Posts with the tag: digital curation

The Archivist’s Nook: Possums, Presidents, and Digital Curation?

Digital curation only begins with scanning…

Digital curation is a term that has come to reflect the work of many types of archivists and librarians: from Digital Archivist to Metadata Librarian, digital curation is involved. Curation is a word borrowed from the museum field as a way to underscore the fact that Archivists now interpret and select digital objects from their archival collections for presentation to the public, as opposed to simply housing and processing those objects. 

The role of archivist-as-curator has been spurred on by archivists’ ability to both digitize materials and preserve digitally-born objects. This is because digital objects can be widely distributed by way of digital computing and the Internet. So the question then becomes one of how do archivists best digitally curate their materials? If digital curation is the way we select, contextualize, and manage digital content of our archives, here at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, we curate in many ways and for many different types of users. With 208 online finding aids, 39 online collections, 28 online educational websites, 18 online exhibits, and selected materials in our web archive, we create greater access to our digital materials in the ways we situate them in these various contexts. Online finding aids are tools for researchers to get a sense of the scope and contents of collections, while our digital exhibits situate specific digital objects in selected themes and offer some interpretive material for understanding those objects.

The Difference Curation Makes: Working with Context

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the ways curation, context, and interpretation can work together to generate meaning around digital objects is with some examples.

Curation I: Image from the Terence V. Powderly Photographic Prints Collection. The image of what appears to be an opossum is dated by Powderly 1908, though it contains no other explanatory information, so staff labeled this simply “opossum” with that date we posted it as part of the Powderly Photo Collection.

Curation II: This image of President William Howard Taft is also part of the Terence Powderly Photographic Prints Collection. The photo, also taken by Powderly, is dated June 16, 1908 and labeled as Taft but contains no other information. Though we are uncertain as to the location, the setting suggests Washington, D.C., where Powderly lived and where Taft served as Secretary of War and advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt. We also know that Taft served as President of the United States from 1909-1913 and as Chief Justice of the United States from 1921-1930. Additionally, Powderly served in Washington, D.C. as Chief of the U.S. Immigration Bureau’s Division of Information from 1907-1921, a period within Taft’s term as President, so we can surmise that the two were acquainted.

Curation III: This is an image of the photo of President William Howard Taft with a cut out image of the opossum pasted onto it (early Photoshop!). This image is in a scrapbook of Powderly’s called “Family and General Photos.” Archives staff found this image and recalled seeing the opossum photo as well as the Taft image in the collection while processing it. It turns out that when Taft ran for President of the United States in 1908 he wanted to replicate the success of his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, in using an animal—the Teddy Bear—as a campaign promotional tool. So Taft’s campaign came up with “Billy Possum,” which became the candidate’s mascot. Powderly was probably having fun pasting “Billy Possum” onto a photo of his soon-to-be boss!

In short, the information offered by the collection creator, historical context, and the willingness, curiosity, and persistence of archives staff in piecing these bits of data together is the stuff of digital archival curation.


For a list of Digital Collections: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/docuon.cfm

For a List of Digital Exhibits: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/exhibits.cfm

Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Link Rot

Libraries care about “discovery” and usage statistics to justify the high costs of scholarly resources.  Libraries also deeply care that these scholarly resources can be discovered and used for generations to come. The Internet has made the art of curation much more complex. CUA Archivists have elegantly written about their new dark arts of digital curation:

Last week the topic here was persistent identifiers and all the players in the scholarly ecosystem. This week we reiterate why this is important, as we look at scholarly products. Continue reading “Digital Scholarship @ CUA: Link Rot”

The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Curation – Sent from the Future to Write-Protect You

In the last two weeks we’ve covered paper and web pages. My job here is done, right? Wrong! Sometimes, we receive collections containing not just paper, but floppy discs, flash drives, and even entire computers. The list goes on. How do we go about processing this stuff?

To begin, it’s essential to have not only data carriers, but also players. Ever seen one of those elephant graveyards? We have something similar in our facility, but with old technology instead of, um, bones. Of course, older hardware was never designed to work on modern computers. We get around this by sticking to external USB drives whenever possible, and using an external control board for 5.25 floppies (FC5025, oh my!) that effectively duct tape an old IDE interface onto, you guessed it, USB.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
“I swear I will not kill any floppy.”

Did you know that you can alter a computer file simply by opening it? Don’t believe me? Just right-click your desktop and arrange the icons by “last modified”. The very act of saving that last click is an archival deadly sin. Sometimes a piece of media will let you prevent alteration by flicking a switch on the item itself (3.5 floppy discs) or by covering a hole with a piece of tape (5.25 floppy discs). With other carriers, though, you can be fresh out of luck. What can we do about this? In short, by borrowing techniques from law enforcement. Software like Forensic Toolkit (FTK) in conjunction with write-blocking hardware has been used to gather evidence of computer crime for years. Why not apply that technology to archives work? In spring 2015, CUA Archives set up its own digital curation workstation for this very purpose. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Curation – Sent from the Future to Write-Protect You”