Examples of collecting event or topic-based social media material?

I just asked this on Twitter, and suggestions are coming in fast, so I’ll use this post as a way of documenting them and re-posting the question. I’m looking for examples of repositories actively collecting social media material (that is, things posted on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) regarding a specific event or topic. I’m also interested in following up to learn whether or not the repository asked permission from those who create the material or not. In some cases it appears that people were asked to contribute (as in the UVa site) but in most others it looks like the creators were not contacted.

This is what people have suggested so far–I haven’t look yet at the content of all of these to see if are what I’m looking for, but they’re all interesting. It would also be interesting to learn to what degree these collections have been “accessioned” into the repository’s holdings and what plans are for long-term preservation, etc. Or are these just online platforms for access (as The Texas Collection by Baylor University on Storify seems to be).

National Library of Ireland, collections documenting the 2011 general and presidential elections 

University of Virginia, materials relating to the resignation and reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan 

The Tamiment Library, Sites with the topic “Occupy Wall Street”  (“No advanced permission, but we honor robots txt exclusions and have a take down policy.”

Queens College’s Archiving Occupy Project collected “digital traces” with the permission of the creators (see their Collection Development policy in the About section).

Syracuse University, Boston Marathon Tweets (not clear if those are actually part of an accessioned collection or not)

Our Marathon, Northeastern University (not sure if it has social media, not to check)

@MuseumofLondon captured tweets around the Olympics #citizencurators–Life in London during the Games 

UK Web archives captures blogs and websites around events (presumably also including some blogs)

Arab American National Museum, many collections on Archive-It, but see for example Arab America on Social Media

Bentley collected #bbum tweets related to the Being Black at University of Michigan campaign (no link yet, still ongoing)

Minnesota 2.0, a student project with an interesting model, and regarding permissions: “each image in this archive has been “scrubbed” of directly identifying information: last names and personal photos have been blurred.”





Guest post: Megan McShea responds to “Does the Creation of EAD Finding Aids Inhibit Archival Activities?”

Below is a response to “Does the Creation of EAD Finding Aids Inhibit Archival Activities?,” a post by Joshua Ranger on the AV Preserve site. I’m sharing it on behalf on the author, Megan McShea, Audiovisual Archivist at the Archives of American Art. As always, I’m happy to let other archivists use my blog as a platform for sharing ideas and furthering the debate of important issues.

 Alright, Josh. People keep sending this link to me from your recent newsletter blast, so looks like I’d better respond. My response has gotten to be almost as long as your original post, so Kate has generously agreed to post my response on her blog, ArchivesNext.

I agree that archival audiovisual media require more intervention than most types of archival records, and I agree that traditional processing workflows can ignore their needs. Without special attention to AV, you often get poorly described media, inaccessible both intellectually and physically, and therefore more at risk and hidden as their collections get checked off as “processed.”  But I think there are lots of ways to approach this problem, and for us and any repository with an active EAD implementation as part of their workflow, EAD finding aids have a big role to play.

I think we may be dealing with a problem of talking across communities of practice, here. Media-specific archives whose systems are friendlier towards item-level cataloging (or even sub-item level access) don’t see the utility of EAD, and archival repositories that are not specialized in audiovisual media, but who have AV mixed in their collections, tend to look to their existing processes for the solution.

At the Archives of American Art, we do both the things you and Adam are talking about in the comments here – we create item records when we digitize, either for access or for preservation, and we create finding aids for collections which may or may not have digitized content. The digitization queue and the processing queue are driven by different factors, but truth be told, for description, the processing queue is much more efficient and effective than the digitization queue, as active as it is. Just looking at the numbers, over the last 6 years or so, we’ve managed to digitize/preserve about 1500 AV items from our collection, which contains about 15K AV objects.  10%. In the EAD finding aids we’ve done in the same time period, at least twice that many AV records have been described.

And along the way, we’ve also created a detailed inventory of 15,000 media objects in 800 collections for preservation and collection management. We don’t put that data in our finding aids because the researcher has no need for it. Description for researchers at a minimum needs to say what it is, how it relates to the other stuff in the collection, and how to access it. By getting some basic form and content information into the title, and by including a little bit about format, researchers know if they want to play it as part of their research, and our reference staff knows what we can and can’t do with it. And meantime, the processing staff doesn’t get bogged down in detailed, item-level work. Instead, we collect the detailed information we need to support preservation and collection management on accession of a collection with media, and the database we use to capture that information is used to generate our preservation queue, which is used to create grant projects and support collection-wide activities like planning for cold storage, for instance.

And whether or not you’re familiar with the standard, EAD is here to stay. A recent pre-survey of moving image catalogers, done as part of the update to the AMIA cataloging practice compendium, showed that 31% of moving image catalogers worked at institutions that use EAD. EAD has wide international use and free tools for implementation and the support of the archival community. For us, and I suspect for many collections that are not solely comprised of audiovisual recordings, online finding aids are going to continue to be the primary descriptive tool for our collections. So media in collections are going to get described in EAD, whether or not they get described at the item level as well as a result of digitization.

The real problem in my opinion is that the EAD as written doesn’t provide any guidance for how to describe audiovisual media, so media in collections described in EAD often aren’t described accurately or adequately. The revision coming out this year, EAD3, looks promising for improvement in that area (and a study group is forming that seems like just the right forum for improving media description as the new version is implemented). In the meantime, we’ve been working on guidelines for our processing archivists that are standards compliant and allow us to describe AV in our collections to what I believe is a minimally acceptable level, and to do it consistently and in a standards-compliant way. Last year those guidelines were adopted Smithsonian-wide via the implementation of Archivist’s Toolkit. I routinely get asked for them by other repositories. (Here’s a link to a draft if anyone’s interested).

A couple of things I wanted to point out, too, in response to your blog post. Most archives that create finding aids have collection-level MARC records in their catalogs that link out to the finding aid, so the main catalog does provide access to finding aids, generally speaking. Also, many repositories have found ways to make their finding aids discoverable via web searches, including ours. Try searching for Ad Reinhardt, for example. As of this writing, Google gives our finding aid as the third result. It takes a little doing to make that happen, but it’s do-able, and it’s do-able because EAD is such a portable structure for descriptive metadata.

And with developments like EAC-CPF and research going on around EAD content discoverability, it’s only going to get better. A recent webinar hosted by OCLC Research came with a follow-up e-mail noting a lot of smart people experimenting to see what you can do with EAD structured data. Check out ArchivesGrid, SNAC, findingaids.priceton.edu, etc. Not to mention the awesome regional portals, OAC, NWDA, MWDL, among others (see the appendix of this document, for example). There’s lots of evidence that people like finding aids, too. An Ithaka S+R user study of historians last year found that the number one thing historians want more of from archives is online finding aids.

In light of this widespread adoption and appreciation for their utility by researchers, I think it makes sense for moving image and sound archivists to improve the standard to make sure it serves our collections better than it has in the past.

There are lots of ways to solve the AV access and preservation problem, and different solutions will work in different contexts. In our experience, that is, in a manuscript repository with large, mixed-media collections, EAD is the most efficient descriptive tool for making media in collections intellectually and physically accessible.


What are the differences between archival culture in the U.S. and Canada?

I’ve been invited to give a short talk at an event in Canada and in thinking about what I want to say I am nervous that I may perhaps not have an accurate understanding of how things may differ for our archival colleagues to the north. I think I understand the differences in mechanics–about the words we use, the way we describe things, etc. What I’m not sure I have a good grasp on are the differences in what, for lack of a better term I’ve called “archival culture.” In other words, the ways in which archivists relate to each other, to historians, to patrons, to funders, etc. How are archival organizations in Canada viewed and valued by their society? In what key ways is this “archival culture” different from that of the U.S.? Or is it not so different?

I’d appreciate any thoughts or insights to help me from putting a foot wrong in my talk. And, of course, this may generate an interesting conversation that may help others and be of general interest to many. So, please, comment away and share your thoughts on the differences–or lack thereof–between archival culture in the U.S. and Canada.



Sessions of possible interest for archivists at American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Jan. 2-5 in DC

I did a roundup yesterday on Twitter, but here collected in one place for your convenience is my attempt to list the sessions that seem to have a bearing on archives or special collections from the program of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association this January (2-5) in Washington, D.C. As I said on Twitter, the most kickass session will be Digital Historiography and the Archives (ahem, yes, that’s the one I’m part of). However, there are many other good sessions in that same timeslot as well as throughout the conference. The hotel rate is a quite reasonable $130, and I know quite a few of you would find a meeting in DC easy to attend, so I hope to see many other archives people there. I’ve attended this meeting once before and found everyone to be quite friendly, so don’t be intimidated by the fancy academics. Let me know if there are any sessions that should be added to this list.

Continue reading “Sessions of possible interest for archivists at American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Jan. 2-5 in DC”

A challenge: Can you find stories related to one day, December 28, 1986?

Friends, colleagues, researchers, and anyone else who this post can reach, I am here to forward to you a challenge.

We often say that one of the most important reasons we preserve archives is for the stories they tell about “ordinary” people. Well here is your chance to share some of those stories. Below is a challenge from noted author Gene Weingarten (multiple Pulitizers, people!), who has asked me to help him get his message out to the archival community. And I am happy to do that, and to communities of historians, librarians, genealogists, and people who keep their own archives that document themselves and their own families. I know we can help him find the material for this book. So, please:

  1. Read his eloquent request. 
  2. Dig into the collections you know about.
  3. Send him whatever you find that might fit the bill. (Caveat: I’ve confirmed that he’s only looking for US-based stories. So if you’re outside the US, but your story or documents relate to Americans, please get in touch with him.) 
  4. Pass this request along to your family, friends, and colleagues if you think they can help.

I feel like I should have my Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It!” picture here. I actually don’t know if we can do it, but I know that this is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the value of archives. So, please: read, dig, forward!

Dec 28 1986


 Is There Such a Thing as An Ordinary Day? 

(A challenge/plea from Gene Weingarten, The Washington Post)

 I am writing a book about a single day in American history, a date I chose at random by drawing numbers out of a hat. My working thesis is that life is an endless, fascinating drama, and that if one digs deeply enough into any single day – the basic, irreducible unit of human existence – one will come up with a rich and textured story with interlacing, universal themes.   The publisher is Penguin, and the book (tentatively titled “One Day”) is scheduled for release in 2016.

That’s my random day, above. It’s the Sunday between Christmas and New Years in the year of Challenger and Chernobyl.  To help build this book, I’m hoping to borrow your skills, your experience, your resources, your intuition . . . and your generosity.

So far, I’ve found many interesting, dramatic events from December 28th, 1986: lurid murders, celebrity deaths (John D. MacDonald, for example), devastating accidents, advances in technology, and so forth.  But mostly these have been matters that somehow found their way into the news or other easily searchable public records, or turns up in a Google hit when searching the date.  What I am seeking now are more elusive stories, harder-to-find events and anecdotes from private lives that had intense meaning or resonance within those lives, or were portentous of larger events to come.   Or other sorts of events – within the business world, or in the military, for example – that didn’t make the news.

So, what, in particular, would be of value?  Someone celebrating her 12th birthday on that day would be of no particular interest to me.  But someone who celebrated her 12th birthday on that day, got her first microscope as a present, and would go on to become a successful cancer researcher  ….  very possibly.  The book will be anchored on The Day, but will have the advantage of being able to be contextualized, by looking forward (and backward) in time.  One of the best stories I have so far – and one of the few that takes place on a very private scale – involves a mid-30s couple who met on that day, while on dates with other people.   The following day, they had their first date.  The day after that, they announced to a room full of people that they were engaged.  The day after that, they moved in together.  A stunning, stupid tale of impetuosity …. except they’re still married and adorably in love.

I am asking you for help in finding good stories, in whatever way you can.  In return, I can offer you public gratitude: acknowledgement of your efforts in my book, and publicity for the good work you do.

Please communicate with me (all correspondence will be treated as private and privileged) at gene.weingarten@washpost.com, or by phone at 240-994-2362.

A simple request, and yet not so simple. How many of our collections have material that recent? How many can be accessed by date? Do we know enough about our subjects to be able to put together the kind of stories Mr. Weingarten is looking for? That’s why I suspect people examining their own personal documentation may end up being more successful than the custodians of other people’s collections. But I’m interested in what you can find. So keep me posted in the comments about your progress, but more importantly share your stories with our illustrious friend.


Metadata is a foreign concept? Whaaaat?!? (Part Two) – A guest post by Greg Bak

[This is the second guest post by Greg Bak, Archival Studies, Department of History, University of Manitoba.]

Thanks again to Kate for agreeing to publish my presentation on her blog. In Part One of this guest post I discuss some of the Twitter reaction to my talk; in Part Two I include the slides and speaking notes from my talk.

This second part of my guest post is to set out a bit of the context for my presentation, and to provide the slides and speaking notes, which you can access here: Bak_SAA13_s701.

Update, December 18, 2013: At Greg’s request his slides are no longer accessible as he is expanding on his ideas for a lengthier discussion in a journal article. If you would like a copy of the slides, please contact him at  Greg.Bak@umanitoba.ca.

My presentation was the third of three in SAA 2013 session 701. The session was titled “It’s All About the Items: Digital Objects and Aggregations in Archival Description and Access.” My co-presenters, Kelcy Shepherd of Amherst College and Kat Timms of Library and Archives Canada, had just spoken to the challenges posed by item-level metadata within archival theory and practice.

I chose to build on Kelcy’s and Kat’s talks while providing a different conceptual framework. Following their talks meant that I didn’t have to get into the question of why archives must manage item-level metadata: Kelcy had just discussed this with reference to made-digital records, and Kat had done so with reference to born-digital records.

This is a point that I have addressed in an earlier article (Bak and Armstrong 2008). Digital preservation and digital management require that archives create or capture item-level metadata. My presentation is in no way intended to ignore this basic fact of digital archiving. Instead, I focused on the nature of items and aggregations within archival theory in contrast with bibliographic theory.

The presentation was to take only 20 minutes. It lacks the nuance and depth of evidence that I will include in the manuscript that I submit for peer review.  Additionally, I was not able to build upon the basic foundations laid out in this presentation to examine how reconceptualizing archival data could allow us to reimagine not just the description, discovery and access of archival records, but other archival functions as well, including appraisal, preservation and outreach.  Some of these implications are addressed in a piece I published in Archival Science in 2012, while others emerged in the panel discussion after the talk.

As I revise the presentation for publication I welcome your thoughts and comments about the ideas included here. Please feel free either to comment below this blog post or to contact me by email: greg.bak@umanitoba.ca.


Bak G (2012) Continuous classification: capturing dynamic relationships among digital information resources. Archival Science 12.3:287-318.

Bak G, Armstrong P (2008) Points of convergence: seamless long-term access to digital publications and archival records at Library and Archives Canada. Archival Science 8.4:279-293.


Metadata is a foreign concept? Whaaaat?!? (Part One) – A guest post by Greg Bak

[This is a guest post by Greg Bak, Archival Studies, Department of History, University of Manitoba. ]

Thanks to Kate for agreeing to publish my recent SAA presentation on her blog. In Part One of this guest post I discuss some of the Twitter reaction to my talk; in Part Two I include the slides and speaking notes from my talk.

Okay, so I’m paraphrasing here, but the title of this post summarizes reactions on Twitter to my presentation at SAA 2013 session 701. In the course of my talk I suggested that “Metadata is a natural concept for librarians and a foreign concept for archives.” Here are a few tweets that followed:

 Brad Houston:
Hmm. Metadata a foreign concept to archivists? Don’t think I agree with that at all. Used all the time, even if the word isn’t #Saa13 #s701 

Kind of getting annoyed by the assumptions made in this preso. Metadata is implicit in most description we do as archivists #Saa13 #s701 

Geof Huth:
How could say this and use the word “folksonomies” in the same presentation?

 Couldn’t figure out how he came to this conclusion. I mean, finding aids (of any kind) are metadata.

Things didn’t get much better when I went on to suggest that metadata, as a concept, is foreign to social media, too:

 Krystal Thomas:
hmm, also not sure I am buying the idea that metadata is foreign to social media though something to think about #s701 #saa13

 Andrew Berger:
Metadata is foreign to social media? #saa13

 Brad Houston:
Metadata is foreign to social media?” Um, I’ve got a spreadsheet of #Saa13 tweets on Google Drive which says otherwise #s701 

Thankfully, a couple of folks picked up the nuances and saved me from myself:

 Mark Matienzo:
From the looks of Twitter my colleagues are seriously misunderstanding Greg Bak’s presentation #saa13

 Sami Norling:
Metadata is a natural concept for librarians and a foreign concept for archivists (at least at its introduction) #saa13

 Seth Shaw:
“Metadata is foreign to social media”? I don’t buy the argument though I accept the implication: it is all ‘just’ data. #s701 #saa13

Sami Norling perceptively noted the emphasis I put in my oral remarks on archivists’ initial reluctance, in the 1980s and 1990s, to embrace metadata as a concept, while Seth Shaw evaluated my statement in light of the definition of metadata that I used in my paper. Mark Matienzo urged that people not react to my (poor) choice of wording, but take into account the ideas behind the words.

Not that I was using an obscure or idiosyncratic definition of metadata: I defined it as “data about data.” My point was that when defined in this way, the very concept of metadata requires that there be primary data (for example, a digital object or an analog document) and secondary data (data that is outside of, above or apart from the primary data).

My contention is that when the term began to gain currency among archivists in the 1990’s there was an instinctive reaction against it, followed by an attempt to re-frame it into archival terms. Adrian Cunningham, writing in Archival Science in 2001, scoffed that “When most of us first encountered the term metadata, we were probably repelled by yet another debasement of the English language by a bunch of barbarian techno-boffins.”  Cunningham presses on, discussing various definitions of the term before suggesting that “metadata is simply a new term for information that has been around for a very long time, but which now looks a bit different due to the advent of computer technology.” He rounds off his brief discussion with the claim that “archivists are metadata experts – it is just that we tend not to think in those terms,” and lists some examples of what he would consider archival metadata: finding aids, index cards, file covers, file registers and so on.

In my paper I sought to return to the initial wariness of archivists for the concept and re-evaluate this reluctance. What if archival anxiety around “metadata” was triggered not by fear of “debasement of the English language”, but rather from concern for debasement of archival theory?

This is the real issue: in archival theory, the kind of data typically identified as “metadata” is an integral part of the record. It is evidence of relationships among records and records users. It is not “meta” data; it is simply data. It is data that must be acquired and managed as a necessary part of the record. It is the data that makes the difference between a bunch of discrete, solitary items and a fully interrelated set of archival records.

This, moreover, is also how such data is managed within social media applications. Data that describes the use of information resources is not “meta” data, it is simply data: data that enables the weighting of search results, creating tangible differences in rankings, visibility and usefulness.

I am presently writing my SAA presentation for peer-reviewed publication. If you would like to see how I presented these ideas at SAA, my presentation slides and speaking notes will be included in “Part Two” of this post. I welcome any and all feedback, either in this blog’s comments or by sending me an email at greg.bak@umanitoba.ca.


Cunningham A (2001). Six degrees of separation: Australian metadata initiatives and their relationships with international standards. Archival Science 1.3:271-283.


Gauging interest in group (formal or informal) for “mid career” archivists

Hey, all. Just a quick note from the SAA Annual Meeting. There has been some informal talk for a while about the need for some kind of group–maybe formal, maybe informal–for “mid-career” archivists to share information and network (and possibly also serve as a resource for others). Since there are quite a few of us here in New Orleans, we’re going to just have an impromptu meeting to start the discussion

If you’re here at #saa13 and can make it, please join us on Friday from 5:45 – 6:45 (drop in any time) in the Fountain Room on the third floor (this is the informal meeting room space). This is the same time slot as the Awards Ceremony, but it’s the best time I could find. We’ll be discussing what needs might be met by a group and how best to meet them.

If you cannot attend and you’re interested in the topic, please leave a comment on this Google doc, and share what topics you think are most relevant, etc:


(And, yes, we aren’t defining what “mid-career” means. If you feel like you’re mid-career, participate.)


Spontaneous Scholarships 2013: 4 weeks (plus a bit), 84 generous people, 38 lucky people

As we close out the Spontaneous Scholarship drive for this year, I’m happy to report that your donations funded even more people than last year: 26 students and 12 regular SAA members will have their registrations for the SAA Annual meeting reimbursed. As the person who gets to see the messages from everyone, the lucky people and the ones who didn’t get selected, I can tell you that the generosity of the donors is truly appreciated, and everyone is grateful for the chance to get some financial assistance.

For those of you who like numbers, 26 out of 46 student applicants were selected and 12 out of 25 regular applicants, so we were able to fund a little more than half the people who applied. It’s great that we were able to fund so many people since overall donations were down a bit: last year we had 103 donors and raised over $8,000 and this year we had 84 donors giving about $7,500. And I should mention that around the mid-point of this year’s campaign, when I was worried that donations were down, someone who has been very generous in every year wrote an additional Big Check to help out. If it weren’t for that individual’s extraordinary generosity, we wouldn’t have been able to break last year’s record for scholarships. I’m not sure why donations might be down, but I’ll have to give some thought to what I might be able to do to combat possible “donor fatigue.”

But, overall the program has been very successful, of course. Over the past three years your generosity has funded 98 people–58 of them students–and helped them attend the SAA Annual meeting. In 2014 SAA will be returning to D.C., which is traditionally a very well attended meeting. I’m sure we’ll have more names in the hat than ever, so I hope you’ll consider making a donation to help them next June. And thanks again to everyone who contributed this year!



Call for participation for ART Symposium: Disaster Planning for Archives and their Communities (October 7)

I was asked to help spread the word about this call for participation from the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York for their conference, “Disaster Planning for Archives and their Communities,” to be held on October 7 with a deadline of August 1 for submitting a proposal.

If you’d like to participate as a speaker, here’s their list of possible topics:

Case studies and “lessons learned” from Sandy or other disasters

Protecting personal and family records — providing outreach to the general public

Continuity of operations and logistics — how to get back up and running after a disaster

Navigating FEMA and other disaster relief assistance

Preventative care of collections versus post-disaster recovery

Lone arrangers and small shops — how can small archives band together to help one another

Using a disaster to advocate within your organization — making the archive valuable during a disaster

Archivists as volunteers — fostering a culture of giving and creating a network of archivist volunteers

Disaster planning and recovery on a budget

How archives and cultural institutions fit into the larger emergence response picture, especially post-Katrina.

Keeping up morale, resources and volunteer support weeks and months after a disaster

Disaster planning for born-digital and electronic records

Protecting vital records for both the archive and the larger organization

Archiving disaster — how does a significant event like 9/11 change the normal retention of records? what is the role of the archivist? how are records appraised?

Man-made versus natural disasters — the international perspective, especially in areas subject to armed conflict.

Advocating for archives during larger disaster situations when disaster recovery resources and relief are stretched.

They welcome speakers from outside the NYC region. So if you’d like to participate please go to their site for details. Looks like a great event and I hope many people will be able to attend in October.