Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Friday Abstract: Saturday Abstract Video

Boards of Canada - Aquarius

It's not all business here at The DIGITAL Archive. Sometimes we take a dive off the deep end, and in this case, I'm sure you will agree. Enjoy! For the full-length video (it's a trippier version than the one above), click here, as they said in the old days.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The End of HR Professionalism

It's happened to me frequently enough that I need to write this post. And since no one else will say it, I might as well be the one.

I believe some Human Resources personnel have lost their professionalism.

When I submit job applications and resumes, I rarely receive:
  • an email acknowledging receipt;

  • and when I inquire, I rarely, if ever, receive an answer

Is this the kind of place where I would want to work?

HR Personnel with no professionalism = FAIL

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Interesting People, Interesting Blogs (Part 11)

Here we are, together again, for yet another installment of our much beloved blog post series "Interesting People, Interesting Blogs," a place where we highlight a website that has caught the critical and unflinching eye of the author of this blog. Together, we made it to Part 11.

For this installment, I have chosen a blog originating from Scotland, UK. (Yes, I read 'em all!) The blog is called Web Watching for Archivists and is written by Kiara King, an assistant records manager. According to her 'about this blog' section:

This blog has been set up principally to support a presentation that I will give in August at the Society of Archivist's conference on the subject of Web 2.0 and archivists. I wanted a place where I could bring together the different examples that I will refer to in my talk so that it can act as a 'repository' for these examples and allow easy reference back to them in the future. I hope it can be used as a showcase for the best examples of archives and archivists using Web 2.0 today.

While her blog started life as a presentation and has been a little quiet lately (a recent blog post, however, confirms, she is still active), I feel her focus on Archives 2.0 is something more of us in the community should know exists. And I hope by showcasing her here, she will continue to blog and add her voice to the blogosphere. Ms. King also embedded a short PowerPoint presentation, which I have embedded below.

Archives 2.0

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: archives2.0 archives)

The Low-Stress Archivist Diet

Catchy title, huh?

Yes, the low stress archivist. How interesting. I wish I could meet this person in the flesh so I could shake his or her hand and learn a few tips. If my feelings on this topics are not obvious yet, they soon will be.

I really don't want to walk down this path, for I can already feel a pinch of tension in my head and the words to express what I'm about to say are bottlenecking somewhere between my head and fingertips. But I will continue. Calmly.

By now I'm sure most readers reading this must have read the article on Yahoo!

[Update: I made a journalism faux-pas here by not summarizing the article for those who had not read the article. Essentially, Yahoo! hotjobs publishes career-related articles. In this one article, the writer wrote about professions that have low stress. Among those listed was Archivist. Let the flood waters rush in.]

Kate over at ArchivesNext blogged about the piece and even scored a scoop of sorts with a blog comment written by the author of the study, Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D (not the author of the article, Vicki Salemi, mind you). Also, Gayle writing on her blog quoted several archivists responding to the article on the SAA listserv.

For the most part, the majority of archivists can agree on the most common stresses, not to mention the stress associated with properly handling them: lack of resources, poor funding, low priority and low visibility, uncooperative senior administration, and the occasional pretentious researcher. These stresses come with the territory, I suppose. All within the realm of possibility between 9 am and 5 pm.

I believe that, while the profession is not by its nature stressful, there are stressful elements and, from my unorthodox experience in the field, some very stressful and unpleasant elements.
  • Contractual employment stress
  • Seeking a full-time permanent position stress
  • Unable to move ahead with career stress
  • Professional identity crisis stress

Now, be honest, how many archivists reading the article yesterday can relate to the above stresses?

There are some who walk into a job and follow a process. Meanwhile, there are those who design the process and leave it for others to follow. Then, there are some who face the familiar on a daily basis, while others face the unknown every single day. There are those who work in teams and accomplish much, and there are those who work solo on projects that require a team but who nonetheless deliver excellent results. There are even a tiny fringe of professionals (yes, mercifully, a tiny group) who pride themselves in being slothful in their full-time permanent position, while there are those who do the work and play by the rules and end up chronically contractually employment.

If your mom or dad or best friend ever told you life was not fair, they were correct.

Now about that low stress archivist diet...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Career Reinvention or; Learning how to start over again without wincing

Who ever said re-inventing one's career was easy certainly never undertook the endeavour. Then again, if it were so easy, many more people would be leaving their current careers in pursuit of another and there would be fewer and fewer unhappy workers.

For the past five months, I have been attempting to reinvent myself, more proactively lately as the last of the summer warmth drains from the day and the chill of fall stirs one back to reality. Harsh reality. Long time readers know about my decision to transition from archives to another field. It's well documented.

The reinvention journey, or quite simple, how to start over again without wincing at the sudden shift in your life, is one I had anticipated as being difficult but not this hard. But there is a learning experience in all this, thankfully. One big lesson: Check your ego at the door.

Why let go of your ego? Well for one thing, when you start over, you are no longer a name, but rather a number. No more Mr. Digital Archivist. It's now, Hello, Applicant #S6009767. Your network? Well, that too changes. Case in point: I cold called (or cold emailed) a local organization, figuring, hey, maybe there is an available part-time job there. Instead, I received this sobering response:

Thank you very much for your CV. Please note that currently we have no vacancies. However, I have forwarded your CV to our recruitment section.
Now if this poor soul only knew what I had accomplished and what I can do, he probably would have re-considered. Ahh...there's that ego again. Check. Check. Check.

Then there are those application exams that one must pass. Exams? To get a job? Have any of the Presidential candidates written exams to get to where they are now? Nope. I doubt it.

Uhmm...politics. Now there's something to consider.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is the Napster of the Magazine World?

A friend of mine sent me an email in which he heaped praises on a website he had found called, a site where users can upload, share, and archive magazines. According to the's website:
Mygazines is a place to browse, share, archive and customize unlimited magazine articles uploaded by you, the Mygazines community. We at Mygazines take great pride in providing a platform for people and businesses to share articles and magazines in an interactive and fun format. Mygazines is not just for magazines - you can upload catalogues and product brochures too! So don't hesitate - start sharing - it's free!
I took a closer look at and saw that users had actually scanned entire magazines and had uploaded them to the website where other users could easily search, find, and read popular magazines within a slick Flash-based viewer. Immediately, I was struck by two things:

1) reminds of Napster, the on/off again notorious mp3 sharing site that single-handily transformed the way music publishers and musicians distribute their artistic work and, in turn, inadvertently gave birth to legal music download services such as iTunes. With magazine and newspaper publishers scrambling to secure readership in this digital age, I sense could be the 'Napster' that they need. I defend this view with the second thing that struck me:'s simple and intuitive viewer.

2) While the website is still in beta, and in some parts, particularly search performance, the beta label really shows, I am nonetheless impressed by the Flash-based viewer. The Flash-based viewer is very intuitive with a clean navigation bar set on top featuring such tools as comment, favorite, email to friend, and social bookmarking in addition to stardard page turning and searching features.

As I flipped trough the magazines, using the keyboard's cursor keys and "z" to zoom in, I thought about the digitization work I had done--that we as a community have done--and wondered if we were delivering our scanned content in a simple and intuitive manner?

Personally, I have scanned historical photographs of all sizes, scanned and indexed textual documents, but rarely have I felt I had given the end-user (i.e. the expert researcher, the novice researcher, and everyone in between) a satisfactory tool to comfortably read and enjoy the hard work I had put in digitizing these materials.

Since we are scanning photographs, let's give the end user the feeling of fliping through a digital photo album. Since we are scanning text, let's give the end user the feeling of reading a book or report. Maybe those viewing tools already exist (and maybe I am showing my ignorance) but I am far too familiar with sites employing static jpeg image scans that are fine but cumbersome.

Now I am no copyright expert, but I am also no dummy. There is clearly something fishy (i.e. illegal, wrong) with and its user base scanning magazines in their entirety and uploading them for others to view for free.

Again, reminds me of Napster - but look what Napster did for the music industry. is clearly breaking some rules, but I noticed it is extending its hand to the publishing industry, perhaps in an effort to legitimize its service.

What's your take on Check it out and let me know.

UPDATE 09/16: Read the press release on's launch.

UPDATE 12/22: is closed. Must have happened a few weeks ago.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2008

Seven years ago on this day, I woke up with a jolt. I was in bed, mentally preparing myself for the day ahead. It was to be a normal day, I assumed. I had a few errands to run in the morning before heading downtown to my part-time job at the McGill Archives. As my thoughts drifted over these things, the phone rang. It was my aunt asking if I was watching TV. Her voice was panicky, out of breath.

"Do you have the TV on?" she asked.

"No, why?" I asked in return.

"Turn on CNN. America is at war. This is war." Her voice was shaking, nervous. "Turn on CNN."

I rushed downstairs and saw my grandfather sitting by the radio, his head tilted toward the speaker. He looked up and said, "Some problem in New York. A plane hit a building."

I turned on the TV and for the next few hours, I sat there with my grandfather watching in horror. Breaking News. The Twin Towers. The Pentagon. Planes. Aflame. Smoke. Helicopters. Sirens. Emergency vehicles. Police directing traffic. FBI Agents with guns drawn, circling evidence on the New York streets (a plane tire here, unknown bits and pieces there). People jumping from the buildings to escape the terrible flames. Some held hands and jumped. People on streets running, coughing, soot caked around their noses and mouths. Men in business suits, women in dresses and average joes and janes; no matter the gender or status, there was palpable terror in their eyes.

There were the street reporters asking questions to those fleeing, attempting to get a sound bite. But the sight of quivering lips and pale faces spoke louder than any sound bite.

Then the unthinkable. The Towers collapsed. The Towers were gone. The spirit of the Towers, that what made them World Trade Centers, was smothered into dust and debris. Like ghosts, the dust and debris haunted the blocks of Manhattan worming their way through the streets. CNN reporter Aaron Brown, standing on a rooftop across the city watching the towers crumble, said in eerie voice: "My God. There are no words."

Seven years later, and still there are no words to describe what happened. There are no words to comfort those who lost friends and family. There are no words. There are some, however, who seek comfort in believing that the attacks were an inside job, a conspiracy. There is some solace in thinking this way, I suppose, because we can believe that there are no faceless enemies out there. Only the enemy next door, the one we know. That is more comforting, I suppose.

The attacks changed the world. From the way we travel to the way we see the world.

But as I sit and type this, a blue jay calls out, the wind shakes leaves from trees, and a lawnmower is heard in the distance.

When there are no words to say, it is best just to listen. The good in the world will be heard again.

[Thanks to Jill for her nice 9/11 post]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Google News Archive Search: History Becomes Content (with ads)

Google has launched Google News Archive Search, a new search tool that searches through historical archives from sources such as newspapers that Google and its partners have digitized or through existing online archival material that Google has crawled. For some, access is free, others fee-based.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect is how Google has taken historical archives and transformed it into accessible content.

I remember the days (and nights) sitting in the library in front of a big, bulky microfilm machine, squinting at the screen, and cursing under my breath as the film got tangled in the spool or when I simply could not find what I was looking for.

Ah yes, the good old days.

But in spite of those drawbacks, there was something wonderful, perhaps even magical, in turning the spool and watching all those images from newspapers dating back to the early 1900s (or even earlier) pass by, reading headlines that still have as much impact as they did on the day when the paper was printed.

Now, Google News Archive Search provides a similar experience via the Web.

Without a doubt, I am impressed. I am impressed by the digitization workmanship and the delivery mechanism. In the past, I performed large-scale scanning (historical photographs) and coordinated imaging projects (documents) and I know how difficult these projects can be, particularly in achieving high scan quality (readability) and searching (optical character recognition). It is difficult to achieve respectable results in both of these critical areas, but Google has managed to create very good quality output.

The delivery mechanism is equally impressive. After selecting an item from the results page, the new webpage divides into three windows: A large primary window to display the section of the newspaper with the searched keywords or article headline; a smaller window displaying a macro view of the newspaper; and below another small window displaying related links and (by God, no) Google Ads.

The large, primary screen is equipped with several useful page navigation tools, including Zoom In/Zoom Out, Full Screen, and Fit to Height. Meanwhile the small screen reminds me of another Google service, Google Maps. Imagine the newspaper is a map. The smaller screen has a little blue highlight box that can be moved around the page, magnifying the location in the large, main screen. The related window pane offers some helpful related links and a few ads.

Seeing Google's ads leaves me with mixed feelings, I must admit. Is historical content but another platform upon which Google can append its ads?

As a proponent for making content (historical or otherwise) more accessible (Lord knows, I've done my fair share of work in this area), I definitely support Google's initiative and urge people to test and evaluate the service for themselves.

But I want Google News Archive Search users to experience the magic in viewing the past, the stories that defined and continue to define our world, without seeing the sight of crass consumerism (i.e. Google Ads) on the screen. My only consolation is that the ads are not intrusive.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Self-Interview

In Conversation with Myself

DKEMPER: Hi, Dave. How are you today?

Dave: I’m doing okay.

DKEMPER: Doesn’t it feel strange that you are interviewing yourself?

Dave: It doesn’t feel strange at all. Not at all. And, I don’t mind you interviewing me, or should I say me interviewing me. Anyway, I think it’s great. Let’s go, let’s see where this takes us. Go ahead.

DKEMPER: What have you been doing lately?

Dave: Since returning home from Washington, I’ve been keeping myself busy. I’m taking a few night classes at a local university in hopes of completing a certificate in Multimedia. I’ve already completed several courses already—I’ve been working on this certificate since 2003, taking courses on Photoshop, In Design, and Illustrator in addition to web and graphic design theory courses. I’ve also been busy with The DIGITAL Archive, trying my best to write daily. I haven’t been so successful on that front, I must admit. Blogging is tough, man, especially if you don’t want to hack out mumbo-jumbo. [Pauses] Besides all that, I am looking for work [Laughs].

DKEMPER: Speaking of work, you had an interesting year last year, right. Tell us about it.

Dave: Yeah, what a year! As you know (well, you should know, you were there with me), I lived and worked in Washington, DC on contract with the International Monetary Fund in its Archives unit.

DKEMPER: Wow! The International Monetary Fund! Isn’t that like two blocks from the White House? That’s pretty awesome!

Dave: I know…but I’m humble about it, really. I’m still this guy from a small ‘burb in Montreal.

DKEMPER: Who just so happened to have worked in Washington! So what did you do there?

Dave: I was hired as an Archives Records Officer, but on my business card, it read Digital Archivist. I was responsible for evaluating and selecting a new archives management system—a complete processing and web search software package—and for establishing a digitization workflow for a large-scale imaging project to scan historical IMF country files. Furthermore, I wrote procedures, quality control steps, things like that. I also wrote several reports and even corporate communication stuff that senior admin read and approved.

DKEMPER: Not so archivist in nature, eh?

Dave: I think I am part of the changing nature of archival work. As technology evolves and mixes with the profession, we’ll be seeing new and very different professional roles for archivists.

DKEMPER: Like what?

Dave: I suspect the changes will revolve around access—accommodating better access to archives material.

DKEMPER: Explain?

Dave: Meh, let me save that for another blog post [Grins].

DKEMPER: Good idea, if I do say so myself. So, let me get this clear: you finished the contract—it was a contractual position, right? You had a chance to stay on for another year, correct? What happened? Didn’t like Washington?

Dave: There’s been a fair bit of confusion over the whole thing. Let me explain. First off, the position was contractual, yes, and I was part of a larger, long-term processing project. I worked on the technical and systems portion of the project. Not processing. In that year I accomplished much. We selected a software package, scheduled training, and I was there to see an early install of the software. I was indeed offered a contract extension, but I declined.


Dave: I underwent a profound transformation in Washington. I started feeling an increasing desire to switch directions in life, in general, and away from Archives in particular. In Washington—by the way, an unexpectedly vibrant city rich in American history, a city where American social, cultural, political, and military history has coalesced—I believe I reached a peak, a zenith, if you will, and I knew I needed to change. I was grateful for the offer to work in Washington at the IMF. [Leans in close] By the way, the world still has a few decent managers, thankfully. But at the same time I knew I had to change and declined the contract extension. I wrapped up as much as I could before I left, and I believe I left the Archives, and the IMF by association, in better shape.

DKEMPER: Any regrets?

Dave: No, none. Like I said, being in Washington, being surrounded by the history I had read about in history books during my university days, filled me with something I had not experienced before. I discovered something about myself and about the world. And I learned something that I now cherish more than ever, it’s a simple word Americans are fond of saying but perhaps have lost its true meaning through overuse.

DKEMPER: What word is that?

Dave: Freedom.

DKEMPER: Freedom?

Dave: Yes, freedom. Freedom is one of the most amazing things we have. We have the freedom to choose, freedom to live our lives as we want, freedom to make our decisions, even though we know we may end up failing or succeeding. We are free. Whether blessed by God, if you believe, or promoted by the State, freedom is wonderful; however, freedom is not free, as they saying goes. Freedom has a price. We pay a lot for it. As kids we pay for it by standing up to a bully and still getting shoved into a locker. But we pay the price because we want freedom. As adults, as citizens, we must remain free in life, love, vocation, or whatever. In everything we need freedom, and we must remain vigilant, steadfast, and prepared to fight for freedom.

DKEMPER: Getting political here? Are you voting Obama or McCain?

Dave: First, I cannot vote in the US because I am not American. I have my political opinions, however. Let’s leave it at. But I do believe this is an important election in which Americans need a leader with vision more than a president. Know what I mean?

DKEMPER: Okay, moving along now. What are you listening to nowadays?

Dave: You mean music? [Nods] Yeah, I’ve been listening to SomaFM, an ambient music Internet station. Cool sounds, man. Glad Oasis is releasing a new CD, same goes for The Verve. Been also listening to classical music and jazz. Nice and relaxing.

DKEMPER: Classical? Jazz? You turning soft on me?

Dave: Hey, I balance things out with a daily dose of Foo Fighters and 30 Seconds to Mars. So there!

DKEMPER: Recently, you wrote a long blog post on “Why I blog.” Wasn’t that a little narcissistic?

Dave: No, I don’t think so at all. At least I hope no one took it that way. I just wanted to be honest with my readers, some of whom have been reading The DIGITAL Archive since day one. I wanted to tell that The DIGITAL Archive is no longer the same “archives and archivist” blog as it was when I started, because its author is no longer the same archivist as he used to be. As I concluded in Part 3, I am more an archivist advocate, believing in the value of institutional archives and wondering how technology can transform the field and profession, than an archivist processing materials or debating the latest controversies.

DKEMPER: You mentioned before that you are changing directions. Isn’t that a difficult task?

Dave: It is hard! It’s easier said than done. Believe me. It elicits both excitement and sheer terror. But, alas, and you are not going to believe this, but I was received Zen tweet a second ago that said, and I quote: "Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life." Confucius


Dave: Yes.

DKEMPER: Summer’s almost over. Saw any good summer blockbuster?

Dave: Watched Iron Man and loved it.

DKEMPER: Saw anything else? Wally-E or Dark Knight?

Dave: No, unfortunately, not. Just Iron Man.

DKEMPER: You need to get out more often, young man!

Dave: I know, I know. Listen can we wrap this up soon?

DKEMPER: How is the job search coming along?

Dave: You had to save the toughest for the last, eh.

DKEMPER: That’s my job.

Dave: I’ll give you the sound bite version. It’s moving ahead but slowly. More slowly than I had expected. But that is life. Full of the unexpected. Transitioning from one career into another is difficult. It requires risk-taking on both sides; the employee and employer need to take a risk. I hope to find such an employer soon.

DKEMPER: No offense, Dave, but that is about as much deep thinking I can handle for one interview. Let’s eat.

Dave: Sure. What do you want?

DKEMPER: Don’t ask me that!

[This blog post was inspired by Stephen King's recent blog post.]

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Blog Day Thought

Blog Day 2008
Blog Day was held on August 31. Bloggers celebrate this day by listing at least five other interesting blogs that they read.

This year I was thinking: Since I did not post anything on Blog Day (shame on me, I know, but please read my blogroll for several good reads), I will make it up by suggesting we do the following next year:

Let's help five people start a blog.

That's right. Let's help five people--friends, family members, your choice--start publishing a blog.

But, hey, why wait until next year. Start today.

Google Chrome: Polished Web Browsing

I think I must be psychic.

Exactly two years ago on this date, September 3, I wrote a blog post called "When will web browsing get interesting again" in which I talked about the new web called Browzar (which turned out to be a pseudo-browser), the state of web browsers in the general (that is, the release of Firefox and the on again, off again release of Internet Explorer 7) and wondered when would web browsing become interesting again. Back then I asked two questions, one of which I re-publish here:

When will we see a browser that gives users a solid and secure framework in which we can create, design, and interact with the web in ways that we define and tailor to our needs?
In the end, I concluded that it was not a matter of when a new browser with such features would appear, but rather who. Who would deliver the next generation web browser.

Fast-forward to September 2, 2008, Google releases its web browser called Chrome, a browser open source browser built on a new JavaScript engine called V8 that is fast and light-weight...and surprisingly lacking in bells and whistles one would normally expect. There is even no HOME button by default!

I downloaded Google Chrome and installed it, which was a seamless, trouble-free process. I installed Chrome on both my XP and Vista computers. No problems (so far) on either one of them. You are also given the option to import your bookmarks. Nice feature. I did. I launched Chrome and marvelled at its speed. The default start page is not blank but rather filled with clickable thumbnail images of websites, recently visited or recent searches. Start by clicking one of these thumbnails or by searching. The search bar is combined with the address bar with search suggestions. There are more features available in Chrome that are not readily visible. You will have to dig around a fair bit and play with settings and options. Better still. Visit Google's Chrome page and watch the instructional videos.

At the end of the day, is this the next generation web browser we've been waiting for? Is this the first shot in a new browser war?

Let me answer those questions this way.

I suspect what really counts with Google Chrome--and what will become more apparent down the road, 5-6 months from now--is what lurks under the hood. I will not attempt to explain Chrome's open source code base or JavaScript engine; that stuff is beyond me. But I will say that behind every technology decision, there is a business decision, which I feel suggests Google is pushing the web into the clouds, away from and no longer tied down to a specific operating system (i.e. Windows).

Google is part search company, part advertising company, but mostly a software engineering company that uses impressive engineering to deliver the tools and apps many of us use daily (e.g. Search, Gmail, Reader, Blogger, etc). And all of these tools live out there in the webosphere, not in here on our hard drives.

I believe Chrome is no different. It is the engineering in Chrome--that is, the open source engine--in addition to Google's own gutsiness to remake the Web untethered from any OS that will demonstrate in time whether this is indeed the browser that will change the game.

UPDATE #1: In re-reading this blog post, I wanted to make clear that, while Google Chrome performs smoothly, the browser is still beta, so bugs are inevitable as well as user interface peculiarities (a clumsy user interface, in some case, or clumsy user, you decide).

UPDATE #2: For a history of Chrome's development, read Wired's Steven Levy's article.

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.