I came to the Masters of Archives and Records Administration program at San Jose State University with the intention of learning the fundamental principles for managing digital assets such as print, web, audio and video media. I have become the custodian of the digital assets that are the output of my department in my workplace. I have this responsibility mostly by default and I share custodianship with a few colleagues none of whom have any training in records or media management, preservation and archiving.
I have learned in the MARA program that not having a strategy and roadmap for records lifecycle management equates to poor management of records. Furthermore, ignorance of relevant standards and best practices reliably leads to negative consequences for the records and their users. This impacts the organization in many ways—loss of efficiency and creativity, loss of institutional memory, legal liability and inability to optimize performance in the marketplace. I sought my MARA education to remedy the lack of vision and direction with regard to digital assets at my work. My goal was to empower and equip myself to thoughtfully analyze the current state, set priorities for improvement, develop a strategy and plan of action and make informed choices about the tools and methods we could apply going forward.
I had tried for several years to educate myself about digital asset management by attending professional conferences, attending webinars on various related technologies and reading case studies and white papers. This self-led approach was fascinating but I still felt very ignorant and overwhelmed and it often felt like I was trying to drink from a firehose. I knew that the MARA program would give me perspectives and vocabulary that would help me to succeed in the challenges in my job.
I did not expect the MARA degree to turn me into an expert because it was very clear that the leaders in this field have many years of experience behind them and they also very often have some background in technology. In the company of real experts I felt very disadvantaged. However, I immediately knew that I wanted to become part of the professional DAM community. Several of my role models had vast breadth and depth of knowledge, keen wit and tremendous savvy in putting the DAM pieces together.
The MARA program exposed me to the high level paradigms within the records and archival field and knit those concepts and theories together with ground level reality. For example contemplation of the theories about the essential nature of a record lifecycle (linear vs. a continuum) have already helped me to identify patterns and ask meaningful questions about the use and reuse of assets and information in my workplace.
One author has led me on an especially interesting and valuable journey. This journey has informed my attitudes and has guided me in my current stance toward the challenges at work. I first read a journal article by Julie McLeod in MARA 249 Electronic Recordkeeping Systems & Issues in Electronic Recordkeeping. The paper summarized the results of a 3-year study to generally assess the state of electronic records management and describe the primary challenges to successful implementation (McLeod, Childs & Hardiman, 2011).
The headlines from the AC+ erm study were rather disheartening: very few organizations have a vision of success much less were on the path to achieving it; people issues are the main problems; there can be many right and many wrong answers in a given situation; and records professionals themselves can at times get in the way of their own success. This was not the first time that I had been profoundly disturbed by a reading for class. Nevertheless, I was impressed by Ms. McLeod’s insight and clarity peppered with a dash of dry humor.
I sought other writings by Julie McLeod and through her article “Tackling the wicked problem of ERM: Using the Cynefin framework as a lens” I encountered for the first time a logical model. Through this article and my subsequent explorations into the work of David Snowden I became familiar with Snowden’s method for assessing whether a situation is simple, complicated, complex or chaotic. Each type of situation requires very different responses or management approaches. In order to be effective in any enterprise it is imperative to understand what kind of system one is faced with. The Cynefin framework is grounded in understanding of human behavior and storytelling, something that I believe comes naturally to those of us who are inclined to this profession. This almost accidental brush with systems theory and the tools and principles for dealing with complexity gave me a tremendous rush of gratitude and a feeling of hope that has carried me along in the program.
I have opportunities on an almost daily basis to apply the logic and values that I have cultivated in the MARA program. The company that I work for is publicly traded and has domestic and international lines of business. In this setting I am forced to accept the core fact that business priorities are the driver behind virtually every decision. It is possible to gain support for a project because it is the right thing to do, but it will not get very far if you cannot prove its value in terms of cost avoidance or return on investment.
With that understanding I am both an artist and a realist when it comes to dealing with workflow, digital asset management and project development. I am taking baby steps toward implementation of a DAM system but I am not taking any shortcuts. We have conducted discovery of our assets and workflows, taken a snapshot of the DAM tools currently in use throughout the enterprise, built a metadata model and documented our business and functional requirements. In the coming months I will finalize the DAM project charter and present the business case to secure funding for the project through the vendor selection process and beyond. At the same time, I am working to build a DAM community within the larger business unit.
I have been inspired by many leaders in the records and archives community. Given my background I was quite moved by Cassie Findlay’s address at the National Archives of the Netherlands, The Hague (Findlay, 2014) in which she implores the profession to adjust its priorities and approaches to better serve the demands of our increasingly mobile, cloud-based and commodified information marketplace. She reasons that information is proliferating too fast for us to insist on models of appraisal that are not sustainable. Rather we should be focused on risk management and vital records and partnering with records creators to maintain contextuality in core business systems and systems of record. Our RIM perspective on business process and the value and flow of information helps to ensure that information can remain accessible and can be extended to new user groups as our legacy to future generations.
Ms. Findlay’s values and insights speak directly to Competency J: Identify ways in which archivists and records administrators contribute to the cultural, economic, educational and social well-being of our global communities. As individuals we bear witness to the events of our time. As archivists and recordkeepers we have the duty to protect the official record and ensure its integrity. We also have the opportunity help design systems that will enable future generations to have access to these records whether those are personal in nature, part of a heritage institution or pertaining to the activities of government.
Prior to my current career I spent about ten years in the not-for-profit sector. In art school I had learned to shoot and edit video and so after graduation I worked in community media. The first organization I worked in was dedicated to providing video equipment and training to local New York City community groups and artists. The other organization had a media unit that produced a local public access cable show that provided health information to the LGBT community and also ran an oral history project. Doing this work I understood firsthand the power of media representation and its vital role in building cultural identity. Media and storytelling also can be used to create positive change in the community and literally save lives. My background in media and oral history is my first piece of evidence that I have mastered this competency.
Another piece of evidence of my mastery of this competency is my research paper for MARA200. The non-profit group Witness.org uses video to document the testimony of witnesses and victims, abuses caught on tape, interviews, evidentiary submissions and hidden camera investigations. “WITNESS trains and supports activists and citizens around the world to use video safely, ethically, and effectively to expose human rights abuse and fight for human rights change.” (Witness, n.d.). The Witness Media Archive uses PBCore Metadata model to manage their extensive library.
I chose to feature this organization in my paper because it took me back to my grassroots media roots. In 1995 I was part of a team that created an Emmy-award winning investigative documentary about two women survivors of a concentration camp in former Yugoslavia. We shot the video while the war was still going on. The women were victims of sexual abuse inflicted as part of a genocide strategy. They later went on to testify against their perpetrators in The Hague. From these examples, it is clear that I have a deep respect for documentary truth in any form.
My professional goal is to continue on the path toward development of a functioning DAM at my workplace that supports creativity and efficiency and mitigates risk. My personal goal is increasingly to close the circle and connect my past to my present by using the power of the record (any media) to expose the truth and protect voices that are underrepresented. A couple of years ago I attended a DAM Meetup here in New York City that was a presentation by the archivist for the Occupy Movement. She had a tough job because it was often impossible to define the rights attached to the media that was being given to her for archiving. Nevertheless it was an important collection and fortunately the material was in the hands of someone who appreciated the sensitive nature of the contents and its unique legal dimensions. She was called upon to offer her services as archivist and she showed up. My goal as a newly minted MARA graduate is to be available to help document the next chapter in our history.
Findlay, C. (February 5, 2014). Opinion: Reinventing archival methods [Blog]. Retrieved from https://rkroundtable.org/2014/02/05/reinventing-archival-methods-in-the-hague/
McLeod, J., Childs, S. & Hardiman, R. (2011). Accelerating positive change in electronic records management: Headline findings from a major research project. Archives and Manuscripts (39)2, 66-94. Retrieved from http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/5604/1/McleodChildsHardiman2011ArchivesManuscripts.pdf
McLeod, J. & Childs, S. (2013). Tackling the wicked problem of ERM: Using the Cynefin framework as a lens. Records Management Journal(23)2, 104-135.
Witness. (n.d.). Witness media archive mission [Web page]. Retrieved from https://witness.org/about/