Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post is from I&A Vice Chair Rachel Mandell. She is Digital Archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
What was your first job in a library, archive, or museum?
As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, I worked in Doe Library, the university’s main library stacks. The student library employees switched tasks every hour of our shifts; tasks included re-shelving books, collecting discarded books or belongings left behind by patrons, and participating in larger projects like shifting books. Re-shelving books involved gathering an entire library cart full of books and first arranging them in the proper Library of Congress order before bringing them back to the stacks. One of my favorite memories of that job was competing with my fellow student workers to see who could put together an entire cart the quickest without any mistakes!
What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?
Last year, I served as the Issues and Advocacy Intern. As a project archivist, I have found it difficult to acquire institutional support for professional development opportunities outside of my current position. I saw the internship as a great way to get involved in SAA, without taking too much time away from my daily tasks. After spending a semester working with the Issues and Advocacy team, I was hooked! It’s a great way to stay up to date with important archival issues and stay connected to larger archival community!
What is one major issue you see archives tackling in the next five to ten years?
I would love to see linked data incorporated into the archival field. In the linked data environment, connections between data points are created with links that are machine accessible rather than human accessible. The library community has already begun to tackle this issue. By using encoding schemas such as BIBFRAME created by the Library of Congress, the library catalog gets transformed into something more than structured information. These links become actual “things” that are connected to each other. For example, exposing library metadata as linked data means it could be crawled by search engine bots and included in user search results along with articles from Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). In the archival environment, we can imagine using linked data to connect many different vocabularies to a collection of materials. We don’t need to risk interoperability by choosing one vocabulary over another, because we can link to many. Through linked data, we can make our projects more dynamic and flexible.
What archive issue means a lot to you?
My current work on the Japanese American Digitization Project at California State University, Dominguez Hills deals with an archival issue that has become very important to me: accurate archival description. The controversy surrounding how the Japanese American experience in the 20th century was historically and typically described by government agencies such as the War Relocation Authority is very present in this project. For example, internment is not a preferred or even an accurate term when describing nearly 120,000 people who were forced to leave their homes; internment refers to the legally permissible detention of enemy aliens in the time of war. So it is extremely problematic to apply this term to the unlawful incarceration of American citizens — and nearly 2/3 of those people incarcerated were U.S. citizens. As archivists, we have the power to describe and therefore perpetuate a particular perspective of history. Archival description should not be taken lightly. Terminology and description are power tools.
Describe and share an interesting archive you have come across over the years.
While living and working in Vienna on a Fulbright grant, I spent part of my time learning how to digitize Super 8 mm films at the Austrian Film Museum. In addition to the already impressive collection housed in the Film Museum’s archive, I was introduced to their wonderful collection of home movies and other ephemeral films. Ephemeral films are a very interesting archival artefact. They are defined as films with a limited purpose and not meant to endure– and include amateur, institutional, industrial, educational, and other films. They are often discovered by collectors or hobbyists, however there is often very little known about these films. One way that the Austrian Film Museum is tackling this issue of limited metadata, is to digitize the films and incorporate them into online platforms. An example of one such platform is the Ephemeral Films Project, which focuses on ephemeral films from the Austrian Nazi era. Researchers, historians, and other interested users can view the digitized films and actually provide feedback if anything is known about the film such as locations within the film. By crowdsourcing metadata, we can discover more about these unique and rare films.