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Monday, October 7 • 12:00pm - 12:45pm
Information Maintenance in Archives

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Information Maintenance in Archives: Paper Titles and Abstracts

Ciaran Trace: Delayed while Pending Some Action: The Information Backlog as Deferred Maintenance

Repositories of historical records form part of the essential information infrastructure for humanities research. In the scholarly communications lifecycle, it is the archive (as place and as collection) that typically functions as the research laboratory, the source of knowledge for the humanities and its sub-disciplines. In this context, maintenance work involves upkeep of the network, the buildings, and the collections under care. In the archive, the collection level maintenance work of the archivist exists in an act of mediation between the creator and the user. Mediation is necessary because archival work is extractive. Documents exist as technical artifacts that are extracted from their creating context. Archivists respond to this circumstance by engaging in restorative work - work to recreate that context for subsequent users of the archive. Embedded in this notion of the archive is the idea of a steady flow of information that resides within and moves through socio-technical systems. While there is exponential growth in the information transferred between the creator and the archive, the information flow between the archive and the user is often leaky – discontinuous and disrupted. In particular, there is a considerable interval between the time collections are acquired, accessioned, processed, and made accessible for research. It is in this space that what archivists euphemistically call ‘the backlog’ comes into existence. What the backlog interrupts is the distribution and consumption end of the knowledge process. As a concept and a reality, the backlog is a critical point of failure in this knowledge infrastructure, carrying with it an ongoing and prevailing sense that ‘deferred maintenance’ has become the norm in the archive.

Shannon Supple: When You Collect Across Time and Space, How Do You Fit the World in Your Pockets?

“[Our] imagination is trapped, like capitalism and industrialism and the human population, in a one-way future consisting only of growth.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be (1982) Traditional collecting practices in special collections libraries — which tend to hold historical and rare books, archival collections, and other materials with artifactual value or textual evidence — are based on a model of expansion. As human work and thought are recorded, material evidence is accreted, and the library grows. Given the logarithmic explosion of information in the modern age and the varied vessels and captures of that information (analog, digital, or otherwise), growth has become exponential. The imperative to grow has been our mission and how we measure success. So, what happens when special collections libraries reach capacity? How must our missions and practices change? Information is embodied. It includes reformatting, repair, migration, stabilization, preservation, and the basic work of care, as it includes stewardship, description, teaching, interpretation, outreach, and other narrative engagements. Embodiment activates objects in space through the labor of maintenance. Building and caring for collections of material history and culture take the work of many hands, funding, and energy. Can we begin to reckon with the shrinking capacities of our future, in a way that allows resources to be strategically applied to the most essential or useful materials? Given practices of collecting documentation of limited ranges of human endeavor, how can this be representative of our multifarious communities and lived experiences? This talk will advocate for a shift in thinking, policies, and protocols for special collections libraries. It will explore the ethics of over-collecting relative to resources, how to better steward what we already hold, and strategies for reshaping historical collections to better fit our communities, missions, and resources.

Chelsea Gunn and Aisling Quigley: Memorialization as Maintenance

This paper begins by presenting typologies of memorials, both physical and digital, exploring the implications of the socio-cultural environment on the persistence of these commemorative objects and/or sites. Digital memorials, and particularly those which are created, stored, and accessed on the internet, have emerged as a popular mode of commemoration over the past twenty years, and are as diverse and dispersed as their physical predecessors. In this paper, we outline and describe three primary types of online, digital memorials. These include standalone, dedicated memorial websites which, much like memorials built in the physical world, require that visitors navigate directly to them. Secondly, we investigate memorialized social media pages, which integrate memorialization into the online environments where people already gather. Finally, we investigate digital avatars, also described as “augmented eternity,” and which use digital tools to mimic the experience of interacting with a deceased loved one. Online digital memorials are accessible to a larger, more far-reaching community than are physical memorials, which are located in a single, fixed geographic site. However, because they are online, they are inherently much more ephemeral. We explore the factors that contribute to a memorial’s persistence (or lack thereof) and argue that ongoing memorials are a result of maintenance, and specifically, acts of care by individuals, including family members and friends of the deceased and formal stewards, or communities, including networks of family and friends and activist groups.


Monday October 7, 2019 12:00pm - 12:45pm
4ABC (2nd Floor)
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Attendees (7)