The NDSR Capstone Event was held at the Library of Congress on June 1st, 2016- marking the end of the residency year. The following is the resident reflection I gave-
Hi everyone, and thanks for coming and supporting our cohort today. Thank you to IMLS and the Library of Congress for this residency opportunity.
My name is Jaime Mears and I’m just one of the 5 amazingly talented and employable residents worked with a DC host institution this year on a digital preservation project. I’ve been asked to give a brief resident reflection to give you some insight as to what this year has been like from our side.
7,720 miles.This is how far we traveled collectively to DC for this opportunity. (I only contributed about 2 miles to this number. Pretty sure Valerie coming from Eagle River, Alaska made a lot of this possible). It’s a little over the distance from here to Nairobi, and I think it’s important to remember that in these miles we left family, friends, partners, even job offers. Why?
Perhaps we wanted to solve a problem for a prestigious institution, or create a body of work to call our own. I know Nicole has mentioned she wanted the luxury of time to do a digital preservation project without the competing priorities of multiple jobs or coursework.
I can say with confidence that we all wanted to DO. Not study, not listen to a lecture, but to physically tackle this mysterious, amorphous, slightly intimidating thing called digital preservation.
So the question I had as I thought about this residency reflection is- were we successful at doing? What does that look like?
To answer this question, I found the slides from our panel presentation at the Mid Atlantic Regional Archive Conference this spring. In one part of the presentation, we each had listed the educational and professional skills and experience we had brought with us to NDSR, and what we’ve learned this year. I compiled our lists pre and post NDSR into a word cloud generator to see what’s changed after a year of DOING, or at least- how we talk about it.
Here we have what we listed as Before NDSR – experience or education in different types of management, customer service, instruction, research, theory, preservation, data.
Now let’s look at what we gained during NDSR.
Management is still the biggest reported skill gained. But surprisingly, ‘Preservation’ as a term is actually missing from our residency word cloud, as are metadata, copyright, repository, or any of those buzzwords from Library school curriculum that appears before NDSR. We dealt with them this year, for sure, heck, we audited, implemented, or educated people about all of these terms- but they’ve been rendered invisible by the processes and tools it takes to deal with them.
I think what you’re seeing here is that DOING preservation has been translated into a succession of actions- planning, design, outreach, testing, budgeting, requests, blogging, workflows, software, systems, programs, etc.
Lastly I see an awareness of our context as working professionals- we’re using words like national, glam, public, and Washington’s favorite adjective ‘federal’- to describe the scope of ourselves, our peers, our audience.
So how did this play out daily? Well, no shocker here, I’ll use my own project as an example to illustrate some of these terms. I worked with the DC Public Library system to educate staff and DC community members about personal archiving – be it physical or digital- and created free resources, replicate classes, and a public facing transfer lab that is now called the Memory Lab. Another important aspect of my project was to serve as a national model for other public library systems facing this issue.
DESIGN. Design really began with the zine, which was a collaboration with a special collections librarian who had illustrated one the year before. How do you design something to make it fun? Accessible? Sustainable? User-friendly? This zine was an attempt at an answer.
For one, you have to appeal to the nostalgia of another time to get people interested. So we chose an 80s theme, a decade rife with magnetic media and DIVO.
You can’t use the word metadata, and you also can’t be too specific in your recommendations because it might not exist next year.
This is the Memory Lab website I built using the library’s libguides platform. This was not a part of the originally scope of the project, but it soon became apparent we need a public facing site to centralize lab directions, preservation best practices and resources, and information on how to build a transfer station was necessary for the project’s success. I dedicated more hours to this guide than installing the lab equipment. Way more. I learned that design is limited by what you have to use and takes an unbelievable amount of time.
But good design can take something scary- such as wiring an a/v rack – and turn it into something inviting, something playful. The framing is essential to provoke its use.
OUTREACH. I learned that outreach is really difficult if your audience is ‘the public’. I needed to pinpoint specific audiences, and hold fun, accessible events with partners who could help me reach new community members. For example, I partnered with the National Museum of African American History and Culture and playbackthetape to do a Home Movie Day to reach cinephiles and SW community members with film.
I partnered with the Hamiltonian Gallery on U street and fellow resident Nicole Contaxis to connect artists with local preservationists.
I also had to reach DCPL librarians, so I worked within an established incentive within the DC government system- yearly professional development smart goals- to teach staff about personal archiving so that they could in turn begin programming at their own branches.
TESTING. Testing things- equipment, software, workflows- then watching users in the space was by far the most satisfying and frustrating aspect of this new type of doing. We started with this- a glass cubicle in the back corner of our digital commons lab.
I could see this as a graduate school exercise- you’ve got this footprint in the main branch of a public library. What would you design to help people with personal archiving? Write a report. Go!
But what happens when you actually have to do it looks more like this – 12 feet of table space lined with the obsolete equipment, micro failure after micro failure, scavenging list servs, calling friends for help, having your co-workers donate their home movies and mix tapes to you.
Then the space opens, and things come to light with people in the space that you could never have imagined. Like the fact that some people find it easier to follow paper instructions, that the air canister for cleaning slides runs out really quickly, that people want everything to go FASTER. Great things happen too.
This is Alex. He and his siblings are digitizing negatives and photos of a father they can’t remember who traveled around the world. There was also the former New Yorkian with the Yiddish pirate radio broadcast, or a father who has amazing hip hop videos his daughter did in the 90s.
I want to end this reflection on another word that appeared only during this experience- COHORT. Because you don’t do digital preservation alone. You need peers to teach you and challenge you, to get pizza or other things when the going gets rough. So I just want to say THANK YOU to Nicole, John, Jessica, and Valerie. And to the national NDSR cohort for cross-promoting our work, answering our questions, and to Morgan and Julia, who both came to our symposium.
And just as the word ‘preservation’ was rendered invisible by its ubiquitous,there’s another seemingly invisible yet critical component to our group’s success- our mentors.
Thank you all for your guidance and support, your trust in our ability, and for continuing to be a part of our professional networks as we enter this new phase of our careers.