New England Archivists Fall 2010 Meeting

Yesterday, I attended the New England Archivists (NEA) Fall 2010 Meeting at Keene State College in Keene, NH.  This was the second meeting I attended having previously attended the Spring 2010 Meeting at U-Mass Amherst.

Some general notes to begin with:

  • I enjoyed driving through rural parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire I’ve never seen as well as the charming town of Keene and the Keene State College.  On a crisp autumn day it felt nice to be surrounded by mountains and colorful foliage.
  • On the down side, I wasn’t feeling my best – tired, a bit feverish and a rattling cough in my chest.  Instead of networking I kept a respectful distance from my fellow conferees.
  • For the first time I tried live-tweeting at a conference.  I found it difficult to pay attention to the presenters, balance my laptop & compose an intelligent tweet at the same time so I didn’t contribute much.  On the plus side, there are many tweets from others that highlighted the very things I found important at the meeting.  You the hash tag for the meeting was #NEAFall2010 and I have a saved search that you may or may not be able to read.  I’m drawing heavily on other people’s’ tweets for my notes below for which I am greatly appreciative..

Keynote Address:

Richard Sweeney, University Librarian, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, NJ

Sweeney spoke about “Digital Natives in the Archives” on how archives can engage the Millennial Generation. He started by discussing the Long Now Foundation and the 10,000-year library and how each generation will need to take part in preserving the past for future research.  Much of the address was true and false questions about demographics regarding the Millennials.  While interesting I always find such generalizations to be more settling then useful (after all my generation is nothing but mistrustful, ironically detached slackers). I actually found much of the descriptions of Millennials to be true about myself at least until he got to mobile devices and text messaging (maybe I’m a premillennial?).  For a conclusion, Sweeney showed one possible way to engage Millennials in the archives by making photos, yearbooks, etc available on the web for tagging and for additional contributions and information to be added.  It was especially interesting when a Microsoft Surface was involved although that is something I expect that most archives will not have in the budget for some time.  Sweeney’s slide show is available on his website

Morning Concurrent Session – Email Archiving:

  • William Dow, CRM, Deputy City Clerk of Keene, Keene, NH
  • Virginia Hunt, Associate University Archivist for Collection Development, Harvard University Archives
  • Wendy Marcus Gogel, Manager of Digital Content and Projects in the Harvard University Library Office for Information Systems
  • Tamar Granovsky, Head Archivist, Lincoln Laboratory, M.I.T., Lexington, MA

Every archivist knows that preserving email records is important, but a clear method of doing so has yet to be determined.  Three methods serving the interests of the institutions represented were presented here.  Bill Dow talked about how our host city of Keene archives email in the cloud using Google Postini.  Tamar Granovksy and M.I.T. are exploring using Symantec Enterprise Vault.  Ginny Hunt & Wendy Gogel spoke about the Electronic Archiving Service pilot program now underway at Harvard.  A good point was made about how digital media has existed side-by-side with print since 1957 and it isn’t a choice of preserving digital or print, it’s a hybrid world.  There was also a good question about original order in e-mail with file paths being the possible solution.

Afternoon Concurrent Session I – Collections & Managements Systems:

  • Kat Stefko, Director of Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College, Lewiston, ME
  • Kate Bowers, Collection Services Archivist, Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, MA
  • Marge Smith, Executive Director, Kent Historical Society, Kent, CT
  • Linda Hocking, Curator of Library and Archives, Litchfield Historical Society, Litchfield, CT

Three collection management systems were discussed all of which have benefits to institutions of different sizes and purposes: Archivists’ Toolkit, Past Perfect, and Archon.  Kate Bowers spoke eloquently on how AT is used at Harvard and even included some statistics of how it’s been used at Harvard Business School.  It felt nice to have my work in AT represented before the meeting however so anonymously.   Bowers mentioned a CLIR Report on Archival Management Software as a resource.  It was interesting to hear Marge Smith’s experience with Past Perfect and see it demonstrated although it appears to more of a curatorial tool for museums and historical societies rather than for purely archival material.  Finally, Linda Hocking spoke about her experience with Archon. Here’s a good example of the public interface for Archon, something that AT lacks (although the Rockefeller Archive Center is developing a reference module add-0n) .  It’s interesting to note that the pros and cons of AT and Archon appear to dovetail and that the impending merger of the two products as ArchiveSpace may be mutually beneficial to all users.  Something to look forward to!

Afternoon Concurrent Session II – Born Digital:

  • Ed Desrochers, Interim Academy Librarian and Academy Archivist at Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH
  • Veronica Martzahl, Records Archivist in the Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University, Medford, MA
  • Jennifer Phillips, Digital Collections Archivist in the Digital Collections and Archives at Tufts University, Medford, MA

The final session was a team presentation by two members of the Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives.  As always the Tufts DCA appear to be light years ahead in archives & records management in the digital age so it is appropriate that they spoke of born digital records.  It was a nice reminder to be told that as archivists/records managers “you already know a lot” about what should be done with records so we should not be intimidated by the digital format.  Other advice included:

  • a four-step program: survey your holdings, document & store, metadata, & workflows.
  • referring to the Library of Congress reference for digital formats website at
  • just because they are digital does not mean that item-level description is necessary
  • there is nothing to be gained from converting PDF to PDF-A so don’t waste your time (Veronica Martzahl was emphatic about the unnecessary nature of this step as what’s lost is lost)
  • don’t go to the effort of conserving a floppy disk if you have already copied and preserved the files, just toss it like an old folder.

Overall it was a good day.  I felt that it was not as well-attended as the spring meeting nor did I feel like I had any real “wow moments” where I heard something I’d never heard before or presented in a new way.  Still, it was all good, thoughtful information that should help inform my work in the near future.  It was great to be there and interact both virtually and physically with the other conferees.