As I sat down to begin composing this final blog post, I was so confused by Chapter 4 that I decided to revisit the requirements for the blog; I wanted to be certain that what I want to say fulfills the requirements. Therefore, this post will be a bit different from my previous missives. Hopefully, it will be beneficial and constructive information.
I have found this text to be simultaneously too broad and vague while at the same time too specific. What do I mean by this? Chapter 4 serves as a perfect illustration of my point.
At first glance, I thought the chapter would be useful reading that would teach us how to format the metadata for the artifacts of our archive. I thought I would be learning what information is generally included in descriptions of an item. Broadly speaking, this was true; the chapter did provide suggestions, such as file format, type of file/artifact, size, color, date, author, etc. But the chapter did not define basic terminology, such as “leader area” on page 91. Nor does it define “record,” which may seem obvious in its meaning. But in archiving and information management, the term has a specific definition. The definition of “record” is to be found in the discussion of relational databases in chapter 1, which was not assigned reading. The only reason I know what the term “record” implies is due to prior knowledge, which brings me to this passage from page 90:
“We are working from the assumption that you have a basic understanding of descriptive practices in libraries or archives and so will be building on that beginning level of knowledge to learn how to use or adapt existing element sets and descriptive standards to describe born-digital resources.”
Okay, that seems reasonable on the face of it: anyone who has used the library’s website should have some idea of what “element sets” and “descriptive standards” are suggestive of, if not exactly what they are, and the book does define these two terms. However, in doing so, it also uses the terms “fields” and “values,” which are words with highly specific meanings when discussing relational databases. So again, we have holes in our understanding that can only be filled by looking elsewhere.
I couldn’t find any definition of “field” or “value” in the glossary, inclusion in the index, or definition in Chapter 1. Here again, prior knowledge assisted me. A relational database is made up of records. Records contain fields, which should be the same in each record. When information is searched in the database, one can locate items in different ways. Locating items by color, for example, can be accomplished because each item in the database has a record that contains the same fields. A value is whatever piece of information that is entered into a field. For example, if the database was for an archive of socks, the record for a pair of men’s brown crew socks might have fields for color or style or size. The value entered in the color field would be brown; the value for the style field would be crew.
But the values that will be entered are dependent on the rules. The rules are what tells the person entering the data into the database what value to input for each field in a record. And this brings me to back to my point: the book introduces us to MARC and BIBFRAME and the codes that are used in these “descriptive standards” (90-94). But the descriptions are so broad: “BIBFRAME is a descriptive model for bibliographic resources finalised in 2013,” or so specific they are confusing (94). For example, I did not find it helpful to know what the “options” for “the 007 field” are. Without an understanding of what a field is, I’m not sure my classmates would either.
I have created a very simple relational database for an Information Sciences class. However, after reading Chapter 4, I am glad that I do not have to make one for this class. I am in favor of a cross-disciplinary approach to subject matter (my B.A. is in Interdisciplinary Studies). But if Chapter 4 was meant as an introduction to relational databases, then perhaps the chapter title should not have been “Description.” This also backs up my complaint about being simultaneously too broad and vague, while also, somehow, too specific. If the goal is to “guide,” then perhaps it would have been helpful to know that “BIBFRAME (“Bibliographic Framework”) is a project by the Library of Congress that will implement a linked data model in creating library metadata. It is part of the effort to find a replacement for MARC” (Hirsh, Information Services Today, 152).
The possibilities that digital archiving offers for cross-referencing information and streamlining tasks are truly staggering. Chapter 7 discusses “workflows,” and the authors maintain that “perhaps the best benefit of workflows is the adjustment in analytical and strategic thinking” (153). This seems similar to saying that the best digital tools may be limited by the capabilities of their users. Time spent thinking about how to efficiently perform tasks is probably time well spent, especially when the tasks are being completed in a digital space.
Digital task management through workflow is certainly valuable. Furthermore, it supports “flexibility,” not just in thinking about how tasks should be undertaken but in how they will be accomplished, particularly when adjusting to “diminished resources” (158). The efficiency suggested by the “‘more product, less process’” approach seems applicable in a variety of scenarios outside the realm of archiving, whether digital or traditional (159). I imagine that businesses from fast food to clothing retailers probably employ workflows.
The authors also note that “workflows naturally lead you to consider the principles guiding the actions described in the workflow” (159-160). Thus, it seems highly likely that a workflow could also serve as ways for becoming more responsive to a community of users, or methods for increasing inclusivity in an archive. With a streamlined process to follow, the biases of the archivist would be somewhat removed from the archiving process, and even serve “as excellent communicative documents for outside parties” to illustrate ways that an archive is moving towards inclusiveness (162).
The final chapter, Chapter 8, deals with the future of archiving and born-digital media. One thing that I find fascinating are non-fungible tokens (NFTs). How archives will deal with this increasingly valued digital artifact is going to be extremely interesting. In a time when a digital artifact can be endlessly reproduced and distributed the world over in the blink of an eye, ownership of the “original” seems almost oxymoronic or moot. Although the authors do not address NFTs specifically, they do reference the growing use of “cloud storage technologies” (168). Posing it as a problem of “forensics,” the authors note the importance of being able to trace a digital artifact to its source of origin and the difficulties of doing so (168). Thus, the value of ownership remains pertinent within the digital realm, whether it’s mainly for “bragging rights” or for identifying digital evidence used in a criminal investigation.
In conclusion, I have found this text useful but sometimes confusing. Although I enjoyed being introduced to familiar concepts in new ways, I think that for the true beginning archivist, the book may be a little too much information in some ways, while not supplying enough background information to enable comprehension of topics being discussed. While I enjoy the process of discovery, constant googling of unfamiliar terminology can be more of a hindrance to efficiency than I like. More “product” (in the form of glossary terms or a bit deeper index) would, in this instance, create a more efficient learning “process.”