Monday, November 17, 2008

Also, OCLC is really dumb

I admittedly do not have much of a horse in this race, because as an archivist any cataloging I do is by definition unique, but this is still a dumb change:

I took a sometime this morning to read through the proposed changes as well as the FAQs, and essentially OCLC is looking for a way to tell libraries that they don’t own the data that’s in their own catalogs. In essence — this is what this policy comes down to. The policy wraps some very nice changes for non-members into the statement in order to hide some really sucky changes that I don’t believe that they have the ability to ask for or enforce. And OCLC has some real balls here, because starting in Feb., records downloaded from OCLC will potentially include a license statement. Per the FAQ:

  • Prospectively. As of the effective date of the Policy, every record downloaded from WorldCat will automatically contain field 996 populated with the following:
    996 $aOCLCWCRUP $iUse and transfer of this record is governed by
    the OCLC® Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records.

    There is no need to add the 996 field to records by hand. OCLC systems will do this for you.

  • Retrospectively. For records that already exist in your local system, we encourage you to use the 996 field, which should have an explicit note like the examples below:
    996 $aOCLCWCRUP $iUse and transfer of this record is governed by
    the OCLC® Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records.
  • Hott. So, we pay you to give you copies of the records we catalog, and in return you tell us that those records, 95% of each of which is composed of factual information, now belong to you, the distributor, rather than the original cataloger. Oh, and by the way, "Use must not discourage the contribution of bibliographic and holdings data to WorldCat or substantially replicate the function, purpose, and/or size of WorldCat." Smoooth.

    So, it appears that OCLC is positioning itself as the RIAA of the Library world in terms of its attitude towards intellectual property. Hey, how's that working out for the RIAA? I'm just askin'.

    That said, I think I agree with the Annoyed Librarian that, at least for the short term, OCLC is going to win this fight, because any organization that can get libraries to pay for their service TWICE is pretty obviously much smarter than its clients, and because librarians as a group are not so good at effective advocacy on this kind of stuff. Still, from a PR perspective and from a perspective of using vs. fighting against Web 2.0, I suspect this will come back to bite OCLC in the ass down the road.

    Yet another Obama giving up his BlackBerry post

    See, now, THIS is how presidents should take care of their email issues:

    For years, like legions of other professionals, Mr. Obama has been all but addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a singular conduit to the outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter and tighter throughout his campaign.

    “How about that?” Mr. Obama replied to a friend’s congratulatory e-mail message on the night of his victory.

    But before he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign off. In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.
    I do admit that it would be awesome for him to be the 'first e-mailing president', but it sounds like his records management team has suggested to him that this would not be a good idea. Which, fair enough, given how presumably the president has better things to do than check his email obsessively. But I do think that this shows that his staff is up on some of the information problems that could occur in a 21st century presidency, which is more than I can say about the incumbent.

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Sarah Palin's e-mail chicanery (Warning: Political)

    I thought we had enough of this from the CURRENT administration, but no.

    Palin routinely uses a private Yahoo e-mail account to conduct state business. Others in the governor's office sometimes use personal e-mail accounts, too.

    The practice raises questions about backdoor secrecy in an administration that vowed during the 2006 campaign to be "open and transparent."


    She is allowed to keep e-mails confidential if they fall into certain categories, such as "deliberative process," said her press secretary, Bill McAllister.


    "I don't hear any public clamor for access to internal communications of the governor's office," McAllister said.

    No, no, Mr. McAllister, that's not how Public Records Laws work. The question is not whether there IS public clamor for the records; the question is whether there COULD be public clamor, say, I don't know, if she were to run for the Vice Presidency of the United States? Admittedly I have not read the Alaska Public Records Law, but I am reasonably certain that there is not a clause in there that says "unless it would be politically inconvenient." There is a reason these things are in place, you know.

    Also, it's pretty clear to me that Gov. Palin and you both know that this is sort of a disingenuous argument at best, seeing as how the whole reason that she would use a Yahoo Account is so her emails wouldn't be trackable by the State of Alaska's email system.

    No one in the Palin administration could say if the governor is saving her Yahoo e-mails. If she's emptying her e-mail trash, they are zapped from Yahoo's storage system within days or at the longest, months, Yahoo says.

    "If you are asking do we have those e-mails, then the answer is no," said Anand Dubey, director of the state's Enterprise Technology Services. "We don't control Yahoo or Gmail or Hotmail or anything like that."

    This to me seems awfully convenient, particularly in the wake of the 1100 emails that WERE on official Alaska servers which were withheld from a FOIA request on the grounds of 'executive privilege.' One has to wonder what is in the emails that aren't technically subject to Alaska public records laws. Except that they are. Unless the Governor's personal attorney says that they aren't. Hmmm.

    I don't know. I just think it's very frustrating to give an email seminar in which you instruct people not to send business email from their personal accounts, and then read about a vice-presidential candidate for a major party who specifically instructs HER staff to do just that. It's enough to make a grown records manager cry.

    Dean Dawson, state-records manager, is working on an e-mail-archive system for state employees, who tend to want to hang onto e-mail forever, he said. E-mail records should be kept as long as paper records of the same type — for instance, three years for general correspondence, he said. Top executives such as commissioners and the governor often must keep records longer, under state schedules.

    Introducing Dean Dawson, ladies and gentlemen! The man with the most thankless job in the state of Alaska. (I would say 'in the United States', except you have to contend also with Missouri's records manager... or Texas's records manager... or the guy at NARA who has to archive the emails of the Bush Administration... Ah, right, this is why I am not working for the U.S. government!)

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    JOURNALISM! (Or,"Do a little more research before you mouth off")

    Oh, for Bob's sake. Alex Heard LOOKS like he is complaining in Slate today about the willy-nilly destruction of records, but in reality he is demonstrating a profound ignorance of how records management works. Some choice quotes:

    The letter conjured up images of my file getting scrutinized by furrow-browed NARA scholars who decided that, alas, John R. Poole was not of sufficient historical interest to keep around.

    Yeeesss. This would be called 'their job.' Believe it or not, most of what most agencies create IS junk! I know. I was shocked too.

    Dismayed, I looked into how the Records Retention Plan works, with help from several generous FOIA experts. What they described sounded more like a Records Destruction Plan, since it allows the FBI to discard roughly 80 percent of its files at any given time. ... Though the NARA experts who helped create the plan tried to come up with a fair, workable system, the bottom line is that the FBI gets to trash mountains of historical source material without adequate oversight.

    The oversight thing is a concern, yes, but the fact is that that roughly 80 percent of its files mostly IS junk. In fact, having worked with records for just over 4 years now, I'd venture that 80 percent is generous.

    Like many people who make FOIA requests, I'm probably hypersensitive to the potential loss of any one file among millions,

    Yep. You are. Look, it sucks that the archival profession can't save everything, but the fact is that archivists are overworked as it is, and our space requirements are never as large as we'd like them to be. If we didn't weed, we'd drown in paper and NONE of our users would be able to find ANYTHING.

    The system's fundamentals make sense, I guess—very complicated sense—but to me the disturbing part comes at the end of the line. At some point 25 years after a case closes, a file that isn't marked "permanent" gets pulled and looked at by one or two people inside the FBI. There are no "knowledgeable representatives of the NARA" monitoring this crucial moment. If it's decided internally that the file isn't important, it's gone.

    Umm... how are you determining that there are 'no knowledgeable representatives of NARA' within the FBI? You know, there may, in fact, be archivists within the FBI, and they may, in fact, know what they're doing (and, my guess is, they do work closely with NARA to determine what is important). I know that the FBI has a history of destroying files it doesn't want people to see, but you know, not ALL of its destruction is malicious.

    Michael Ravnitzky, an FOIA researcher based in the Washington, D.C., area, is no fan of the Records Retention Plan and likens it to an open-ended manual for strip-mining a priceless public record.

    Oh, because he's not biased AT ALL or anything.

    But isn't the FBI destroying only junk? I doubt it. Ernie Lazar, an independent researcher in California whose particular interest is in far-right groups, sent me a list of "destroyed" responses he's received over the years from FBI headquarters and field offices. There are dozens. We'll never know if they were significant—they don't exist anymore—but they sure look interesting to me. In 1994, for example, the Baltimore field office destroyed a file called "Arab Participation and Influence of Hate Literature in the United States."

    See above snark. Also, you REALLY can't judge the value of a folder by its name. For example, we have a ton of folders in our Student Affairs files about student organizations, but for the most part these are just registration forms. Not remotely interesting, but we keep them for evidential value. Based on the signal:noise ratio over most of the records that have been created since the 1950s, my guess is that these were similarly useless.

    Even if the Records Retention Plan team had scrutinized every page, I wouldn't trust their ability to decide now what might be significant to someone 100 years down the road.

    ...I don't even know how to respond to this. Do you think maybe somebody on the team had a background in history? Maybe? And no, that doesn't make their judgment infallible, but it's not a bad start. Also, please keep in mind that given the volume of documentation that's been produced since 1950, and given the volume of it that HAS been saved, the chances are pretty good that we're saving SOMETHING of import to future historians.

    There's no general index to the NARA holdings that lists this information using comprehensible subject headings like "John Birch Society" or "Judge Crater."

    Look, I'm sure that the NARA folks would LOVE to have a general index of their holdings. I'm sure they're working on it. Their entire job is to provide service and information to the public, for crying out loud. But part of their providing service and information is dealing with people who are whining because they haven't created that index yet, which, you know, takes time.

    My final gripe: The volume of the FBI files isn't that mind-boggling.... The half-million cubic feet of FBI documents from 1981 would have fit into about a dozen McMansions, packed floor to ceiling. The stuff was already cataloged and cross-referenced, so a simpler strategy would have been to keep it all together....To protect this priceless collection of FBI material, all it would have taken was shelves, guards, and about 20,000 smoke alarms.

    Uhh... I don't think you realize how much material that actually is. A really good archivist can process a cubic foot of material in about 2 hours, if the material is well-organized to begin with. By this measure, the 500,000 c.f. of material will take 1 million man hours to complete, or 125,000 work days of 8 hours each. I REALLY don't think NARA wants to devote that much time to one collection. Also, you do know that shelves, guards, and smoke alarms cost money, right? You know, that thing that NARA doesn't have a ton of?

    Gah. I'm no defender of the FBI's penchant for secrecy, but this is a kerfluffle over nothing. Records get destroyed! Sometimes the record you want is a casualty! It happens! It happens a lot LESS now that retention schedules are in place! There's probably SOME malice involved, but I doubt very much that the FBI said "let's cover our tracks by destroying every minor file in our collection, muahahaha." More likely, they said "We're drowning in paper, help us Obi-Wan NARA, you're our only hope."

    This is exactly why I think every academic who works in the archives should take a course on appraisal. I mean HONESTLY.

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Library School 0, Brad's Girlfriend 1

    Early this week, I decided that my current approach to scheduling offices' records-- i.e. "we need to bring you into compliance with State records law"-- wasn't working for me as well as I had hoped, and so chose to tackle the problem wearing my archivist hat instead. Instead of using the stick of compliance to get offices to go along with records scheduling, I would use the carrot of Immortality! (That sounds like a deranged Dungeons and Dragons item. Anyway.) To this end, I sent out emails to several academic departments, indicating that the UWM archives wanted to do an appraisal of those departments' records for addition to our collections and the historical record of UWM.

    Amazingly, I actually received replies from a number of the emailed folks. Even more amazingly, the one surveyee thus far has been more than happy to give me subject files, syllabi files, departmental review stuff, and other types of records that I have been trying to get into the archives since I arrived at UWM. Even MORE more amazingly, when I talked about the prospect of writing records schedules for some of the non-archival files, they warmed to the topic! "We haven't known what to do with these," they said. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, it seems. Who knew?

    Flash forward 20 minutes from that meeting. I tell my girlfriend, who is a Rhetoric Ph.D. student at UWM, about this epiphany of mine. The following exchange occurs:

    Me: Isn't that cool?
    Her: Um, Brad?
    Me: ...What?
    Her: That's called 'rhetoric'. Talking to people to get the desired result.
    Me: ...Really?
    Her: Yep. So I already knew what you just told me. But I knew you would get there eventually!
    Me: ...Epic fail on my part, right?
    Her: Pretty much, yeah.

    So, yeah. I feel pretty dumb now. On the plus side, I am slowly but surely developing tactics to better cultivate donors. (At first, I thought the acquisition of University Records was going to be easier than manuscript curating because they HAD to give them to me. How naive I was in October.) On the minus side, this really IS the kind of thing they should be teaching us in Library School, rather than Dialog or semantic frames or similar nonsense. I want my money back. (Well, not really, I did learn stuff in my actual archives courses. On the other hand, it WAS a lot of money...)

    Speaking of information architecture, I've just read David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous and have some thoughts, but those are for a different post.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Thoughts on the AHA Archives Wiki, or, "There's no such thing as bad publicity"

    Kate Theimer over at ArchivesNext has alerted me and much of the rest of the archival community to the American Historical Association's Archives Wiki, which according to the site is "intended to be a clearinghouse of information about archival resources throughout the world". I admit that I am a bit ashamed to not have heard about this through my history contacts, but then I am an archivist first, a records manager second, and a historian bringing up the rear, so I'm not TOO ashamed. I had meant to respond to her post immediately but for one reason or another did not do so. Happily, David Mattison's post on the subject on the Ten Thousand Year Blog reminded me that I did want to talk about it. So let's to it:

    Do I think it's a useful resource at the moment? Not particularly.
    Do I think it can BECOME a useful resource? Absolutely.

    Kate's first impression of the site is that "The site has potential, but I have a few reservations." I think some of her reservations are spot on: the initial population of the site is a bit random, the formatting on some of the pages is irregular and a little disquieting, it's unclear how much administrative control the AHA is going to wield, etc. But these, ultimately, are problems that are going to be solved in time if enough archivists and historians learn about the existence of the site. Wikipedia, to use the most immediately accessible example, is not a foolproof, 100% accurate site by any means, but it works at least as a quick ready reference source or a link to more authoritative sources because it has a large community of editors and contributors who are willing to examine the articles and edit them for accuracy, clean them up, etc. If people use this wiki, the same thing will happen here. In fact, because in theory you have academics and professionals using this, there's the potential for a lot more information-rich pages! So, yes, legitimate concerns, but I think ones that are solvable by the nature of Web 2.0.

    I'm a little more disturbed by the philosophical reservations Kate voices on her blog:

    I am all for having a wiki that has information about different kinds of archives (although most of the basic information would probably have been pretty accessible through a Google search), but I wonder how eager historians will be to share really detailed information about their experiences with collections. (Cheap hotels, maybe, but not tips on how to get access to “the good stuff.”) I had the impression that most historians were rather close-mouthed about their sources. Or is my stereotype of the historian just as unfair as the stereotypes of archivist that I complain about regularly in this blog?

    And, to play devil’s advocate, how much of this background information is really useful or necessary to be gathered in this format? Do historians really not know where to go for archival resources in their area, and if they don’t, would they really discover an archives by this kind of broad categorization? (As opposed to a more targeted Google search?) And, I think most researchers wanting information about hours, policies, and contacts would always rely more heavily on the archives’ own web site than on the information in this wiki (which might very well be out of date).

    Sorry, Kate, but I think your stereotype is unfair. It's true that there's some degree of hoarding the 'good stuff' in the profession, particularly in newly-opened, important collections, but I think there is much more collaboration in the profession than the above would seem to imply. For one thing, as soon as you publish your article or monograph or whatever, people are going to know where you found your stuff anyway (at least if you're being intellectually honest about it); for another, giving access tips to the material you used, or related material, helps people build on your argument and expands the discourse of that particular subject. Even if they disagree with you, they are still bringing your argument into the forefront of that particular journal or collection-- and in that case, that's free publicity and prestige for you in the profession. There ARE people who hide the path to their sources-- but I haven't come across them in my historical research, or even in talking to other people in my history program.

    As far as the necessity of this resource, I would have KILLED for something like this in undergrad, or even (to a lesser extent) in grad school. I think EVENTUALLY historians know where to go for archival resources in their area, but what about those who are just starting out? What about historians who are, for whatever reason or another, compelled to seek out archives in a different region? In one of my undergrad history seminars, I wrote a paper about small-town brass bands, but it was not nearly as comprehensive as it could have been because I did not know about which towns had archives, and even then I did not know which had collections relevant to my paper. A resource like this would have at least helped me to determine where some of these collections MIGHT be, and depending on how effectively the wiki is used, even may have helped me find some relevant collections outright.

    Now, the immediate counterargument to THIS argument is that these kinds of directories already exist in various forms, either as entries in NUCMC or as listed in Terry Abraham's Repository of Primary Sources. Honestly? Before David's post, I never knew the latter existed. Which is, I think, the point of the AHA Wiki-- the more places that list your repository, the more exposure your repository gets, the more likely a researcher who only uses one repository list will find your particular archives, and-- thanks to the algorithm used by Google-- the more likely that a Google search will turn up your archives. And what if your archives doesn't HAVE a website? Well, shame on you, because it's really easy to set up a website. But meanwhile, if your repository is listed here with even rudimentary information about hours, etc., that's better than not having any listing at all.

    This is definitely a project which, much as I tell my Records Management clients, won't happen without user buy-in and effort. But if the wiki DOES get the buy-in which it needs-- and I think it will-- I think it will be a great resource for historians, particularly those historians who are new to the profession and haven't created the scholarly network to get the word-of-mouth information that this wiki is meant to imitate/supplement. In fact, I think I'm going to put UWM's info up there right now.

    ETA: Jeanne Kramer-Smythe has some interesting musings about structured data and the AHA Archives Wiki at Spellbound Blog. As someone who's trying to configure an ERMS for an entire university I sympathize with her views, but I think having structured data for this kind of project is less critical than having it for the purposes of records retention and disposition. I am happy, however, to be convinced otherwise.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Zimbra, E-mail management, and all that rot

    Good morning, campers! This post is being written via Zimbra, the engine underpinning PantherLink, the new email/collaboration suite that is being rolled out at UWM sometime next month (and which allows direct blog posting! Very cool). UWM's IT department is surprisingly understanding of records management needs and concerns, considering some of the horror stories I heard last week at the UWROC semi-annual meeting, and they have given me a test account to play with and check out the records management capabilities of the system. So far? I like it, with a few reservations. Not really surprising, considering it's an email system first, a collaboration system second, and a records management application last-- but it's still a bit distressing, considering how much of a problem email management is for both archivists and records managers.

    So, without further ado:

    --Tags! Oh man, tags are exciting, and they're implemented here very well. Unlike a lot of tag-enabled applications, which make you input tags separately for each email, Zimbra lets you tag a document, then saves that tag in a visual tag library with color-coded icons. This is REALLY useful for taxonomy, because if a user sees tags, and they are readily available for application to emails, that user is more likely to apply them to the emails they receive. This, in turn, makes searching for e-discovery, reference, etc. That much more likely. Well done Zimbra!
    --The Ajax-based UI is a gigantic improvement over the PantherMail interface currently in use. Essentially, what Ajax does for the client is to allow for full interactivity in email management. In practical purposes, this means that things I was doing with Thunderbird-- dragging files, right-clicking to get email properties, etc.-- can be done through the web interface. This is fantastic for standardizing RM training for emails (more people are likely to use the webclient, which in turn means that I don't have to present three scenarios), and also makes it more likely that emails will be dragged to appropriate tags/folders. Speaking of which:
    --The foldering schema in Zimbra allows for multi-level hierarchy, which is something not even Thunderbird does. This is great for records management purposes, because it allows users to organize by subject and date, which can (in theory) correspond to records series and disposition date. Of course, this is all still dependent on user application, but to a certain extent this can be partially automated by:
    --Message filtering, which appears as a big blue plus sign on every email. With a little training on setting up filters, people can send emails from a certain address or containing certain subject terms directly to the appropriate folder, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 or create inbox clutter. I tell people to use Thunderbird because it has this functionality, but if the web client ALSO has the functionality people may be inclined to use that AND to set up filters.
    --Advanced search capabilities built right in, including the use of all appropriate metadata (including tags) as well as keyword search. I don't need to mention how nice this is.

    --As far as I can tell, there is no mechanism for actually archiving emails. This is obviously a major flaw from a records management standpoint, exacerbated by the problem from an IT standpoint of people keeping everything on the email server again instead of downloading to a departmental server. This, in turn, will lead to more "reduce your inbox size"-type emails from IT, which will lead to more difficulties with record emails being destroyed. I am hoping this will be addressed in the PantherLink meetings to which I have been invited, but I (admittedly no techie, but at the very least a "clueful user") couldn't figure it out from here.
    --A lot of functionality-- but I wonder if that may also lead people to conclude it's too busy. Right now, I count 21 buttons and/or tabs to push on the main screen, and I suspect people-- particularly non-tech-savvy people-- might get intimidated by that, thus not using the RM functionality of the program at all. Similarly:
    --The Ajax UI is radically different from the HTML interface being used by the PantherMail system currently in place. For me this is good because I like new and shiny things. For a lot of people this will be bad because they've gotten in the groove of their old email system and don't want to learn a new one. Ultimately, this will result in a lot of people not using the RM functionality out of sheer orneriness. In addition:
    --While some aspects of the UI are very user-friendly, like dragging files and creating folders, others are, well, not. For example, it took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to even CREATE a tag, let alone how to apply a pre-existing tag to an already-existing email. This will ultimately mean A TON of training resources expended on my part and on the part of UITS. Speaking of which:
    --Zimbra does not, as far as I can tell, include functionality for top-down tag dissemination or categorization. This is problematic because if I don't have the power to make tags immediately available for insertion into people's clients, they will invent their own tags, categories, and folders. This works well for one-computer searching, but not so well for multi-computer searching of the kind that universities often have to do. To a certain extent I can ameliorate this by posting a list of suggested tags on the RM website or something, but again, it's a case of "you can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink".

    --The Help menu, in addition to not working right at the moment, takes you to a page on purging the trash folder when you click on "archiving email" in the index listing of topics. Yikes. I hope that's just a link error and not what passes for records management at the Zimbra corporate offices, 'cause if so I think a couple of fellows named Sarbanes and Oxley are going to want to have a few words with them.

    So, my initial impressions? As an email management system, very good! This will help a lot of people keep their emails straight, which means less work for me in explaining to people how to find that one email. As an enterprise records management system, less good! There doesn't seem to be any account taken for disposition, workflow, or even exporting of email into a program that CAN do that stuff. Which is fine, considering that Zimbra didn't design the client to incorporate disposition scheduling or archiving, so I can't really blame them for doing that. But it also means more work for me in attempting to come up with a workaround for the lack of university-wide control. If it's helping people organize their emails it's probably a no-score win, but when people start deleting stuff to meet quotas... Oy.

    Anyway, this is all subject to change after the PantherLink meetings and/or the actual rollout. We'll see what happens.

    ETA: Apparently, I'm not the first person to note that there's no archiving tool in the Zimbra Client, as a little poking around on their website yielded a link to Zimbra Archiving and Discovery. So I stand partially corrected. However, I will keep the original concern up in the post because this is an add-on rather than an automatically included part of the Zimbra email client, and at $24/mailbox, I'm not sure that UITS will be entirely happy to invest in that. Also, the archiving/discovery functionality is administrator-based, which DOES take the onus off of users to archive their email (good) but relies entirely on the discretion of the IT professionals to determine which mailboxes and email messages are worth keeping (potentially not so good). Anyway, I reserve judgment until such time as I actually meet with the PantherLink folks and voice these concerns.