2014 SGA Annual Meeting Breakout Sessions Recap: Let’s talk about access to digital records!

In an effort to engage the rich discussions that were had as part of the “Everyday Digital Archives” breakout sessions at the 2014 SGA Annual Meeting, here is the second of four posts highlighting topics that arose during the second breakout session discussing the issue of creating and managing access to digital records. Hopefully these posts will be thought provoking to the SGA membership and will help to contribute to the ongoing conversation about the many issues that come part and parcel with managing digital archives.
Breakout Session 2: Access to Digital Records
The Access to Electronic Records Working Group, part of SAA’s Reference, Access, and Outreach Section, observes that: “Much scrutiny has been placed on accessioning, processing and preserving electronic materials, while very little attention is given to how we provide access to these materials.”[1]  The goal of this breakout session was to bring attention to this very important topic.  Accessioning, processing, and preserving digital records are important (there’s no debate there!), but accessioning, processing, and preservation of digital records means nothing if the records are not being used.  And the only way digital records will be able to be used is if effective access mechanisms are created.  During the breakout session, several challenges to providing access to digital records were identified, including:
  • Copyright, Intellectual Property
  • Access to materials is often not covered in donor agreements
  • The need to implement access systems
  • Training for staff
  • Need for administration and constituent education (support, funding, understanding patron needs)
  • Security and control concerns
    • How do we ensure digital records cannot be altered, deleted, changed?
    • What tactics can we use to keep them available and safe?
      • Provide access to copy, prevent access to the digital original
      • Read only versions
  • Lack of IT infrastructure and support
  • Time and effort necessary to research and vet software and tools
In addition to the challenges outlined above, participants in the breakout session made several observations about issues that need to be addressed when tackling the task of providing access to digital records:
  • The issue of having the necessary skills:
  • The issue of intellectual and physical control over what is in our collections:
    • Only after getting intellectual and physical control of our records is access possible
  • The issue of obsolescence:
    • Tools change so rapidly that once a tool is implemented it is already obsolete
  • The issue of leadership:
    • No leaders in the state taking charge
  • The issue of access versus preservation:
    • Need access AND preservation platforms
A very fruitful conversation to come out of the “Access to Digital Records” breakout session was the discussion had by participants about what SGA can do to help.  Several suggestions were made, including:
  • Identify local leaders in the field willing to serve as a resource
  • Creation of a consulting committee to assist repositories in laying the groundwork for providing access to electronic records
  • Maintaining policies, guides, links to resources (under SGA’s “Resources” tab)
  • Host an online forum for practitioners to ask questions and discuss issues
  • Advocate for greater funding for USG-wide systems
  • Hands-on training sessions for tools such as DSpace and ArchivesSpace
Hopefully the ideas/issues/thoughts shared here have been useful.  Feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment!  Coming up next is a post on Breakout Session 3: Processing Digital Records.

[1]Reference, Access, and Outreach Section, “Access to Electronic Records Working Group,” Accessed August 2, 2015, http://www2.archivists.org/groups/reference-access-and-outreach-section/access-to-electronic-records-working-group

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