By Allison Campbell-Jensen
Email, PowerPoint presentations, Google documents, and spreadsheets — these are just some examples of born-digital materials that make up the digital stream coming to the Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections (ASC).
“ASC has wanted/needed a position to help us deal with born-digital materials for several years,” says Kris Kiesling, Elmer L. Andersen Director of Archives and Special Collections. “Increasingly we are receiving donations that contain digital records or consist entirely of digital records.”
Managing these born-digital materials is now the role of Lara Friedman-Shedlov, recently named ASC Digital Records Archivist.
In 2014, Archives and Special Collections created an electronic materials task force to address these flows. Friedman-Shedlov served on the task force, which developed training sessions for staff, acquired equipment, and put together workflows. Yet training each staff person on skills they would only use occasionally was not efficient.
“It became clear that we needed somebody to be focused on this work,” she says. “There’s a big learning curve.”
Kiesling agrees: “We can’t expect every curator or archivist to develop and maintain the skills required to deal with born-digital materials. It’s not the kind of thing you can just pick up at a moment’s notice, since the record formats and the software needed to ingest, process, and preserve them change with some frequency.” Designating someone to manage the flow is key.
Handling the stream
Born-digital materials can be handled in a variety of ways. Friedman-Shedlov will begin by assessing the records, what medium they arrive in, and what kind and age of software was used.
“When we get the papers of a faculty member who created documents in WordPerfect, we could make those files available to researchers as they are, but most would have trouble accessing them,” she says. “We would consider converting them to another format.”
For years, Friedman-Shedlov has been building her skills, including earning a Digital Archives Specialist certificate from the Society of American Archivists. She’s devoted 25% of her time to digital records for the past year and looks forward to this becoming her full-time position. She also now is co-chair, with Carol Kussmann and Valerie Collins, of the ASC Electronic Records Management Group.
Friedman-Shedlov is excited to learn more tools to streamline the process of moving born-digital materials into discoverable items in the flow of collections. She is enthusiastic about helping her colleagues through this transitional time in the profession. And she is glad, she says, to be “opening up a lot more material for researchers to access.”