SAA recap part II: Archives * Records in Washington, DC

Contributed by DVAG Travel Grant winner Anastasia Matijkiw. Part II of II. See Part I here to read about Anastasia’s experiences at sessions about archival education and new professionals.

In addition to focusing on archival education, I attended several sessions that addressed digital media, specifically handling obsolete media. Session 410: Beyond the Floppy Disk: Rescuing Electronic Records from Complex Systems was a popular session, with attendees sitting on every inch of available space. Speakers from government organizations, corporations, and academia covered projects involving a variety of complex systems, including Lotus Notes, magnetic reel and floppy disks, proprietary systems, and MySQL databases. In their presentations, the speakers spoke on how they dealt with their specific projects and what problems they encountered. Common issues included dealing with migration versus emulation, issues of access, the value of the data, the resources available, fidelity of the representation, access to different versions, and handling the metadata. Two major takeaways from this session were to be open to working with partners – whether it is the IT department or an outside vendor – and to plan for the eventual demise of any complex system you may be working with. Session 601: Born Digital Content on Obsolete Physical Media: Challenges and Solutions was a lightning talk session that addressed similar projects as Beyond the Floppy, but focused more on what to do when you have something you cannot access in house, and how to create scalable solutions to deal with it in- and out- of house. Each speaker provided insight into a unique situation, and even more unique solutions. Most importantly, the speakers shared experiences that can be used to inform other institutions as they address obsolete file formats, storage media, and technology. Each speaker embraced that with these projects, where there may be several attempts with no solution, that one must accept that there are certain levels of ambiguity and uncertainty, and working with outside vendors is often an ideal solution – from a historical computing hobby society to a museum of computer culture. I left this session feeling even more passionate about dealing with obsolete media, and would advise those who find this topic relevant to read the work published by Ricky Erway of the OCLC, which was shared at the conclusion of the session.

I walked away from SAA14 feeling educated and wanting to take the archival world by storm. Although this euphoria may not last me until the next SAA meeting, it was an inspiring experience to attend my first national meeting. Not only did I learn a great deal, but was able to reconnect with old friends and make new connections. The All-Attendee Reception at the Library of Congress was the highlight of the social events, and the exhibition hall was overwhelming. I am extremely grateful to DVAG for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference, an experience that I am sure will stick with me throughout my archival career. I would strongly advise those who have not yet attended a conference to attend one in the future; you’ll find yourself feeling refreshed about the profession, ready to take on any challenge to change the archival world.


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