we start to accession and ingest electronic records. Some of the steps we talked about were definitely specific to born-digital accessions: talking to donors about how to handle previously-deleted files that are recovered by the archive, performing virus scans on incoming media, and performing checksums on files as they are received are some examples of tasks we may never have attempted before. However, I kept thinking that most of what we discussed could also be applied to the analog world. Archivists already understand the importance of having both overarching institutional policies and explicit agreements with individual donors to govern things like what your institution will and won't accept, how material should be transferred from the donor to the institution, and how your institution will verify that the material it received is the material the donor intended and agreed to send. We have processes in place to determine the level of description necessary at the point of accession, we consider storage requirements when accepting new material (physical space can be just as limited as storage space for digital files), and we sometimes take steps to quarantine new material (mold can be just as damaging to our existing holdings as a computer virus if it is allowed to spread). The specifics will be different - and probably more challenging, at least at first - when the material being sent is born digital, but the concepts are the same. While it is incredibly useful to have workshops like this that focus on born-digital records, it is equally as important to emphasize the fact that much of what we already know about how to be archivists still applies in the digital world.

Just a few notes about what stood out for me in a positive way about this course:
  • The OAIS Reference Model diagram is referenced in almost every DAS course, but here it seemed more concrete and accessible than before, probably because we were focusing specifically on the actions taken during the first two phases of the workflow.
  • In response to a late day question about a specific tool a student had tried to use but didn't quite understand, the instructor made an excellent point that I think should be made in every DAS course: don't let the tools guide your decisions. Rather, figure out what you want to accomplish and then pick a tool which will do exactly that. Starting with the tool will frustrate you, and if it's an expensive tool that doesn't work out it will frustrate your administration as well, making future expenditures less likely.
I've now completed all of the required courses for the DAS certificate, and I'm registered to take the comprehensive exam next week here at the JFK Library. Maybe I'll see some of you there. I don't think I'll be allowed to say much about the exam itself, but after it's over I will write a final blog entry to reflect on this whole experience. Thank you, as always, for reading, and please don't hesitate to comment if you have any questions or feedback for me.