Jennifer Kirmer and Sonya Rooney, Washington University in St. Louis 2014-12-02 11:11:40
On August 9, 2014, the killing of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson set the spotlight on the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. At Washington University Archives (WUA), we were confronted by the reality of history happening on our doorstep as memorials, community meetings, protests, and rallies dominated the local and national news. Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) was in a unique position to lead an effort to document, preserve, and make community and media content accessible. With direction from University Librarian Jeffery Trzeciak, the Documenting Ferguson Project Team was formed, and we developed a three-pronged strategy in documenting and preserving the events unfolding in Ferguson. Project Formation and Development The first two areas of focus for this project— capturing websites and gathering digital Records—concentrated on digital content. The Documenting Ferguson Project Team, which consists of WUA and other library staff, faculty, and additional university staff, developed an archival strategy that hinged on recognizing the paradigm of how history is being documented today. We faced an event framed by web content, including media accounts and online documentations of activities, as well as videos and photographs taken on cell phones, blog posts, and tweets. The evolving third area of focus will be on more traditional physical material associated with the event. In addition to the three-pronged strategy, the project team developed a statement of purpose and project outline to guide the overall project and assist in establishing relationships with other institutions in the St. Louis area. The statement highlights the goals of this project, but also includes a description of the various components of the project to date. This document is integral to our efforts of making the Documenting Ferguson Project a robust and lasting effort. The statement, along with the project outline, also provides valuable guidance as the project is publicized and discussed more broadly. Archive-It The team first reached out to Archive-It, a subscription web archiving service that allows organizations to harvest, build, and preserve collections of born-digital content, so we could collaborate with their effort to collect materials documenting the events and reactions stemming from the original August 9 incident in Ferguson. Archive- It’s content is publicly available via their website, which made them a strong partner in building a robust digital repository of content created in light of and in response to the events in Ferguson. WUSTL collaborated by dedicating archival staff time to researching and providing URLs to be tracked by Archive-It. In addition, the Documenting Ferguson Project publicized the Archive-It links for capturing content within the WUSTL library and academic community. As of October 2014, this collection has captured more than 170 links to diverse webpages documenting aspects of the events occurring in Ferguson, and it is growing weekly. Many pieces of web content specifically document the WUSTL community’s responses to the Ferguson events. WUA has been submitting these links to Archive-It for inclusion in their collection, but we have also captured these links in our Archive-It installation, in our “Official University” collection therein. By adding the subject terms “Ferguson, MO” and “Campus Dialogue” to the relevant URLs, we are making these links discoverable from the Ferguson angle as well as part of our larger documentation of WUSTL’s official online presence. Documenting Ferguson Website As a second step, the Documenting Ferguson Project Team quickly engineered a community portal to capture primary Source digital content and to raise awareness of the WUSTL/Archive-It partnership. This Omeka-powered website and the contribution plugin have allowed the team to receive content from community members. Contributors can submit content in a variety of forms, ranging from stories and images to audio and video. The terms and conditions, developed by the project team, state that contributors must be the creator of the content and that by accepting the terms, they give WUSTL permission to preserve, use, distribute, and reproduce the content in a variety of ways. The terms also specify that requests for third-party use of the contributed materials—when those requests go beyond fair use—must go through the creator of the items in question. Contributed content must be approved by a site administrator and must meet a list of criteria developed by the Documenting Ferguson Project Team. This set of approval criteria was developed to guide the administrators and Documenting Ferguson Project Team, as well as to clarify for contributors what content may or may not be accepted and posted to the site. Criteria include limits on file size of submissions and require that the content relate in some way to the events in Ferguson, that no personally identifiable information be included in the submitted content itself (emails and names are required to submit material, but emails are not made public), and that the contributor is the creator of the submission. Additional requirements state that contributions must be virus-free and not endorse any commercial products. If a submission is determined not to adhere to these criteria, the team is under no obligation to accept and post the content. All terms and conditions are available on the Documenting Ferguson Project website. As of October 2014, more than three hundred items have been approved and are publically available on the site, including stories, poems, images, digital art, audio, and video. The contribution plugin allows users to submit material directly from their mobile devices as well as from computers. This was crucial, as many of those involved in the events in Ferguson were using their mobile devices to document what they were experiencing. Users can submit files one at a time through this method, but the project team has set up a Dropbox workflow for contributors to submit multiple items along with the accompanying metadata. Physical Material The final strategic prong of the project is to collect, preserve, and make accessible Physical material. So far the physical collection consists of student group fliers, student newspaper articles covering Ferguson, and event fliers from WUSTLhosted discussions. We expect to get additional material such as signs, memorial artifacts, physical photographs, and other content, especially from the WUSTL community. This could evolve further to reflect efforts by the larger St. Louis community. These materials will also be made available to researchers, students, and the general public to supplement the digital content. Next Steps The three prongs of the project will continue, including capturing websites through Archive-It, seeking contributions to the Omeka site, and continuing to collect physical material documenting the university community’s responses. Moving forward, we are sharing the statement of purpose and the project activities with the university community, local peer institutions, and other community organizations. We hope to collaborate with these stakeholders as we continue to document, preserve, and make accessible the history relating to the events in Ferguson. We hope and expect this will facilitate dialogue and encourage educational outreach within greater St. Louis. Other WUSTL Activities In addition to the Documenting Ferguson Project, the WUSTL community has responded to the Ferguson events in a variety of ways. Just days after the event, the university organized discussion sessions that were open to members of the WUSTL community; a few of these were hosted at the Washington University Libraries. There was also a community-wide forum, “Race, Place, and Violence: A University- Wide Dialogue about Michael Brown.” The University launched a community-wide website, “Wash U Voices: Ferguson and Beyond,” a portal created to capture voices from all perspectives. One of our subject librarians created the “Resource Guide on Policing, Community Protest and Unrest,” a website directing users to books, articles, and other web content useful for anyone wishing to further educate themselves or others on issues surrounding the events in Ferguson. Various classes have spent time talking about the events and contextualizing them with other aspects of history. Students also led a number of different activities, including joining in the “Hands Up, Walk Out” march, which was a nationwide, grassroots event. These are just a few of the responses by the WUSTL community, alongside other activities within and beyond the greater St. Louis community. In Conclusion Across the nation, we watched on TV, read in newspapers, and listened to the radio as the turmoil in Ferguson over Brown’s death captured the attention of the national media. At Washington University in St. Louis, we watched Ferguson, a city just twelve miles away, erupt in nightly violence; bond at community rallies and memorials; and struggle with loss, racism, and violence. The ubiquity of mobile technology, coupled with grassroots mobilization of the Ferguson community, created an environment that favored immediate capture of digital material. Thankfully, we were poised with the motivation and resources to create a collection on this event. Looking forward, the Documenting Ferguson Project is prepared to grow and evolve to fit the changing needs of the communities being documented. Links of Interest “Ferguson, MO – 2014” Archive-It, https://archive-it.org/collections/4783 Washington University in St. Louis, Archive-It, https://archive-it.org /collections/4726 Documenting Ferguson, http://digital .wustl.edu/ferguson/ Wash U Voices: Ferguson & Beyond, http://voices.wustl.edu/ “Resource Guide on Policing, Community Protest and Unrest,” http:// libguides.wustl.edu/communityresource Project Team Members at Washington University in St. Louis LaTanya Buck (consultant), Director of Center for Diversity & Inclusion Rudolph Clay, Head of Library Diversity Initiatives and Outreach Services and African & African American Studies Librarian Shannon Davis, Digital Projects Librarian Makiba J. Foster, Subject Librarian for American History; American Culture Studies; and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Chris Freeland, Associate University Librarian Nadia Ghasedi, Head of the Visual Media Research Lab Jennifer Kirmer, Digital Archivist Sonya Rooney, University Archivist Andrew Rouner, Director of Scholarly Publishing Rebecca Wanzo (faculty advisor), Associate Director for The Center of the Humanities Micah Zeller, Copyright Librarian
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