Tech in the archives- what should I teach them?

Don’t get too excited. I’m not teaching a whole course. That didn’t happen. Yet. (Though I get the impression it may eventually be eminent…)

But I have been invited to speak to a graduate level Intro to Archives class about “Technology in the Archives” in November. The course instructor is basically giving me free reign to talk to the students about any and all tech-related stuff that I think they should know before going off to work in an archives today. Well, “any and all” that will fit into an approximately 2-hour discussion.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that technology has permeated practically every aspect of our lives these days, and yes, it’s made its way into the archives world as well, of course. So I’m trying to organize my thoughts as to what areas I would like to try to cover and how to arrange that discussion.

Right now, I think I’m going to start with some broad categories and go from there. Those categories are:

  • Access tools (technology-based ways of getting the “stuff” to the people)
  • Outreach/promotional tools (mostly social media since that’s a lot of what I was hired to do)
  • Organization tools (the behind-the-scenes ways of using tech to keep yourself from going completely insane as you attempt to manage, locate, preserve, etc. the beloved “stuff”)

I have plenty of ideas about what to talk about- web development, social media (SO MANY IDEAS), databases, digitization, digital asset management systems, metadata, digital preservation… And there’s always trolling the recent job posts to see what’s listed in those, tech-wise, under the required/desired skills.

But I thought I’d post an open forum to see what any of the rest of you might like to suggest to help me help the students. So I ask you, fellow archivists:

What “tech stuff” do you think is critical for future archivists (or heck, current archivists) to learn these days?

And when I say “critical,” let’s take that with a grain of salt and ride the line of generality- pretend this archivist is suppose to be a jack of all trades or perhaps a “Lone Arranger.” Obviously, there’s going to be some kind of continuum spanning from All-Things-Digital-Archivist to I-Only-Handle-Historic-Manuscripts-and-Have-Nothing-to-do-with-their-Digitization-Archivist. But even in the case of the latter, they probably still have a computer at their desk and the occasional (electronic) finding aid or database to contend with! But let’s aim for somewhere in the middle, because I only have 2 hours!

I also plan to sneak in some tech-related snippets of career advice. OK, so since I’m publishing that statement for all to see at the moment, it probably can’t really be considered “sneaking” at this point…but anyway.

So what do you think, folks? What tech stuff could you not live without? Or what tech knowledge (yours or others’) do you use frequently in your work as an archivist? Or what tech stuff do you wish they’d taught you (or at least warned you about!) in your formal library/archives training?

My talk is on November 6th, but I plan to have this PowerPoint geared up and ready quite a while before then, although it’s already a work in progress.

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3 responses to “Tech in the archives- what should I teach them?

  1. Not an archivist, BUT… some of the things we do where I work (and we do have archivists at my workplace):

    –DOI (Digital Object Identifiers) to make sure publications are always available, so when someone uses a link as a reference in their work, it’s a guaranteed find.
    –We have a digital archive where I work, including photographs of equipment used in past research, which is no longer being used. Sometimes we don’t know what these things are, so we crowdsource to get some feedback on how some of these contraptions were really used.
    –Big Data Management. As part of the Open Gov’t Initiative, we need to make all research available to the public. It’s not just the publications that are written, it’s the raw data too. How to capture this info so it’s transferable even when storage mediums change, stuff like that.

    I know you aren’t a gov’t librarian so you don’t have the same focus as we do. Just throwing some ideas out there.

  2. I think that archivists should have a solid understanding of what a database is, what a server is, the theory behind how management software works, understanding open source vs. enterprise, knowing basic web design and platforms like drupal, and understanding network connectivity (network drives, SANs, NASs, etc.). This will give the foundation for an archivist to talk to a tech/IT person without needing a lot of translation and able to articulate what is needed in the realm of archives and digital preservation.

    However, I also think it’s important to address that Intro to Archives students may not understand what all of the above means in the context of archival collections and day to day operations because they have not experienced it. I remember in my library school days, I had a class and I decided to do a presentation on Digital Asset Management in the realm of Digital Preservation. I probably only understood 60% of what DAM was at the time. But, now that I’ve been in the field for several years and am a practicing digital archivist, I have a whole new appreciation and understanding of what I was researching. I suppose that this is true for any skill that is taught theoretically in an Intro class, including traditional skills like arrangement and description. But it could be a nice career tip/teaching moment.

    • Thanks, Sasha! That advice is very helpful. I will have definitely try to remember that the students may not have much context for what I’m telling them. And I definitely agree about databases and knowing enough general tech stuff to translate what you want to the IT folks.

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