E-Records Forum 2013: Teaching E-Records to a New (and Not-So-New) Generation

This is the fifth post of a multi-part recap of the 2013 NAGARA E-Records Forum. Presentations from the E-Records Forum are available on the NAGARA website.

Do you worry that you lack sufficient e-records and digital preservation training?  Wondered where to get training, or where to find new professionals with the kind of training you need? Have you lost sleep over it?  Daydreamed about it?  Given up?

Hold on a moment!  Don’t despair.  Two educational programs were discussed at the recent E-Records Forum hosted by NAGARA last month in Austin.

UT’s iSchool: “Digital Boot Camp” and Digital Preservation

Dr. Patricia Galloway, from the University of Texas School of Information (iSchool), spoke about the iSchool’s philosophy on digital archiving.  They believe that all archivists need to know what digital objects they have, how they were created, and how they were/are used. It is also important to understand and use both the technology that created the material and the technology used to preserve and access the items.  Additionally, they believe archivists will benefit from being tech savvy and remaining current and relevant in their knowledge base. In other words, the iSchool wants to integrate digital preservation into the entire archives program.

In line with that goal, the iSchool offers several archives classes with digital elements.  The introductory course, Archival Enterprise I, has a component known as “digital boot camp.” There’s no yelling or pushups in this boot camp! Instead, students learn how a computer works, and they even have the opportunity to take a computer apart and put it back together. For many students, it is their first introduction to the mechanics of computers, and being in a supportive environment makes it much less intimidating! This fundamental understanding of computers is crucial in learning how digital objects are created.

Other classes include Archival Enterprise II (covers digital archival management systems and other technological developments in the archives field), Records Management (addresses digital recordkeeping systems), Archival Appraisal (examines digital appraisal methods for digital records), Introduction to Electronic/Digital Records (includes creation and management of personal digital records), and Digital Archiving and Preservation.  Since 2000 the interest in this subject matter has steadily grown.  Last year there were 25 students in the Digital Archiving and Preservation course, and it is one of the most popular classes in the program. In this class, students tackle real-life digital archiving problems, such as preserving emails, floppy disks, and video games. These projects are often in collaboration with local professionals in the field, furthering the knowledge of how to develop access methods for legacy technology.

The school also has several labs where students can conduct experiments and work.  In the IT lab, students can explore software for digital archiving and digital records management. The digitization suite offers students the equipment needed to create digital surrogates of various media. The school has also built a digital repository, DSpace. It offers an online space for students and faculty at the iSchool to archive their work, thus allowing future students to learn from what others did.

The digital archaeology lab, established in 2010, helps the students with those projects. Some of the hardware in use at the lab has been given some unusual names.  Frankenstein I is a modified Dell server with multiple operating systems; Dracula is a modified Dell computer.  What’s next?  Wolfman? Quasimodo?  (We called it “cannibalization” in the Air Force, where you’d take parts from one aircraft and use them in another.) Students use these machines to examine and preserve digital records that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Through the classes, labs, and projects, the iSchool teaches students the history of digital preservation through research and practice and how to deal with unique problems. Those students are then equipped to spread that knowledge as they begin working at institutions all over the country.

Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Program

Following that discussion, Glen McAninch from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives spoke about the Society of American Archivists’ Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) certificate program.  The basic focus is on born-digital records and integrating e-records into archives with the intended audience being practitioners, managers and administrators in the archives field. Whereas the iSchool (as a graduate school program) works mostly to prepare new archives and records management professionals for the challenges of managing e-records, the DAS program seems more focused on teaching new skills and concepts to existing practitioners.

There are four tiers of study:  foundational, tactical and strategic, tools and services, and transformational.  Students must complete nine courses: four foundational, three tactical and strategic, one tools and services, and one transformational.  There are three different options to obtain course credit involving various combinations of webinars, exams, and a fee.

To complete the DAS program you have 24 months to attend the nine required courses and pass each course exam with a score of 85% or better and pass a comprehensive exam within five months of completing the nine required courses. While successful completion of this program will garner the student a certificate, it is not a certification program.  For additional information on the program including costs and other requirements, go to http://www2.archivists.org/prof-education/das.