Legis* Research Team: Goals and Preliminary Findings

The Legis* Research Team monitors the intersection of archives issues and legislative resources and concerns, legislative bills, and individual legislators. This post, part of our Research Post series, was written by Rachel Mandell, Mark Prindiville, Ashley Levine, Dina Mazina, and Laurel Bowen.

Who is the Legis* Research Team?

Team coordinator: Rachel Mandell, USC Digital Library and I&A Chair

Team members: Laurel Bowen, Georgia State University; Katharina Hering, Georgetown Law Library; Lindsay Hiltunen, Michigan Technological University; Ashley Levine, Artifex Press; Dina Mazina, US Senate Committee on Finance; andMark Prindiville, Walter P. Reuther Library

What does the Legis* Research Team do?

The Backstory: For those of you who are familiar with the Issues and Advocacy Legislator Research Team of the past, the current configuration is somewhat different. We are taking a different approach and consider this very much a beta structure or a work in progress, if you will. We decided that a revamp was necessary because as we began to reflect on our goals for this team,  I&A vice-chair, Courtney Dean, and I realized that the information collected by Legislator Research Teams in the past have had no direct uses or action items associated with the data. This year, we hope to change that!
Goals: In recent months, we have been in conversation with the Committee on Public Policy (CoPP) about working towards the goal of contacting legislators and potentially engaging in on the ground advocacy work at SAA 2018 in Washington, D.C.. Towards that end, and also towards the end of collecting data for a purpose, we would like the Legislator/Legislative Research Team to try something different.

What does the Legis* Research Team do?

The Task: Legis*: Choose and Monitor (yes, that is a Boolean search/truncation joke)

Everyone on the current team has chosen up to 3 items to monitor. The idea is to explore topics of interest and, in doing so,  see more clear goals/uses emerge from the data. The categories are legislation, legislators, and legislative resources. We will cover topics and people qho have influence and affect archives, funding, social justice, data security and surveillance, labor, etc. No topic is too small or too big; given the rather limited time commitment for this research team, extensive research is not expected. Instead, we seek to have and share a general overview of what’s happening in legislative branches, what resources are out there, what legislation is being discussed, and who is taking the lead on such legislation.

What’s included in your research?

So far the topics chosen are as follows:


  • H.R. 2884: Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3923: Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017
  • H.R. 4382: Free Flow of Information Act of 2017
  • H.R. 4271: To blog the implementation of certain presidential actions that restrict individuals from certain countries from entering the United States.
  • H.R. 4081: Consumer Privacy Protection Act of 2017


  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Hank Johnson (D-GA)
  • Gary Peters (D-MI)
  • Joe Crowley (D-NY)
  • Michael Turner (R-OH)
  • Darrell Issa (R-CA)
  • Mike Quigley (D-IL)
  • Tom Cotton (R-AR)
  • Jamie Raskin (D- MD)
  • David Cicilline (D-RI)


  • National Coalition for History, Congressional History Caucus
  • The Hill
  • National Archives Center for Legislative Archives
  • Democracy Now!
  • Congress.gov
  • Senate Committees
  • Senate Legislation and Records
  • Congressional Transparency Caucus
  • Data Transparency Coalition

This year promises to be an interesting year in our legislative branch of government and the I&A Legis* Team will be there to monitor. We look forward to reporting back with with more information as the year progresses!

Preliminary update from Mark Prindiville: 

The Hill

  • Founded in 1994, due to the success of Roll Call, a newspaper and website that reports on legislative and political maneuverings in the Capitol.
  • Can be argued that The Hill is the American equivalent to the United Kingdom’s BBC News or The Guardian.
  • The Hill also operates through its website and has six blogs dealing with politics and legislation.
  • Has a surprisingly adamant social media presence, though it does not seem to have the same positive feedback in regards to its phone/tablet application.
    • If one follows The Hill on sites like Facebook, they post stories and breaking news at an astounding rate.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich)

  • Born December 1, 1958. Served on the Rochester Hills City Council from 1991-1993. Member of MI Senate from 1995-2002. Commissioner of Michigan Lottery from 2003-2007. Member of U.S. House of Representatives (MI-9) from 2009-2013, and again (MI-14) from 2013-2015. Elected to US Senate in 2015, succeeding Carl Levin.
  • Voted for the Recovery Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (not passed), the Paycheck Fairness Act (not passed), the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the DREAM Act
  • As of 2010, has a “D” rating from the NRA; 2016’s Orlando shooting prompted Peters to participate in the Chris Murphy gun control filibuster
  • In 2017, voted “Yea” on allowing Ajit Pai to become Chairman of FCC; however, Sen. Peters has come out against the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality, including voting in favor to overrule the FCC repeal, along with fellow Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow
Preliminary update from Ashley Levine:

I have elected to monitor three resources to explore how the American media and government document the undocumented, respectively. These include the TV, radio, and internet news program Democracy Now!; legislator Tom Cotton (R-AR); and House bill H.R. 3923, Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017.

My preliminary findings suggest failures of government accountability in documenting abuse of undocumented persons by government agencies, e.g. U.S. Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE), amid simultaneous efforts to bolster aggressive immigration enforcement policies. I aim to unpack the meaning of “government transparency” related to policy affecting undocumented persons, and simultaneously assess the effectiveness of the media in presenting truthful, documentary evidence on immigration matters.

Preliminary update from Dina Mazina:

I’ll be following issues of government transparency, specifically the Congressional Transparency Caucus and their two chairmen, Mike Quigley (D-IL)  and Darrell Issa (R-CA).

In December, Rep. Quigley introduced the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, which would establish a central repository accessible to congressional staffs and the general public of federal agency non-confidential published reports. Recently, the bill passed out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. A companion bill is being led in the Senate by Senators Portman and Klobuchar.

Preliminary update from Laurel Bowen: 

I’m monitoring Michael Turner (R-OH), Joe Crowley (D-NY), and my own representative Hank Johnson (D-GA).  I’m familiar with Michael Turner as a successful advocate of legislation that promotes historic preservation, a field that often employs archivists.  I’ll be interested to find out if Joe Crowley and Hank Johnson, both representing urban areas, are advocates for cultural activities (libraries, archives, museums).  

In researching via Congress.gov I discovered (accidently) that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has introduced H.R. 1376, the Electronic Message Preservation Act of 2017, which requires the U.S. Archivist to promulgate regulations governing federal agency preservation of electronic messages.


Archives in the News: Retention, Repatriation, and Reproduction

Shaun Hayes is a member of the I&A News Monitoring Research Team, which brings us this Archives in the News Research post. Hayes is the Archives Program Specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is passionate about sharing current news articles regarding archives and the profession with his students and others. 


Three recent news stories have highlighted the relationship between records important to their countries’ histories. The first, “Halting Auction, France Designates Marquis de Sade Manuscript a ‘National Treasure’,” appeared in the New York Times on December 19, 2017. The article details the history of the Marquis de Sade’s famous work 120 Days of Sodom and efforts made by the French government to cancel a planned auction of the original manuscript so that public funds could be raised for its purchase. Interestingly, the article cites the manuscript’s “sulfurous reputation” as one of the reasons for its designation as a national treasure.

The article “Morocco Retrieves 43,000 Archival Documents About Moroccan Jews From France describes the repatriation of archival documents created by Moroccan Jews in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. This example of a country seeking to control records important to their national history differs from the example above in that it deals with the repatriation of records that had been outside of the country seeking control of them for some time, as far back as 1948. According to the article, a main impetus for retrieving the records stems from the 2011 Moroccan Constitution’s recognition of Jewish heritage as an integral part of Morocco’s heritage.  

The third article, “Gabriel García Márquez’s Archive Freely Available Online,” focuses on the online archive of Gabriel García Márquez‘s papers provided by the University of Texas Harry Ransom Center. The article alludes to the controversy surrounding the sale of Márquez’s papers to an archive outside of his native Colombia, or in Mexico, where Márquez spent a part of his life. A previous New York Times article illustrated the outrage in Colombia over the Colombian government’s failure to acquire Márquez’s papers. The more recent article seemingly brushes aside issues of the collection’s ultimate location by stating that “But now, the university’s Harry Ransom Center has digitized and made freely available about half of the collection, making some 27,000 page scans and other images visible to anyone in the world with an internet connection.”

The incongruous views about the importance of records remaining physically located in communities that claim ownership of them is interesting; in the first two examples, France halted an auction and plans to raise millions of dollars in order to retain ownership of de Sade’s manuscript, while Morocco spent years attempting to repatriate records related to its Jewish history. In both instances, the governments of those nations felt that accessing the records that were deemed to be of national significance was not enough and that efforts had to be made to retain or have them returned. In the third example, the Times suggests that simply having access to online versions of some of the records in the Márquez papers should mollify any concerns about the collection’s physical location.

What the Márquez article by Jennifer Schuessler fails to consider is the intrinsic value of the physical papers. The Society of American Archivists’ Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology defines intrinsic value as “the usefulness or significance of an item derived from its physical or associational qualities, inherent in its original form and generally independent of its content, that are integral to its material nature and would be lost in reproduction.” The intrinsic value of the Márquez papers can be found in their uniqueness as important examples of Colombian culture and history. This uniqueness is subverted when Colombians are relegated to simply accessing records that anyone else with an Internet connection can access as well.

This is not to criticize the Ransom Center for purchasing the collection, and it is certainly laudable how publicly accessible it has made some of the papers. What is most troublesome about the perspective of the Times‘ Schuessler is how she conflates issues of ownership and access. Ownership gives the owner power over how and when something is accessed; simply having access to something puts the accessors at the whims of the owners. This is a power relationship that is as old as time, and yet Ms. Schuessler suggests that one is as good as the other when it comes to records.

As archivists, we are well aware of the power that records can have as central aspects of a community’s cultural identity and as the rise of community archives demonstrates, ownership of these records can play a key role in ensuring that records are kept and maintained in ways that reflect community values and priorities. It is our job to continue to educate the public on the role that records play in strengthening and supporting social memory and culture and the vital role that the ownership of records can play in doing so.  

News Highlights, 2017 November-December

The I&A News Monitoring Research Team has compiled this list of recent news stories regarding topics of relevance to archives and archivists. View the full list of news stories online as well. 

Acquisition, Preservation, & Access

  1. “Gabriel García Márquez’s Archive Freely Available Online”
  2. “‘Father of The Internet’ Skewers FCC: ‘You Don’t Understand How the Internet Works’”
  3. “Saving history from ISIS destruction: Benedictine monk preserves historic sacred and secular texts from the destruction of ISIS and the war against it in Iraq”

Archival Finds & Stories

  1. “A Glimpse of American History Through the Process of Becoming a Citizen”
  2. “Controversial sugar industry study on cancer uncovered”
  3. “I read decades of Woody Allen’s private notes. He’s obsessed with teenage girls.”
  4. Thousands of papers lost or missing from British National Archives, including records on Falklands, Northern Ireland’s Troubles, and the infamous Zinoviev letter

Climate & Emergency Preparedness

  1. “Oral history project to chronicle human impact of Harvey” The University of Houston’s Center for Public History plans to interview over 300 participants to discover the human impact of Hurricane Harvey.

Digital Archives, Technology, & the Web

  1. “Data Mining Reveals Historical Events in Government Archive Records”
  2. “Future Historians Probably Won’t Understand Our Internet, and That’s Okay” Archivists are working to document our chaotic, opaque, algorithmically complex world—and in many cases, they simply can’t.
  3. “Saving Japan’s Games”
  4. “The Librarians Saving the Internet”

Exhibits & Museums

  1. “Illinois Holocaust Museum Preserves Survivors’ Stories — As Holograms”
  2. “Little-known face of famed Nazi hunters shown in Paris”

Human & Civil Rights, Equality, & Health

  1. “200,000 Died in Guatemala’s Civil War — This Digital Archive is Finally Bringing Families Closure”
  2. Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

Security & Privacy

  1. “Libraries and the Fight for Privacy”
  2. “Pentagon exposed some of its data on Amazon server”

The Profession

  1. “A Woman Now Leads the Vatican Museums. And She’s Shaking Things Up.”
  2. “The Extinction of Libraries: Why the Predictions Aren’t Coming True”

Research Post: Archiving Accounts of War Crimes–Preserving History, Protecting Victims

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts. Each post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors the news for issues affecting archivists and archives.

 Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


The Syrian and Iraqi civil wars spotlight two archival problems faced by countries experiencing or recovering from war. The first problem centers on the protection of a country’s archives and cultural landmarks. The Islamic State has looted, smuggled, and destroyed ancient monuments, artifacts, and manuscripts in Syria, most infamously in Palmyra.[1] The Islamic State has also destroyed pre-Islamic and Islamic manuscripts in Mosul, Iraq, which Mosul citizens, not surprisingly, view as an attack on their heritage.[2] The second problem centers on capturing and preserving materials that document war crimes, such as videos, photographs, court transcripts, surveillance files, and a variety of other materials that prove torture, extrajudicial punishments, and repression have occurred. Individuals often face serious risks acquiring and preserving such materials due to the destruction caused by war, along with the aggressors’ desire to escape justice. Sound and Image, a group operating in Syria and Turkey, maintains records of the Islamic State’s crimes (the Islamic State has targeted and killed some of its members).[3] Hadi al Khatib and Jeff Deutch, who live in Berlin, created the Syrian Archive, which focuses on video footage of war crimes in Syria, regardless of the perpetrators’ affiliation. Syrian Archive members catalog the videos and assign metadata.[4]

Countries recovering from war benefit from archivists’ preserving both historical materials and contemporary documentary evidence. Historical manuscripts, photographs, and other records express the cultural heritage of ethnic groups and nation states, which can serve as a source of unity. Evidence of war crimes aids the pursuit of justice, restitution, and healing. The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner succinctly stated the latter point in the recent Rule-of-Law Tools for Post-Conflict States: Archives:

When a period characterized by widespread or systematic human rights violations comes to an end, those who suffered under the previous regime or during a conflict will particularly seek to fulfil their rights to the truth, justice and reparation, as well as demand institutional reforms to prevent the recurrence of violations. To meet these demands States use a variety of approaches: investigations and prosecutions, truth-seeking activities, reparation initiatives, and institutional reforms to reduce the possibility that repression or conflict will recur. Every one of these processes relies on archives.[5]

Archivists operate under enormous strain, however, when attempting to preserve materials in countries with ruined infrastructure, political instability, and few financial resources. An archives’ existence is often at stake under these circumstances. Still, the United Nations argues that sensitive records ought to stay in the countries of origin and that only copies should be deposited in archives located in other secure countries.[6] The National Archives of Finland, for example, recently accepted “digital copies of documents that have become endangered due to the Syrian Civil War.” The archives had previously accepted documents concerning the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon.[7] The Nile River Museum in Egypt also houses artifacts collected for a future museum of South Sudan, which declared its independence in 2011. The country is attempting to build a national archive, museum, and theater to preserve the cultural heritage of the new country’s 10.5 million citizens. While artifacts are in Egypt for safekeeping, archival documents still remain in Juba, the capital city, amidst a new civil war. Many of the archivists there fled to refugee camps when the conflict began, but staff member Becu Thomas stayed in the capital. Thomas thought that his country never learned from its past. He now works diligently to arrange and digitize South Sudan’s historical documents.[8]

France provides another example of the relationship between archives and countries recovering from war. The French government declassified over 200,000 records in December 2015 that document the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Nazis. The records may shed light on arrests and executions previously shrouded in secrecy, allowing researchers, family members, and others to come to terms with a difficult past. The French government, however, decided not to declassify documents relating to the country’s occupation of Algeria.[9] Algerians fought a bloody war for independence from France between 1954 and 1962. Materials relating both to war crimes and torture that occurred during the war, as well as cultural materials from pre-colonial Algeria, remain in French archives. Abdelmadjid Chicki, who serves as the director of Algeria’s national archive center, argues that records produced on Algerian soil belong to Algeria. Members of the French national archives argue that France owns materials that French citizens collected. France has offered to share copies of the Algerian materials with Algeria[10], a reversal of the previously mentioned position that the United Nations holds. Algerians have resorted to buying Ottoman-era documents at French auctions in order to develop an extensive collection of historical materials from their country.[11]

While France refuses to return records to Algeria, French archivists are attempting to develop a complete archival record that incorporates materials from former colonies. The French National Archives started Le Grande Collecte, a project to acquire and preserve materials from West Africans who lived under French rule or who migrated to France.[12] The French government also strongly supports a UNESCO fund to restore ancient sites and archives in places like Syria and also to find “safe havens” for endangered items. Some nations are worried about losing control of their cultural heritage.[13]

Archivists must balance the sometimes competing goals of protecting records and respecting the rights of record creators, owners, and subjects. Moving and storing records around the globe may aid preservation but not access for those who need them most. When these records are associated with crimes and torture, there may be other motives besides preservation behind the relocation of materials. A repository outside London, for instance, houses records that document the torture of people in 37 former British colonies, including Kenya, who fought for independence. The records’ existence remained a guarded secret from the rest of the world until recently, even as victims of violence sought justice for years.[14] Such records must be preserved and made accessible so that restitution and accountability can occur, and so that countries recovering from war can move forward.


 List of Further Readings

The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank the General News Media Research Team, and in particular Audrey Lengel and Sean McConnell, for writing this post. The General News Media Team is: Courtney Dean; Lori Dedeyan; Audrey Lengel; Sean McConnell; and Daria Labinsky, team leader. If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.

Sources Cited

[1] “Alarmed at destruction in Palmyra, Security Council reiterates need to stamp out hatred espoused by ISIL,” UN News Centre, January 20, 2017.  http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56013. Accessed April 17, 2017.

[2] “Rubble, Ash Left in Mosul Museum Retaken from IS,” Voice of America, March 8, 2017. http://www.voanews.com/a/rubble-left-mosul-museum-retaken-islamic-state/3756042.html. Accessed April 18, 2017.

[3] “Syria: Witnesses for the Prosecution,” Al Jazeera, November 19, 2016. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2016/11/syria-witnesses-prosecution-161115091502071.html. Accessed April 18, 2017.

[4] “Syrian Archive catalogues war atrocities online,” Deutsche Welle, December 29, 2016. http://www.dw.com/en/syrian-archive-catalogues-war-atrocities-online/a-36945803. Accessed April 18, 2017.

[5] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Rule-of-Law for Post-Conflict States: Archives (New York and Geneva, United Nations, 2015), 1.

[6] Ibid., 10, 40.

[7] “Endangered Syrian documents taken into safekeeping at the National Archives of Finland,” Ministry of Education and Culture, February 12, 2016. http://minedu.fi/en/article/-/asset_publisher/endangered-syrian-documents-taken-into-safekeeping-at-the-national-archives-of-finland. Accessed April 18, 2017.

[8]Strochlic, Nina. “Can Archivists Save the World’s Newest Nation?” National Geographic. November 3, 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/11/south-sudan-archives/. Accessed April 22, 2017.

[9] Danny Lewis, “France is Making Thousands of Vichy-Era Documents Public,” Smithsonian.com, December 29, 2015. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/france-making-thousands-vichy-era-documents-public-180957661/. Accessed April 19, 2017.

[10] Christian Lowe, “Algeria, France tussle over archives 50 years after split,” Reuters, July 4, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-algeria-archives-idUSBRE86307L20120704. Accessed April 19, 2017.

[11] Abdul Razak bin Abdullah, “Algeria obtains Ottoman-era documents at French auction,” Anadolu Agency, March 4, 2017. http://aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/algeria-obtains-ottoman-era-documents-at-french-auction/787097. Accessed April 19, 2017.

[12] Alison Hurd, “France adds African perspective to colonial period archives,” Radio France Internationale, November 21, 2016. http://en.rfi.fr/france/20161121-france-adds-african-perspective-colonial-period-archives. Accessed April 21, 2017.

[13] Erin Blakemore, “New Fund Pledges to Protect Cultural Heritage from War and Terror,” Smithsonian.com, March 21, 2017. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/new-fund-pledges-protect-cultural-heritage-war-and-terror-180962616/. Accessed April 21, 2017.

[14] Marc Perry, “Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire,” The Guardian, August 18, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/aug/18/uncovering-truth-british-empire-caroline-elkins-mau-mau. Accessed April 21, 2017.

Research Post: The Evolving Landscape of Collecting Protest Material, Part 2

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts. Each post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This post, part two of a two-part series, comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors the news for issues affecting archivists and archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.


In the first part of this two-part series, we discussed digital, social media, and other online materials that can be collected to form archives. Forming bodies of these digital artifacts carries legal consequences and privacy issues for the folks whose information is collected, but such work also has issues around narrative and interpretation. Below are two lists: one is a list of projects and tools that use social media and online materials in documenting history, and the other is a bibliography where the work as well as its related issues are discussed.

Projects and tools

  • A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland. Digital repository that “collects, preserves, and shares the stories, memories, and accounts of police violence as experienced or observed by Cleveland citizens.” Partnership between Cleveland residents and professional archivists.
  • Baltimore Uprising 2015 Archive Project. Digital repository “that seeks to preserve and make accessible original content that was captured and created by individual community members, grassroots organizations, and witnesses to the protests that followed the death of Freddie Gray on April 19, 2015.” This is a collaborative project of Maryland Historical Society, university faculty, museums and community orgs.
  • DocNow. “Tool and a community developed around supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.”
  • Documenting Ferguson. Project of Washington University St. Louis. “Freely available resource that seeks to preserve and make accessible the digital media captured and created by community members following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014.”
  • Trump Protest Archive. “Self funded digital repository, collecting [photographs of] items of material culture from protest events relating to the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump and the early part of his administration.”

List of further readings

This post is courtesy of the General News Media Research Team, and in particular Courtney Dean and Lori Dedeyan. The General News Media Team is: Courtney Dean, Lori Dedeyan, Audrey Lengel, Sean McConnell, and Daria Labinsky, team leader.

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.

Research Post: The Evolving Landscape of Collecting Protest Material, Part 1

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts. Each post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This post, part one of a two-part series, comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors the news for issues affecting archivists and archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

Protest materials have long found their way into archival repositories, and collecting initiatives such as the gathering of signs from January’s Women’s March are not unsurprising in our currently volatile political climate. While still fraught with their own set of ethical considerations, as was evidenced by Occupy Wall Street archive custody concerns, traditional protest ephemera does not harbor the explicit privacy and legal consequences that have arisen as a result of the increasing online presence of protest movements.

The internet is a richly generative arena where movements are born and developed, either with or without a coincident physical presence. The way it is mobilized for protests can vary–from coordinating and publicizing traditional actions, to communication and information sharing, community building, fundraising, and movement organizing. Its rapid and reactive nature means that the parameters of a movement can be constantly adjusted and redefined, often across social media networks. Social media content by design yields much more information about its creators and can therefore be harvested and analyzed differently than traditional material, and due to its increasing ubiquity, it warrants new conversations where traditional legal and social notions of the public and private domain may no longer be adequate. As the volume and variety of this content grows on an unprecedented scale, so, too, do the tools and methods by which it is subjected to scrutiny.

Curt Ellis, “Woman holds up her fist ,” Preserve the Baltimore Uprising: Your Stories. Your Pictures. Your Stuff. Your History., accessed March 15, 2017. 

Legal consequences and privacy issues

In response to this ever-growing body of online material, archivists and archival institutions have been initiating and developing best practices for web archiving projects. Web archiving and data harvesting provide opportunities to study metadata as well as content, in order to better understand the context of creation. For example, researchers may be interested in studying tweets across time, by geographic origin, or as part of a larger network of contacts.

This information is also of interest to law enforcement agencies, some of which have partnered with companies that sell tools for tracking and monitoring social media content culled from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media companies that offer programs which allow app makers to create third-party tools. One such company, Geofeedia, counts more than 500 such clients and has advertised services that were used by officials in Baltimore to monitor and respond to the protests that followed Freddie Gray’s death in police custody in April 2015. Using such tools, Baltimore County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit was able to discover and arrest protesters with outstanding warrants by collecting and filtering social media photos through facial recognition software, a practice that has been shown to have serious technical flaws and to disproportionately affect people of color. Such tools are also used to assemble dossiers on targeted individuals as part of a strategy of long-term surveillance, as evidenced in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office records.

Use of social networks by third parties and law enforcement agencies has been met with opposition by many, including activists and the American Civil Liberties Union. Companies including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram cut ties with Geofeedia last year, according to the Washington Post, and on March 13, Facebook announced that police departments cannot use data to “provide tools that are used for surveillance,” a move that some consider a first step in curbing the online surveillance and targeting of activists and people of color.

Given this context, it is important for archivists to be aware of the potential ramifications of collecting contemporary protest material. For example, lawmakers in several states have recently introduced legislation that would target and criminalize protests, in some cases creating or greatly stiffening existing penalties and in others going so far as to give drivers legal license to hit protesters blocking traffic. Regardless of whether or not such pieces of legislation are passed, their existence is a testament to a political atmosphere that is fraught with serious issues for people who exercise their right to protest. As protest and movement organizing moves to an online and increasingly public sphere, the potential reach of such legislation, in conjunction with increased surveillance and data collection, could expand significantly.

Archivists should also be cognizant that many communities have complicated histories with the legal apparatus of this country. Different movements stem from different contexts, and as such the needs and aims of communities may differ with regards to visibility and their own safety. For the indigenous communities at Standing Rock, for example, the violent response of law enforcement towards protesters is the latest in a long history of dispossession.

Communities of color also often find themselves at the convergence of government surveillance and the rhetoric of legality. Some police departments, which respond to and monitor protests, have formed partnerships with the FBI, DEA, and federal immigration agencies such as ICE. These task forces facilitate information exchange between local officers and federal agencies through data-sharing agreements that provide reciprocal access to local and federal databases. Such partnerships have serious consequences for the activity of targeted communities, whether they are Muslim communities that are subject to surveillance by Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or undocumented and immigrant communities that are fearful of local officers deputized as ICE agents.

Archivists can navigate these concerns through the appraisal and reappraisal of their roles and documentation strategies, and by opening dialogues about consent. One model for ethical collecting could be the solicitation of community materials via online digital platforms. In A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland, for example, professional archivists worked in conjunction with community members to develop “a safe and secure space to share any testimony, documents, or accounts that narrate or reflect on encounters or effects of police violence in their lives and communities.” In other words, members of the community self-select what to contribute, while professional archivists serve to make that material accessible.

Harvesting does not need to be inherently problematic, however. In fact, ethical concerns can inform the development of technologies themselves. DocNow, a collaborative project between the University of Maryland, University of California at Riverside, and Washington University in St. Louis, has created a suite of tools for working with Twitter data related to Black Lives Matter and other social justice actions. As part of their mission they explicitly affirm, “a strong commitment to prioritizing ethical practices when working with social media content, especially in terms of collection and long-term preservation. This commitment extends to Twitter’s notion of honoring user intent and the rights of content creators.”

A recent American History Association article by Kritika Agarwal further acknowledges technology’s potential to dismantle problematic archival constraints and to “rectify injustices associated with historic collection and archiving practices.” The article cites collaborative content management system Murkutu, which allows indigenous communities to limit access in accordance with community practice, as another example of a digital tool that places ethics at the forefront.

Issues of narrative and interpretation

In any collecting effort, archivists must consider whose stories are being preserved and why. As has been pointed out previously here, historically repositories tended to focus on rehashing, and thus elevating, hegemonic narratives. While now there is a greater acknowledgement of the power in appraisal, description, and access decisions made by archivists, and the position of privilege these often come from, issues of representation still persist.

A recent thread on the Women Archivists Section listserv spoke to issues of counter-narrative in the Women’s March on Washington Archives Project, specifically concerns over actively trying to document voices of women who chose not to participate, and the tension between respecting “intentional archival silence” and including a variety of voices in oral histories and other event documentation (Danielle Russell, e-mail message, February 15, 2017). However, narratives and collections no longer need to be limited by traditional single repository/project models. As WArS co-chair Stacie Williams pointed out, “Let’s not assume that they don’t want to be a part of the larger narrative happening here, however well-meaning our intent as archivists; they may have their own ideas for how they want to be represented.” (e-mail message, February 15, 2017)

While digital collecting brings with it a host of new challenges such as security and privacy, it also carries the potential to create tools and projects that possess community-centric values. These are not mutually exclusive imperatives. As Jarrett Drake stated in his #ArchivesForBlackLives talk, “We have an opportunity before us to transform archive-making, history-making, and memory-making into processes that are radically inclusive and accountable to the people most directly impacted by state violence.” Now more than ever, archivists need to consider the ethical ramifications of our work.

A list of tools and related bibliography will be in the next post.

This post is courtesy of the General News Media Research Team, and in particular Courtney Dean and Lori Dedeyan. The General News Media Team is: Courtney Dean, Lori Dedeyan, Audrey Lengel, Sean McConnell, and Daria Labinsky, team leader.

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.

Research Post: the National Security Entry Exit Registration System, past, present, and future

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts. Each post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This comes from On-Call Research Team #2, which looks into real-time issues affecting archivists and archives. 

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Section.

In 2002, the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) established a national registry for foreign visitors from 25 predominantly Middle Eastern countries (Gamboa 2003). NSEERS, also referred to as “Special Registration,” was a post-9/11 program that consisted of three components:

  • non-citizens had to register when they entered the U.S.
  • they had to regularly check in with immigration officials
  • and those leaving the country were tracked to ensure that people did not remain in the country illegally

Registering entailed getting fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. Those in violation of this program would be arrested, fined, and possibly deported (Muaddi 2016).

The program did not operate fully, even early on; parts of the program were dropped beginning in 2003. At that time, the registration portion of NSEERS ended because it was made redundant by other programs in place or being developed (Gamboa 2003). The Obama administration suspended NSEERS in 2011, though it technically remained in place, and finally ended it in December 2016.

While in place, NSEERS resulted in zero terrorism convictions and even the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) thought the program was redundant and ineffective (Mauddi 2016). In his letter to President Obama calling for the end of the NSEERS program, Eric Schneiderman, New York State Attorney General, wrote that not only did it not reduce terrorist activity, but it encouraged mistrust and fear towards law enforcement in some communities (Liptak & Peled 2016).

The United States enacted similar programs in the recent past. From 1942-1946, the U.S. incarcerated as many as 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent in ten concentration camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. This program has been widely panned as unjust and a national disgrace, yet some supporters of a national Muslim registry have referred to this program as precedent (Ford 2015; Hawkins 2016). Similarly cited, Carter’s efforts during the Iran hostage crisis, 1979-1981, banned Iranians from entering the U.S. (with some exceptions for religious minorities and those with medical emergencies) and required the registration of roughly 60,000 Iranian students already in America. Experts find the comparisons don’t hold up (Jacobson 2015).

Other modern programs that are reminiscent of NSEERS include the influence of “see something, say something” initiatives in the U.S. (Mirza 2016) that mirror a DHS initiative begun around 2010; the growing network of facial recognition databases being used by law enforcement agencies across the country and globally (Newman 2016; Beaumont 2013); and the terrorist watch list, which is notorious for incorrectly including people on its various manifestations (Zetter 2016).

The Trump administration may roll back the Obama administration’s full NSEERS cancellation. Should NSEERS prove to be gone forever, the historic record demonstrates that future programs will follow.


Sources Cited

  • Beaumont, P. “NSA leaks: US and Britain team up on mass surveillance.” The Guardian, 2013 June 22. Retrieved 2017 February 27.
  • Ford, M. “The Return of Korematsu.” The Atlantic, 2015 November 19. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Gamboa, S. “Homeland Security Ends Registration.” Associated Press, 2003 December 1.
  • Hawkins, D. “Japanese American internment is ‘precedent’ for national Muslim registry, prominent Trump backer says.” Washington Post, 2016 November 17. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Jacobson, L. “Why Trump’s Muslim Ban Isn’t Like Jimmy Carter’s Actions on Iranians.” Politifact, 2015 December 17. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Liptak, K. & Peled, S. “Obama administration ending program once used to track mostly Arab and Muslim men.” CNN, 2016 December 22. Retrieved 2017 February 27.
  • Mirza, W. “‘See something, say something’ culture is dangerous: How it spawns Islamophobia and keeps America insecure.” Salon, 2016 August 20. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Muaddi, N. “The Bush-era Muslim registry failed. Yet the US could be trying it again.” CNN, 2016 December 22. Retrieved 2017 February 27.
  • Newman, K.H. “Cops Have a Database of 117M Faces. You’re Probably In It.” Wired, 2016 October 18. Retrieved 2017 January 29.
  • Zetter, K. “How Does the FBI Watch List Work? And Could It Have Prevented Orlando?” Wired, 2016 June 17. Retrieved 2017 January 29.

Research Post: “Protect from Potential Grizzlies”: How Local, State and Federal Concealed Carry Rules Apply to Libraries, Archives, and Museums

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from On-Call Research Team #1, which looks into real-time issues affecting archivists and archives. 

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

Proposed and already enacted concealed carry legislation in numerous states has spurred questions regarding policies for libraries, archives, and museums. What can – and cannot – individual institutions and organizations do regarding patrons and guns given their locally applicable bills? Concerns vary not just by state and institution type, but even by possible need for concealed weapons.  For example, Wyoming’s need for weapons in primary and secondary schools may be affected by the potential for grizzly bears nearby, a suggestion posed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

On American college campuses, various state rules apply to concealed carry. Four states allow guns on campuses, six states allow for guns on campus in restricted areas, 10 states allow campuses to choose, 10 states allow storage of weapons in vehicles, and 20 states prohibit guns on all campuses. Employment status can be a factor, as well. In Tennessee, although students can only store weapons in vehicles, faculty and staff are allowed concealed carry. While these variations only apply to college campuses, laws can be more convoluted with other institutions: public or federal buildings and state parks, for example. Since libraries, archives, and museums can be within public, state, corporate, federal, or college entities, we will all be affected by concealed carry laws differently.

Proponents for concealed carry argue that states that allow it on campuses, provide improved safety and that threats to the learning environment are false. These proponents argue instead that active shooter incidents such as the Virginia Tech massacre may have ended more quickly and safely with an armed student body on hand.

People working in libraries, archives, and museums voice concerns that guns can create more violence rather than less, but they are also concerned that concealed carry can limit free speech and introduces complicated security issues. Faculty and students may not safe practicing academic freedom under the new rules. In one instance in Utah, a feminist speaker backed out of a campus event after threats were made on her life and the Utah State University could not provide increased support for her safety. Concealed carry proponents believe that such situations can be mitigated and that the university could have provided better security, albeit at increased cost and intrusiveness of individual searches.

Another, more common example of security complications can be found in archives and manuscript repositories. They typically have patrons place bulky materials, such as jackets and bags, in lockers, but having patrons remove guns can violate state laws and possibly be illegal.

Many states have been in the news for legislation regarding concealed weapons on college campuses, which covers Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan, Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Texas. At the University of Texas at Austin, guns are restricted in its Tower area, due to the 1966 sniper attacks by Charles Whitman. Often, libraries are not included as restricted areas on college campuses. Some areas can be negotiated, but if a state wholly allows for concealed carry, then libraries and archives cannot create rules or policies that negate the relevant legislation. Virginia’s Richmond Public Library found this out when they posted that guns were prohibited and the Virginia’s Citizens Defense League (rightly) disagreed. After changing the rule to read that it was prohibited “except as permitted by the law,” the League still determined the language was not acceptable and protested.

Overall, it is the burden of each library, archives, and museum to determine what policies they are allowed to enact based on the laws and regulations of their state and the rules within their affiliated institutions. This poses issues for creating standards and for enacting and managing policies effectively. After all, your institution may need protection from a grizzly.

A bibliography is provided below. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and some articles may require a subscription.

All States





  • Annale Renneker, “Packing More than Just a Backpack.” Journal of Law and
    Education, vol. 44, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 273-282.
  • Jennifer Sinor, “Guns on Campus Have Already Curtailed Free Speech.”
    Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 61, no. 10., 2014 October 27. Accessed January 3, 2017. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Guns-on-Campus-Have-Already/149663


Resources for understanding and tracking legislation


I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors news media for issues related to archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.


Digital cameras, including those on smartphones, and portable scanners have become an important tool for researchers and other members of the public. Allowing visitors to scan and shoot documents with their own equipment saves staff time, discourages the overuse of paper and toner, and produces a better quality image than that of a photocopier, one that can be used immediately. (1) Many research rooms and service desks provide stands for cameras and outlets for scanners.

However, some organizations, especially government agencies, either prohibit the use of cameras or charge visitors fees to use their own cameras to shoot images.

The ACRL/SAA Joint Statement on Access to Research Materials in Archives and Special Collections Libraries states that “repositories should strive to provide access to their holdings at no direct cost to the researcher.” And where this is not possible, fees should not be prohibitive. (2)

In December 2014 Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen handed down a legal opinion stating that Wisconsin court officials should not charge fees to people who make copies with cellphone cameras or scanners. He originally had approved a charge of $1.25 per page. (3) However, Van Hollen also said that court custodians could choose to prohibit users from making their own copies of any sort, in which case the court custodians could charge a fee. (4)

As of last March, 24 of the 31 Wisconsin county clerks who responded to a survey were still charging fees for images shot with personal cameras. An editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal stated, “Even the National Gallery in Washington allows flash photography …  yet here in Wisconsin county clerks of courts still claim that taking pictures of court records risks damaging the documents.” The real issue is money; as the editorial pointed out, that $1.25 per page fee brings in more than $800,000 a year statewide. (5) In comparison, federal courts in the state charge only 10 cents per page. (6)

Those county clerks who don’t charge gave varying reasons. Primarily, clerks don’t feel they have the resources to prevent photography, because the documents are viewable on a computer screen and patrons could simply photograph the screen. In other words, it would be a burden on staff to monitor computer users. (7)

Wisconsin counties are not alone in charging for photography and scanning. To name a few examples, the Colorado State Archives has a $15 per day personal camera use fee, and a $15 scanner rental fee. (8) The Missouri History Museum charges $10 per day for the same. (9) The Maryland Historical Society charges 50 cents per image. (10) A recent article on archives and camera policies in the United Kingdom reported fees varying from 2 pounds to 25 pounds (about $2.60 to $32.50) per camera per day. That article pointed out that not only do these fees potentially hurt student researchers, but since transcribing documents (often the alternative) is so time consuming, it may force researchers to rely on more limited sources, making the quality of research suffer. (11)

Saying that government agencies should be able to prohibit, or charge for, personal camera use because they need the money is an insufficient argument, since there would be a savings in money budgeted for staff time, as well as agencies’ scanning and copying equipment and the maintenance of that equipment, by allowing the free use of personal equipment. (12)

Additionally, federal, state, and local government archives are taxpayer funded repositories of public records, so charging fees for personally made digital copies seems unethical.

Whether an archives decides to charge fees or not, access fees should be clearly stated on the organization’s website. (13) The Ohio History Connection’s site, for example, has a Digital Camera Use Policy that outlines its digital cameras regulations. It is free to use a digital camera without a flash, but scanners are forbidden. (14) And the University of Winnipeg judges whether to allow scanner use on a case-by-case basis, and “a supervision/setup charge may apply.” (15)

Of course, archivists should be aware that sometimes they may need to prohibit personal reproduction devices in order to protect especially fragile or valuable materials. The Huntington Library is one of many rare book and manuscript repositories that performs all reproduction by its staff. (16) Other archives leave the decision to the archivists’ discretion—the Field Museum in Chicago, for example, does this “if copying will either damage or degrade the material, or if donor, acquisition or legal restrictions prohibit reproduction.” (17) Some archives prohibit handheld scanners, on the rationale that putting the pressure of a handheld scanner on top of a document could damage the paper. As stated in Managing Local Government Archives, “The archives should always reserve the right to refuse any technique of reproduction that might endanger the document.” (18)

But in most cases archives and libraries can only benefit from providing free use of personal cameras and scanners to researchers. As an OCLC Research report stated in 2010, “the benefits to researchers, repositories and collections is undeniable.” (19) And as an archivist on the SAA Lone Arrangers list put it, “The amount of time and resources that we’ll be saving by not photocopying is a major payoff in itself.” (20)

Sources Cited

(1) John H. Slate and Kaye Lanning Minchew, Managing Local Government Archives. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016, p. 119.

(2) “ACRL/SAA Joint Statement on Access to Research Materials in Archives and Special Collections Libraries,” accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/jointstatement.

(3) Todd Richmond, “Attorney General Says Clerks Shouldn’t Charge for Court Copies Made With Personal Technology,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 30, 2014, accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.startribune.com/ag-clerks-shouldn-t-charge-for-personal-copies/287124321/

(4) State of Wisconsin Department of Justice, Opinion of Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, December 30, 2014, accessed August 6, 2016, https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/misc/oag/recent/oag_12_14.pdf.

(5) “Courts Paint Phony Picture to Justify Fees,” Wisconsin State Journal, March 25, 2016, accessed August 6, 2016, http://host.madison.com/wsj/opinion/editorial/courts-paint-phony-picture-to-justify-fees/article_3b8d1a03-85e8-54cf-aa8c-c0d8121247a3.html.

(6) Jonathan Anderson and Sari Lesk, “Want Court Records? Pay Up,” Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, March 22, 2016, accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.wisconsinrapidstribune.com/story/news/investigations/2016/03/18/want-court-records-pay-up/81874300/.

(7) Ibid.

(8) “Our Fees,” Colorado State Archives, accessed August 6, 2016,  https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/archives/our-fees.

(9) “Reading Room Procedures,” Missouri History Library and Museum, accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.mohistory.org/lrc/your-visit/doing-research/procedures.

(10) “Personal Camera Use,” Maryland Historical Society, accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.mdhs.org/personal-camera-use.

(11) Nell Darby, “The Cost of Historical Research: Why Archives Need to Move With the Times,” The Guardian, May 23, 2013, accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/may/23/history-research-costs-archive-fees.

(12) Mutschler, Charles V., <cmutschler@ewu.edu> “Re: Camera Use Fees,” October 22, 2015, SAA Archives & Archivists List, <http://forums.archivists.org/read/messages?id=158241#158241>, accessed August 6, 2016.

(13) Slate and Minchew, p. 118.

(14) “Ohio History Connection Digital Camera Use Form,” accessed August 6, 2016,  https://www.ohiohistory.org/OHC/media/OHC-Media/Learn/Archives-Library%20Documents/DigitalCameraUseForm_Policy.pdf.

(15) “The University of Winnipeg Reproduction Fees,” accessed August 6, 2016,  http://archives.uwinnipeg.ca/info-for-researchers/reproduction-fees.html.

(16) “Imaging services at the Huntington,” Huntington Library, accessed August 6, 2016, http://huntington.org/WebAssets/Templates/content.aspx?id=1924.

(17) “Field Museum Archives Policies,” accessed August 6, 2016, https://www.fieldmuseum.org/science/research/area/museum-archives/museum-archives-policies.

(18) Slate and Minchew, p. 119.

(19) Lisa Miller, Steven K. Galbraith, et al. “ ‘Capture and Release’: Digital Cameras in the Reading Room,’ “ report produced by OCLC Research, 2010, accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2010/2010-05.pdf.

(20) Schergen, Rena, <renaschergen@archstl.org> “Re: Researcher Camera Policy,” October 24, 2013, SAA Lone Arrangers List, <http://forums.archivists.org/read/messages?id=114374#114374>, accessed August 6, 2016.

Other Sources

“Digital Camera Use Policy,” Houghton Library, accessed August 6, 2016, http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/houghton/digital_camera_policy.cfm.

“Archives: Find Resources,” Pratt Institute Libraries, accessed August 6, 2016, https://library.pratt.edu/find_resources/archives/.

“Digital Photography Policy,” Ukrainian Historical and Education Center of New Jersey, accessed August 6, 2016, https://www.ukrhec.org/collections/archives/digital-photography-policy.

“King County (WA) Copy and Service Fees,” accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/records-licensing/archives/about-us/fees.aspx.

“New York State Archives Fee Schedule for Copies of Records,” accessed August 6, 2016, http://www.archives.nysed.gov/research/res_serv_fee.shtml.


The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank the General News Media Research Team, and in particular, Daria Labinsky, for writing this post.

The General News Media Research Team is:

Jeremy Brett, Leader

Anna Trammell

Daria Labinsky

Chelsea Gunn

Meghan Kennedy

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.

Research Post: Personal Archiving and Empowerment

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors news media for issues related to archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.


Personal archiving has been an increasingly common topic among library and archives professionals. Digital preservation, defined broadly, has received fairly frequent coverage in mainstream media outlets recently as well. As personal records are created more frequently in digital environments, public concern for the preservation of born-digital personal archives becomes increasingly pervasive. (1) The term “personal archiving” is itself an interesting one, particularly when positioned within communities of professional archivists. It may gesture toward a shift in attention from working with collections at inactive stages in their lifecycles and providing access to researchers, to educating the public to be informed custodians of their own records, with intervention beginning much earlier in the record lifecycle. Librarians and archivists are increasingly relied upon to provide education and training to the public, empowering individuals to take control of the long-term maintenance and preservation of their own records, digital or otherwise.

Articles in popular media intended for a general audience reflect a widespread concern—and in some cases, panic—about the preservation of digital records, from personal documents or photographs stored on computer hard drives to blogs and files stored in the cloud. It has been noted that these articles rarely interview archivists or other professionals engaged in this very work. (2)

Of course, within professional literature and practice, much work has been devoted to exploring the roles that information professionals can (and do) play in working with the public on the organization and preservation of personal, family, and community records. (3)

At the same time, much has also been written recently on the (often lack of) diversity represented both in archival collections and in the profession itself. In addition to responding to concerns about digital preservation and the “digital black hole,” personal archiving outreach initiatives have the potential to address this scarcity of diverse representations in the historical record. (4)(5) But in order to do so, archivists and librarians must expand outreach efforts to include their complete communities. Who is included in personal archiving education and conversation? In the instance of a public program, archivists and librarians might treat this statistically and ask if those in attendance constitute a representative sample of the population of the community in which the hosting organization is situated.

This outreach may also potentially include pitching more articles to popular publications to counteract those in which archival work is largely invisible. It might also include cooperative efforts, both large- and small-scale, between members of the profession and personal archivists in sharing information, expertise, and resources. As community members themselves, archivists and librarians might consider how they are reaching their constituents, and how they are empowering their complete communities to work with them to preserve community histories, independently or as collaborators.

An additional key issue here involves differing uses of the term “archivist.” Who is included in the phrase “members of the archival community”? Does it include so-called “citizen archivists,” or is the title of “archivist” reserved for qualified and employed professionals? If the latter, are archivists and librarians denying themselves the value of experience provided by amateur collectors? These are questions archivists and librarians face when discussing the future of their professional identities and their relationships with their publics and community partners.


Sources cited:

(1) Weiner, Eric. “Will Future Historians Consider These Days the Digital Dark Ages?” On the Media (January 4, 2016). http://www.npr.org/2016/01/04/461878724/will-future-historians-consider-these-times-the-digital-dark-ages

(2) Lyons, Bertram. “There Will Be No Digital Dark Age.” Issues and Advocacy Blog (May 11, 2016). https://issuesandadvocacy.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/there-will-be-no-digital-dark-age

(3) Personal Digital Archiving 2016 conference schedule. http://www.lib.umich.edu/pda2016

(4) Mass Memories Road Show. http://openarchives.umb.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15774coll6

(5) The Memory Lab at DC Public Library. http://www.dclibrary.org/labs/memorylab

Additional sources:

Ashenfelder, Mike, “Personal Archiving in the Cloud,” in National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, Library of Congress, Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving (Library of Congress: Washington, D.C., 2013): 21. http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/documents/ebookpdf_march18.pdf

Becker, Devin and Collier Nogues, “Saving-Over, Over-Saving, and the Future Mess of Writers’ Digital Archives: A Survey Report on the Personal Digital Archiving Practices of Emerging Writers.” The American Archivist 75:2 (Fall/Winter 2012): 509. http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.75.2.t024180533382067

Brown, Nathan, “Helping Members of the Community Manage Their Digital Lives: Developing a Personal Digital Archiving Workshop.” D-Lib Magazine 21:5/6 (May/June 2015). http://www.dlib.org/dlib/may15/brown/05brown.html

Cushing, Amber L., “Highlighting the Archives Perspective in the Personal Digital Archiving Discussion,” Library Hi Tech 28:2 (2010): 305. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/07378831011047695

Drake, Jarrett. “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories” (June 27, 2016). https://medium.com/on-archivy/expanding-archivesforblacklives-to-traditional-archival-repositories-b88641e2daf6#.20feffxdh

LaFrance, Adrienne. “Raiders of the lost web.” The Atlantic (October 14, 2015). http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/10/raiders-of-the-lost-web/409210/

Marshall, Catherine, “Challenges and Opportunities for Personal Digital Archiving,” in I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era, Christopher Lee, ed., (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2011): 97. http://saa.archivists.org/store/i-digital-personal-collections-in-the-digital-era/2217/

Marshall, Catherine C., “Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving: Part 1.” D-Lib Magazine 14 (March/April 2008). http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march08/marshall/03marshall-pt1.html

Marshall, Catherine, Sara Bly, and Francoise Brun-Cottan, “The Long-Term Fate of Our Personal Digital Belongings: Toward a Service Model for Personal Archives,” in Proceedings of Archiving (Ottawa: Society of Imaging Science and Technology, 2006): 25.

Pardes, Arielle. “How digital storage is changing the way we preserve history.” Vice (February 19, 2016). http://www.vice.com/read/how-digital-storage-is-changing-the-way-we-preserve-history

Redwine, Gabriela, Personal Digital Archiving (Great Britain: Digital Preservation Coalition, 2015): 2. http://dx.doi.org/10.7207/twr15-01

Soleau, Teresa. “Preventing digital decay.” The Iris: Behind the Scenes at the Getty (October 20, 2014). http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/preventing-digital-decay/

Strausheim, Carl. “Preventing a digital dark age.” Inside Higher Ed (March 10, 2016). https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/03/10/researchers-build-preservation-ecosystem-avert-digital-dark-age

Winsborough, Dave; Lovric, Darko; Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas. “Personality, Privacy, and Our Digital Selves.” The Guardian (July 18, 2016). https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/2016/jul/18/personality-privacy-digital-selves

Wortham, Jenna. “How an archive of the internet could change history.” The New York Times (June 21, 2016). http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/magazine/how-an-archive-of-the-internet-could-change-history.html?_r=0

The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank the General News Media Research Team, and in particular, Chelsea Gunn, for writing this post.

The General News Media Research Team is:

Jeremy Brett, Leader
Anna Trammell
Daria Labinsky
Chelsea Gunn
Meghan Kennedy

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.