Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Tour of the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Photo by Jennifer Wright, 2009.
    Over spring break, I took a tour of the Smithsonian Institution Archives in Washington D.C. The Smithsonian Institution Archives is where the Smithsonian houses the records relating to the documentation of the institution itself. The location in Washington D.C. is more of a staging area for processing and sending requested records than a long-term storage location. The Smithsonian has several larger locations in Pennsylvania for long-term storage. The materials that are permanently stored in the D.C. location are the materials that are too delicate to be moved over long distances. The D.C. building the Smithsonian Institution Archives is housed in is actually new. The Archives moved in 2006; they were the first tenants of this building, and were able to negotiate the creation of certain rooms to fit their needs.
Upon walking into the D.C. location, there are several viewing rooms for material: a larger well-lit room for paper material and several smaller rooms set up for viewing audio-visual material. Walking into the back end, one of the first rooms of note is the room where paper records of all the activities of the Smithsonian Institution Archives are held. Appraisal and description decisions made by the Archives are held in this room in paper form. Moving further back, there are rooms set up for processing and description of materials. Here archivists and interns work to describe the incoming accessions from the various Smithsonian branches. These processing rooms are mainly for the description and arrangement of physical documentation; the electronic documentation is worked on in another room. The electronic records processing is done by coordinating between electronic records specialists and the other archivists stationed at the D.C. office. In the AV preservation room are most analog recording devices known to man hooked up to a digital system that will create five different copies varying in amount of compression: the most compressed files being the access copy distributed to the public to the least compressed files that will be stored as a master copy. If the physical medium is too degraded, the archivists will flag it for the digital archives specialist to take a look at it.
Further back in the archive, there are stacks that serve several functions. First there is a system set in place for the material that cannot be moved to another location. When the Archives moved in 2006, most of the free space was immediately taken by materials that could only be stored at the D.C. location. Within these stacks there is also a cold storage vault for delicate materials that need to be stored in colder temperatures. Several sections of the stacks serve another function however. They act as a holding location for both newly accessioned material and material that has been requested by researchers. The newly accessioned material is then sent through processing and then eventual storage, and the material requested by researchers is then pulled for researchers to view in the viewing rooms. Finally, there is the conservation laboratory.
The laboratory is well stocked with most equipment necessary for the conservation of any kind of material. There is a chamber that allows no humidity as well as stations set up for conservators to create their own mixtures to fit materials. The system that determines what materials have the most need of conservation takes into account notes made by archivists and researchers who will flag materials along with various standards set in place by the system. This covers the majority of the D.C. location for the Smithsonian Institutional Archives. The Archives realized there were too many documents to store in a single location, and therefore turned the D.C. location into a place for processing and viewing of documentation while the larger bulk of the materials was stored in Pennsylvania.

This post was contributed by Matthew Cresson, an MSLS student concentrating in archives and records management. Matt volunteers with the Paul Green Foundation and is Vice President of the Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saving Our Social Lives (Part II): Tools That Can Help You with Social Media Archiving

This post is part two of a two-part series by SILS student Rachel Walton on the current challenges of archiving social media.

Whether it be a company’s Twitter feed or your own Pinterest account, there IS a way to archive your social media content. HOW is the remaining question. Answering this question involves finding the right tool for the job. Options for social media archiving tools fall somewhere on the continuum between free, easy, DIY style solutions with simple click and download options and pricey, robust, proprietary solutions with full tech support like Erado.

If personal information management is the context you’re working in, built in, click-and-download-style mechanisms that let you save your content to your own personal files may suffice. Several social media networks provide this service, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For an explanation of how to do this on your own for various social media networks see this online tutorial. And for a quick and dirty review of who does it best see this article by Liana Bandziulis of WIRED from July 2014.
But, if you are trying to generate a professional, official, and curated archive of social media content, the DIY option may not cut it. At this point you may want to consider a low-cost service/vendor solution. If this is where you are I would like to make a recommendation -- ArchiveSocial.
Located in nearby Durham, NC, ArchiveSocial is a service that captures and retains social media records in raw, native format with complete metadata. It is an automated, proprietary, cloud-based service for managing intuitional social media records from the five most popular social media networks in the country - Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIn, and Instagram. (In case you have been living under a rock, here are some statistics about what the most popular social media websites are as of 2014.)
Here is a quick review of the tool’s best features from the perspective of an archivist. But if you want to try it out on your own, you can sample it using your own social media accounts for free.
10 Things Archivists Will like about ArchiveSocial:
  1. Captures the look and feel of social media interfaces, not just the content and metadata. And as all archivists know, context is key!
  2. Satisfies compliance and Open Records requirements. The service accommodates federal, state, and industry compliance standards such as FOIA, SEC, FINRA, FSA, FRCP, and others.
  3. Supplies legally-sound social media records for litigation and ediscovery. This is a reassuring feature in light of the uptrend in recent lawsuits involving socialmedia as evidence.
  4. Provides authentic metadata such as time-stamped digital signatures, user IDs, and location information.
  5. All data is searchable. That means each status update, comment, photo, message, etc. can be searched through based on keywords, date ranges, content types, message participants, and other advanced filter categories. 
  6. It's good for more than text. The administrative dashboard can capture, replay, and search over many kinds of interactive content formats such as GIF, MPEG (MPG), AVI, MOV, and more. 
  7. The service is 100% hosted. You do not have to provide the storage - they do! The company uses a cloud storage model.This means that their cost model, rather than being a one-size fits all, is based on the number of records you generate a month. 
  8. No software installation or IT expertise required. For organizations with less-than-tech-savvy record managers and employees, this feature can be invaluable.
  9. Continuous automated archiving updates your archived content throughout the day. This feature minimizes time gaps in data loss, providing reliable data and content at any given moment, and keeps your workload to a minimum.
  10. Exports all social media records, or specific subsets of such records, to a variety of standard and easy-to-use formats including HTML, PDF, and Excel on demand.

Wanna see an example? Look no further than the North Carolina State Archives! Their free and open archive provides access to hundreds of thousands of social media records from official North Carolina state agencies.
I’d like to end by saying that I am by no means the world’s expert on social media archiving, and this blog post is the result of my own learning experiences. If you know more, please share!
Here is a list of the variety of resources I used to write this blog post and some more that I have just encountered in class or at work. For those of your with a lot of interest in this topic, they may prove helpful:

Bandziulis, Liana. "How to Download and Archive Your Social Media Memories " WIRED Gadget Lab (July 15, 2014).

Espley, Carpentier, Pop, and Medjkoune. "Collect, Preserve, Access: Applying the Governing Principles of the National Archives UK Government Web Archive to Social Media Content." Alexandria 25, no. 1 (2014): 31-50.

Holmes, Ryan. "Social Media Compliance Isn’t Fun, but It’s Necessary." Harvard Business Review, Organizational Culture (August 23, 2012).

Known Publishing Group. "Free My Data | Download and Archive Social Media Data."

Library of Congress. "Personal Archiving: Preserving Your Digital Memories." Digital Preservation.

Lomborg, Stine. "Researching Communicative Practice: Web Archiving in Qualitative Social Media Research."Journal of Technology in Human Services 30, (2012).

Madhava, Rakesh. “10 Things to Know About Preserving Social Media”. Information Management. Sept/Oct (2011): 33-37.

Moore, John. "Social Media: The Next Generation of Archiving " FCW: The Business of Federal Technology, ExecTech (November 25, 2013).

National Archives and Records Administration. "National Archives and Records Administration White Paper on Best Practices for the Capture of Social Media Records." (May, 2013).

Sherman, Michelle. "eDiscovery Rules Applied to Social Media: What this Means in Practical Terms for Businesses." FindLaw: A Journal for Legal Professionals, Legal Technology (March 11, 2014).

This post was contributed by Rachel Walton, who is a graduate of the University of Florida where she received both her bachelor’s and a master’s in history. Currently, she is completing her second master's in library science at UNC Chapel Hill, with a concentration in archives and record management and a certificate in digital curation. Her professional interests include web archiving, digital forensic tools, and the usability of archival finding aidsAfter graduating in May 2015Rachel will be joining the Archives and Special Collections staff at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida as their Digital Archivist and Record Management Coordinator. Rachel can be contacted at

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Saving Our Social Lives (Part I) : The Challenges and Benefits of Social Media Archiving

This post is part one of a two-part series by SILS student Rachel Walton on the current challenges of archiving social media.

Today the artifacts of our lives -- our correspondence, our personal journaling, our photo albums, and our to-do lists -- are almost exclusively digital, and many of these can be found online in the form of social media content. Therefore, social media should matter to archivists. Period.

Yet, this may be a tough pill to swallow for the archival profession. In addition to the challenges that digital media present (and there are plenty of those!), online social media content poses a particularly difficult set of problems for the conscientious archivist. Let’s review these:

Social media content is dynamic. Interfaces are usually dynamically generated on the spot through the use of client side scripts responding to a user’s prompts. Capturing spontaneous content events as well as their context, such as platform aesthetics, is quite a daunting task.

Social media interactions are messy, involving many stakeholders (corporations, public and private organizations, activist groups, hobby communities, individuals, etc.). Therefore, deciphering intellectual copyright can be a cumbersome and conflict-ridden process. Anonymous posts, pseudonyms, and other unclear identifiers further complicate rights research and lead to outright obscurity.

There is the potential to threaten personal privacy when providing access to archived social media content. Data collected from social media accounts can contain potentially sensitive information, including personal identifiers and geographic locators. This makes granting access to data, after is is archived a prickly process, sometimes warranting extreme “cleaning” measures like time consuming redaction or data scrubbing.

The sheer enormity of social media files can be a major curatorial roadblock. Not only are some accounts nearly a decade old - a significant amount of time for content to be amassed - but social media portals are extremely active places with a growing number of participants each day. Therefore, the size of the data to be captured is increasing exponentially. In addition, like the rest of the web, most of the elements of a social media service are interconnected through hyperlinks, and limiting how many of those links to capture and preserve requires a tightly defined project scope.

Social media platforms are moving targets, like all the other hardware and software we use today. Thier technology is evolving, their interfaces are constantly tweaked, (often without notice!), and the way we interact with them is subject to rapid change. This requires constant updating of archival processes and procedures including API terms and conditions, metadata capture, and file format outputs.
Despite the above issues, many individuals and institutions are still motivated, by a variety of reasons, to preserve their social media content. Here are just a few common motivations:

  • For offline or private access, like when there is no available internet or when you’re deleting your profile, but you still want the content on your personal computer
  • To do some data crunching and or text mining for research or other data collection purposes (note: some websites allow you download a “clean view” your accountwithout internet chatter like ads and popups or see the hidden data that sites keep about you)
  • To develop a collection for cultural and/or historical memory purposes (e.g.: documenting activist movements, political events, pop culture phenomena, etc.)
  • For evidential, compliance, or evaluative purposes, like in cases of litigation (e.g.: corporate accounts, accounts of public officials, or commercial investments)
This blog post was informed by the following article:

Hockx-Yu, Helen. "Archiving Social Media in the Context of Non-Print Legal Deposit." IFLA (2013).

If you're interested in learning about some good tools for archiving your own or your institution's social media, stay tuned for Rachel’s next blog post on Tuesday, March 17 .

This post was contributed by Rachel Walton, who is a graduate of the University of Florida where she received both her bachelor’s and a master’s in history. Currently, she is completing her second master's in library science at UNC Chapel Hill, with a concentration in archives and record management and a certificate in digital curation. Her professional interests include web archiving, digital forensic tools, and the usability of archival finding aidsAfter graduating in May 2015Rachel will be joining the Archives and Special Collections staff at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida as their Digital Archivist and Record Management Coordinator. Rachel can be contacted at

Friday, March 6, 2015

More than a Dainty Flower: Alma Holland Beers

As Tar Heels, we’re all familiar with the old Chapel Hill Cemetery located on South Road. You know that eerie feeling you may get walking past it? Well, if you ever stopped for a minute to reflect on who’s buried there, you’d be amazed to find that there’s a remarkable group of individuals residing in the school’s cemetery. March is Women’s History Month, and one special lady I've chosen to feature in this blog is Alma Holland Beers. In 1918, almost a century ago, Miss Beers became a research assistant to Dr. William Chambers Coker (Coker arboretum ring a bell?) of the botany department here at UNC. Yes, she was a fellow Tar Heel too! She was the first woman in UNC history to be hired by the department as a research assistant. Beers was intelligent and extremely dedicated to her career as a botanist in the UNC community.

She was born Alma Leonora Holland on January 10, 1890 in Moore Country, North Carolina. Her parents were both farmers. Originally, Beers went to school studying to be a public school teacher and received a teaching certificate. Then in 1917 at the age of 27, she enrolled in a summer semester at UNC and took a botany course under Dr. William Chambers Coker. Holland’s precise detail in her work caught the eye of Dr. Coker, and as a result, he asked Alma if she would consider staying on in the botany department and becoming a research assistant. There’s a famous story that Holland was so overjoyed with the offer that she ended up burning her teaching certificate and never looked back!

Holland graduated with her B.A. in botany in 1925, and spent the next 31 years of her life working as a research assistant at the UNC botany department. During the 20s and 30s when careers in the sciences were typically closed off to women, Holland was trailblazing the trail and making a name for herself as an accomplished expert in botany. Her dedicated work exhibited her passion for plants. She came be well-known and respected within the department as a teacher, editor, librarian, translator, secretary, artist, and plant collector. She worked alongside Dr. Coker and assisted in co-authoring two books with him. As Holland was also fluent in French and Latin, she also served as a translator for botany faculty and students.

She married Charles Dale Beers, who was a UNC zoology professor, in 1941, and retired from the botany department in 1951, where she happily declared upon retirement, “Henceforth, I shall dig in my garden and raise flowers.” Beers was also a gifted artist and designed “Carolina Moon” chinaware for the Carolina Inn. She died on October 31, 1974 at the age of 84.

"Carolina Moon" chinaware designed by Beers.
Alma Holland Beers will be one of the six people featured in Preservation Chapel Hill’s Voices from the Grave walking tour this coming October 2015. Preservation Chapel Hill (PCH) is a non-profit organization located on Franklin Street that promotes the history of Chapel Hill through educational events such as tours and lectures.  As an archives volunteer at PCH, I am currently one of the main researchers for the Voices from the Grave tour. It’s my pleasure to share with you Alma’s amazing story.

So the next time you’re walking near the cemetery, take a minute to reflect on all the wonderful people and their personal stories buried there today; Alma Holland Beers’ incredible story is only one of them. Beers was a trailblazer for women in the sciences. She obtained professional heights in the field during a time when women typically could not. Her love of nature, science, and her strong will to make a name for herself in the world of science is truly an inspiration to current and future women scientists at UNC and beyond.

This post was contributed by Erin Enos, an MSLS student pursuing the concentration in archives and records management. She is interested in social and public history and archives, and currently volunteers at Preservation Chapel Hill, a non-profit organization that educates the public on the history of Chapel Hill.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Remembering John Hope Franklin

Despite the fact that Black History Month has come to a close, the work of African American scholars can and should be celebrated all year long. In this spirit, I would like to join the many voices that are saluting the life and work of John Hope Franklin, particularly during the year that marks what would have been his 100th birthday. Born January 2, 1915, the highly esteemed scholar would be 100 years old if he were still living. In honor of his centenary, many local libraries are celebrating his legacy in a variety of ways.

For a perspective close to home, Chaitra Powell, the African American Collections and Outreach Archivist in the Southern Historical Collection here at UNC, wrote a great blog post about John Hope Franklin that you can read here. Chaitra articulates the importance of John Hope Franklin more eloquently than I am able.

I personally ventured over to the campus of Duke University to check out the current exhibit John Hope Franklin: Imprint of An American Scholar. This exhibit maps out Franklin’s life and scholarly work in addition to showcasing many archival documents from his life. This exhibit will be on display in the Perkins Gallery until May 2015 and I highly encourage others to check it out if they have the chance.

I was delightfully surprised to discover that the exhibit also features an online exhibition. While a viewing station was set up in the physical exhibition space, a digital exhibit can also been seen from the privacy of your own home. Check it out here.

As a future archivist, it is important for me to gain awareness of both the type and nature of scholarly work that can and will be undertaken in an archive as well as the inherent biases that are present there. Franklin’s work as a historian was significant and yet he was often unwelcome in the archives. I encourage all of my fellow students to check out the website about the centenary here. There are lots of exciting events that have already been planned to celebrate Franklin’s legacy. I invite you to check them out with me!

This post was contributed by Rebecca Williams, an MSLS student. She is the Carolina Academic Library Associate for Special Collections Research and Instructional Services at UNC-CH's Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. Rebecca also serves as President of the Student Chapter of the American Library Association, the SILS representative in the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, and on the Professional Welfare Committee for the Librarians' Association at UNC-CH (LAUNC-CH). Follow her on Twitter at @lilrebeccajane.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Digital Dark Age?

Greeting SCOSAA Blog Readers,

Today I would like to address some of the concerns I have developed in regard to the digital format as a means of preserving archival material. I would like to preface my thoughts with the statement that I am not at all a Neo-Luddite or opposed to technology as a human tool in principle. I am highly appreciative of the internet and computers and the horizons they open up; they form an important part of how I go about both my personal amusement and my professional work.

Bearing this in mind, I do not think that the digital format is workable long-term as a method of preserving important or valuable content. The data itself is too susceptible to an array of damage vectors, the physical components are too fragile, and the overall logistics for the infrastructure supporting all this have too many vulnerable points to be reliable. I would qualify this by saying that the complex of electronic technology systems and applications does indeed have an immense value in education and providing accessibility to the content. The 'long-term' is the important point of consideration here. In this view, electronic formats can be very useful and important assets to an archives or records management practitioner, but they should not be counted on to last or endure for very long. A digital form or scanned image may be an excellent tool for the here and now and the immediate future, but it would be irresponsible upon weighing the evidence that this format will be accessible or available in 50 or 100 years.

What first raised this issue in my mind was the supposition mentioned in one of my courses that digital content was meant to be preserved within a time frame of five to, at most, ten years. With the consideration that records go back more than three millennia in human history and that items that are more than a century in age are still fruitfully consulted today, this  limited space of time seems  inadequate. There are perfectly valid reasons for the difficulty in making digital content stable and usable over long amounts of time. Formatting and operational equipment is constantly changing and evolving, and much of the equipment itself that reads data is not meant to last for more than a few years. The real fatal flaw in digital content stability, in my view, is the lack of benign neglect. Digital items will inevitably degrade and become useless if not managed and preserved with attentiveness. Consider the fact that many very ancient and important documents on paper and other physical writing formats only exist at present because they were forgotten or buried away from human attention. This does not seem to be a feature of digital technology when one considers things like bit-rot. Given the large scope of some digital materials and the many demands on the time of professional workers in this field, I do not have confidence that these problems can be adequately addressed with the procedures I have seen dissuaded.

It is true there is a body of work involving digital forensics which seeks to unlock and decode corrupted digital information, but I do not think this would be sufficient to the problems with this medium that I envision. Also, this is, at present, a very labor-intensive procedure that could not be applied widely.

Adding to these concerns was my recent experience with a prolonged power outage- no internet connection or electronics for the better part of the day and night. While pondering in the dark, during this imposed free time, it occurred to me that we as a society cannot expect everything to always be as it is now. In essence, what would have happened if the power had not come back on again? Any organized system has the potential to revert back to a simpler order given sufficient time. Prolonged ecological disruption, warfare, resource depletion, or any number of other unpleasant events might totally disrupt the electronic infrastructure that people now depend on for information and much else. In this event, what would become of the cultural records of civilization, the things thatdefine us and give our existence meaning if everything were only digital? There needs to be some backup, in short, that can survive such upheavals, and this means a physical original or copy. I think many major institutions are at least somewhat aware of these problems. It is with this in mind that when I read about or see a place touting its all-digital or all-electronic systems, I wonder if they are merely building castles in the sky with their efforts.

This post was contributed by William Knauth, an MSLS student pursuing the concentration in archives and records management and a certificate in digital humanities. He is a cartographic assistant at the Ancient World Mapping Center in UNC-Chapel Hill's Davis Library, and is involved in developing a 3D digital imaging and scanning group on campus.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

SCOSAA Visits the North Carolina Collection Gallery

This past week, SCOSAA visited the North Carolina Collection Gallery at UNC's Wilson Library for a private viewing of the current exhibit, Where is Tobe? Unfolding Stories of Childhood, Race, and Rural Life in North Carolina, led by Benjamin Filene, Associate Professor and Director of Public History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Linda Jacobson, Keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

Tobe by Stella Gentry Sharpe was published by UNC Press in 1939. Sharpe, a white schoolteacher in Orange County, was asked by Clay McCauley, Jr., why no children in storybooks looked like him, so she set out to create a children’s book that portrayed African-Americans in a positive light, a stark contrast to the caricatures that had been seen for decades, such as Black Sambo and the Inky Boys.

UNC maintains a wealth of information surrounding Tobe, including a large photography collection. For this exhibit, Dr. Filene wanted to find the people in the story and their descendants, and learn how this book affected them. Further, the exhibit looks at the historical impact this book had on children’s literature. Dr. Filene noted that any good exhibit has the ability to tell the story quickly – in about 35 seconds – but also could pull in the audience with items that have a tension or double meaning to them. It took about five months to choose the pieces for the exhibit and arrange them so that they tell the story effectively.

Where is Tobe? Unfolding Stories of Childhood, Race and Rural Life in North Carolina will be on display through March 1, 2015 at the Wilson Library's North Carolina Collection Gallery, and is free to the public.

This post was contributed by Holly Croft, an MSLS student pursuing the concentration in archives and records management and a certificate in nonprofit leadership. She is currently the Digitization Projects Intern at Campbell University, and is a member of SAA's Students and New Archiving Professionals Steering Committee. Find her on Twitter at @HollyCroft.