Monday, March 22, 2010

“Born-Digital” and Born Again

I read a timely newspaper article on the plane to Atlanta recently to attend the Visual Resources Association annual conference: it mentioned the current exhibition at Emory University (in Atlanta) of an unusual “born-digital” archive of Salman Rushdie. It included four Apple computers (one ruined by a spilled Coke), which housed electronically produced book drafts, correspondence and editorial comments. This archive had presented the university archivists with the choice of simply saving the contents of the digital files, or of also preserving the organization and experience of using these early files. Emory opted for recreating the writing experience of Rushdie that gallery viewers can share in and play with. They can see the progress of written drafts and even make their own editorial comments (which takes a certain amount of chutzpah, considering that it is Rushdie!) “I know of no other place in the world that is providing access through emulation to a born-digital archives,” said Erika Farr, the director of born-digital initiatives at the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory.

The unique way the Emory archivists approached the thorny issues of digital preservation nicely illuminates the remarks that Trudy made in her initial blog on “Digital Preservation and Digital Copies.” Trudy pointed out the differences in the value of digital access and digital preservation, and the costs and difficulties that attend to each. Hammering home the significance of digital preservation for me was a session late in the VRA conference titled “Embedded Metadata: share, deliver, preserve.” Digital preservation should not be overlooked in this spectrum when evaluating an archival collection, despite our apparent primary focus on digital access that the visual resources field seems to favor. Context can be as important as content in the visual world, although it is often harder to capture and replicate. The difficulties and expense of archiving generations of equipment, software and the web environment can be overwhelming, but it must be done in order to allow our increasingly rich “born-digital” culture to be captured for future research and enjoyment.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who is providing funding?

There are basically two classes of grant makers - foundations and governments

The category of foundations includes private, family, corporate, and community foundations. Start local: Private donors may already be lurking in your membership; family foundations are often looking to support non-profits within their own locale; and community foundations serve as a clearing house for local private and family funding sources, they also may provide management and training for small non-profit organizations. Corporate support may come either from the corporation directly or through a foundation established by the corporation specifically to fund social causes served by non-profit organizations. Some foundations distribute grants nationwide, so research efforts should eventually reach beyond the local area.

Government funding is available at all levels - municipal, county, state, and federal governments. Particularly at the federal level, the process of applying for a grant can be very labor intensive. However, the federal government also passes some portion of it’s funding down to the local levels thus reducing the amount of red tape in applying for those funds.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Art of Cataloging

We all have heard the cataloging is an art not a science and last month at the Northern California VRA meeting, I heard Dr. Judy Weidman of San Jose State's SLIPS explain exactly how.  She is in the process of developing a thesis on "Design Theory: Creating local vocabularies for images."  She is basing much of her design theory on architectural writings, because as she said, they seem the most self-analytical, which is one way to put it.   I found her approach very refreshing. It may just be that, as a former architect, her approach is familiar to me, but also I was amazed at how it did work to guide my current efforts.  She had several premises: uncertainty is always present, Design is non linear and you are imposing an order.  The uncertainty comes from the fact that there is no absolutely right way to describe anything. It is non-linear because one choice influences another. Nor is it organic or meant to be, the cataloger is creating the structure, not revealing it.

The real crux of her argument for me was that one must define the problem before solving it, Obvious I know, but not always done. Many strive to fully and accurately describe an object, when maybe we should be striving to meaningfully describe it. To do that, we must define the audience that is looking for the meaning. As many of us know that can sometimes be the hardest description to accurately create.