Steering Share: Chair Rachel Mandell

Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This kick-off post comes from I&A Chair Rachel Mandell, Metadata Librarian at the University of Southern California Digital Library.

I&A Chair Rachel Mandell
I&A Chair Rachel Mandell
1. What is your favorite thing about your job or the archives profession?

My favorite thing about my current position is that I get to work with both digital and analog archival materials at the same time. As a Metadata Librarian in USC’s Digital Library, I am tasked with describing archival materials in a digital environment. I often use the original document, photograph, etc., to assist my description of the digital surrogate, in addition to spending my days toiling with spreadsheets, troubleshooting imports, and tinkering with file size and resolution. By working with both new and old technology, I retain what motivated me to join the archives profession in the first place – the tactile, tangible handling of historically and culturally important artifacts – while also staying up-to-date on relevant library and scholarly information trends and practices.

2. What made you want to join the I&A Steering Committee?

This year will be my third full year serving in some capacity with the I&A Steering Committee. Two years ago, I began as the Issues and Advocacy intern, working on ways to improve the Issues and Advocacy Toolkit. At the time, I was working as a grant-funded Project Archivist and found it very difficult to acquire the institutional support to pursue professional development opportunities outside of my current position. As my internship year came to a close, I found myself really enjoying working with the Issues and Advocacy Steering Committee. I had learned so much more about the inner-workings of SAA and also met a lot of people beyond my regional archival groups and local organizations. I decided to run for Vice Chair/Chair-elect. I was ready to take on a leadership role, as I had also secured myself a permanent faculty position so I had more institutional support and time to pursue volunteer positions. This year, I am so excited to step into the role of Chair. In today’s political climate, our section is more valuable than ever, as we raise awareness, engage with difficult and perhaps controversial issues, and do our part to strengthen the archives profession.  

3. What is an archival issue that means a lot to you?

The commitment to digital preservation. As digital technology/tools continue to advance and develop, we as archivists need to remember that digital ≠ forever. The commitment to perpetuity needs to be explicit in every new tool and every new digital surrogate that we create. For example, a new digital publishing platform called Scalar, developed here at USC, aims to transform scholarly communication into something more interactive, non-linear, and born-digital. This tool is beginning to gain traction, as students are even beginning to use it to publish their theses and dissertations. However, a known issue with Scalar is that there is no explicit commitment or workflow dedicated to the preservation of these projects. The ability to embed media is exciting, but there is no way to ensure the links don’t fall victim to link-rot. The Scalar environment provides innovative ways of interacting with research and scholarship, but there is no assurance that this environment will exist forever. I have no doubt that there are answers to some of these questions, but as we in the archives profession move forward with the creation and use digital technologies, I would like to see this issue of preservation built in to new tools of all kinds and not only considered after content has been created.


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