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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > July/August 2016

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Vol. 36 No. 6 — Jul/Aug 2016
FEATURE

Top 10 Digital Archives Blogs
by Jan Zastrow

HERE IS A ‘BEST OF’ LIST TO KEEP YOU ABREAST OF WHAT’S HAPPENING IN ARCHIVES LAND.
When I worked in the archives and manuscripts department at the University of Hawaii, we would devote one Friday afternoon a month to participate in Read and Share, which is an opportunity to read a journal article or book chapter on an archival or historical topic and review it with our colleagues (essentially, a book report for grownups). Sometimes, we’d write up brief abstracts or make copies for the others to share. We’d discuss it for a bit, and then go around the table to hear the next one. That way, we learned about new developments in the field without having to read all the current literature ourselves. Usually, each of us picked such a diverse article that we got a taste of something that we might not have looked at on our own.

Today, hard copy is losing ground. Some professional organizations no longer produce a print version of their publications; they’re only available as PDFs or in digital magazine formats. Distribution lists for routing professional reading around the library are a thing of the past. No more losing a journal under a pile on somebody’s desk. With web and social media platforms, everyone can have his or her own copy—and his or her own say—so there are more voices (and opinions) than ever.

Here’s a list of bests to help you sift through the noise—online journals, blogs, and RSS and Twitter feeds—to keep you abreast of what’s happening in the quickly evolving world of digital archives, electronic records, digital preservation and curation, personal archiving, digital humanities, and more. Some are sponsored by august institutions, while others are more informal, idiosyncratic offerings from thought leaders in the industry. A caveat: These are all U.S.-centric, English-language sources, which do not span the universe of ideas about digital cultural heritage globally (for that, get started at the World Digital Library; wdl.org).

The criteria I used for selection included authority, longevity, currency, ease of use, and variety in format and content. You, dear reader, will likely find other favorite resources—and please share them with me for the next “best of” list. Finally, many of these entries have similar, but separate, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, and You-Name-It channels, if you have a preferred flavor.

In the Beginning …

First, we’ll give a nod to the longtime leader in American archival thinking—not really a blog and not strictly about digital archives either, but a resource you should get started with.

1. The Society of American Archivists’ (SAA) semi-annual tome, The American Archivist (americanarchivist.org) reflects current thinking about theoretical and practical developments in the archives profession in North America. This journal of the leading professional archival association tends to be long on theory, with dense but often important articles.

It’s not as useful for the latest in the field, because the peer-review process creates at least a year of lag time from the writer’s pen to the readers’ eyeballs. There’s free open access to all issues from its origin in 1938 up to 3 years prior to the current date.

And there’s abstract-only access to the most recent 3 years (i.e., 2013–2016), unless you have a member login. SAA’s bimonthly magazine, Archival Outlook (archivists.org/archival-outlook), offers industry news and current projects in an easy-to-read digital format, free to all.

2. The SAA has dozens of subgroups, called sections and roundtables, many composed of folks working with digital technologies. The Electronic Records Section runs the popular BloggERS! (saaers.wordpress.com), which aggregates news, information, and resources on electronic records, including case studies, reviews, and surveys, etc. In spring 2016, it launched a series on processing digital materials—a welcome addition, as practical examples can be hard to come by. Its Facebook page has much of the same content but with fun photos and a hipper layout.

The Big Boys: U.S. Federal Agencies

This next category features blogs sponsored by federal agencies known and loved by archivists and librarians—the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Library of Congress.

3.The National Archives’ AOTUS Blog (aotus.blogs.archives.gov) is written in the first person by David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States (AOTUS), since April 2010. This humorous blog keeps you abreast of issues on open government, NARA records, social media, transparency, and other vital issues surrounding the protection of our nation’s records and their importance to the democratic process. Learn about projects and new initiatives at NARA, and acronyms and buzzwords such as “citizen archivist,” “ISOO,” and “FOIA”—you get the picture. It is also available on Tumblr and Twitter, as well as via RSS feed. There are at least 15 more blogs put out by NARA, on topics from Black History to the National Declassification Center to “Hoover Heads.” You can find your new favorite at archives.gov/social-media/blogs.html.

4. The Library of Congress’ (LC) The Signal: Digital Preservation (blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation) asserts that it doesn’t represent official LC communications. But it reflects the library’s thinking on up-to-the-minute digital issues (such as web archiving, audiovisual preservation, digital forensics, data migration, and digital asset management). Its intent is to discuss digital stewardship in a way that is informative and appealing and to cover exciting new developments that affect digital preservation and access. It began in May 2011 and is edited by four LC information technologists with frequent guest posts. If you only have time for just one blog, this should be it.

Aggregated Sources

These sites aggregate other resources to save you time.

5. ArchivesBlogs (archivesblogs.com) is a syndicated collection of blogs about archives, “by and for archivists,” taken from international RSS and Atom feeds every hour. The varied offerings may highlight unusual collections, congratulate archives workers, or depict whacky photographs—you name it. Maintained by Mark Matienzo, you can subscribe to specific feeds, sort by multiple languages, and submit your own blog for consideration.

6. Digital Archiving Resources (dar.cah.ucf.edu) is an excellent annotated database of materials on digital archiving created by doctoral students at the University of Central Florida. Started in 2012 and continually updated, it describes (and often links to) books, articles, videos, conference proceedings, and webinars on building, using, and preserving digital archives. You can search individual items—241 as of this writing—or browse collections organized into topics such as Planning, Building and Curation; Ethics, Privacy, Copyright and Legislation; Web Archiving; and, intriguingly, Public Participation and Memory. It’s fun to browse by tag cloud too.

7. Digital Preservation Matters: (preservationmatters.blogspot.com). For more than a decade Chris Erickson, a Digital Preservation Manager in Provo, Utah, has been hand-picking articles on digital preservation, long term access, digital archiving, digital curation, institutional repositories, and electronic records management. Search the blog’s archive, use the tag cloud interface, or subscribe via RSS or on Twitter.

Handmade Blogs: By and For Individuals

These unsponsored, uncensored blogs by motivated archivists and digital technologists are often the most fun to read. Take these out for a test drive, and make a few new bookmarks.

8. The brainchild of Kate Theimer, ArchivesNext (archivesnext.com) has a personal tone—“a mixture of the serious and the trivial (you’ve been warned),” she writes. Theimer has worked at NARA with the Electronic Records Archives, written articles and edited book chapters, given numerous presentations, and sponsored the Best Archives on the Web and Movers and Shakers in Archives awards from 2008 to 2010. She’s used her blog to publicize her Spontaneous Scholarship program for the 2011–2014 SAA annual meetings. She’s a really smart and well-rounded advocate of archives, technology, and professional issues. It’s also available as an RSS feed, and she tweets (@ArchivesNext), so you can follow her for a daily dose.

9. Trevor Owens: User Centered Digital History blog (trevorowens.org) has been going strong in some form since 2006. You’ll find lots of his posts at The Signal, too, as he was formerly a digital archivist with the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) at the LC.

His personal blog defines him as a “feral librarian, digital historiographer, primary source theorist, digital cultural heritage strategist” and more. There are tons of interviews, as well as thoughtful essays on digitization, born-digital, primary sources, web archives, and digital art, etc. Bottom line: Owens is at the cutting edge of digital stewardship and preservation. His Twitter handle is @tjowens.

10. Last but not least, the blog by Jaime Mears, Notes From a Nascent Archivist (jaimemears.wordpress.com), gets my final vote. Although only begun June 2015, Mears assures me this will be her permanent, ongoing professional site. It’s chockfull of great ideas, resources, projects, and more, from her time as a grad student studying with Trevor Owens (check out her User-Driven Oral History project) and as a 2015–2016 National Digital Stewardship Resident at the DC Public Library. She has outlines for her training on digital estate planning, advice on designing a DIY lab, and a most-visited post, 5 Beginner’s Resources for A/V Preservation. Follow her on Twitter (@JaimeMears), and stay tuned—Mears is going far!

That’s it—a whirlwind tour of my personal favorites for keeping up in the field. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Drop me a line with your favorite sites and sources, and they may end up on the next “best of” list! Hang ten …


Jan Zastrow is a certified archivist, librarian, and information professional, based in Washington, D.C. Contact her at zastrow@hawaii.edu.