The (New/Digital) Archivist: A Conversation with Katie McCormick and Krystal Thomas

Thursday, November 21, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Strozier Library, room 107K [MAP]

Recent challenges to archives and archival repositories in Florida raise new questions about what can and should constitute our public and institutional archives, and what paradigm shifts are occurring – or need to occur – as we argue for their enduring value. In part reprising a 2012 Digital Scholars meeting on archival silences, the next meeting of Digital Scholars will allow us to specifically consider the role of an archivist in this work, and to ask (and answer) what role archivists do and can play in digital scholarship projects and for the Digital Humanities at large?

Join us in welcoming Katie McCormick, FSU Libraries Associate Dean for Special Collections and Archives, and Krystal Thomas, the FSU Libraries’ first Digital Archivist, to discuss their perspectives on digitization and “born-digital” archives, to highlight the evolving role/definition of archivists and librarians, and to describe the critical and creative opportunities made possible when archivists enter into the digital project lifecycle at its inception. Focusing on two case studies – the William C. Burroughs archive project at FSU and Florida’s statewide Islandora project – McCormick and Thomas will ask us to consider what new perceptions DH makes possible for rethinking the library or archive as a scholarly partner not just a resource, and how FSU Libraries are proactively addressing issues of collaboration, expertise, and the intricacies of managing shared digital corpora, as well as the challenges that digital humanists face in collaborating on their exhibits and prototypes. These intricacies and challenges likely include negotiating production, outcomes, metadata, and systems; as well as working with DH Scholars to achieve sustainable yet creative interfaces for their projects.

In advance of our meeting, attendees are encouraged to explore any of the following readings.




4 thoughts on “The (New/Digital) Archivist: A Conversation with Katie McCormick and Krystal Thomas

  1. Last Friday, the day after our most recent Digital Scholars meeting, I was having coffee with a friend and discussing a project he wants to initiate. It involves archiving an experience–in this case, the experience of audience members in a roots music concert–and it made me think, again, about what I’ve learned this week. As he was talking, I was thinking about what Katie McCormick said about the archivist’s job: deciding what we will keep “forever.” I wondered how we could make those sorts of calls when we’re in the middle of a moment.

    I’ve also been thinking about the ways that digital archiving might be unique in history. I was wondering whether it differs significantly from traditional (paper?) archiving in the way that media is used. I think I said something to this effect during the meeting, and immediately felt kind of embarrassed; maybe I had said something silly. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder. Sure, paper technology changes: from the tablet to the scroll to the codex, etc. But digital technology changes at a breakneck rate. While a scroll and a codex, when written in the same language, are still able to be retrieved, presumably, by a reader, an archive of old floppy disks and punch cards might occlude data, making it accessible to only the best equipped digital forensic labs. This strikes me as rather new. If there’s a historical antecedent I’m missing, I’d be interested in knowing what it is.

  2. One of my favorite moments from the lecture this week was a comment from one of the people in the room about the irony of digital information: something like: We have two ideas of digital longevity: one, that it lasts forever, and two, that it is decaying and we need to save it! In the past month, I have read two articles from TIME Magazine online that give me conflicting information. TIME Health and Family warns parents against putting any photos of children online for fear of a digital footprint, and then information from TIME Books indicates that we are trying to fight off Digital Decay. It’s no wonder, then, surrounded by messages that what I post, shoot, and write will last forever, that the idea of digital decay and archiving born-digital materials was a new concept. I have not thought enough about digital footprints actually becoming unrecognizable. Many of the questions I had going into the talk about the future of digital humanities archiving with born-digital materials were answered. To think that there are rooms full of floppy disks with what seems like unreachable data is something that never occurred to me until this week!

    As Katie McCormick was showing us some of the physical or analog materials (the Burroughs paper that had been scanned) I was thinking also about Rushdie’s comments about the computer – about the neatness of a printed copy. I was struck with the idea that born digital materials have a different taste to them. In my writing on this blog you cannot see the thousands of letters I have erased when I made errors. The sentences that I moved around in order to make a finished product. And seeing those things (especially in manuscript or print studies) is so important – it really is like a “footprint” on a document. Born digital things will likely be these neat and sanitized copies, but we may be able to find more drafts of them, thanks to computer folders that can organize at the click of a button. Win some, lose some.

    This might be a slightly unrelated note, but I also wonder about purposeful ephemerality when it comes to new forms of born-digital data. We have a whole generation of young adults sending Snapchats that are meant to self-destruct in seconds. It works on the idea that the pixels will only be available for a short amount of time. So, when archiving a pop culture phenomenon of the 20teens, we might not have any evidence about what an actual Snapchat would have looked like. Would we (?). Digital-age Emily Dickinson certainly might have chosen to schedule all of her digital manuscripts of poetry to self-destruct after her death … but perhaps I’m being fanciful, here.

  3. What struck me most about Katie and Krystal’s presentations on the digital archive was the many multiple ways a library or collector presents the archive. One slide showed the different users and viewers of the material. Scholars may access the archive for their research or someone with another interest may use the material in another way.

    This brings us back to one of our first discussions on open access. How open and accessible are certain digital archives? University libraries can subscribe to The Samuel Beckett Manuscript Project run by Mark Nixon and Dirk Van Hulle, but the project is not really accessible to anyone outside of the university. I have been working on the Burroughs archives for a little over a year, and we hope to make the material readily available for users to interact with Burroughs’s cut-up texts. Since Burroughs imagined the cut-up as an inexhaustible series of permutations, the more users will provide more new textual arrangements.

  4. This was definitely my favorite meeting of the semester. Since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in collecting things, and looking at collections of things. For a while, I just thought this was some weird tendency to hoard things, and I was going to end up on TLC, but, as it turns out, I’m just interested in archiving. Ok, only kidding…

    I do actually find archiving really interesting. I’ve helped out with the FSU Post Card Archive, and I’m in the process of trying to start my own collaborative/open online ephemera archive. But, my only experience with archives really, has been with… I guess, hobbyist archives. It was really interesting to hear Katie and Krystal talk about archiving, because they’re the professionals, the ones whose job it is to do this stuff. I really enjoyed getting to hear about some of the lengths they were going to in archiving the Burrough’s materials, lengths that were far beyond what I’m planning to do for my archive, or what they’re doing for the ephemera archive. It was also interesting hearing them talk about migrating platforms, or dealing with outdated doc types: things that we (in the broad sense, hobbyist archivists) certainly think about, but they’re not exactly pressing. I liked seeing the divide.

    One of the other reasons I think archiving, particularly digital archiving, is really interesting, is because I think it’s one of the areas that best exemplifies the ideals of DH, I’m not going to go through all of them, but here are a few:

    –They’re collaborative: bringing together people like Krystal and Katie (the archivists), with people like Burroughs, or the Claude Pepper Computer People (the creators of material), with people like the creators of archive platforms for WordPress, Drupal, Fedora, etc. (the archive creators/computer science people), with people like Blake and Paul (the people who want the materials).

    –They’re also open (not always, for sure, but it seems to be the trend): They bring materials that were previously in some boxes in a basement, or in the special collections of the library, and spread them to the masses.

    –They’re mostly about the process and not the product: sure, there’s a final product in mind, but that product is pretty much ALWAYS in process. There are materials being collected, platforms being tweaked, materials being digitized and uploaded, materials being migrated, collections/exhibits being made. It’s always evolving, moving, changing.

    I wish we could have spent more time with archiving, but I’m certainly a little biased.

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