Saturday, July 29, 2017

SAA: Sex is history

Tilikum Crossing as seen from the west side of the Willamette River, Portland, Oregon, 29 July 2017. This cable-stayed bridge opened in September 2015 and was the first American bridge of its kind that doesn't allow for the passage of automobiles; traffic is limited to light rail, streetcars, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
The final day of the 2017 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists consisted of the Liberated Archive Forum, a series of sessions and presentations that sought to empower activists seeking to document their own communities and enable professional archivists to ensure that we assemble a truly comprehensive documentary record. I stayed for part of the forum, and I was particularly impressed by an hour-long discussion on "Sex, History, and Controversy" led by author and activist Susie Bright and Cornell University Human Sexuality Collection curator Brenda Marston. I've long argued that archivists committed to creating a comprehensive historical record must grapple with issues of sexuality, and today's session led me to focus anew upon this issue.

Key takeways:

1. Sexuality is a vast, varied, and integral component of the human experience, and failing to document adult sexuality in all of its complexity and messiness means that we are failing to create a comprehensive historical record. At the same time, documenting sexuality poses numerous internal and external challenges for archivists. Archivists are embedded within the culture they seek to document, and our culture privileges some forms of sexual expression, condemns others, and often wants to sweep sexuality under the rug altogether. Archivists need to grapple with these cultural impulses when they come to the fore -- either from without or from within, and the process of doing so is likely going to be a lifelong one.

2. Several people expressed concern about the possibility that consent given at the time a given record was created might not extend to permanent preservation of that record. For example, there's a distinct possibility that at least some of the people who appear in sexually explicit photographs that were taken in the 1980s might now regret their decision to be photographed and would be appalled to learn that an archives had acquired the images and planned to share them with researchers. Bright responded that in such cases, closing such materials to researchers for a fixed period of time should minimize the risk of privacy violations. She also emphasized that, in many instances, materials documenting activities such as prostitution and pornography help to capture the lives of poor and working-class people and sexual minorities. If we discard materials that document their involvement in sex work or communities centered around sexual expression, their lives might otherwise be completely undocumented.

3. Archives are filled with records that document all manner of truly horrible things. Why do people who object to archival materials that contain sexually explicit words or images think it's acceptable for archives to document war or genocide? In our culture, pleasure -- and in particular sexual pleasure -- is surrounded by stigma in a way that widely condemned phenomena such as slavery are not. We need to be aware of and push back against this stigma in order to do our jobs effectively.

Friday, July 28, 2017

SAA 2017: records management, the web, and open data

Courtyard of Tranquility, Lan Su Chinese Garden, Portland, Oregon, 26 July 2017.
What follows is a quick stab at outlining a few ideas that came to the fore during two sessions -- one of which I was a participant and one in which I was an audience member -- and during the Government Records Section's annual meeting. Some are my own, and some are other people's, and all of them concern in some way our profession's inability to explain the value of records management programs, and in particular government records management programs, to the broader public:

  • Government archivists and records managers have tried for decades to get public officials, policymakers, journalists, and the public at large to understand that government records management and archives programs are essential to ensuring government accountability, efficiency, and transparency. We haven't gotten a lot of traction, and I'm increasingly convinced that our lack of success is because we frame our arguments in ways that make sense to us but not to the vast majority of our fellow citizens. Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results? Why aren't we working with public relations professionals and other people who are adept at crafting simple, resonant messages and communicating them to broad audiences? How would Don Draper sell records management? 
  • As one archivist in a session I attended this morning noted, governments that release the data they gather or create as open data -- data that third parties can use, reuse, and redistribute subject only, at most, to the requirement that the source of the data be identified may not pose much of a records management challenge. For example, this archivist's public sector employer, which has begun sharing datasets it has created with the public in an effort to be proactively transparent, treats the versions of the datasets it posts on its open data website as convenience copies. However, as other archivists pointed out during the annual meeting of the Government Records Section, the controversy and wave of "citizen archiving" initiatives that ensued when the new presidential administration removed certain types of information from federal government websites suggests that at least some members of the public have come to expect that information posted online will remain readily accessible in perpetuity. I have the feeling that, in the coming years, we're going to devote a lot of energy to coming to grips with this expectation. Will we give into it and focus on harvesting and preserving web content, or will we ramp up our efforts to explain that managing government records appropriately may mean removing and disposing of data that was once freely available online? Or will we preserve tons of web content and explain that, in some instances, we work with agencies to identify and acquire additional, related records that are not available online and that, in others, we capture only snapshots of web content? 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SAA 2017: Local Government Records Section

Water lily in Lake Zither, Lan Su Chinese Garden, Portland Oregon, 26 July 2016.
Greetings from Portland, Oregon and the 2017 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists. Thanks to a happy accident of scheduling, this afternoon I was able to attend the meeting of the Local Government Records Section, which consistently punches well above its weight. Today's meeting focused on documentation of citizen activism in local government records and featured Mary Hansen (Archives and Records Management Division, Portland, Oregon), Christina Bryant (City Archives and Special Collections, New Orleans Public Library), Jamie Seemiller (Denver Public Library), Anne Frantilla (Seattle Municipal Archives), and John Slate (Dallas Municipal Archives). Local government records don't always get a lot of respect from researchers, the public, or -- sadly -- some archivists, and this quintet highlighted just how varied and compelling they can be. Key takeaways:
  • Activism often involves some form of engagement or interaction with government, and local government records are a particularly rich source of such interactions. In addition, they contain information about local groups and local topics of concern and citizen perspectives (e.g., those of homemakers or street musicians) that might not be well documented in other collections.
  • During the middle decades of the twentieth century, urban police departments created surveillance files detailing the activities of suspected communist groups, labor unions, civil rights organizations, women's groups, and other known or suspected radicals. Although many of us might find the fact of their creation objectionable (and late twentieth-century courts in many states ordered the police to stop creating such file), they are a rich source of information about activist groups.
  • City council minutes are an excellent source of information about local and grassroots organizations. Members of these groups offer formal testimony at meetings, and some city councils have "open mike" times that enable any citizen who wishes to speak on any topic to do so. Council records also include citizen petitions and other materials submitted by local activists.
  • Localities' efforts to manage demonstrations are documented in records created by city, town, and village councils and boards, mayors or city managers, police departments, and departments of public works. Commissions established to study the aftermath of demonstrations in which participants clashed with police or caused substantial property damage also generate significant records.
  • In some instances, local government officials and local government bodies are themselves consciously activist, and their activist work is reflected in the records. Council minutes, for example, may document female members' efforts to combat discrimination against women in municipal employment.
  • Evidence of activism may pop up in the unlikeliest of places. For example, records maintained by parks departments in localities that practiced de facto or de jure racial segregation may contain letters and petitions from African-Americans seeking improvements in parks situated in their neighborhoods or seeking equal access to municipal recreational facilities.
  • The records of historic preservation commissions and zoning boards amply document grassroots support for and opposition to preservation efforts and land use policies.
  • Some local government archivists proactively solicit donation of materials documenting activist activity -- and discover that doing so means shifting from a focus on researchers to a focus on donors that may be a bit disorienting. Such shifts require proactive efforts to secure deeds of gift and quietly cull donations in ways that avoid offending or injuring the donors. Archivists working in collecting repositories are accustomed to doing these things, but those working in government repositories may be less adept at doing so.
Update, 28 July 2016: post title changed to reflect content of post. ("Day two" is not a compelling title.)

SAA 2017: the importance of professional ethics

Dragonfly at rest, Lan Su Chinese Garden, Portland, Oregon, 26 July 2017.
Greetings from Portland, Oregon, the host city of the 2017 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA). It's late (at least by the standards of my internal clock, which is loosely set to Eastern Daylight Time) and I'm headed to bed in a few minutes. However, I'm feeling the need to share just one thing that plenary speaker Greg Eow (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) highlighted this afternoon. It's a quote from historian Timothy Snyder's new book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, and it should be of interest to any archivist or records manager who is alarmed by recent developments in numerous nations:
Professions can create forms of ethical conversation that are impossible between a lonely individual and a distant government. If members of a profession think of themselves as groups with common interests, with norms and rules that oblige them at all times, then they can gain confidence and indeed a certain kind of power.
Eow didn't include in his presentation the two sentences that immediately follow the above quote, but they, too, warrant consideration:
Professional ethics must guide us precisely when we are told that the situation is exceptional. Then there is no such thing as "just following orders."
Good night.

Update, 28 July 2016: post title changed to reflect content of post. ("Day one" is not a compelling title.)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

New York State Archives seeks an Archives and Records Management Specialist 2

If you're an archivist or records manager who relishes the thought of working with lots of records creators and appraising a wide array of records, want to work for a large yet dynamic repository, isn't afraid of running into me on fairly regular basis, and would like to live and work in the historic Hudson Valley, the New York State Archives may have a job for you:
The New York State Education Department’s State Archives is seeking candidates to fill an Archives & Records Management Specialist 2 position within the State Archives’ Government Records Services program.  The Government Records Services Program provides archives and records management assistance and support to state agencies and local governments.  Duties of this position include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Provide advice, assistance and technical support to state agencies and local governments in the management of records and recordkeeping systems;
  • Develop and revise retention schedules for state agencies and local governments;
  • Conduct onsite appraisals of State and local government records to determine archival value and prepare reports of evaluations; and
  • Develop and present both online and onsite workshops on records management to state agencies and local governments.
Reassignment:  One year of permanent competitive or 55b/c service as an Archives and Records Managements Specialist 2.
Section 52.6 Transfer:  One year of permanent competitive or 55b/c service in a title SG-16 or above deemed eligible to transfer under Section 52.6 of the Civil Service Law.
Provisional Appointment:  Candidates must have either 1) one year of permanent competitive or non-competitive 55b/c service as an Archives and Records Management Specialist 1; OR 2) master's degree in history, government, business or public administration, political science, American studies, library/information science, or archival administration AND two years of professional experience in which the majority of duties involved one or more of the following:
  1. Analyzing or appraising records and information systems to develop recordkeeping and/or records retention plans for an institution, governmental body, or corporation;
  2. Providing education, training, grant-in-aid, or direct technical assistance services in records management and/or archives administration for an institution, governmental body, or corporation;
  3. Developing or implementing guidelines, standards, policies and procedures concerning records   management and/or archives administration for an institution, governmental body, or corporation;
  4. Evaluating available information technology to support recordkeeping needs and requirements of an institution, governmental body, or corporation;
  5. Acquiring, controlling, preserving, making available, or promoting use of archival records, whether in electronic, paper, or other form for an institution, governmental body, or corporation.
PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS: Special consideration will be given to candidates who possess the following qualifications:
  • Demonstration of experience with core archival and records management practices including scheduling/appraisal, archival description and preservation, digital preservation and electronic records, and references services to a wide range of users including state and local government agencies, academics, educators, genealogists, local historians, and the general public. 
  • Experience with records management methods and techniques, especially in a government setting.
The starting salary for this position is $54,406 and, at least according to the current salary schedule, the salary will gradually increase to $69,182 based on annual performance advances. These figures are established by a collective bargaining agreement and are non-negotiable; they may also change slightly as a result of future contract negotiations. In addition, the State of New York offers a comprehensive array of retirement, health, and other benefits.

The deadline for applying for this position is 12 April 2017. For more information and application instructions, consult the job posting

Thursday, January 5, 2017

California State Archives is hiring a Deputy State Archivist

If you're a seasoned archivist or records manager who relishes the thought of putting your supervisory and administrative experience to good use, has at least some electronic records experience, lives or would like to live in northern California, and want to work with some great people, you may be the Golden State's next Deputy State Archivist. Details:
Department Information
The Secretary of State is seeking a full-time, permanent Staff Services Manager II [Deputy State Archivist]. Under the general direction of the Chief, Archives Division, the incumbent supervises and evaluates program activities of a staff of professional archivists, records management analysts, as well as records management staff, administrative staff, technicians, and support staff; assist in the formulation, implementation, and administration of archival and records management programs and planning; assists the Division Chief in the formulation of policy and procedures; oversees public relations and community programs; attends conferences, meetings and hearings; and work with the Division Chief to implement the mission of the Division. The position is located in downtown Sacramento, near Light Rail, K Street Mall, and other amenities.

Job Description and Duties
Administering the Division’s budget; formulates and implements Division policy and procedures; oversees public information activities that impact on the knowledge and understanding of the public affected by the programs of the Division; oversees development, implementation and promotion of automated systems that access archival information services and database; serves as security officer for the division and maintains the security manual; gathers information from staff relating to facility issues and concerns and contacts SOS-Business Services; Supervising and directing the work of archivists, records management analysts, records management staff, administrative staff, technicians and support staff; evaluating the performance of staff; reviewing monthly workload reports; directing difficult and complex historical research; recommending legislative proposals and reviewing proposed legislation relating to the Division; in the absence of the Division Chief, representing the Secretary of State at conferences, meetings, and legislative hearings on matters relating to the Division.

Special Requirements
Supplemental Questionnaire. The response to the Supplemental Questionnaire questions listed below shall be not more than two pages in length. Must be typed in Times New Roman or Arial font, 12-point, single spaced, and with margins set at one inch (1”) on each side. The response must clearly state the professional experience relevant to the Archives program area. Applications submitted without a Supplemental Questionnaire will not be considered.
  1. Describe a situation in which you took a lead role to identify and resolve a conflict within your organization. 
  2. Explain the essential principles and purpose of the management archival records. 
  3. Describe your knowledge and experience with managing, preserving and maintaining electronic records and other items of historical significance. 
  4. Share your knowledge and experience with supervising, coaching, mentoring, and directing other employees or teams. 
  5. Describe the key competencies and characteristics you find most critical for a successful leader then explain how you have demonstrated these competencies in your current role.
The application deadline is 20 January 2017. The successful candidate will earn between $6,005.00 - $7,462.00 per month, and the State of California offers a comprehensive suite of employee benefits.  If you have not already taken California's Staff Services Manager II civil service examination, you must demonstrate that you have applied to do so (the exam is offered continuously) when you submit your application. The successful candidate must attain a satisfactory score on this examination. For more information and application instructions, consult the position description.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

NASA seeks Chief Archivist

If you're comfortable working with paper and digital records, relish doing historical research as well as supporting the multi-faceted research of others, excel at editing draft publications, know or want to know a lot about the history of space exploration, and live or want to live in the Washington, DC area, the History Division of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) may have a really cool job waiting for you. Please note that the application deadline is 30 December 2016 (i.e., two days following the date of this posting), that the position is open only to U.S. citizens, and that the successful candidate must pass a background check.
The Archivist position serves as the lead for policy guidance on archival issues across the agency, reporting to the Chief Historian in the History Division within the Office of Communications. Provides historical archival and technical information to the aerospace field. The archivist is responsible for managing, maintaining, and enhancing the NASA Headquarters Historical Reference, the historical reference service available to NASA personnel, NASA-sponsored historical researchers, and researchers in other agencies, universities, the media and the general public.

This position may be filled at the GS-12 or GS-13 grade level.

The full performance level for this position is GS-13.

This position is being announced in conjunction with Merit Promotion vacancy announcement number HQ17C0041 [consult this posting if you are already employed by the federal government]. Current and former Federal employees, disabled Veterans, candidates with 3 or more years of active duty military service, and candidates eligible for special hiring authorities wishing to be considered under merit promotion procedures may apply to vacancy announcement HQ17C0041. Only one position will be filled as a result of these two vacancy announcements.

Please list your General Schedule (GS) equivalency on your resume for every federal position you have held.

To receive consideration, you must submit a resume and answer NASA-specific questions. The NASA questions appear after you submit your resume and are transferred to the NASA web site. If you successfully apply, USAJOBS will show your application status as 'Received'. If your status is 'Application Status Not Available', you have not successfully applied. Do not rely on a USAJOBS email to confirm successful application. Only an email from NASA confirms a successful application.

This position serves as Senior Archivist and Technical Information Specialist responsibility for the acquisition, analysis, indexing, updating, management, accessing, and retrieval of all materials in the NASA Historical Reference Collection. Responsible for the identification, evaluation, and description of all NASA Documents, including digital records, that may have historical value.

Manages NASA's archival activities by collecting, appraising, arranging, accessioning, inventorying, recording, preserving, and archiving historical materials into the NASA Historical Reference Collection. Manages the physical and intellectual control over the holdings of the collection, ensures the coherency and optimal maintenance of the collection; ensuring ready access for researchers.

Provides expert policy guidance and recommendations on procedures relating research services, identification, analysis, evaluation, processing, description, indexing, preservation, storage, and retrieval of NASA historical documents for research and reference purposes. Collaborates with NASA Records Management officials in ensuring the historical collection, preservation, and the digital records process are in compliant with regulatory requirements, policies and procedures.

Conducts and manages comprehensive, retrospective, complex information, literature and data searches for NASA and other Federal officials, academic institutions, media, and private sector organizations, and the general public. Edits a variety of historical publications as required to include books, manuscripts, and professional journals and media articles. Represents NASA at aerospace information activities for ensuring the agency's collections and processes are in compliant and consistent with policies and procedures.
Job Requirements 
Key Requirements 
  • A one-year probationary period may be required
  • Applicants must possess at least a Bachelor's Degree or equivalent
  • Position subject to pre-employment background investigation
  • Position subject to a pre-employment drug test
  • Selectee must complete a financial disclosure statement
Applicant must have one year of specialized experience equivalent to the next lower grade, which has equipped the applicant with the particular competencies needed to successfully perform the duties of the position described above.

Specialized experience to qualify at the GS-12 grade level for this position includes:
  1. Manages the physical and intellectual control over the holdings of the agency's historical collection.
  2. Recommends edits for a variety of historical communications to include publications, books, manuscripts, and professional journal/media articles.
  3. Collaborates with management officials on ensuring the historical collection, preservation, and digital records are within regularity guidelines, policies and procedures.
Specialized experience to qualify at the GS-13 grade level for this position includes:
  1. Manages and provides policy guidance on digital and born-digital documents of historical value.
  2. Manages and provides expert policy guidance on the identification, evaluation, and description of all NASA's documents that has historical value, and serves as the Agency's authority in historical documentation matters.
  3. Edits a variety of historical communications to include publications, books, manuscripts, and professional journals/media articles.
Your resume must fully support how you meet the specialized experience in order to be found qualified for this position.
The salary range for this position is $77,490.00 to $119,794.00 per year, and the federal government offers employees a comprehensive suite of benefits. For more information about this position and application instructions, consult the position posting (or, if you are already employed by the federal government, the promotional posting). And remember: the application deadline is 30 December 2016.