reading notes: the tough stuff

This month I chose three readings that are rather different, yet each takes a look at some of the tough stuff that comes up in the information profession — collaboration, digital preservation and web archives, and e-waste and ethical consumerism.

1… The first is a report from OCLC by Jackie Dooley addressing management of born-digital library material. When it comes to navigating born-digital content, digitized materials, digitally published and delivered content, and open web based content — the best course for acquisition, access, and preservation actions is not always clear or simple.

Dooley’s argument? Archivists can help research libraries develop policy and practice for dealing with the influx of born-digital content finding its way into library collections and repositories (particularly – websites, email, research data). When it comes to born-digital content, the content might have archival characteristics (unpublished, unique, received from donors, etc.) even if it belongs somewhere outside of the university archive. And if archival characteristics are present, it could make sense to leverage established archival practice for acquisition, processing and description. Dooley even provides questions to help digital initiatives teams (which are ideally made up of librarians, technology folks and archivists!) get started with assessment of content. How convenient!

RADICAL! Goat jumping over a hay bail.

I tried to find a collaboration or teamwork image, but they were too cliche, so here’s a fun goat gif instead! (source

2… The second paper, “Facing the Challenge of Web Archives Preservation Collaboratively“, emphasizes the importance of international collaboration and reports on work done by the IIPC Preservation Working Group. The authors write:

 As digital objects in general are getting more complex, the findings of preservation solutions for web archiving should also be applicable in other digital preservation areas. This goal is best achieved by co-operation and by building communities. The web is international and therefore it makes sense to work together on an international level.

The PWG recently surveyed IIPC member institutions regarding web archiving policy, preservation planning and access. The findings are pretty interesting, but most questions were yes/plan to/no choices that don’t provide much detail. The authors note plans for a follow up interview, so I hope to see the results from that survey as well. One particular question that caught my attention was: “Do you have separate access and preservation copies in your web archive?” Well, 54% of respondents  do not keep separate copies (14 of 27 respondents)!! My first reaction is that it’s good practice to keep both (AIP and DIP!!)… but web archives are just so huge, maybe it’s not practical. But if you offer up the data for data mining (as 55% of respondents plan to do) should anyone really open up the master copy to researchers? Or maybe it’s a DIP-on-demand plan for certain kinds of access? I was also intrigued by the information sharing efforts of the PWG. The group offers a risk assessment tool, a software registry, and more to member institutions. Anyone can view the results of this beta project.

3… The third article is probably most challenging of all. The article, “You’re No Fun Anymore: The Ethics of Acquiring Electronic Devices in Light of E-waste, Sweatshops, and Globalization”,  was 2015 ACRL conference paper that I learned about via a recent #critlib Tweet-up. The author, Jennifer Poggiali, examines ethical consumerism and libraries with a particular focus on purchasing devices for library services. As she notes, libraries increasingly purchase cutting edge technology for patron use (e-readers, tablets, laptops, etc.). Yet, are we considering the implications of the fast pace at which technology is purchased and discarded? As she writes:

But how carefully have we examined the complicated ethics involved in the manufacture and disposal of these electronic devices? Is it necessarily the case that our local concerns outweigh global considerations, such as sweatshop labor, natural resource exploitation, and the pollution and illness that can result from the manufacture and disposal of these devices?

image from a campaign to get Apple to remove harmful chemicals from products. flickr user: Brian Fitzgerald

image from a campaign to get Apple to remove harmful chemicals from products. credits to flickr user: Brian Fitzgerald

She challenges professionals to consider “whether the potential good is enough to justify the potential harm” when purchasing new equipment for library services. I think this is a critically important question to ask. Libraries are a land of ever-changing trends and projects …in scholarship practices, publishing, platforms, services and teaching pedagogy. How can we be flexible and dynamic while avoiding creation of space and purchase of the latest trend equipment that may not actually get used or becomes less important in a few short years? How do we balance purchasing, maintaining, and recycling technology for digital scholarship services or equipment lending?

I don’t know the answers! I was recently on a fast acting team here at MIT Libraries that explored space for and design of digital scholarship services initiatives in academic libraries. I wish I had this article at the time, so the group could have discussed it. I’ll have to add this to list of resources for future discussion.

This article also connects to my newly formed interest in how digital content processing and preservation affects the environment. I joined a new independent group of archivists responding to climate change called ProjectARCC. ( just a side note: Joining this group isn’t part of my fellowship or work at MIT, but environmental stewardship and sustainable living are personal interests of mine.) The group is interested in connecting with climate change activists to provide personal archiving advice, elevating archival collections on climate change, protecting archival collections from effects of climate change, and reducing our professional footprint. Ambitious, indeed. Several of us have shown interest in exploring e-waste and sustainability (environmental, not file format) in digital initiatives (particularly digitization & digital preservation).

Questions like…. How do we handle the tension between the necessity of purchasing equipment and constantly running servers and hardware to achieve digital preservation actions …and the effects of energy consumption on the environment and the sweatshop labor that may have been used to produced our technology? How do we prioritize and get buy-in for building ecofriendly libraries/archives or off-site storage buildings? … have been on my mind. I think I know what I’ll be reading for my next reading notes post… e-waste and building green libraries!


The reading notes posts found on this blog are intentionally question-filled and causal. Each notes post serves as a sort of open journal record of my professional development reading as the MIT Libraries Fellow for Digital Archives. See the introduction post for more on this series. I welcome suggestions for future readings—current or archival!

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