Overview & Background

OVERVIEW

UMSI has been awarded funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Preservation and Access Education and Training Program to develop and implement a virtual education laboratory featuring digital access and preservation tools.

Specifically, this grant will:

Develop and implement curricular modules: Integrate IT tools into five courses for Master’s students enrolled in UMSI’s Preservation of Information (PI) and Archives and Records Management (ARM) specializations.

Develop and implement an IT teaching virtual lab: Identify, secure, and implement hardware and virtualized software configurations and assemble appropriate datasets (content) for use with the virtualized software tools in order to give students hands-on experience managing humanities-related content across the records lifecycle.

Freely disseminate specifications documenting lab tools, content, and curricula modules on the web: The availability of such documentation and learning materials will lower barriers for other programs seeking to more fully incorporate IT into their curricula. These programs will be able to leverage SI’s lessons and implementations to develop and enhance their curricula.

Humanities scholarship depends on access to primary sources. As more and more of these sources are born digital or digitally reformatted, we need a new generation of digital archivists and digital preservation specialists to manage these collections. Evidence suggests, however, that most graduate archival education programs have poorly integrated technology into their curricula. This despite obvious necessities for operational competencies in information systems architectures, electronic records management, database administration, content migration, digitization, digital preservation, web technologies, and standards and best practices, as well as the communication and problem solving skills needed to navigate these areas (Tibbo, 2006).

The next generation of digital humanities heritage workers needs to "learn how to learn" about new tools, how to use established and emerging tools as part of a normal problem solving routine in the management of digital collections, and learn how these tools can be used to support core archival values, such as provenance and authenticity, and core archival functions, such as collection development, description, and access across the entire information lifecycle. Educating a new generation of digital archivists and curators is essential to create, build, and sustain digital humanities collections and to ensure that they are accessible to humanities scholars in a variety of fields.

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BACKGROUND

In our current era characterized by unprecedented growth and transformation of humanities content from analog to born-digital and digitized resources, educating the next generation of archivists and preservation specialists to capture, manage, preserve, and make accessible digital humanities content across the information lifecycle is paramount to sustain digital humanities collections and to ensure that they are accessible to humanities scholars in a variety of fields. These concerns were powerfully expressed in a recent American Council on Learned Societies report (2006). Emergent and established professionals that obtain pertinent technological literacies and skills through graduate and other professional education venues will be able to professionally support cultural heritage institutions and humanities collections and assist scholars in navigating and obtaining access to diverse, robust, and well-managed corpuses of digital content. As noted by former president of the Society of American Archivists, Richard Pearce-Moses, such efforts reinforce long-standing principles of securing, preserving, and providing access to cultural heritage. However, the onslaught of digital technologies mandates changes to how these goals are accomplished. For Pearce-Moses (2006), “technical skills” are at “the heart” of archivists and curators abilities to meet these new challenges. Yet, according to the 2006 New Skills for a Digital Era colloquium “despite the fact that most information professionals now recognize the importance of working with digital materials, many are unsure what to do....Many hesitate because they do not know what they need to know….” (Pearce-Moses & Davis, 2006).

The Society of American Archivists (2008) reported that the United States has recently undergone a dramatic rise in the number of multi-course graduate archival programs. This awareness reflects and acknowledges results from a growing body of research into graduate archival education. A research report published in Library Quarterly (2001) documented growing “strength and individualization in graduate level archival education programs, a dramatic increase in full-time, tenure-track faculty, a growing number of archival course offerings….and the nascent development of degrees acknowledging the archives and records field.” The A*Census project (2004-2006), the most comprehensive and complete archival census and survey, found that graduate archival education offerings were “by far the most common source of training or education” for emergent professionals (Walch, 2006) and that “the archival profession in the United States has made the transition from relying on on-the-job training to requiring a Master’s degree for entry and mobility in the field" (Yakel & Bastian, 2005). These offerings are now available within 26 schools of library science / information, of which 16 have formalized archival concentrations; and within 29 history departments, of which there exists 7 formalized archival concentrations (Bastian & Yakel, 2006).

These trends combine favorably with 2008-2009 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for archivists. The Bureau predicts “...faster than average employment growth is expected through 2016" (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). Following earlier indicators, it is anticipated that those with highly specialized training, such as a master’s degree in library science with a concentration in archives and records management, practical experience, and extensive technical skills, will prove to be the most competitive in this field (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1994). Jobs are expected to grow as public and private organizations emphasize establishing archives and organizing records and information and as public and scholarly interest in science, art, history and technology increases. The need for archives professionals is expected to continue to grow especially as information-rich organizations continue to face the challenges of finding ways to capture, organize maintain, and provide access to electronic information and records. For example, Riggs’ (2005) study of job advertisements in Archival Outlook from 1997-2003 found that advertisements requiring competency in Encoded Archival Description doubled from 7% in 1998, when version 1 of the EAD DTD was publicly released, to 14% five years later in 2003. The demand for archivists who specialize in electronic records and digital preservation issues across the lifecycle will grow more rapidly than the demand for archivists who specialize in older media formats. This trend is further illustrated by a 2004 survey of over 650 managers with responsibility for hiring archivists at both entry-level and above. For new hires, technical skills ranked third in a list of nine important qualifications (Walch, 2006).

Despite these advances in expanding graduate archival education and forecasted social needs for graduates well-trained in digital technologies, challenges remain. Widespread agreement as to what constitutes “core” knowledge in graduate archival education programs is elusive. Of 373 separate courses identified in graduate archival programs, individual courses addressing technology and key archival functions and responsibilities remain limited – Practica (14%), Preservation (13%), Records Management (8%), Arrangement and Description (7%), Electronic Records (4%), and Appraisal (2%) (Bastian & Yakel, 2006). Tibbo’s (2006) analysis of 18 graduate archival education programs concluded that “few archives students are able to take very much information technology course work during their master’s degrees.”

In regards specifically to preservation education, the overall landscape for graduate education has not changed appreciably in over a decade, relying heavily on the patchwork approach offered by continuing education programs. Formalized graduate education programs have been particularly slow to create courses or programs that deal explicitly with preservation administration for digital objects. Offerings are widely dispersed, introductory in character, and largely devoid of focused attention on digital content. UMSI’s recently established Preservation of Information specialization is a notable development in this area.

Gracy and Croft (2007) identified 32 schools with an introductory preservation course and noted that 60% (19 schools) offered only one course – an introductory survey course. Additionally, 7 schools (21.9 percent) offered 2 courses, 4 schools (12.5 percent) 3 courses, and only 2 schools (6.3 percent) had more than 3 courses (p. 280). Their findings are similar to those of Yakel and Bastian (2005) who found 37 introductory preservation courses in library and information science schools (LIS) and history departments with archival program. Analysis of 22 introductory preservation syllabi revealed that only 11 out of the 22 addressed digital preservation. Furthermore, preservation was not always present in other courses. This is a far cry from the 1991 Council on Library Resources Report of the Preservation Education Task Force, which argued that every student should be acquainted with preservation in the core curriculum (Marcum, 1992). In 2002, a Council on Library and Information Resources report again addressed preservation administration. In that report, Kenney and Stam (2002) made six recommendations, among them to “encourage a common and more inclusive understanding of preservation to support program development” and to “address the digital preservation challenge at the local level.”

The above statistics and passages are sobering in consideration of the most important issues that archives should address over the next five years as identified in 2004 by the over 5,600 archivists who participated in the A*Census project. Among the top six responses included five directly pertinent to this project: electronic records, access (including arrangement and description), preservation and conservation, digitization and digital preservation, and education and training (Walch, 2005). The New Skills for a Digital Era colloquium (Pearce-Moses & Davis, 2006) identified a range of skill sets required of information professionals to operate competently in this new environment. From awareness of the “information ecosystem” (information architecture, standards, and legal and sociological contexts) to formalized information studies, professionals require new knowledge and literacies across the entire information lifecycle. Understanding of data formats, file types, databases, markup languages, and digital multimedia will enable information professionals to communicate effectively with both technologists and users of systems. Technical skills in file transfer, content validation, middleware, web harvesting, refreshing, migration, forensics, and usability will ensure appropriate storage, metadata generation, capture, and management. These efforts will well serve authenticity, custody and control, and security and protection of digital content within trustworthy information systems.

To meet these challenges, considerable attention over the past few years has been directed towards educating the next generation of digital content managers (Ray, 2008). Of particular concern is how to align “traditional ILS [information and library science] curriculum components and emerging requirements for digital and data curation related education" (Hank & Davidson, 2009). The Institute for Museum and Library Services has recently funded three schools: the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC), the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and the University of Arizona to develop digital curation curricula. The University of Illinois, Graduate School of Library and Information Science specialization in Data Curation (UIUC, n.d.) emphasizes the “theory and skills necessary to work directly with academic and industry researchers who need data curation expertise.” UIUC has partnered with the Distributed Data Curation Center within Purdue University Libraries to explore “which researchers are willing to share data, when, with whom, and under what conditions” (Purdue, 2009). And its Data Curation Education Program (DCEP) was recently extended beyond the sciences to include humanities data curation (UIUC DCEP, n.d.). The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s DigCCurr I seeks to “prepare students to work in the 21st century environment of trusted digital and data repositories. Its DigCCurr II project emphasizes development of doctoral students and practitioners (University of North Carolina, 2010). The University of Arizona, School of Information Resources and Library Science’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Information Management (DigIn) is offered online and designed to “provide…a balanced mix of content that combines practical applied technology skills along with a foundation in the theory and practice of building and preserving today’s digital collections.” The certificate requires six semester-long graduate level courses (University of Arizona, 2008). Other digital humanities initiatives, such as Project Bamboo which seeks to “advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services”, are also interested in improving digital literacy. Project Bamboo's Education Working Group is examining mechanisms to “best support the professional development of faculty and staff about approaches and methods for the use of digital technologies in research and teaching in the arts and humanities" (Broughton & Kanz, 2010).

In sum, these initiatives have helped to raise the awareness and profile of digital competencies for emerging archival professionals. This project builds on these foundations by developing a virtual education laborotory model transferable to other settings.

A bibliography of the related citations is available here.

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