Infinity and Beyond: The power of community participation and the future of digital preservation practices.

It’s just the beginning.

In the grand scheme of things, digital archivists are barely scraping the surface when it comes to the wide range of possibilities available to them when it comes to digital preservation. Ease of access and capability is one thing, but really digging in an discovering the breadth and scope of what technology can do to widen the potential of digital preservation is a relatively new concept – and some are beginning to discover this in exciting ways.

Becerra-Licha’s article, Participatory and Post-Custodial Archives as Community Practice delves into this new realm, pointing out the potential – and pitfalls – that discovering new ways of archiving digital content inevitably create:

 From questioning the presumed neutrality of the terms used to describe and categorize archival collections for access, to calling attention to the conspicuous absence of people of color in both the archival record and the profession, and even to pushing back on the reductive notion that archives and archivists are passive, reactive, and static, it is clear that archives are at a crossroads as such arguments increasingly gain traction in the mainstream of the profession (Becerra-Licha, 2017).

From Preservation to Progress

Becerra-Licha highlights a crucial exploration in digital preservation at this “crossroads”: that communal efforts and collaboration on digital archives can, in fact, help marginalized groups that have been further marginalized by current digital preservation standards.  In Bergis Jules’ lecture, Confronting our Failure of Care around the Legacies of Marginalized People in Archives, the marginalized of these groups is touted as being directly in confrontation with the fact that the communities – or, more like, individuals – involved in cultural preservation effectively silence the unique voices of these cultures.

….who gets represented is closely tied to who writes the software, who builds the tools, who produces the technical standards, and who provides the funding or other resources for that work (Jules, 2016).

Community preservation techniques would combat this issue, allowing marginalized voices to take back their place and, with others, work to contribute and color these complex, enriching histories.

Leaning into the Communal Future

Then comes the challenge of actually taking strides to BUILD these communities. Kate Theimer suggests that in order for these communities to feel the desire to take part, the goal of digital archives needs to be reworked. In the past, before the technological boom, Theimer espouses that the impetus of archivists was generally passive. Archives were created to incite and interest specific scholars with specific needs; if others – the general public – wanted access, they had to make an effort to find those collections.

Clumsy hand-drawn diagram of the "old" model
Theimer, 2014.

 

And while her second depiction – a sketch of what digital preservation now looks like in terms of communal knowledge and contribution – is disastrous looking (and hilarious) on the surface… it really rings true.

Theimer, 2014.

Yes, it’s a mess. But it’s NEW. It’s innovative. “Proving the relevance of archives today—not for a distant future—is needed” (Theimer, 2014). And today, the relevance of a community’s contribution to these resources further exhibits the fact that these collections are no longer just for scholars or historical preservation. It’s for the preservation of the community building them. Inside and out.

Putting New Precepts to Practice

Which digital collections are using a communal approach? I encourage you to take a look at the following websites and see just how communities are learning to work together – individuals with varieties of skillsets and backgrounds – to disseminate knowledge and preserve digital collections, each in their own, totally unique, ways.

  1. Documenting the Now. This project actually has a web app called “DocNow” that allows people to make real-time contributions to this database. The truly innovative aspect of this project is its use of social media documentation to preserve historical events – as they happen now. It is a highly proactive way of archiving, and intrinsically very communal.
  2. Archive-It.  This website is the worlds LARGEST public web archive. Archive-It works with over 400 different organizations and permits them to collect and archive any digitized information they deem influential and worth preserving.
  3. Metadata Games.  And something a little different. You really just need to go to this website to see how ridiculously innovative it truly is. This project is an open source crowdsourcing “game platform” that enables users to participate in labeling, tagging, describing, and preserving digital images and resources through interactive games. This revolutionary participatory technique is crafted quite simply: through html5, php, and javascript.

 

Resources:

Becerra-Licha, S. 2017. Participatory and post-custodial archives as community practice. Educause.edu. Retrieved from: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/10/participatory-and-post-custodial-archives-as-community-practice.

Jules, B, 2016. Confronting our failure of care around the legacies of marginalized people in archives. Medium. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/on-archivy/confronting-our-failure-of-care-around-the-legacies-of-marginalized-people-in-the-archives-dc4180397280

Theimer, K. 2014. The future of archives is participatory: archives as platform, or a new mission for archives. ArchivesNext.Com. Retrieved from: http://archivesnext.com/?p=3700

 

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Secret Agent: The problem with personal identity and attributed identity, and the evolution of authority control

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As discussed in our Week 8 lecture, the primary concern of Authority Control is to disambigulate and collocate information. The irony I find in all of this, however, is the vast expanse of authorities out there archivists can use to bring lucidity to information – specifically, agent aggregation. Agents, in this context, specifically define people (not other archival objects, titles, or things) and the way their names are used in the various authority files to connect and attribute their works to their identity.  One would think there are only so many ways in which an author’s name can be attributed – but the massive web of authority files makes it seem nearly impossible for a consistent globalization to one day occur.

Authority files, as we know, however, don’t simply contain the author’s name.  “The current MARC 21 authority format provides containers for more information than what is needed to simply identify agents, including associated place, address, the field of activity, association group, occupation, gender, family information, and so on.” (Niu, 2013). Niu also suggests that this swath of authority files – as well as the different components within each – needs must be linked/and or aggregated to create a vast and consistent system (2013).

Globalization of Identify in Authority Files

Current popular authority records, such as VIAF (Virtual International Authority File) help aggregate authority files from all around the globe – but there are still some issues that arise with this process.  “VIAF relies primarily on automatic matching of authority records for the same agent/identity, which can be inaccurate. If two authority records about one bibliographic identity are not matched, each will get a separate ID. If a relationship is discovered later via manual checking and the two authority records are combined, then the original two VIAF IDs might be deprecated and a new ID assigned for the agent/identity. (Niu, 2013). Niu suggests that “globally unique IDs” are the way to homogenize the vast variety of authority records out there, linking them so that each different authority file communicates with another despite their patterns and processes.

It’s one thing to find a process to identify authors….what about the way in which the authors identify THEMSELVES?

The other problem that arises (apart from the mass of authority records available to archivists) is the ethical manner in which these containers are attributed. In Kelly Thompson’s essay, More Than a Name: A Content Analysis of Name Authority Records for Authors who Self-Identify as Trans, it is discussed how current authority containers inhibit an author’s ability to identify the way they want to, effectively stigmatizing them and, in some cases “outing” them if their chosen gender identity is attributed by an archivist without their consent (2016). With the creation of more modern, homogenized authority files such as Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD) and Resource Description and Access (RDA), more than just names became the basis for which authors were identified/linked across these different systems. However, as seen in Thompson’s research, adding the RDA tag “gender” as a quantification of the author’s identity raises a whole new host of problems:

“Record the gender with which a person identifies using an appropriate term from the list below: female male other not known” does not acknowledge the fluidity and variety of possible gender identity or identities of an individual over time. It also does not address coding of the variety of gender categories related to bibliographic identities, the individuals who create them, and the relationships among them. (How, for example, would we code George Eliot, a woman writing with a male name, or Barbara Michael, a husband and wife writing novels together under one name?) (Thompson, 2016).

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Roundtable subset of the American Library Association actually raised red flags when the RDA proposed the coding of gender – but was ultimately shot down. This is considerably alarming: “For librarians invested in working toward gender equity, observing these kinds of misrepresentations within an information system that many trained catalogers do not have permission to edit yields an uncomfortable situation” (Thompson, 2016).

URIs- The Current Solution?

As similarly presented by Niu, the future of Authority Files must look towards globalizing the variety of records and rules out there- but also take into deep consideration the desire of identify on behalf of the author itself (if at all possible), or at least take from scholars, historians, etc., that are familiar with the identification needs of that particular agent. This is of course not possible in all cases, but regardless, it should be addressed.

URI’s (Uniform Resource Identifiers) are currently the most popular and most accessible way for Authority Records to globally “communicate” with one another. Because of this, Thompson proposes a solution to this authority name problem through URIs:

Rather than including fixed, selected data in a record, the authority record could connect a name (or series or set of names) to a URI. Links could be established to the author’s works and other authoritative sources of information over which the author may have more control. Names would not need to be unique or disambiguated to create a unique heading, as the URI link would serve the purpose that the heading formerly had (Thompson, 2016).

Ultimately, Authority Records are still quite young in the age of technology and the Internet; but in order to remain relevant and ethically consistent, the true identity of the agents themselves must be thoroughly analyzed and honored before attributing a number to archive and categorize their works.

References:

Niu, J. (2013). Evolving Landscape in Name Authority Control. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 51(4), 404–419. https://doi-org.libdata.lib.ua.edu/10.1080/01639374.2012.756843

Thompson, K. (2016). More than a name: a content analysis of name authority records for authors who self-identify as trans. Library Resources and Technical Services, 60(3), 140-154. http://search.ebscohost.com.libdata.lib.ua.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=llf&AN=117332856&site=ehost-live

Music and Digital Humanities: Audio Insights

(Blog post centered around topics in both Week Three and Four of Class: Digital Humanities, as well as “born digital” audiovisual works.)

Digital Humanities and Musicology

After ruminating over our discussion last week on digital humanities and this week’s topic of “born digital” and audiovisual works, I started to wonder: what about music? Many of the databases we looked over certainly had audio works, but most were centered around talk-radio publications or personal memoir logs. These are absolutely crucial and essential to the cultural concerns of archivists – but I still could not help but wonder if things like songs or larger audio projects in the same vein were handled any differently.

This took me on an article search to discover what scholars had documented about the world of musical scholarship and musical archiving.  It only makes sense that musicologists were some of the first to adopt the notion of using digital technologies to help progress their works; The Hyme Tune Index is a musical database that actually dates back to the 1970s (Urberg 2017). But it’s not simply a matter of the digitization in itself; digital humanities, as Urberg puts it, is becoming an occupation where archivists, humanitarians, artists, and computer scientists not only preserve items but work together to find ways to make technology work better for these purposes.  It is work “consisting of tool-building projects, the creation of archives and libraries around specific topics, or studies of discrete objects—usually texts—that approach the object with a quantitative methodology” (2017).

And it was this discovery that really set me afoot. Modern musical pieces have archival challenges entirely separate from those of more historical pieces; we have discussed, in class, the questions archivists face when dealing with born-digital works and preparing them for longevity. But what about music we’ve never HEARD before? How can this new realm – digital humanities – and the talented individuals within it come together to revitalize music that has been lost to time?

Urberg discusses one such database. The Isabelle D’este Archive is one of many digital humanity projects that is diving out of the realm of simple archival. Professionals are mining old texts for nuances and bringing new life to some of the oldest scores of music; interpreting them and reevaluating them, and, most importantly…bringing old sound to the modern world. It may not be an exact replica of what these musicians played, but the fact that these researchers are finding ways to preserve by taking full advantage of the horizons of technology to really allows users to experience the past is broadening the objectives of digital humanities as a whole; syncing born-digital objects with ancient physical objects and creating a whole new audiovisual experience.

Audio-Widget-screenshot-e1472918735638-1024x558
Retrieved from: http://ideamusic.web.unc.edu. September 20th, 2018.

 

Music specific to cultures: Intellectual Property Concerns

With new realms and horizons come new challenges and potential violations of law. Copyright and intellectual property become a sticky situation here, particularly when discussing digital humanities works with specific cultures that have not yet floated into the realm of public domain. Chisa and Ngulube discuss in their study of a specific South African culture that most Intellectual Property laws have a Western bent; while it is the goal of many organizations to preserve the originality and inherent flavor of a culture’s digitized works (their songs – but also their stories, their artwork, etc.), current Intellectual Property laws can infect the interpretation and description of these items, effectively taking the possession of the culture and putting it into the hands of the archivists (Chisa and Ngulube, 2017).

How do we combat this? Chisa and Ngulube suggest a variety of ways in which those prompted with the task of recording and compiling these works – specifically works of indigenous cultures whose music is being archived – can stand true to the cultures manifesting this art:

Provide adequate information to the custodians,
• ask the right people,
• consult fully, and
• be prepared that consent may be withheld (Chisa and Nglube, 2017)

It is crucial that the originators of this music provide insight into its significance; otherwise, once it is processed and archived and metadata is applied, it becomes representative in nature of that culture – or even wholly indicative of it. Thus, its purest and most original representation and interpretation are just as vital as the music itself.

Conclusion

Digital libraries serve as a testament to the power archivists have over so many facets of our history, our reality.  Music is a pivotal, colorful, defining aspect of so many parts of it; and while there are many challenges archivists are faced with when it comes to preserving and digitizing these works (or, even, converting objects into entirely new forms, such as from moving sheet music to newly recorded interpretations), one really uplifting thing about these new problems is that new tools will be made to combat them. Digital Humanities is the new umbrella under which digital libraries may begin to thrive, collaborating with a variety of professionals to house history in formative new ways.

 

Chisa, K. D., Ngulube, P. (2017). Indigenous music goes digital: reconciling culture and the law. Mousaion. Vol. 35 Issue 4, p1-17, 17. doi: 10.25159/0027-2639/2462

Urberg, M. M. (2017). Pasts and futures of digital humanities in musicology: Moving  towards a “Bigger Tent”. Music Reference Services Quarterly20(3/4), 134-150. Retrieved from: https://www-tandfonline-com.libdata.lib.ua.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/10588167.2018.1455027