Author Archives: rose l chou

About rose l chou

MLIS graduate student at San Jose State University specializing in archives.

why digitization is not digital preservation

A huge pet peeve of mine is when people use the terms digitization and digital preservation interchangeably, so I thought I’d explain the differences. If you only remember one thing from this post, it should be that digitization IS NOT digital preservation.

Digitization is the reformatting of analog materials to a digital format. For example, scanning a photograph and saving it as a jpg file is digitization. Scanning a page from a diary and saving it as a pdf is digitization. Digitization does not always occur for the purpose of preservation.  Materials are digitized for a variety of reasons, such as to provide access to people in different geographical areas, to provide simultaneous access to the same unique content, to provide access to material that’s too fragile to handle often, or to create a copy for a researcher.

Digital preservation is ensuring the long-term access of digital materials over time, including both analog materials that have been digitized and born-digital materials. Born-digital materials are items that were originally created in a digital format (e.g. Microsoft Word document, email, Photoshop file). For analog materials, digital preservation can only occur after digitization.

Think about computer hardware, software, and file formats that are now obsolete. Can you still open that content? Is it still functional? That’s what digital preservation is about — making sure that you still can, and making sure that all those digital materials you’re creating today are still accessible in 5, 10, 50 years! There are numerous strategies for digital preservation — to name a few, migration, emulation, and refreshing — but no one’s got it all figured out (yet).

It’s important to distinguish between these two concepts because digitization does not encompass born-digital materials, and you’d be leaving out a huge amount of material if digital preservation only concerned analog materials that were digitized. Additionally, digitization is not focused on providing long-term access to digital materials.

Does that make sense?


Posted by on October 7, 2011 in digital preservation



so, what exactly does an archivist do?

This post is inspired by how many library school students and librarians have no real idea of what archivists do and why — a description of archives doesn’t seem to make it to any intro classes. Below is a brief overview.

What are archival records?

A record is information that has been stored in a fixed form, which includes paper, photographs, film and sound recordings, and electronic files. Important to a record is its content, structure, and context. Content is all the information that is contained in the record. The content of a record is fixed, so that it can be reviewed again – its stability is what makes a record significant to memory. A record’s structure is the physical form it is contained in and the organization of its content. Context is all the conditions that surround a record’s creation, storage, or use – and context is very important to archivists.

We create and use countless records in our everyday life, but not every record is considered archival. Archives simply cannot keep all records ever created, so one of the main responsibilities of an archivist is to determine if a record should be preserved because it has enduring value.

Archival records document the activities of its creator – whether that’s an individual, group, or organization – and these records serve as direct evidence of the creator’s activities. Because the content of the records serve as evidence of these activities, they have enduring value. Archival records serve a purpose other than the one they were originally created for.

What exactly is an archives?

The term “archives” can refer to the archival materials themselves, organizations that collect archival materials, the archival profession, and a building that houses archival materials. The word “archives” is and can be used interchangeably in reference to any of those definitions.

What are the main responsibilities of an archivist?

An archivist’s work involves many different parts of managing an archival collection. Some archivists perform all of the responsibilities described below, but archivists in larger institutions may focus on just a few of these.

Appraisal and Acquisition
I mentioned appraisal earlier – archivists appraise records to determine if they have enduring value and should be preserved in the long-term. While archival records may be worth money, archival appraisal is not concerned with monetary value but the value of the record’s content. Appraisal is subjective because part of the selection process looks to see if records fit within the archives’ mission and purpose. If an archivist decides that a collection should be part of the archival institution, the materials are acquired and transferred through a process called accessioning.

Archivists arrange the archival materials in order to provide access to researchers. In arrangement, archivists intellectually organize the records and make sure the physical organization reflects that intellectual arrangement. Especially important to archivists during this process are the concepts of provenance and original order. Provenance is the relationship between a record and the individuals or organizations who created, maintained, or used it. To maintain provenance, archivists try to ensure that records are kept according to their origin and not mixed in with other collections. Original order is keeping records in the same order in which the creator arranged them. Maintaining both provenance and original order is necessary to preserve the records’ context. This context can be crucial to a researcher, which is why archivists try so hard to maintain it.

In the description process, archivists try to create an accurate representation of an archival collection’s content and how it is arranged physically. In addition, archivists provide information about the creator and the context of the records’ creation. This description information is generally brought together in a finding aid, which serves as a researcher’s guide to the collection.  In most archival collections, materials are not described at the item level.

Archivists also facilitate the physical preservation of archival records. This often happens during the arrangement process. For example, to ensure paper records don’t deteriorate, they are stored in acid-free folders and placed in acid-free boxes. Metal items such as paper clips and staples may be removed because they will rust, damaging the paper. The facility where archival records are stored usually have temperature and humidity controls.

Reference and Outreach
All the steps described before this – appraisal, acquisition, arrangement, description, and preservation – are all for the purpose of archives being used in the present and future. In order for researchers to use archives to their fullest potential, they often need reference assistance from archivists. Reference assistance can include how to interpret finding aids, how to properly handle archival material, and if there are archival collections other than the one the researcher is reviewing that would be relevant or helpful.

Why do archivists do all this tedious work?

One main, historical reason for archival work is to enable public accountability of government activities. To ensure an open democracy and government, citizens must have access to the records created by the government. As evidence of government activity, these records have a very specific enduring value and must be preserved. This archival purpose dates back to the French Revolution, which serves as a key event in the history of archives.

Another reason for archival work is a commitment to preserving different aspects of history. Institutional archives collect records that document the activities of their parent organization, such as businesses and universities. These records have enduring value because they provide necessary institutional history for the organization itself. Other archives collect records based on specific themes or academic disciplines, such as anthropology, African American history, or Asian art.

To sum up what an archivist does and why

Basically, an archivist ensures physical and intellectual control of records that have enduring value. Archivists do this for many reasons – such as to facilitate public accountability of government, to ensure the history of cultural heritage is not forgotten, or to maintain institutional history. Archives do not simply store records — archives are meant to be used! Archivists perform all those responsibilities in order for people to access and use records.


Posted by on September 27, 2011 in archives, library school


reflections on the saa 2011 annual meeting

CC photo courtesy of --Mike-- on Flickr

My very first LIS conference was last year’s SAA meeting, which took place in DC. It was before I started library school, so I really had no idea what to expect. I was too shy to reach out and meet new people since it was my first conference — and I felt like I was an imposter who had no idea what archives were really about. Additionally, since I didn’t have to travel for it, I felt more comfortable going home after a day of sessions instead of hanging out and meeting new people.

This year’s SAA conference was a lot different for me. First, I felt like I was reaching the end of a marathon — from March-June, I attended 5 (!) conferences. All of those conferences really helped me become more comfortable with the idea of “networking” — or meeting people, which is how I prefer to think of it. The best way to feel comfortable about meeting and talking with strangers is to do a lot of it. And everyone I’ve met at LIS conferences is overwhelmingly friendly and approachable. I also think attending conferences in cities outside of your home, while more expensive, really forces you to socialize more.

After finishing three semesters of library school, I no longer felt that I had no idea what people were talking about in the archives world. I certainly didn’t understand everything, but I didn’t feel like an impostor anymore. Also, I really like the size of SAA’s conference — it’s definitely not as overwhelming as ALA. I feel like at any given time, you see familiar faces along with unfamiliar ones.

Overall, my best experience at SAA was having a graduate poster. It was a great opportunity for me to meet new people and discuss my research interests in archives. Mostly, I just really enjoyed the format of individual interactions and discussions. I highly recommend doing a poster session!

It’s interesting to look back over the past year and see how far I’ve grown.  Honestly, I think that conferences and connecting online with the library/archives Twitterverse and blogworld have been far more valuable experiences for me than classes — at least in terms of personal development and growth.  Does anyone else feel the same?

(If you’re interested in reading conference session reviews, check out this collaborative wrap-up post over at Hack Library School.)

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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in conferences


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hacklibschool: in defense of online lis education

My first official post as a writer for Hack Library School is up today — check it out!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic of online LIS education.  The inspiration for the post came from reading naysayers who look down on online programs and the students who attend them.

Also, later this week I plan to have a post reflecting on my experience at this year’s SAA Annual Meeting (sneak preview: I had a great time!).

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in library school, links



joining the hack library school team

I have been a huge fan of Hack Library School since the blog’s launch, so I’m excited to announce that I have officially joined the team as a contributing writer!  While I will still primarily write here, most of my thoughts on library school (and graduate archival education) will most likely be posted over there.  The collaborative atmosphere of the blog is incredibly encouraging, and I really think Hack Library School is a great place for library students to participate in discussions about the profession and LIS education system.


Posted by on August 8, 2011 in library school


crowdsourcing archival research

While I’ve heard of many crowdsourced archival transcription projects, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Children of the Lodz Ghetto: A Memorial Research Project is the first crowdsourced archival research project I’ve come across.

The Children of the Lodz Ghetto Project aims to find out what happened to over 13,000 students who signed the Lodz ghetto schools album in September 1941.  Volunteers pick a name, research the museum’s digital archives, and submit their findings.  The research results are then posted online after being reviewed by museum staff.

I think crowdsourcing archival research is awesome for many reasons.  First, crowdsourcing in general is a great way for archives to leverage the power of the public.  Another key result of projects like this is that it demonstrates what archival research is like, which can cause people to become more interested in archives as institutions.  Before I was interested in a career in libraries, I had no idea what archives were all about.  Had I known about archives back in college, I definitely would have dived into this field much earlier.  This project is a great way to introduce students to archival research.  A professor at George Washington University has heavily incorporated the Children of the Lodz Ghetto Project into her university writing class.  Archives should be more proactive in teaching students about archival research and not just wait for teachers and professors to use archives in their classes.

I hope to see more projects like this in the future.  If you know of any other projects that crowdsource archival research, please share in the comments!

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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in archives, links


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library day in the life, round 7 (#libday7)

CC image courtesy of Cat Sidh on Flickr

This week is round seven of the Library Day in the Life Project, so here’s a summary of my day as a Circulation Specialist at the American University Library.

8:30-9:00am:  Arrived at the library and took care of opening Circ duties, which include ensuring the register has the correct amount of money, turning on all 4 desk computers, and logging into 4 Circ clients on each computer (we are part of a consortium, and the programs we use are two Voyagers, Millennium, and Illiad).  Grabbed coffee before the library opened at 9:00am.

9:00-11:00am:  Staffed the Circ Desk.  One of the main opening duties is making sure a part-time student assistant empties the book drops.  I discharged all the items, making sure to backdate the return date to yesterday.  The opening desk shift is generally pretty slow, especially in the summer.  Nothing out of the ordinary occurred during my shift — checked out books, accepted book returns, took some fines, and answered questions about alumni access to the library’s databases.

11:00am-12:00pm:  Spoke with the ILL Coordinator about a patron inquiry I received while at the Circ Desk.  Checked emails and reviewed my schedule for the day.  Organized files for our inventory project and printed out shelf-lists for our student assistants to work on.

12:00-1:00pm:  Ate lunch with our Collection Development Librarian and two visiting librarians from the American University of Nigeria.

1:00-2:00pm:  Shadowed the Reference Desk.  I’m training in reference this summer in preparation for a desk shift starting in the fall semester.

2:00-4:00pm:  Attended the online Lyrasis training “Interpreting and Coding the OCLC MARC Bibliographic Record,” the first of three sessions.  Learned all about the first and second indicators of the 245 and 1XX fields.

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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in day in the life