Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Digital Preservation of Blogs

Many posts ago, I wrote a piece on whether archivists should digitally preserve blogs. I asked whether preserving blogs should be done, and how should archivists go about doing so, if the decision is made to do so?

The Rogue Librarian discusses this issue in a thoughtful manner. Quoting from RL's post:

"How will tomorrow'’s historians understand the development and impact of blogs? What evidence will future researchers turn to when they want to examine the influence that blogs had on Howard Dean'’s 2004 presidential campaign, or how a blog post disgraced 60 Minutes by revealing that what was believed by Dan Rather to be a legitimate memo about George W. Bush'’s military service was a forgery? What primary source material will show that it was a blogger who filed a Freedom of Information Act request and posted 361 snapshots of coffins of solders killed in the US war in Iraq?"

As a history grad, I can appreciate RL's perspective on the historical significance of blogs (as a communicaton and news & information tool as well as a cultural phenomenon).

The Rogue Librarian also mentions that a group of library school students were investigating the technical, social and legal problems posed by the preservation of blogs

Maybe some of you have some thoughts on this?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Google.cn: The Aftermath

In my last post, I talked about Google's presence in China and its decision to censor certain keywords at the request of the Chinese Government.

Andrew McLaughlin, Senior Policy Counsel at Google, wrote a post on January 27, 2006, called Google in China, that argues Google's decision and responds to criticism expressed by the public.

Granted, this and other news items that I have posted lately have no direct connection to digization or McGill's digitalpermanence project.

But I believe that in pursuing digitization and digital perservation we are in fact pursuing improving and increasing access to information now and in the future...something which Google's decision somewhat strays away from.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Is freedom to search and access information on the web in jeopardy?

About a week ago (time passes so quickly nowadays, I'm not even sure), I read that Google had successfully resisted U.S. Government pressure to hand over search query data, which the search engine giant collects. The company earned plenty of praise. Privacy had prevailed.

Now I'm reading a news article in The Register that explains Google's recent decision to tailor its new Google China website to the specifications of the Chinese Government. According to news reports, including an interesting (and revealing) article from China Daily, the Communist government wants Google to self-censor certain keywords that are forbidden under local Chinese laws and policies in order for Google to do business in China's expanding economy and middle class. The China Daily article explains:

"The government bars access to 20 broad content categories, including pornography and other banned material."

While I can understand banning pornography, I wonder about those 20 broad content categories and that nebulous 'banned material.'

However, Google co-founder Sergey Brin considers his company's decision painful but right.

Mind you, Google is not the only Internet company to apply self-censorship. MSN and Yahoo have done the same in order to do business in China, which, according to the latest economic reports, ranks China as the fourth largest economy in the world, right after the United States, Japan, and Germany.

My point in all this, I guess, is: We create content and we upload content to the Web; as professionals we embark on digitization projects to make our collections, books, whatever, more accessible. But then the means to search and find our endeavours is blocked by government censors or search engine filters because the works may contain forbidden material.

The second point: I am surprised at how companies (i.e. Google), for the sake of doing business in a lucrative market such as China's, will sweep some of their guiding principles (i.e. Do not evil) under the proverbial rug.

So, is freedom to search and access information on the Web in jeopardy?

I guess it all depends on the country you live in.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Political Winds of Change

On January 23, 2006, Canada elected a new Prime Minister. Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was voted in as Canada's 22nd Prime Minister. In the House of Commons, his fellow Conservatives will form a minority government, which means Harper and his Cabinet must make alliances with the other political parties (Liberals, New Democratic Party, Bloc QuebeƧois, etc) in order to make and pass new policies and laws. It will be will an interesting Parliament, to say the least.

That said, I am interested in learning more about Harper's vision and plans for such areas as universities, academic and research funding and for government agencies such as Canadian Heritage and Library and Archives Canada. His political policies will impact these areas.

Politicians are always dodgy during the campaign - mostly promising the world and the moon and the stars. But with the campaign over, the concrete plans will be unveiled.

As a political agnostic in true Canadian form, I do not believe in one particular political party. They each have their merits. However, I do believe that one political party with at least a decent vision for the country and its institutions, and a commitment to rally the public around the vision, can certainly make a positive difference.

With this vote, Canadians chose not to support the Liberal Party as they had done for the past 13 years and instead put their cautious trust in the Conservatives.

Here's hoping for Canada's continued success.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Predictions 2006: Future Prospects for Librarians and Archivists

This is the third post in my “Predictions 2006” series. The aim is to make some predictions, based on trends, about the future of libraries, archives, Web technologies, electronic records management, digital preservation, etc. I make these predictions with a mix of reflection and spontaneity.

In this installment I will explore the future career prospects for librarians and archivists. I must admit, I had not planned on writing on this topic. But after reading 2 particular news items in the past couple of weeks, and in reading a few blogs that covered the same topic, I felt it important to discuss this matter.

This prediction is not pretty, I should caution. It will force many librarians and archivists, particularly new professionals in the field (like me), to wake up to some hard realities and develop a career strategy to confront and conquer the difficult issues happening now and in the future. However, it is not all doom and gloom, for I also predict that the future is bright (a kind of sunshine bright that shares the sky with scattered storm clouds) as long as librarians and archivists are passionate about a given area in the field and embrace a multidisplinary approach to their profession and are willing to take risks and flex their creative muscles.

A little background...

The first article I read that prompted this post originated from the US News & World Report's website. The article, "Career Center: Excellent careers for 2006," listed the top 10 careers for 2006. Among the top ten was--suprise, surprise--the field of librarianship. Granted, the article did not explicitely mention archivist. However, there are enough similarities to both professions (we both select, organize, retrieve, transmit important information and often, at least in an academic setting, are coupled with libraries) that, for the sake of argument, I will say that archivists and librarians are connected.

Here's an excerpt from the US News & World Report article:

Librarian: This is an underrated career. Most librarians enjoy helping patrons dig up information. They learn in the process and keep up to date on the latest books and online resources. The need for librarians, unfortunately, may decline because search engines make it easy for patrons to find information without a librarian's help. The job growth for librarians will be in nontraditional settings: corporations, nonprofit organizations, and consulting firms.

For me, 2 things popped out at me after reading this:
  1. The need for librarians will decline because search engines make it easier for patrons to find information;
  2. Job growth will occur in nontraditional settings: corporations, non-profit organizations, consulting firms
The second news article I read came from The Times (Online edition), a United Kingdom newspaper and online publication. The article, "Stress? Shhhhh," examines a study done by a consulting and recruitment firm and quotes the lead investigator, Saqib Saddiq.

Among other things, the study revealed:

Librarians complained that there was not enough variety in their work, that they did not have enough control over their careers, and they were not allowed to put their skills to full use. The lack of job satisfaction meant they were more likely than other professions to be absent from work, or to vent their frustration on their families when they got home.

Mr. Saddiq concludes, explaining that
"they [librarians] are sick of being stuck between the same shelves of books all day. They also found their work repetitive and unchallenging, and overall had very little job satisfaction..."

Like the first article, something popped out at me after reading this article:
  1. Despite the lack of detailed information on those surveyed, the article boils down the situation of librarians to this: it is unglamorous, unappreciated, and therefore stressful
Both articles, for better or for worse, make sense. And, at the same time, make no sense. But the meat of this post is not about analysis, but rather about the future propects for librarians and archivists...while using these articles, along with a blog (The Krafty Librarian) or two (Phil Bradley's weblog), as a launch pad.

In reading these articles and other people's opinions, and in reflecting on my own personal work experiences, I believe and I predict that the future prospects for librarians and archivists will be, well, it depends. Let me explain.

I went on a conference hosted by the International Council on Archives Section on University and Research Institution Archives (ICA/SUV) last year in September 2005. It was a good friendly crowd of archivists from around the world with different backgrounds and interests ...and with one thing in common: they were underfunded, understaffed, and overworked. This was repeated over and over again to the point where I became frustrated. Ah, frustrated. Frustration over the fact that, though there was much work to be done and many exciting projects to start (e.g. digitization, digital preservation), there was little funding to pursue these projects.

Why so little funding?

The fact is, in our current world, where appearances mean everything, the libraries and archives are perceived as being part of the past, a derelict storage room of aging material and books. It is seen as neutral--what does it contribute?--and as a result not very high on priority lists or budgets.

If this is indeed the wide-spread case, then how does one change the status quo, and what does this mean in terms of future career prospects for librarians and archivists?

To make any change, one must start with the self. To be a librarian or an archivist nowadays, I believe one must have passion. There are many difficult obstacles and plenty of frustrations on the road ahead, so passion--real dedication, not lukewarm woo-hoo--will keep fueling your committment.

It is also important to become an expert or, in other words, find an area in the field in which to dedicate yourself. If you're not feeling this passion, this dedication, then I would suggest you pause and review your options and motives, because this is absoluetely critcal to your future career prospects.

A lot of problems that libraries and particularly archives face revolve around being misunderstood or, worse, institutionally "invisible." What should librarians do in the age of Google? What should archivists do beside carefully shelve boxes of records and priceless artifacts? The days of remaining "mysterious" or hidden are over. It's time to broadcast the real story.

Whatever course of action professionals take to get the message out, there must be a good dose of a multidisciplinary approach included. Multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, call it what you like, but in universities and for acadmics this is the future. Why not say the same for librarians and archivists? Just like no man is an island, no librarian or archivist is one either. Cooperation, collaboration, and relationships are essential. Making a library or archives part of a larger body of study, research, or community involvment is paramount.

A question to consider: Should Google replace librarians? Of course not, no! Sounds like a simple question whose answer is a given. But truth is, the answer is not on the tip of everyone's tongue. Another question: Should an archivist be content with having his or her collections sit on a shelf? No! Collections are meant to be shown, and today's technology makes it possible (and relatively inexpensive) to do so.

It's all about not assuming anything, and being proactive in everything.

In short, I predict the future career prospects of librarians and archivists in 2006 will be (using this addictive weather analogy of mine) sunny with cloudy periods.

To burn away those excess clouds, I suggest that the new librarian or archivist entering the profession should be:
  • Passionate
  • Dedicated to an area, be it public libraries, digital libraries, digital archives, etc
  • Confident and capable in dealing with workplace frustrations, particularly funding frustration
  • Multidisciplinary, that is, forming relationships and integrating into other fields
  • Creative
  • Risk-Taking
Finally, The Krafty Librarian put it nicely in her post:

The key to making this job still one of the "most excellent" careers is embracing your opportunities and minimizing the drawbacks. If you need a change in libraries scenes to increase your opportunities then so be it. Change is scary but it is also a good thing. Any job could be classified as boring. Any job is what you make of it.

Well said! Embracing your opportunities and minimizing the drawbacks or taking a risk and changing directions if opportunities present themselves elsewhere. Now that is the future of the library and archives profession. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Worldwide E-Gov Initiatives Huge: Is digital management and preservation ready?

Federal Computer Weekly (FCW) is both a magazine and a web publication that covers IT and IT-related news affecting the US Government's information technology infrastructure. Overall, it's an interesting read, for the most part.

FCW.com hosts 2 blogs, one of which, called Culture and Context, had a post that discussed the growing size of e-government--in this case, the number of webpages operated by governments worldwide.

With a whopping 368 million webpages, the US Government e-gov has the most number of webpages, followed by its little brother, and my home and native land, Canada with 12 million webpages.

I hope someone's considering the electronic records management issues here (which webpages should be kept?), as well as electronic preservation issues (which webpages should be archived for posterity, and how?).

The top ten largest e-gov initiatives (in terms of number of webpages) are available on said blog and as part of a larger research [PDF] project published by the Electronic Government journal.

It's wet, it's icy, it's a mess!

From time to time, The DIGITAL Archive is affected by things beyond its control. Today, the weather is the culprit.

Late last night, the island of Montreal--no stranger to strange weather--experienced freezing rain, straight rain, and then more freezing rain. Taken together (and add in a mix of little or no street salting or cleaning), and Wednesday morning started off on a rather slippery note.

So I am writing this post from the comfort of my warm and dry abode.

Photo: This house's roof has a patch of snow encased in a layer of ice.

UPDATE: The weather continues to be, in the words of mostly all radio announcers on both English radio stations (CJAD, CINW) in Montreal, absolutely miserable.

UPDATE 2: The streets surrounding McGill University are closed due to icy conditions and flooding. The campus is located at the base of Mont Royal. Flooding + Archives = Not Good

Sunday, January 15, 2006

News: EU countries to build digital library to rival Google

From China's People's Daily Online (yes, I read 'em all):

Jean-Noel Jeanneney, Curator of French National Library, told media that European libraries would digitalize 50,000 to 60,000 books by the end of 2006 and the construction of the program would be in full gear in 2007. France promised to digitalize at least 15,000 books and fund 15 million euros a year.

News: Library of Congress to store records, movies in Cold War-era vault

According to Federal Computer Weekly (FCW.com), the Library of Congress will move 2.7 million sound recordings and 1.1 million moving images to a former Federal Reserve atomic bomb shelter and subsequently digitize them.

The article, Library to store records, movies in Cold War vault, talks about digital preservation of audio and moving images.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Predications 2006: The Desktop and the Web

This is the second post in my “Predictions 2006” series. The aim is to make some predictions, based on trends, about the future of libraries, archives, Web technologies, electronic records management, digital preservation, etc. I make these predictions with a mix of reflection and spontaneity.

In today’s installment I explore the ways in which local desktop applications and the Web are slowly intertwining, thus shrinking the gap that exists between local desktop applications and the World Wide Web, which I believe will lead to a greater, more personalized and more relevant desktop/Web experience.

In 2005, I encountered several web tools and software that had me buzzing with excitement, chief among them was Mozilla’s Firefox browser and its myriad of extensions. Near the end of 2005 I downloaded Google’s Blogger for Word (and made mention of it here and here) in addition to Google’s Blogger Web Comments. Taken together, I noticed how these tools and application were changing the desktop landscape.

For those not familiar with the items I mentioned, here’s a brief summary:

Firefox: If you haven’t heard about Firefox, well, er…Firefox is an amazing Web browser, made even more amazing by a vast amount of extensions that literally extend the browser’s power. Popular extensions include ForecastFox, a weather forecast extension, Sage, a RSS reader, and Blogger Web Comments (which I’ll discuss shortly). What I like about these particular extensions is that, while I am browsing, they are busy working, pulling information that I want—be it weather information, stock quotes, or who’s blogging about my blog—and displaying them when I want.

Blogger for Word: A plug-in, so to speak, for Microsoft Word, developed by Google, that enables bloggers to write and submit their posts to Blogger while still in Word. By no means an earth-shaking tools, Blogger for Word nonetheless revealed to me the shrinking space between my desktop application and the Web.

Blogger Web Comments: A nifty Firefox extension that fetches blog-based information related to any webpage you visit. In visiting The DIGITAL Archive blog site with Blogger Web Comments enabled, for example, I discovered (ahh, the joy of discovery) that two blogs had mentioned my blog in their postings. So, naturally, I visited their blogs, found them interesting, and added them to my list of sites to visit. Like other Firefox extensions, Blogger Web Comments was busy fetching information while I was browsing; and when I needed the info, it gave it to me.

I’m not sure if there is a proper technical term for these kinds of tools. I call them Firefox extensions, plug-ins, and Web apps, among other names. Even Yahoo has entered the field with its selection of Yahoo! Widgets, slick-looking desktop tools (like Apple’s Dashboard Widgets) that fetch information and display them on your desktop, like weather updates, stock quotes, etc. Whatever the case, these tools are joining our local desktop with the Web in a manner not seen before.

I believe local desktop applications and the World Wide Web will come together and collaborate in new and more advanced ways in the coming year. The space between them is clearly shrinking. I see the every day tools we work with, such as Microsoft Office, and our Web destinations of choice, such as Google and Amazon.com, working together (ok, maybe not Microsoft and Google, but you get the picture).

We users will easily set up mechanisms within desktop applications that allow us to set search queries, security parameters, and then launch intelligent “boomerangs” or agents that will swoop to web resources and re-combine data and return to us, providing us with relevant information.

Today it’s weather forecasts and stock quotes on our desktops; tomorrow it could be a window in Microsoft Word opening and alerting us to the latest news and views on the topic of our research paper.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

News: NARA's Electronic Records Archive project

Rather than a simple article on National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archive project, Wired takes the view that the human touch--fundamentals of archival knowledge and skills--is still required even when dealing with electronic records.

Wired 14.01: POSTS

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Should we Preserve Blogs (or are blogs worth preserving in the first place)?

The DIGITAL Archive would not be called The DIGITAL Archive if it did not address the issue of digital preservation, right?

In light of my recent postings on blogging and its future, I wonder if institutions, corporations, and other organizations that actively use blogs to communicate with colleagues, clients, and customers should prepare policies that dictate how these blog postings--these electronic records of communication--should be managed to comply with existing retention policies and preserved for historical purposes?

Blog Archiving? Currently, there are several projects attempting to archive websites. I wonder if we should treat blogs as just another website: to be captured and archived and made accessible. Or should we treat blogs as something more?

Further thoughts on Blogging

Continuing on the topic of blogging and its future, I read an interesting post by Irving Wladawsky-Berger called Reflections on Blogging.

Friday, January 06, 2006

THE Journal askes "Why Blog?"

Considering my Predictions 2006 on Blogs yesterday, here is an article to read:

Why Blog? : December 2005 : THE Journal

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Predictions 2006: Blogs and Beyond

This is the first post in my “Predictions 2006” series. The aim is to make some predictions, based on trends, about the future of libraries, archives, Web technologies, electronic records management, digital preservation, etc. I make these predictions with a mix of reflection and spontaniety.

Today, I’ll make a prediction on blogs (since the DIGITAL Archive is a blog, it’s a great place to start).

Back in the mid-1990s, while I was a student in university, there was something that every Web-savvy person I knew had: a personal homepage. Remember those? They were basic HTML web pages with text (usually about the author of the web page), a few pictures (usually of the author and his or her family members and pets), some animated GIFs here and there, plus a few hyperlinks to other web pages, usually of friends that had a homepage as well. I made a few personal homepages. I think we all made a few personal homepages back then.

Homepages were fun and relatively easy to make once one had learned a few basic HTML tags. The author simply had to set up a few tables (border=”5”, typically), then write up some text, post a few pictures, add a few hyperlinks, upload the HTML file to a server, and—voila!!—one had a genuine presence on the World Wide Web.

Fast-forward to 2003, when I first encountered a weblog (or blog, the swampy-sounding name derived from the original term). Initially, the blog seemed to me like another web by-product --essentially, another version of the ubiquitous personal homepage.

But once I started dabbling with Blogger (a free online blogging website) in 2004 (and others, like WordPress, more recently), I realized the blog was clearly more than a personal homepage. First off, a blog did not require extensive knowledge of HTML. It was a publishing and content management tool for the masses, a venue where personal thoughts can be shared with the public, where knowledge shared can become collaborative efforts, and where shared interests can form relationships.

Personal homepages and blogs do have one thing in common: They both contain content created or linked by a user. And it is this common ground—content—which I believe can help shed light on the future of blogs.
Over the years, personal web publishing platforms have evolved, from personal homepages (geocities.com, for example) to personal blogs (Blogger.com, for example), and I predict this trend will continue, this time evolving from personal blogs to networked blogs—a thinking blog, basically—one where content becomes more meaningful to other blogs and users and is more easily discoverable by search engines.

The future of the blog, I believe, will be about making the user's content more powerful, more searchable, more meaningful, more proactive to create a more personal blog experience. We already see some of this with blogs and RSS feeds. Blog updates are pushed to RSS feed subscribers. The contents of a blog are not static, sitting around waiting for something to occur; they are active and will become more active, triggered manually by users or by advanced search queries and more powerful RSS features.

Blog platforms will change (perhaps even renamed), but the clearer communication of content (of ideas, information, thoughts, comments, opinions), from author to reader, will be at the forefront in the coming year.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Predictions 2006

Over the holidays, I listened to a late-night radio talk show called Coast to Coast AM hosted by Art Bell. A number of years ago (back in the late 90s, I’d say), Art Bell was one of the hottest personalities on syndicated radio.

With an investigative style of his own design, Art Bell discussed UFOs, government cover-ups, science, pseudo-science, and conspiracy theories with an eclectic mix of guest experts and enthusiastic callers. Art Bell was seriously entertaining and hugely popular. However, while his popularity soared, personal and family matters forced him to retire.

But as the saying goes, “You can’t keep a good (radio) man down,” and so Art Bell, after numerous radio disappearances and re-appearances, returned to the airwaves, where he now hosts a weekend version of his show Coast to Coast AM.

This past weekend, his year-end show was all about predictions. He asked his callers to use their intuition and innate psychic powers to predict future events.

It was all in good fun (although a few prognosticators did offer some dire visions of future events). In the end, I thought to myself: “Uhhmm, sounds like a fun topic to blog about.”

Over the next couple of days, then, I will post some of my personal predictions for the upcoming year as they relate to the future of libraries, archives, Web technologies, electronic records, digital preservation and whatever else my “psychic twinkle” offers up to me. And I want to encourage readers to comment and/or post some of their predictions as well. What do you think will be the next big thing? Will digital preservation take a giant leap forward? Will Google take over the world?

Have a happy new year!!

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.