Tim D'Annecy

Graduate student in North Carolina

Class notes - INLS 556 (Archives and Records Management)

Table of contents

  • TOC GEN {:toc}

December 5, 2016

The professor started the class by discussing postmodernism in archival practice. It was noted that although it’s a controversial topic, it has had a drastic influence on the field.

November 28, 2016

A guest speaker started the class by discussing collaborative approaches to archival appraisal, specifically in African American communities.

November 21, 2016

A guest speaker started the class by discussing Academic Poster Design.

October 31, 2016

The professor started the class by discussing the SAA Code of Ethics, which was described as aspirational and intentionally non-specific. It was intended to define professional relationships, judgement, authenticity, security and protection, access and use, privacy, and trust.

The professor asked if there were any issues that seemed more important than the others. The class noted that it probably changes over time. At the moment, privacy issues are the big concern. Other students noted that archival representation is also a big issue. In a few years, this could change and we could value other parts of this Code of Ethics over others.

October 17, 2016

The professor started the class by discussing the topic of preservation in archives. Before the 1970s, preservation generally meant accessioning into an archive. In the 1970s-1980s, preservation moved to three main areas: (1) preservation management (control environment), (2) restoration (restore original look), and (3) conservation (physical & chemical treatment). More recently, presentation management has become the main preservation focus in archives. The restoration and conservation tasks are now done by professional restorers and chemists that specialize in these tasks.

October 10, 2016

The professor started the class by discussing the issue of context in archives. There are nine classes of contextual entites that we will be discussing.

Object, agent, occurence, purpose, time, place, form of expression, concept or abstraction, and relationship. Within these, there are types of context:

  • Symbolic expressions or representations

  • Objective - Location, etmperature, facts

  • Subjective - Aspects of the social or mental state

October 5, 2016

The professor started the class by recapping the previous meeting with the guest speaker from the Wilson Library. It was noted that the class meeting today will address some of the concepts that were discussed in her discussion.

Accessioning

Accessioning is the process of gaining physical, administrative, and minimal intellectual control over records. It includes both physical and legal transfers of custody from the original holder to the institution.

The physical transfer is usually based on initial inventory of the records. These are often prepared as records of management activity or for appraisal. The transfer often requires careful supervision to retain original order and to ensure completeness of the records. The initial description of the information establishes the basic administrative control and rudimentary explanation.

The legal transfer is the transfer or ownership, a concept that includes authority and responsibility transfers. This discussion also takes into account access rights, privacy and confidentiality rights, and security. The professor noted that this step should be done as soon as possible when accessioning a collection. If the legal transfer is not completed, a lot of work that was done on the physical transfer could be for not. This seems like a no-brainer, but the professor noted that these two steps often occur together. Exceptions include records that are placed on deposit or non-custodial arrangements.

Other accessioning issues include the timing of the transfer and the scope of accessions (Are there multiple accessions (accretions)? Is this a one-time accession for a closed collection?). This also brings up other issues:

  • Authority to process (weed, reorganize, reformat)

  • Preservation needs vs. capabilities - Are there any special accommodations that must be made for the materials? Is your insetting able to handle these restrictions?

  • Access restrictions - Are these restrictions too limiting? Is it even worth it to get the collection if nobody can access it for 100 years? Is there anything that could be potentially legally dangerous?

  • Reproduction rights - Are you allowed to make these records available online in digital formats? Can users make copies for their own use? How about making copies for publication?

  • Access to unprocessed materials

Physical control takes into account several main concepts before the collection can be made public.

  • Managing physical integrity

  • Maintaining original order

  • Identifying materials needing immediate treatment

  • Organization of record groups and series

  • Establishing order (arrangement) within series

  • Re-housing materials

  • Weeding of duplicates & non-archival materials

  • Separation of special formats

  • For electronic records - Verify and ensure data integrity (checksums, etc.)

Intellectual control

For this type of control, archivists compile information about the materials from the donor or creating agency and begin compiling an initial inventory of materials. This is often a physical inventory of collections at the series level, the box and folder level, and eventually to the item level (uncommon, but possible).

Levels of arrangement

There are several levels of arrangement, from Oliver Holmes publication in the American Archivist in 1967.

  1. Repository

  2. Record group/manuscript collection (& sub-groups, etc.)

  3. Series (& sub-series, etc.)

  4. File unit

  5. Item

The role of the arrangement in archival administration is to support original order (respect des fonds), establishing a coherent order if the original order has been lost, improve access to the collection, and identify and address preservation problems.

Description and definition

According to Miller’s publication in the Society of American Archivists in 1990, description is the process of capturing, collating, analyzing, controlling, exchanging, and providing access to information about:

  • Origin, context, and provenance of different sets of records

  • The filing structure

  • Form and content

  • Relationships with other records

  • Ways in which they can be found and used

Descriptions are linked to and dependent on arrangement, based on collective description, a form of knowledge representation, and establishes intellectual control and provides access points.

October 3, 2016

A guest speaker started the class discussing the different special collections in the Wilson Library. Namely, the University archives, the Southern Historical Collection, the Archie Green collection, and the North Carolina Photographic archives. The speaker wanted to readdress the notion that archivists are “organizers”. The Container Store is a favorite store of archivists and that aspect of the stereotype may be true, but the speaker wanted to explain the challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis.

A big issue with collections are the previous work that has been done years ago by unnamed staff. There’s no way to go back and fix all of the collections because there’s more stuff coming in that piles up. An archivist “chicken and egg” issue arises: If these collections aren’t used much, does that mean nobody is interested? Or does it mean that nobody is interested because the description isn’t useful? More Product, Less Process (MPLP) is a concept that currently dominates the archival practice and, as explained by Greene and Meissner’s article from 2005, archivists need to reëvaluate their current labor-intensive approaches to processing incoming materials and instead focus on making the materials ready for the public. This, in turn, will allow your collection to grow and allow you to dedicate more time to collections used more heavily by patrons.

The speaker made an interesting point about writing Finding Aid documents with objectivity or neutrality. Some praticioners and academics advocate for “doing the best you can” within your current context. That means that instead of trying to pretend to have a meta-analysis of the collection within the historical context, you do the best you can to describe the collection using current literature about the topics. On a related note, there is a base level objectivity that dictates we should not write these value-based descriptions like, “This is a wonderful photograph of courageous American soldiers fighting a valiant battle in war torn Vietnam.”

Additionally, Frank Boles made a speech in 2009 to the Society of American Archivists that echo the importance of writing good descriptions and quality finding aids.

Archivists know that archival description creates a unique bridge, sometimes narrow and tenuous, often less than perfectly engineered and, in all honesty, more rickety than we would care to admit, but for all its shortcomings, a bridge is always helping move the user from what they know …

September 26, 2016

The professor started the class by discussing selection and whether or not people need to capture all memories. The class agreed that there’s no way to save everything and we have to instead appraise things and make a determination about the materials based on your best judgment.

The World According to Schellenberg

Primary values for the originating agency itself

Meaning that these things must be kept for the people who created the records.

vs.

secondary value for other agencies and private users.

Meaning that there are other things that can be looked at or from different perspectives (historians, etc.)

Additionally, there is evidential vs. informational value. In many cases, it’s impossible to distinguish, but Schellenberg explains that evidential things provide organizational units with “primary responsibility for making decisions” and “substantive functions”. Informational value includes uniqueness, form, and importance.

… any scholar with a little intellectual ingenuity can find plausible justification for keeping almost every record ever produced.

But at this point, we need to know how to pare things down. The professor noted, “Archivists need to know how to say ‘No’.” Of this, there are quite a few different approaches to appraisal: archivist as keeper, evidential value, patterns of history and use, mirror of society, focus on records, black box model, intrinsic value, sampling, acquisition/collecting policies, collection analysis, reappraisal/deaccessioning, documentation strategy, risk management, accountability, macro-appraisal & functional analysis, systems design & implementation, appraisal by litigation. Generally, the situation will dictate which justification that is used.

September 21, 2016

The professor started the class by discussing the questions posted on the forum.

Assignments

The professor noted that the ideas for the final paper are due by Friday, September 23rd. These submissions can be informal statements: “I’m thinking about doing this topic” or “These two things are interesting to me.” The professor will then respond and give some feedback on which topics are viable.

Additionally, there are questions due for RAIN papers. While the students are not supposed to talk to each other, there seems to be a theme that has emerged on how archivists collect memorials.

What is a record?

The professor then moved to discuss the topic of records and what can be considered a record.

Recorded information produced or received in the initiation, conduct or completion of an institutional or individual activity and that comprises content, context, and structures sufficient to provide evidence of that activity. (ISO, 2001, sec. 3:3)

Extensions of the human memory, purposefully created to record information, document transactions, communicate thoughts, substantiate claims, advance explanations, offer justifications and provide lasting evidence of events.

The professor then asked, “Are records evidence or cultural memory?” In many cases, this question is difficult, if not impossible, to answer and is relative to the situation at hand.

What is evidence?

For some reason, this seems like deja vu. I feel like I’ve seen these exact slides and heard the professor make the same statements before.

September 19, 2016

The class did not meet in the room today.

Tour of Wilson Library

Instead of meeting in the classroom for a regular presentation/lecture, the class took a tour of Wilson Library.

September 14, 2016

The professor started the class by discussing the two RAINN articles that were posted to Sakai. Additionally, the class began to talk about Facebook and censorship and linked it to Bill Gates’ purchase of Corbis.

Provenance

Reference model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS)

Provenance information This information documents the history of the Content Information. This tells the origin or the source of the Content Information, any changes that may have taken place since it was originated, and who has had custody of it since it was originated. This gives future users some assurance as to the likely reliability of the Content Information. Provenance can be viewed as a special type of context information.

PREMIS (PREservation Metadata Implementation Strategies)

Working group

Digital Provenance Documentation of processes in a Digital Object’s life cycle. Digital provenance typically describes Agents responsible for the stewardship of Digital Objects, key events that occur over the course of the Digital Object’s life cycle, and other information associated with the Digital Object’s creation, management, and other stages in its life cycle.

METS (Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard)

Digital Provenance Metadata Information regarding source/destination relationships between files, including master/derivative relationships between files and information regarding migrations/transformation of its life cycle.

Data provenance

Data with uncertainty is used less, not at all or, if used cavalierly unconscious or not is a source of risk and contamination of knowledge and endeavor.

Provenance information is essential Knowledge about confidence in the level of provenance is what makes it authentic.

Process documentation is to electronic data what a record of ownership is to a work of art. (Moreau 2008)

Principle of Original Order

The professor then discussed the principle of original order.

Archivists should organize & manage records in ways that reflect their arrangement within the creation environment.

There is some precedent in archival writings in the late 19th-century in Italy, but it was noted that most of our modern concepts are most strongly influenced by the Prussian archival practices recorded in th elate 19th century. The most widely recognized articulation of archival description was the “Durch Manual” (Muller, Feith, & Fruin), originally published in 1898, translated to English in 1948.

Why respect original order?

During the processing phase, it can take a long time to find an order, but often it’s impossible to find. The importance of this is to find context and to show it to others.

Archivists claim that providing contextual information is one of their main professional goals & source of value that they provide.

Context

  1. A set of symbolic expressions or representations

  2. Objective or socially constructed characteristics & conditions

  3. Aspects of the *mental or physical state, disposition, intentions, identity or recent experiences of an actor

Nine classes of contextual entities

  1. Object

  2. Agent

  3. Occurrence

  4. Purpose

  5. Time

  6. Place

  7. Form of expression

  8. Concept or abstraction

  9. Relationship

Fonds

The professor then moved to discuss fonds, defined as…

the entire body of records of an organization, family, or individual that have been created and accumulated as the result of an organic process reflecting the functions of the creator. (Pearce-Moses 2005, p. 173)

Some questions arise out of this theory, but at the very least, the collection arrangement should be done with an eye towards thinking critically about the creation.

In the case of the personal archives, ‘the fonds of an individual is a site where personality and the events of life interact in documentary for.’ (Hobbs 2001, p. 127)

Fonds messiness

The fonds gets complicated when things are intellectually constructed instead of just physically. Documents are often distributed across various systems, places, and owners. Other issues are rife when you get into series and higher levels of organization or abstraction.

Series

Series are designed to organize records and archives that have the same provenance and are designed to be together.


September 12, 2016

The professor started the class by reminding students that they should read the RAIN articles that were recently posted to Sakai.

Also, the professor reminded the class that coming up in the next week, the class will meet at Davis library to take a tour of their records management practices.

Archival education

The professor continued the discussion from the previous class about training and standardization of archivists and archival practice. The field of archival science is divided over how archival education should be taught. There are several debated issues and questions, including Where and how new archivists should be educated and whether or not there is a core archival knowledge base that should be learned by all incoming archivists. Additionally, to answer these questions, the approaches are varied over whether graduate education, training, or continuing education–or a mix of all three–should be implemented to address these concerns.

The professor projected a slide reading, “US Archival Education Highlights” and explained that in 1945, the first archival education program was created. Titled the “Modern Archivist Institute,” the three-course curriculum continued well into the 1960s until the number of classes rose into a required three-course sequence to be considered a professional archivist. In 1982, the Bentley Historical Library summer institute begins the field’s movement towards research in archival science, changing the field for the SAA’s MAS curriculum.

Archival research

Research, in its most basic form, has several main factors that go into the practice including an articulation of a problem, an establishment of hypotheses, a collection analysis and interpretation of data, and finally, the reporting of the found results. The professor noted that in some cases and depending on the type of research that’s being performed, the order of these steps or factors can be drastically different. In SILS at UNC, the master’s paper fills this need.

The professor noted that theory, method, and practice should be based on research that explores all archival functions, is well designed in the methodological sense (clearly defined terms, clearly operationalized concepts, measures that are valid and reliable), builds upon or refines earlier research, and draws upon or points to research outside of the discipline.

Continuing education

Informally, students can continue to stay up on archival trends by joining the multitude of organizations, receiving the newsletters and reading new publications, attending conferences, and networking with other archivists in your respective fields or region.

Authenticity

The professor then changed the topic to discuss the readings for this week that addressed the concept of authenticity. The definition was stated as,

A record is what it purports to be and has not been subject to manipulation, substitution, or falsification.

The professor noted that in the example of Taiwan, the situation gets “messy.” There are constant questions about what is original and what is important to preserve. In their article, MacNeil and Mak discuss the complications that arise when looking at a work or collection. They argue that it must be true to itself, it must be an original work, and that there is a trustworthy statement of fact (fidelity). Examples included Miller’s discussion of frescoes and censorship of Michelangelo’s paintings by the Catholic church. This change is important to the piece as we know it now, but are these changes authentic? The class brought up the conversation of George Lucas’ re-cut and re-released original Star Wars films. If the original was released in one form, but the creator goes back to change it into another form, is this change authentic? What should be preserved?

The class brought up the point that in this situation, the chain of custody, or progress of who owned the piece should be recorded and used in the evaluation of whether or not something is authentic to the original. Additionally, it seems as though the class is equating “official” government documents with “authentic” documents. It was noted that in some cases, the government will accept documents or issue documents that are copies while keeping the original in storage. In these cases, what we consider an “original” birth certificate may in fact be an “official” copy.

Reliability

Authority and trustworthiness of a record creates the evidence for the concept of reliability. Records have the ability to stand for the facts and the entity of which it is evidence and treated of a fact in of itself.

Hilary Jenkinson’s article discusses the chain of custody, a moral and physical defense, and closely connected to notions of authenticity and several other core archival concepts. The professor noted that Jenkinson was also in the film Monument Men and his theory was briefly noted in it.

Principle of Provenance

The principle comes from the precedents set in archival writing and practices of other countries of the 17th-19th centuries. The first widely recognized articulation of the principle of provenance was the respect de fonds espoused in France in 1841. Essentially, this means that the records from a common origin or source should be managed together as an aggregate unit and should not be arbitrarily intermingled with records from other origins or sources. The class noted that this type of organization style helps tell a story about the collection and it also keeps things together chronologically. Additionally, arbitrarily grouping and moving things around to fit a theme distorts the original meaning or structure and can be considered revisionist history or ignorantly biased towards creating your own narrative.

The professor noted that provenance is also complicated with several situations. In the event that records are treated in the aggregate, making it complicated or impossible to definitively identify specific sources for all of the records. The one-to-one mappings seem to only exist in the theory of the collections, not in the actuality. Additionally, some people argue that different interactions are important to document, not simply one isolated moment of creation (e.g. those who influenced creation of records, those who received them, or custodians who transformed them over time). Also, important aspects of the “origin” of records aren’t human-produced or correspondence between humans. Purchase records or other reports are important to our understanding.

September 7, 2016

The professor started the class by discussing organization records. It was noted that these records can include interviews with or questionnaires to organizational members and involve several different steps in the records process. The professor noted that today’s class will discuss data collection, analysis, evaluation, and implementation.

Organizational and records analysis

In general the steps to successfully archive organizational records include:

  1. Records inventory - Identify all series, their format, location, and purpose 1. Records appraisal and retention scheduling - Discover evidential and informational value by analyzing the function and importance of the records and assigning time tables for destruction or transfer to archives. 1. Vital records program - Ensure that critical records are duplicated and securely stored (off-site or in a vault) 1. Disaster planning and recovery - Minimize disruption of normal business operations.

Functions in archives

The professor noted that to have a successfully operating archive, you must take into account administration and management of the archive. In her opinion, the importance of administration is to set policy, plans, and procedures and successfully implement them. Importantly, in this discussion, the professor noted that on average, archives employ only two full-time staff. Because of this, the administration is one of the most important things that needs to be addressed before you can move forward.

Another important issue is identification and retention of the items in the collection. To get at this concept, two main questions arise:

  1. Why am I collecting this?

  2. Why am I collecting this?

The professor noted two of these important questions relate to the size that your collection will grow to, the relevance or cohesion one collection has to another, and other questions that help you curb rapid expansion and prevent your collections from being potentially unusable in the future. The professor noted that most importantly, by being selective, it allows you to “control the space” in which you are given to the best of your ability.

Preservation is also about “controlling the space,” however, this concept relates to controlling the environment of the space. It also includes security, use, and other policies that relate to the overall health and longevity of the physical and digital holdings.

Availability and use are also important to take into consideration when creating and maintaining an archive. It was noted by the class, that preservation and access seem to be diametrically opposed and cannot exist together in a successful archive, but the professor didn’t agree with the concept and challenged the class to reconsider use as part of the responsibilities of archivists that can be balanced with the proper policies.

Public programs and advocacy involves outreach, education, and cooperation with external groups and organizations to bring people into the collections. This not only is the importance of service as a basic ethical issue, but it also helps retain your job. If others see the importance and your collections become embedded within the community, they are less apt to take away or reduce your resources.

Types of archival institutions

The professor noted that although archives are everywhere and that there are many different types of collections and collection policies, there are some similarities that bind them together.

Professionalism and archivists

The class noted that there is an overall lack of knowledge about the archival profession and there

The nature of archival work is directly related to the records themselves. It was noted that in some cases, governmental archival records serve all citizens as a check against tyrannical government (and some consider a bastion of a just society). Archival records also assures rights as individuals and collectively as a civilization to the ownership of our history. On the smaller level, community archives are usually characterized as mentoring opportunities where archivists collaborate with people in the community and help them record their collaborative evidence and record their memories.

Within the field of archival science, there are three distinct areas:

  1. Theory - Ideas that archivists hold about the nature of material.

  2. Methods - How to treat archival materials.

  3. Practice - How to apply theory and methods in the appropriate situations.

To learn these fields, archival education attempts to address specific issues:

  1. Debated issues:

    • Where should new archivists be educated?

    • How should new archivists be educated?

    • Is there a core archival knowledge base?

  2. Mechanisms to address these issues:

    • Graduate education

    • Training

    • Continuing education

August 29, 2016

General discussion of records

The professor started the class by discussing the definition of a record, “Recorded information produced or received in the initiation, conduct or completion of an institutional or individual activity and that comprises content, context, and structures sufficient to provide evidence of that activity (ISO 15489, 2001, sec. 3:3)” or “Extensions of the human memory, purposefully created to record information, document transactions, communicate thoughts, substantiate claims, advance explanations, offer justifications, and provide lasting evidence of events.”

Discussion of Yates’ book

The professor noted that Yates was one of the first researchers to look at the changes in managerial techniques and practices that were reflected in the records they kept. In her book, she discusses the changes in types of office, specifically main or controlling headquarter office. The class described the ``before’’ office as small, one person, informal structure, relied heavily on oral communication, personal knowledge and expertise, and often ad hoc in its structures.’’

The “after” office was described as analytic and less descriptive (meaning they looked at data that came from the periphery instead of pushing it out), a high reliance to departmentalization, a focus on growing or expanding the organization, there was a more formal structure, additionally, the leadership shifted from a reliance on individual knowledge to instead following a set framework or systematic management.

Growth of information technologies and information management

Furthering on the discussion of changes in management techniques, the professor noted that document storage and retrieval practices and systems also changed drastically before and after WWI. The organizational forms, document creation and reproduction, storage, and many other concepts about written and generated documentation were completely changed in the few years surrounding the war. The professor also projected a time line of some of the changes that occurred in the mid- to late-1800s, including telegraphs, typewriters and carbon paper, telephones, and various filing system techniques.