Minding Your Metadata

After two years at Special Collections, I am graduating in a couple of weeks and leaving behind a place that often felt like my second home. For my last blog post, I leave you with what I consider to be the most important piece of advice for any aspiring archivist: mind your metadata—metadata is key.

Without accurate metadata, all our work would be for naught for it is likely that those who need it would be unable to locate what you so carefully processed and preserved. If an item is somehow found, inaccuracies might continue to be passed on and perpetuated leaving you to question the provenance of what you house–after all, it is the metadata that allows us to determine the integrity and authenticity of our born-digital materials. Not only that, digital tools depend so heavily on an artifact’s metadata to fulfill their function that inaccuracies could potentially lead to failures in migration and long-term preservation measures. Pay attention to your metadata or risk failing to fulfill these basic goals of all archives:

Get what you (or your users) want:

If you want to be able to quickly pull a list of materials available, you must mind your spelling when entering the metadata—spelling AND punctuation as well. We have a sizable Borderlands collection at Special Collection, and names often include accented vowels and the occasional “ñ.” What to do about diacritics? Since we have begun translating some of our finding aids, it was decided to use diacritics in the Spanish ones and leave them out of the English versions; that way, no matter how users search for them, one is bound to come up.

Leaving diacritics out completely would be the next best choice since most users, whether Spanish or English-speaking, tend to skip them when typing on a search box. The goal is to help people find what they are looking for, and metadata is included to fulfill that task. Sometimes, embracing all possible spellings works. Sometimes you might have to let go of something and choose what makes your artifact more likely to be found. Follow your institution’s guidelines or, if you do not have an specific one, begin a conversation that puts your team on the same page.

Know what you have:

To understand what is contained within your institution’s collections months and even years after these have been processed, much like your users, you will first rely on the information included in each finding aid and catalog record. If among those collections are any that deal with archaeological material or indigenous/Native American subjects, you should expect some sensitive information. The metadata you choose to include can help you and your users understand what exactly it is that you have and whether its sensitive nature calls for restrictions to its public use. This is especially important before embarking on a digitization project or if interested in creating a digital exhibit that will make materials widely available online. Start by learning what your institution’s access policy is and whether restrictions are ever placed on these types of collections. Next, familiarizing yourself with the Protocols for Native American Archival Material.

Yaqui Dancers

Also, do some research, particularly when dealing with local tribes, to better understand what information might be useful to include. Tribes like the Yaqui (Yoemem), welcome visitors to their sacred ceremonies but strictly ban the use of recording devices. And yet, some recordings do exist out there. Whenever possible, note in your metadata if this is the case. That way you allow your users (and your institution) to make informed decisions about the most appropriate use of, and access to, the materials that you archive.

Preserve what you need:

How do we know that a file we are preserving has an accurate date stamp? This is important in terms of determining provenance, but also because validation checks often depend on a digital asset’s date. Last week, while working on some audio files, I noticed that the dates made no sense—the file dated them as having been created in 2008, but we knew with certainty that they had been recorded no more than two years ago. Looking at the files’ properties brought up an even more illogical date: December 31, 1969.

Stamp Date

A bit of research later, I discovered that a model of digital voice recorders that is popular with journalists (Zoom H2n) has been known to produce this glitch. When I asked one of the collection’s creator, a professor at the UA School of Journalism, Dr. Bustamante confirmed having used the digital recorder in question. Moral of the story: do not just trust what is in front of you. Think about whether a date makes sense, then confirm with a closer examination if you suspect something is wrong. You might have to go back to your collection’s creator, when possible, and hope they kept notes. Otherwise, doing some research is appropriate—and do not forget to document any discrepancies, inquiries, and how the matter was eventually resolved. Your future self may thank you one day.

In the Stacks

And with that, happy archiving, folks–see you in the stacks!

Goodbye comfort zone, hello public speaking

KR - color[1]Knowledge River (KR) is a graduate educational program within the School of Information at the University of Arizona. It was developed to educate information professionals who are committed to the information needs of Latinos and Native Americans as well as to promote diversity in the field of library and information science. Each year, School of Information administrators select a cohort of students who have applied to participate in KR. Students selected then receive funding for the MLIS degree in the form of scholarships and graduate assistant placements. The cohort approach emphasizes customized advising support and KR scholars are provided with practical library experience, professional development and outreach opportunities.

As a Knowledge River scholar, I was recently asked to present at the KR annual meeting about my experiences helping to curate the James Kolbe exhibit in Special Collections. The Knowledge River annual meeting unites members of cohorts past and present, as well the advisory board to the KR program. Although I was intimidated by the prospect of presenting to a crowd, I accepted the opportunity knowing that it would be good practice for a future career in archives.

Slide1

Slide 1 of my presentation

I prepared by creating a PowerPoint presentation with slides addressing each of the steps I took (with assistance from my supervisor) to make this exhibit possible from the selection of items in the James Kolbe Papers to the opening reception held in Congressman Kolbe’s honor. After creating the PowerPoint, I then typed out notes which accompanied each slide.

When I presented on this exhibit at the KR annual meeting I was nervous and decided to read my notes directly from the page rather than using them as guides. I wouldn’t consider myself a natural public speaker so this approach worked best for me. I had practiced at home before I gave my presentation so this allowed me to read a little more naturally while still making eye contact with the audience.

Slide10

Final slide of my presentation

The overall experience was beneficial for me and the audience. I was given the opportunity to practice public speaking which is often a necessary aspect of working as an archivist. Whether speaking to students in a classroom or presenting at a conference, engaging with an audience is a skill I will need to develop further as I progress in my career. Speaking at the KR annual meeting was beneficial to the audience because it allowed me to teach members of my own cohort and others in the audience what graduate assistants do in Special Collections and how the experience of helping to curate an exhibit has advanced my knowledge of work in archives. This was a rewarding opportunity and I’m glad I took part!

Digitizing our border’s history

To end the semester with a bang, I initiated an amazing digital project this week. I am in the process of adding photographs to our Arizona, Southwestern and Borderlands Photograph Collection.

The first step inDigitization Workflow the project was getting trained on institution workflow regarding digitization.  That also included learning the required specs when scanning photos, such as image size, type and resolution.  It was also important to know where the images needed to be stored and mapping the computer drive.

After training I began the selection process. I was directed to select 100 photos to digitize, however, 46 of them had been pre-selected from the Mexican-American Border Region Collection that I had worked with a couple of months ago.azu_azswbp_mexican-americanborderregion_j003                                           azu_azswbp_mexican-americanborderregion_l013

I had to then create selection criteria to make the selection of the remaining 54 photographs a bit easier.  I decided to stick to the border theme already in place and chose photographs from the Mexican Revolution in Arizona border towns.  That gave me over 175 total photos, so I had to go back and reduce the number of selected items in order to comply with project guidelines and timeframe.  I highlighted the images I chose to scan, and the ones I thought would be a great future project since I could not fit them all into this one.  The following images are some of the ones I have recommended for future digitizing.  They show a lighter side of war and military troops on their time off.

azu_azswbp_mexicohistoryrevolution1910-1920douglasariz_m105azu_azswbp_mexicohistoryrevolution1910-1920douglasariz_a106azu_azswbp_mexicohistoryrevolution1910-1920douglasariz_d107azu_azswbp_mexicohistoryrevolution1910-1920douglasarizf2_n108

During this process I found it convenient to create an MS Excel spreadsheet with criteria necessary to move on with the project in future steps. I recorded the item number of each photograph, the title of the image, and a short description in hope that it will help with metadata collection.  I also added a column to make notes on condition. On another sheet I recorded my criteria and a color key to document my workflow process as best possible.

The scanning itself went well except for a little bump in the road.  As I checked in with my project manager, Erika Castano, she advised that some of the images I had scanned needed to be in color instead of grayscale, since we are trying to capture the historic image as closely as possible to the physical photograph.  It was a good learning point, and I went back and corrected a few scans I had previously completed.  You can see the color variance in the images above.

I am finally ready to move on to the next step of the project which is to create the photographs’ metadata and upload them onto our CMS.  I have worked with Dublin Core before through Omeka, so I hope that experience helps me out in this project.  I was introduced to some good literature on how to write appropriate descriptions today, which I think will be very helpful.  I will continue to post my progress until I finish…just four short weeks left.

The Documented Border: A Back End Tour

Last year, during my first semester as graduate assistant at Special Collections, I got the chance to collaborate in The Documented Border, an open access digital archive showcasing a collection of interviews by UA journalist professors, Celeste González de Bustamante and Jeannine Relly, as well as Operation Streamline sketches by 2-D professor, Lawrence Gipe. The oral histories in the archive provide a glimpse of what life is like for journalists and human activists along the border working to preserve freedom of expression even while often putting their personal safety at risk. The sketches serve as witnesses to U.S. immigration court proceedings, part of the controversial program that some call “assembly-line justice.”

DB Front Page

My role in this project started out simple enough. Back in November 2015, I spent hours listening to the over a dozen recorded interviews (most of them in Spanish), providing bilingual descriptive metadata to be used as the audio files became part of the digital archive. A large of portion of these interviews were accessible by the time the Documented Border was unveiled in a well-attended ceremony that I wrote about here. Over time, more interviews have been slowly added to our files, and now that we have the complete set, it’s time to upload them all.

Sounds easy, right? And it is, but there are more steps involved that you might suspect. For some files, like in this example of the one for newspaper owner Ninfa Deandar, the process is not too complicated: all I have to do is upload the audio file to our SoundCloud account, along with a corresponding image (when available) and some basic metadata:

Next step is to link that SoundCloud item to our Omeka site. To accomplish that, first an item must be created in Omeka that includes more extensive metadata (along with tags predetermined while I listened to the original recordings). An image is again uploaded here, as is the corresponding SoundCloud code for this particular interview, allowing it to be seamlessly embedded in the digital archive:

The Omeka items are then added to the exhibit page. In this example, I added Deandar to the page designated for Mexican journalists, then set it to “public” to complete the process:

Some files, however, require some added steps. A good example is the one by Miguel Timochenco, another Mexican journalist. His interview, as was the case of three others, was done in two parts, which required I merged the audio files before uploading a combined one to SoundCloud. To accomplish that, I used Audacity, an open-source audio editor that I was already familiar with thanks to a course required of all Knowledge River students, LIS 557 (Documenting Diverse Communities). To merge the interview files, I must first transfer them to Audacity and then align the tracks by using the function “End to End.” Once that is done, I can export them back to our masters’ folder, along with some basic metadata to help keep track of each one.

The combined sound file then follows the same process as the Deandar example, one that includes adding metadata in both Spanish and English. Note that not all interviews have image files to upload. When that is the case (whether because we have not received one or because the journalists opted not to provide one), we use a stock image instead:

DB Page_Timochenco

All these steps can be tough to keep track of, and to make things easier, we have workflows. These step-by-step instructions have both written and illustrated guides that speeds things up. Even then, sometimes things fall through the cracks, or we may get new files that need to be added to the digital exhibit. Librarians and archivists work in so many different projects, that it makes sense to take advantage of tools that keep track of the process of each one. At Special Collections, the tool of choice is Redmine, and it allows my supervisors to track my process and clarify what comes next:

Redmine

For now, we have a total of 53 interviews uploaded in The Documented Border exhibit. Recently, new ones have been accessed and are ready to go through all the steps I have just described. I will once again be listening to interviews, providing bilingual descriptions and tags, then getting each uploaded as illustrated above. As the semester and my fellowship are both winding down, I will be splitting the remaining time between this project and the finding aid translation pilot. Then comes graduation in May, so it will be a busy month and a half. Wish me luck!

Additions to Collections: Getting Started

I was recently asked to process additions to two collections. Additions to collections are materials that have been donated after a collection has been fully processed. The first addition I worked on was processing several folders of correspondence added to the University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station Papers, MS 446. This collection includes financial and agricultural records, workbooks detailing research and experiments, correspondence, and miscellaneous related items from 1891-1922. This addition was small and uncomplicated and didn’t require me to shuffle around any of the previously processed materials. I have updated the finding aid but have not yet encoded the new finding aid in EAD.

Military

William R. Mathews, WWI, 1918

I was also recently given an opportunity to process a larger addition (6 boxes) to the William R. Mathews Papers, MS 406. This addition is less straightforward than the Agricultural Experiment Papers. William R. Mathews (1893-1969) was an accomplished journalist, newspaper editor and publisher. In 1924, he and business partner Ralph E. Ellinwood purchased the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Arizona. Mr. Mathews served as the general manager from 1924-1930 and as editor and publisher from 1930-1967. The William R. Mathews Papers (1916-1971) primarily document his journalism career as editor and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star (1930-1967), and also includes material relating to Mathews’ military service in World War I, and his role as an official war correspondent in World War II. The additions include family papers, scrapbooks, clippings, photographs, and correspondence.

Mathews chair

William R. Mathews at his desk, undated.

The first step, which I am still in the process of completing, has been to separate the new materials by using the existing series arrangement of the collection. I am also adding two new series to account for family papers that don’t fit into the existing structure. I am then going to rehouse the materials and label each folder as I would if processing a new collection. The more difficult aspect of processing this Mathews Obitcollection is deciding how to add new folders to the existing series arrangement by maintaining the order that was established when the main collection was processed. In this case, it appears most of the items have been arranged alphabetically and then chronologically. In order to add in new folders I will have to shuffle some items into new boxes to account for growth. I will then need to update the finding aid to account for the changes and encode it in EAD. It’s a new and challenging process but now that I have more experience with processing I feel I am up to the task!

Latino Youth and the Social Justice Education Project

IMG_5491This week I had the opportunity to survey a collection on the Social Justice Education Project (SJEP), a collaborative program between the University of Arizona and a couple of TUSD schools. UA Professor Julio Cammarota initiated the project in 2003 at La Cholla High School. It was launched as an attempt to engage Latino youth in the education process by teaching them research skills that allowed them to address social issues they encountered as students of color. The first group of student participants were at risk and on the verge of dropping out. The program helped them become engaged with their education once again, and gave them the confidence to address and initiate social change where they identified inequalities. The program empowered the students so much, that 12 out of the initial 16 participants not only graduated from high school, but also went to college.

IMG_5492Ethnic Studies has been threatened in the school district a number of times despite its substantial success. Student participation in SJEP has grown from 16 to 125 students, and spread to other high schools such as Tucson and Rincon High. According to Cammarota and Augustine Romero, director of Ethnic Studies for Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), student success is evident in attendance rates, test scores, grades and graduation rates. Part of the success of the program was that students got to pick the topics they worked on. This motivated them to work on their school project, while inadvertently working on critical thinking, writing, communication and research skills. It  allowed them to realize the importance of their education in combating inequity, injustice and other topics that they face in their daily lives. Some of their projects were presented to the school superintendent and were able to promote change through their recommendations.

The collection consists of student research documentation, SJEP newsletters, newspaper clippings highlighting their work, photographs and ephemera. One of the challenges I foresee in this collection is possible restriction of the students’ research, as there is no disclosure waivers included that would allow their interviews to be made available to the public. However, I still think it is a great collection to hold, as it documents the community and their educational efforts.  This proves how important it is to have all voices heard and the impact it has in people’s lives.IMG_5483

A Charla on Access and Archives

Over the past few months, Special Collections and the Arizona Historical Society (AHS) have been developing a partnership with the UA’s Translation and Interpretation Program for the translation of finding aids into Spanish. As AHS archivist and former graduate assistant at Special Collections, Lizeth Zepeda notes, “historically archives have been perceived as inaccessible places, and by showing that there is an effort to document and provide accessibility to the Latino community with bilingual access points, makes it a significant step.”

Last January, Lizeth and I presented a poster at the Arizona Archives Summit on the progress of this project. In February, we had the chance to present at the Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium (CLAPS), hoping to elicit a conversation on our methodology for the selection of finding aids to be translated.

During our 50-minute charla (Spanish for “conversation”), we first provided an overview of why it makes sense for our institutions to provide this service. At Special Collections, for example, over a tenth of our collections focus on the Borderlands and most of these contain a significant volume of Spanish material. Visiting researchers account for a third of those accessing materials in our reading room, and we can only imagine how many more community members and researchers from across the border would make the trek if we provided access in Spanish. As Xaviera Flores and Elizabeth Dunham state in their article “Breaking the Language Barrier: Describing Chicano Archives with Bilingual Finding Aids,” “Spanish-language finding aids have proven to be valuable tools for building community relationships and further developing the Chicano/a Research Collection. The Collection’s curator and curator emerita both report encountering members of the Mexican American community who feel that Spanish finding aids show an appreciation and respect of the language and culture that is often lacking in their dealings with Anglo society” (p. 505).

Flores and Dunham were able to translate a limited number of finding aids thanks to a one-time grant that made their project possible. Inspired to take such efforts even further, our pilot’s goal is two fold: we aim to develop a collaborative effort that facilitates the project’s sustainability while approaching issues of language as too important for casual amateurs to address. By tapping into the expertise under development within the Translation and Interpretation Program, we believe we have found a mutually beneficial way to provide quality access while giving translators-in-training the chance explore yet another field in need of their valuable skills.

TIP Slide

Before our audience at CLAPS, we presented the methodology developed so far, a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches for the prioritization of finding aids to be translated. By taking advantage of assessment analysis conducted by Assistant Librarian and Archivist, Wendel Cox, we at Special Collections were able to look at circulation data, as well as to the reference and instruction requests received over the past 36 months. In addition, we looked at our Borderlands collection content and noted gaps, making sure to include collections by women and indigenous people among those to be translated during the pilot.

The feedback we got from those in attendance will allow us to fine-tune our methodological considerations and workflow. One of the main lessons from these activities, at least for me, is how much better a project becomes when the result of collaborative work, from having to explain our thought process to each other, bouncing ideas back and forth, and learning about concepts that might not come to play when one works alone. As a new archivist, I am making sure to take advantage of every opportunity to learn from others and also to develop relationships that are sure to bear fruit once out in the professional world.

Dunham, E., & Flores, X. (2014). Breaking the Language Barrier: Describing Chicano Archives with Bilingual Finding Aids. The American Archivist77(2), 499-509.