Friday, December 23, 2005

Seasons Greetings from the DIGITAL Archive

We here at the DIGITAL Archive would like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Celebrate this holiday season - we made it this far, why not sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Besides these warm wishes, I'm tossing in a Christmas gift for you readers that will last all year round, thanks in part to Flickr, the Web's best online photo sharing site, in my opinion.

Scroll down the main page and keep your eyes to the right (if you're reading this via a RSS news reader, please visit this page). You'll notice a Flickr flash gallery with images of the McGill campus (taken by various McGill amateur photographers) fading in and out in random sequences. It's a mini photo gallery with a twist. No batteries needed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Web Archiving

I can't believe I forgot to mention a significant development in regards to our digitalpermanence initiative.

A few weeks ago, our dp team viewed a piece of software, which was developed by a Ph.D student here at McGill, that captures dynamically-generated webpages such as the McGill University website.

The McGill University website includes both static webpages (HTML webpages that have text and graphics) and dynamic webpages (HTML webpages whose contents reside in a database and are populated upon a page request).

It's easy enough to capture static webpages with freely-available software (e.g. HTtrack); however, it's another story entirely to capture websites that are both static and dynamic.

The software that was developed can capture static webpages in XHTML and capture database content and package it into XML. It is hoped that we can tie both the XHTML and XML together and create a seamless web archive of our McGill website. That's the plan.

I'll post more as further details and new developments emerge.

Tagging Emails

In the New Year, the dp team is hoping to launch a small pilot project in collaboration with the university's IT sector. The project will focus on finding ways to classify emails in order to separate business emails from non-business emails and append retention rules so that they can be managed properly and those of long-term value be preserved for future researchers.

For classifying or organizing email inboxes, we're considering 2 approaches:
  1. Create new folders and sub-folders in user's inbox into which they click and drag business emails into appropriate folders;
  2. Adopt a tagging approach in which users tag or label emails with business value with distinct terms such as Personnel, Financial, Student, etc.
We're hoping to implement these approaches in 2-3 university units, both administrative and academic.

This pilot project is in fact a research project. We'll be testing and analyzing hard results. We'll audit email records users send us. And we'll move forward from there, correcting what doesn't work and enhancing what does.

This is our first foray into a concrete email management program. We are not considering an enterprise-wide email management software solution just yet. We really want people on campus--staff, faculty, administrators--to begin to think a little differently about emails and electronic correspondence, to see them as equally valuable as paper memos from days gone by.

It's about change management first. Then it's about email management.

For preserving emails (the big long-term issue), we're considering converting emails to XML. With its structured appearance, emails seem to be a perfect fit for XML. According to some of the university technologists I spoke with, there should be not much trouble in converting emails to XML, at least technically speaking. The real issue is to make sure the right emails (i.e. the classified emails) are preserved and transferred to the university archives' planned long-term storage servers, while the junk, the miscellaneous, the spam are deleted permanently.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Storm Hits the DIGITAL Archive

My scheduled blogging was interrupted by Montreal's first snowstorm of the season. And was it ever a big snowstorm! According to Environment Canada, Montreal received 40cm (15 inches) of snow, almost beating the record set in 1971, which was 43.2 cm (what's a few centimetres among friends, really).

Friday morning, December 16, I woke to see that the world of 'snow and grass patches' from the day before had transformed into a one giant snow covered mound. One person explained the snowstorm in the best possible way:

You know those snow globe toys? The ones where a miniaturized city scene or landscape is placed inside a plastic dome-shaped casing that is filled with a liquid and tiny white, sparkling flakes. Upon shaking the globe, the entire scene is blotted out by the 'snow.' Well, picture that and then picture knee-high snow, pedestrians walking in the middle of the road, cars on the highway stuck in traffic, etc. And you get a pretty good picture...if not, check out the pic accompanying this post.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Who else is out there?

I believe that blogging is all about communicating and connecting with people who share your interests. One can find an amazing blog filled with some great content by searching feverishly or sometimes by sheer luck. I've been fortunate enough to come across a few good ones--and I'm always on the lookout for more.

In searching for and reading blogs about electronic documents/records, digital preservation, digitization projects, technology etc, I've noticed a nice trend among bloggers: people making mention of the blogs that they read, listing them, describing them, and including their URL. This is great. The search for relevant blogs becomes all the more easier.

So without further ado, here's a list (in no particular order) of the blogs that I find interesting:

  • The Ten Thousand Year Blog (by David Mattison) - I don't know how Archivist-Historian David Mattison does it, but he pulls together a wealth of digital preservation and digital culture information pretty much every single day. I subscribe to his RSS feed.
  • Digitization 101 (by Jill Hurst-Wahl) - Another content-rich, all things digital blog run by Jill Hurst-Wahl, who runs a digitization consultant service company called Hurst Associates. Very good quality stuff. I subscribe to her RSS feed.
  • digitization (Mark Jordan) - Another great blog that nicely packages news and information on digitization, electronic publishing, and digitization projects. Always a posting worth reading. I subscribe to his RSS feed.
  • ::schwagbag:: (Sherri Vokey) - Sherri is "a tech-inspired and Mac-lovin' librarian who offers up a daily (well, mostly) dose of library and technology related miscellany." What I like about Sherri's blog is that she combines her work experiences and love of technology in one cool package. I subscribe to her RSS feed.
  • The Shifted Librarian (Jenny Levine) - Jenny's blog reflects her belief that librarians ought to shift and embrace current and emerging technologies in order to truly serve tomorrow library patrons. I agree, and that's why her blog is of interest: she posts lots of information on new technologies--cool tools--and how they enhance the librarian/information professional's career and service. I subscribe to her RSS feed.
  • I Like Dust (Lindsey) - A newly discovered blog, I Like Dust chronicles the career aspirations of an archivist in training, Lindsey. (Word of advice from someone working in a university archives, inhaling dust is not good ;). I subscribe to her RSS feed.
  • Preserving the digital (Mnemosyne) - I recently came across this blog. Just started reading it. I subscribe to his/her RSS feed.
Do you know of other digitization-themed blogs?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Knock, knock, knocking on IT's Door

Our dp team had a meeting with the McGill University's IT director. The meeting went pretty well, in my opinion. We put forward our concerns--chiefly among them, email management--and recommended some concrete solutions, such as classification schemes, which had been fleshed out and made into a clear Visio diagram.

In turn, the IT director, as a sign of his understanding and willingness to cooperate further, offered resources (mainly human, for now) and the novel idea of tagging emails for classification purposes. Sounds like a good start to something hopefully bigger.

I'm hesitantly glad things turned out like this. Hesistant? Well, let's hope this small but concrete pilot project gets legs and moves forward. It's been a long long time since we had such a opportunity.

Blogger for Word works...sort of (Off Topic)

Using Blogger for Word worked OK. I still have to figure out some functions (or maybe Google ought to clarify its tool a little)….and figure out why I receive an error message yet my message still posts here - in draft mode.

Anyone else blogging using this tool?

Using Blogger for Word (Off-Topic)

Testing new technology is always fun. So now that I have the chance to try Blogger for Word by Google, let’s see how it works.

If all goes well, this little post, which I am writing using Word 2003, will soon appear in this blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Email Management Migraines

The digitalpermanence (2.0) initiative is looking at emails and email management and preservation.

Nowadays, it's becoming increasingly clear that emails are replacing office memos as the primary means of distributing institutional policies and procedures. Of course, the paper memos still exist. But the reality is that records of transaction are being carried out via email.

As records managers and archivists, how do we deal with this?

Our dp team has come up with, and will be proposing, the following plan: the development and implementation of a classification scheme, built within an email client as a set of folders and sub-folders. We want administrative staff to become more cognizant of the role emails have in conducting official business. Our plan is to have staff file their business emails in email folders and apply rules to folders so that emails are eventually moved to their appropriate spot.

For preservation purposes, our plan is to migrate emails from their native file format to a file format that is not dependent on a particular application. One such file format that comes to mind is XML.

The problems arise when so many disciplines and departments are required to be part of the overall solution. It's very difficult to get everyone at the table on the same page.

Is anyone else out there tackling the email management issue? I'm getting a headache.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

digitalpermanence 2.0: Re-focused

It's no secret that, when dealing with electronic records and digital preservation, the problems one encounters start getting bigger and more complex. Indeed this truth has affected our digitalpermanence project. For one thing, the ambitious goals and plans we had initially were slowly (but, in a way, thankfully) subdued once the light of reality hit them. What started as a large-scale, campus-wide, "calling all electronic records" project has now been chiseled down and re-focused to a more palpable series of projects.

The University Archives digitalpermanence team has done many wonderful and amazing things in such a short period of time. Since January 2004, the dp team has combed the campus, examining both large and small offices and faculties, and took a thorough inventory of the extent and types of electronic records created on campus.

While our work was successful, and the results of tremendous value, now is the time to focus on electronic records projects that are relevant to the university community. We are now focusing our efforts on immediate campus needs: enterprise data, email management, and document imaging.

I think it's better this way: better for the project and for the people involved. The goal is to accomplish something more concrete, something applicable to the university community, something, in short, that will have an impact on the university.

Stay tuned. digitalpermanence 2.0 is moving ahead.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

digitalpermanence ICA/SUV Presentation is Here

Okay, so I reckon you've all been wondering about the digitalpermanence presentation that the McGill University Archives gave at the Annual ICA/SUV Conference, which took place between September 6 and 9 in East Lansing, Michigan.

Sure you have. You've been emailing me again and again...

Okay, here's the PowerPoint presentation. Enjoy.

National Archives Names Lockheed Martin to Build Archives of the Future

It's amazing how Lockheed-Martin, the chosen company, which is part of the U.S. military-industrial complex, is now in the business of designing hardware to preserve electronic records. It's an ambitious and well-funded project - so who knows! It's a start, at least.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

digitalpermanence at the ICA/SUV conference

The McGill University Archives will be giving a presentation on its electronic records management project (digitalpermanence) at the next International Council on Archives -Section on University and Research Institution Archives (ICA-SUV) conference to be held between September 6 and 9, 2005 on the campus of Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan.

At the session entitled Electronic Records Management (September 7 at 10:30AM), we will present our digitalpermanence project and results (thus far). The other presenter on hand Eliot Wilczek from Tufts University. The moderator will be Roland Baumann from Oberlin College.

Once the conference is finished, I'll post the presentation here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Shifted Librarian: Why RSS and Folksonomies Are Becoming So Big

The Shifted Librarian: Why RSS and Folksonomies Are Becoming So Big

I'm noticing something very surprising with my Web search habits: I'm not using Google as often as I used to. The shock. The horror.

Nowadays, I'm using RSS, blogs, delicious, and other communication and information sharing tools that allow my peers and colleagues to discover and share information among interested community members.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

McGill 'Gateway' website implements RSS

The other day, while browsing the Web with Firefox, I arrived at the McGill University gateway webpage. I was surprised to see that Firefox's LiveBookmark feature lit up like a Christmas tree. It had found a RSS feed.

A RSS feed on the McGill University gateway webapge?

Yes, it's true. I think this implementation is great. The database-driven content that the system pushes out normally appeared in little system built modules. Now that same content, while still available in the usual system modules, is available as an RSS feed.

Kudos to the Web Services Group, the McGill unit behind the McGill gateway system.

Monday, May 30, 2005

digitalpermanence: Transfer and Access Protocols document available

The McGill University Archives has written a discussion document called digitalpermanence: Transfer and Access Protocols (electronic records) [PDF, 337KB] in an effort to develop the procedures for the transfer of and access to McGill University's institutional electronic records.

This document, which took shape after the University Archives’ electronic records campus-wide inventory in 2004, introduces McGill stakeholders, as well as a general audience, to the proposed strategies, methods, and mechanisms for transferring, accessing, managing and preserving electronic records in a digital environment at McGill. It also highlights the activities the McGill University Archives is pursuing in managing and preserving such electronic records as email and websites.

Moreover, the document is meant to build upon the existing research carried out by institutions and organizations around the world involved in managing electronic records and, in turn, to stimulate discussion within the records management and archival communities. Download the document now.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Software is Out There!

Like the tag line from "The X-Files" that appears right after the opening credits, I believe the software to manage electronic institutional records is out there. Perhaps it's a gleam in someone's eye or being coded as I type, but the fact is such a tool must be under development.

All that to say, I came across this post from Jill Hurst-Wahl on her "Digitization 101" blog. She mentions a product called ArchivalWare by PTFS. I haven't taken a closer look yet, but anything related to the concept of storing, accessing and managing digital assets is worth posting here.

Digitization 101: ArchivalWare

Monday, May 23, 2005

Florida Center for Library Automation-Digital Archive

It's important to take note of other digital management and digital preservation projects occurring around the world. Here's one from Florida.

Florida Center for Library Automation-Digital Archive

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

DP Protocol Document Coming Soon

For the past couple of months, I've been working on a major digitalpermanence document entitled "digitalpermanence: transfer and access protocols for electronic records."

As the title suggests, this document is intended to establish procedures to enable the transfer and access of electronic records. It is a formidable document, if I do say so myself. I hope once it is released that it will generate some productive commentary.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Secuity of PDF documents and the US Military

The US military recently published a report on the accidental shooting of an Italian journalist and her secret service bodyguard in Iraq.

In an attempt to conceal names, places, and operational tactics, the US military redacted, or blacked-out, portions of the PDF document using what I believe to be some kind of black highlighter tool available in the Adobe Acrobat application. While I'm not exactly sure about the methods the military used to black out the text, the purpose was clear: to keep some information classified.

Unfortunately, the text beneath the blacked-out sections was in fact viewable. A simple copy-and-paste of the source PDF document to a word processing application like MS Word and--voila!--the hidden text becomes viewable. So much for secrecy!

The US military admits it goofed. And with technology being as complex software as it is, I can't blame the military staffers who bungled the dissemination of this report.

According to PDFzone's David Coursey, this whole mess could have been avoided if only precautions and the investment in proper plug-in software were made. It's a great article. Read it here.

I know several people who simply love PDF: it's convenient, quick, and online dissemination is a snap. But, as records managers and archivists in the digital age, let's not be dazzled by technology without making sure it keeps confidential electronic records safe and secure.

The US military's goof-up is our wake-up.

UPDATE: The fine site Boing-Boing ("A Directory of Wonderful Things") has a posting about this story.

UPDATE 2: An Italian blog/website has the actual military document on view!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

digitalpermanence Hits The Blogosphere at the Ten Thousand Year Blog

David Mattison, a blogger who runs the interestingly named "The Ten Thousand Year Blog," has made reference to our digitalpermanence project. Hey, that's great! Thanks, David.

Read the post: The Ten Thousand Year Blog (June 02003-) � McGill University Archives digitalpermanance initiative

Higher-Education Institutions Await Aftermath of SunGard Buyout

Wow! In yesterday's post I had a hard enough time nailing down the company that currently owns Banner. Yesterday it was SunGuard SCT; today it's, well, check out the Gartner report:

Higher-Education Institutions Await Aftermath of SunGard Buyout

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Portals, Portlets and Courseware, Oh My!

Today I read a post by Ed Bilodeau, an instructor at McGill University, which reminded me that the digital landscape at McGill is evolving with new campus-wide software products, including a courseware product upgrade (WebCT to WebCT Vista) and an upgrade and new plug-ins to SunGuard SCT Banner, an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) product.

Back on March 24 I posted a message on ERPs, mentioning that McGill University had purchased SCT Banner (now SunGuard SCT Banner) a few years ago to manage electronic data regarding student, personnel, and financial information. Banner is a formidable system--HUGE is more like it--and the data it contains is valuable to the McGill University Archives' records management responsibilities.

After reading Ed's post, and reviewing my digitalpermanence reports, I realized that the digital campus at McGill is about to get a lot more complicated, for better or for worse.

There's Banner plug-ins coming down the pipe (most likely document scanning plug-ins); there's a version upgrade to Banner (version 7), which, I hear, will be Web-based; and there's at least 2 new (and rather cool) library tools nearing their launch date: a federated search tool called MetaLib and a digital asset management tool called DigiTool, both by ExLibris, the company behind McGill's Integrated Library System (ILM), Aleph.

Plus, as Ed points out, there's the campus-wide portal product that was recently announced to an eagerly awaiting crowd (at least I was eager, especially after spending weeks on end attending vendor product demos, munching on catered cold cuts and assorted finger food, and filling out online questionnaires). But I digress. McGill purchased Oracle's portal product.

I must admit, upon first hearing the decision, I almost fell out of my chair in surprise and dismay. Will this product tie together all of our current campus-wide systems--Banner, WebCT, ILM--and, more importantly, will it scale and be robust enough to handle future campus-wide initiatives such as document management, image banks, and institutional repositories?? Questions, questions, and more questions. But as I settled back in my chair, I wondered maybe, just maybe, Oracle's portal product may actually work. Call me crazy, but Oracle's databases--its ability to manage huge databases of data, huge mountains of data--may be to our advantage. We shall see...

In any case, the McGill University Archives still has work to do in dealing with electronic records. Whether it involves providing standards, best practices, or protocols to offices, the University Archives will invest the time and energy into making sure the valuable institutional information contained in these new and upcoming systems will be effectively managed and preserved for posterity, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Why I hate adware/spyware?

I haven't updated this blog in a little while because there hasn't been any new activity to report on concerning the digitalpermanence project. Naturally, when things do start rolling along I will keep a steady stream of information flowing.

In the meantime, I little off-topic (OT) rant for this Friday afternoon - and the reasoning behind the title of this entry.

Why I hate adware and spyware!

I hate these little bits of software that download and install themselves without your consent and collect online surfing habits and take a system inventory (and God knows what else) because the companies and people behind them, in my opinion, are criminals. They are criminals because they steal hard disk space; they steal my time when I spend an hour or two purging my computer of their filth; and, for the most part, they steal my right to choose what software I want or don't want to install on my computer.

There was a time when you would encounter adware or spyware while visiting the more seedier side of the Web. All right, fine, we've all been there and done that. But now this adware scourge has infiltrated some respectable websites (which are no longer, in my mind, respectable). What's happening out there? I'm sick of wasting my time performing adware removal surgery on my computer. I have more important things to do.

Thank God for Ad-Aware and Spybot and the many other adware removal tools; without 'em we'd be up a creek without a paddle.

To sum up: Adware/Spyware and their creators are criminals!!

If we're to manage and preserve digital records for posterity, I hope we can send these junky programs including email spam to the dustbin of history.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software...

There's a ERP software called SCT Banner installed at McGill. It holds Personnel, Financial, and Student data. All of it is ELECTRONIC!! Yet another type of record that needs to be properly managed and preserved for posterity.

If your institution uses similar campus-wide software to organize human resources, financial, and student records, then the resident electronic records archivist needs to figure out how to manage these electronic records.

Food for thought!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Mid-March Dreamin' (OT)

Mid-March Dreamin' (OT)

It's mid-March. Spring is around the corner, so the
calendar says. But there's still snow on the ground,
and a cold enough wind to make you wince.

This picture was taken last year during the summer. It
should help us find strength and endurance. Summer
will soon be here, summer will soon be here, summer
will soon be here...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Managing emails one inbox at a time

Good ole Days
There was a time when writing and sending an email didn't mean much. One would write a note, perhaps attach a document, and then send the note. Plain and simple. The same simplicity surfaced when receiving an email. One would read the note, perhaps print it out, and then leave it be inside the inbox, probably never to be touched again. Email management was so simple. Heck, it was non-existent, unnecessary!!

Paradigm Shift
Then one day all that changed. Email evolved from a novel communication tool to a communication tool on which crucial, very crucial, mission-critical information is distributed. No longer could one send and read an email in the same way, especially if the email's content had anything to do with work, business decisions, or the like.

New Policies Require New Records Management Practices
At McGill, the university implemented a policy that made email communication between the university and students an official of communication. In other words, email communication with students became a university records, an electronic university record. Its status changed, the McGill University Archives has to consider the ways to make sure that these emails are managed and preserved for posterity.

digitalpermanence is more than a high-tech electronic records management project--it's also an educational program geared to help McGill staff adopt proper electronic records etiquette. It's meant to teach, through office visits and online tips, the best practices when managing electronic records, including emails. It's not easy since technology is so fluid--one best practice one day could be a bad idea the next. But we're convinced that education is the best starting point. By helping others understand some basic RM practices, the organization and management of email becomes less daunting and more palpable.

One inbox at a time.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Frequency of Posts

There are some blogs that are updated daily--in fact, continuously updated throught the day. But this blog will not be one of them.

I plan on updating this blog at most two times per week (I'm thinking maybe Wedneday and Friday). I think this should be enough to keep readers updated on what's going on with the project.

Friday, March 04, 2005

All Systems Go!

What is the DIGITAL Archive?

The DIGITAL Archive is the ad-hoc (semi-official but mostly unofficial) blog of the McGill University Archives' digitalpermanence project. This is the place where, from time to time (if we are not too busy with the project), we shall post updates and such regarding the project.

What is digitalpermanence?

digitalpermanence! That's digital permanence, bold and italicized, and all one word for greater effect and punch.

But what is digitalpermanence?

digitalpermanence, established in January 2004, is a McGill University Archives initiative , in collaboration with other strategic McGill units, designed and developed to manage and preserve the electronic records of institutional value to McGill University.

As part of its responsibilities, the McGill University Archives manages and preserves the paper records of institutional value--for example, Senate and Board of Governors' Minutes, Students Records, Personnel Records, and so on. But times, they are a changin' because now so many of those paper-based records are being replaced by electronic versions. While the media has changed, the mission of the McGill University Archives remains the same: it must acquire, manage, and preserve for the long-term the records of the university, regardless of format.

Since electronic records pose such a challenge due their dependency on computer technology (which, as we know, changes and evolves and transforms so rapidly in such a short span of time), the McGill University Archives is responding with a systematic, on-going, investigative and proactive approach: digitalpermanence. In other words, the University Archives will endeavour to develop the procedures, protocols, mechanisms to manage the electronic records created by McGill University, preserve such records for the long-term, and make them accessible to researchers.

What's Next!

The campus inventory is complete; the results from this survey are being analyzed and will soon be made available on our project website. For now, what is available on our project website are some helpful tips for all matters digital, from managing email inboxes and establishing scanning standards and procedures to creating a classification scheme to organize and manage your electronic documents. It's all there to download. Just visit our digitalpermanence project website.

So it's all systems go...we have lift-off!

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about the author

I am an information professional, researcher, and writer with over eight years experience in the information services field with experience in information and communication technology.

I have a B.A. in History and a Master's in Library and Information Studies and working on a Web and Multimedia Design certificate.

I believe that empowering people with information can enrich lives and transform the world.