Kate L. Blalack 2014-02-12 14:28:29
Completing graduate school was a pivotal moment—as an archivist, I would be one of the lucky professionals who would have an opportunity to influence the shape of historical collections. The impact of this idea became even more profound this past year as I completed my Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) coursework. Now that I’ve earned a DAS certificate, I’m in a better position to shape the future while keeping the past alive. Being an adventurer at heart, the DAS courses allowed me to explore uncharted territory, and what I found was that archivists are responsible not only for transferring data, but also for transferring context to the next phase—again and again—so that it maintains its semblance throughout history. A New Frontier I first heard about the DAS program while looking for courses in digital file management. I had recently earned my archival certification from the Academy of Certified Archivists, and I wanted to hone my skills and develop a specialty. With digital information becoming more and more prevalent, I found myself in the same position that many other archivists did. Digital information migration into new formats was inevitable, but the costs associated with perpetually maintaining space couldn’t be ignored. I knew I had my work cut out for me, especially in a university setting. While working at Oklahoma State University Library, I made another unforeseen discovery. I imported the library’s existing content into ArchivesSpace and had the opportunity to work on digital collections with the department of Digital Library Services. I also was in charge of organizing our digital assets within the department on a separate drive. Because I was in constant communication with our information technology (IT) staff, I slowly realized I knew very little of their jargon, and even less about how computer systems operated and stored information. I was grateful to discover I was not the only archivist facing these challenges. People were asking questions, and more importantly, starting to find answers. Under the direction and excellent leadership of Dr. Jennifer Paustenbaugh (now the university librarian for Brigham Young University), I decided to pursue a DAS certificate. During my mentorship with Paustenbaugh, she taught me the value of seeing projects through to completion. I felt it was important to earn a DAS certificate; I saw it as a symbol of completion and following through on a goal. It’s also a symbol of achievement, especially in our profession, where it sometimes feels as though nothing will ever be completed! The Value of DAS The overarching value of participating in the DAS program is that it gave me an invaluable set of communication tools for working with IT professionals, a framework for understanding the paradigm of the ever-changing microenvironment of the electronic world, and a better grasp of the ephemeral nature of digital assets. Digital formats are always in flux, and rather than digital archives being a permanent, electronically maintained master storage of our culture’s history, digital archivists must treat the files and the archives as temporary vessels for transferring the vital information that cannot be permanently retained in any digital format. SAA lists three key audiences that courses are directed toward: the Archivist Practitioner, the Archivist Manager, and the Archivist Administrator (http:// www2.archivists.org/prof-education/das). I took courses that interested me and that would aid me in better understanding mechanics and semantics. The core courses gave me an excellent foundation, and the additional courses gave me the vocabulary to work with my existing knowledge. I learned about digital appraisal and how easily we can get too much unnecessary digital information. I also learned how files are accessed and how to maintain and create archival PDFs and other archival digital formats. Archivists are recordkeepers, but we also are responsible for ensuring that history is maintained within its context, and nowhere is it easier to lose provenance and original order than in a digital environment. The archivist must maintain a completely intangible medium and ensure that the information within is continuously brought back to its integrity with migration and checksums. Knowing everything is impossible, but we are responsible for understanding the essence of what we are trying to preserve. The DAS program provided me with those skills. DAS has made me aware of the living nature of a digital environment. History has never been static but is quickening, and digital archivists are chasing a shape-shifter and hoping to catch the spirit. During the course of completing the DAS certificate, I switched jobs, and as of July 2013, I am now working as the archivist at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Perhaps the single most important part of earning this certificate is that it has given me the confidence to make decisions about our digital assets, choose appropriate storage options, handle the migration of our data, and to communicate with our IT team. DAS courses helped me learn how to interpret both worlds and bring them together.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.