Pamela Vadekan: I’m here with Kathleen Cameron, from the University of California San Francisco Library. I’m Pamela Vadekan. Today is Friday, August 19th, 2011. It’s great to be here, thank you for joining us.
Kathleen Cameron: Thank you for asking me.
strong>PV: So we’ll start at the beginning: What is your job title?
KC: My job title is Manager and Digital Content Development.
PV: And this is a full-time position?
PV: And when did you start working here?
KC: I started working in the library in January 2004 on a contract basis. I came in to participate in an NLM [National Library of Medicine grant] to build a Health Sciences Digital Asset Management system. And I was working for the IT group here, which is called the Center for Knowledge Management. And they just kept me on.
PV: And what are the lines of authority at your library? Are you now at the library?
KC: Now I’m on the library side of things, although I still work closely with the IT group. The chain of command [starts with the] University Librarian, and there are four directors beneath her. And I report to the Director for Digital Collections.
PV: And what are your primary job duties and responsibilities?
KC: I’m not sure that I have any primary duties [Laughter]…. I have a lot of job duties! So, it’s varied, which is interesting. It’s part digital archivist, part digital curator, part project management training. It covers a pretty wide gamut of different digital-related activities, be it setting up workflows for digital-born assets, to working with the research community to hone in their digital lifecycle workflows for data research.
PV: And then do you have any other duties?
KC: Oh, yes. Do you mean such as committees and that sort of thing?
KC: I sit on the preservation advisory group, which is a UC-wide committee. Soon I will hopefully finish sharing the digital libraries services taskforce group, which is also a UC-wide committee. I’ve established project management training on site at the library, and we do other boot-camp type trainings—sometimes I lead those. I think those are my primary, ancillary [job duties] ….
PV: And how is UCSF connected with other UCs? Do you find yourself to be in a position of leadership in the field?
KC: Sometimes. There’s a nice growing group of digital initiative librarians, which is great. The nice thing about some of these taskforces is that they bring together not just people exactly in the same field, but people from different parts of librarianship. That to me is always interesting—to get to hear different perspectives from different parts of the process.
PV: And are you a librarian by trade?
KC: No. I have my master’s in Library and Information Science, but I’ve pretty much only worked [with] digital. So I’ve never done traditional cataloging or reference or that sort of thing. It’s very confusing when I tell people I work in a library and they say, “Are you a librarian?” And I kind of hesitate because they get upset if they find out I don’t shelve books. I started out working in analogue photo archives, and that’s where I got my start—in image management and processing and that sort of thing.
PV: And where did you get your MLIS?
KC: I got it from San Jose State.
PV: And so from there you were working with the photo archives?
KC: No, I did that prior to having my master’s. So after I finished my undergraduate work, which was at the San Francisco Art Institute in Film and Photography, I went to New York and worked for the Bettmann archive, where we did a lot of research on the collection’s photos based on client needs. And then I started learning more about preservation and historic images at that time. And then from there I moved to another archive where I became the manager, and I managed the collection as a whole.
PV: And then how did you get in to digital collections?
KC: About the time that I was starting to manage a collection, digital workflows [emerged] and I was an early tester for a system, probably one of the first systems, that was a digital asset management tool. You would scan the images, and put them in there, and you would have metadata and you’d actually be able to do some cataloging. That was a pretty interesting experience. I walked into a room and there were a whole bunch of DAT decks, and a really huge desktop workstation. That was before we really had personal computers at work. So pretty long ago.
PV: And where was this?
KC: This was in New York.
PV: And what was that system called?
KC: At the time it was called Digital Arts and Sciences. And I believe it’s evolved into Embark. If I’m correct in how that all changed … they got bought and what not.
PV: And then how did you end up in San Francisco?
KC: Well I had gone to undergrad there, and I am from California [originally]. At some point I moved back and did some photo editing, and worked with a more contemporary asset management system; at the time we were working with Canto Cumulus. But I also did consulting work where I’d set up systems for non-profits using FileMaker. So that was fun! We’ve come so far. Eventually I managed a digital asset management system for a dotcom. And when the dotcom bubble burst, I realized it was probably time I went for my MLIS. It was a secondary, after-thought kind of thing.
PV: And when you got your library degree, did you know you would steer toward digital collections and digital management?
KC: Yes, because that’s where I was starting to go anyways. And the process of getting my master’s was in part for job security, but in part I wanted to figure out how [digital collection management] worked in a library setting as opposed to a corporate setting. So I ended up on the archival track, because it made the most sense; that was the most direct correlation with what I was doing. And then from there I took preservation classes and digital preservation classes, and some of the more traditional collection management and cataloging classes. But that’s not where I got the most benefit; I got the most benefit from sticking with the archival track. And it wasn’t necessarily my goal to stay in media, but for the most part, it seems to be where the biggest need is here. Everything else is gravy compared to media.
PV: Can you describe the collections here?
KC: Of the digital-born collections that I’ve started, it’s been primarily electronic theses and dissertations. I’ve had to work with our graduate division as well as our cataloging staff to build workflows for how to collect those documents and how to preserve them. Otherwise we’re really fortunate that our faculty are so old that they’re not collecting a lot of digital-born [material] yet. So we’ve really bought a lot of time in how we’re going to handle digital-born assets we get from faculty. As are most people, we’re punting, but at least we can logically punt. I don’t think we’re losing out on a lot of stuff.
I work really closely with our archive staff, which is only two, sometimes three people, to start to identify things that need digital reformatting, such as the oral history tapes. And where there’s audio and video tucked here and there into different collections, because that stuff is most at risk. Occasionally we’ll find a floppy disk of some sort, and we’ll have no idea what’s on it. Nobody took good records at the time, so I’m postponing dealing with that stuff. But the digital reformatting of the audio and visual materials is finally becoming of higher importance here. And that’s kind of exciting.
I’ve also done digitization of complex books and fun stuff.
PV: What type of moving image media can be found here?
KC: Pretty much everything. I was up at archives last week and discovered there was 16mm film, which I had never seen before, nor had the archivist. It was just stuck on a shelf. And I happened to bend over to pick something up and was like, “What?!” That was a bit of a surprise! I didn’t think we had any motion picture film here at all of any size. It was a little disappointing.
In one collection that I’m working on right now—the AIDS History Collection, and it’s been processed—there’s a huge AV component. There’s VHS, there’s Super-VHS, there’s Betamax, there’s U-Max; there’s just about every type of tape format you could want. There’s cassette, there’s reel-to-reel—it’s overwhelming and there’s probably three to four hundred different tapes in there of either audio or video. And it’s all reading-room access only, due to restrictions on the collection. We do have a Betamax player, I think we have a VHS player, but we have nothing to listen to any of the audio on. So, we’ve got challenges like that.
And then, the oral history tapes, they’re in a variety of conditions, tape speed—sometimes the tape speed is marked, sometimes it isn’t. I discovered they weren’t even housed properly. They’d been stuck in an archival box, but nobody ever opened the tape boxes, and there’s icky plastic shrinking on the tapes. So I’ve started to do some traditional preservation work as well as doing the digital stuff.
PV: I think it’s really interesting that even though you are a digital archivist, you’re working with physical, analog material. How did that happen?
KC: Nobody else was doing it. And because I have a bit of background in those things, it seemed logical it would end up on my lap. Because at least the tapes would have to be digitally reformatted in order to preserve the content. We’ll still work on preserving the tapes—they’re climate controlled—but because we have such a small archival staff …. And I think this is not uncommon: you quickly process, you put everything in a box, you hope for the best, you stick it on a shelf, you go the next collection—and without a thought [toward] longevity to access those materials. For example, I’d been told, “No, no, we don’t have any random floppy disks in our 15:55collection.” And then all of a sudden I’ve discovered that’s not true, we actually do, but nobody is really sure where they are. And so, it becomes easier when you have an already-separated AV collection as in the AIDS History Collection. It makes it easier for me to access, discover, find, pull the tapes, send them out, that sort of thing. It’s the stuff that’s tucked in [that I know nothing about]. Because those collections were not necessarily processed in a way [where AV items would have been] differentiated in a manner that makes it easy to discover that they’re in there.
PV: In terms of numbers—what’s the overall quantity of moving image materials in your collection?
KC: Well, since we just found that 16mm film I really have no idea.
KC: I think we’re still in the hundreds. I don’t think we’re in the thousands. Because we’re not a huge archive. I think I just read we’ve got 2500 linear feet. So we’re not huge. So I’m hoping it’s still in the hundreds, that I’m not way off base there.
PV: And we already talked a little bit about the training that prepared you to work with mixed collections, but if there’s anything [else you want to add]. . . . Because you sort of alluded to your path and how you came here. And now that you’re here, how has your experience informed your decisions?
KC: It’s much easier when you can focus on one type of collection. When you’re just dealing with photos, or your just dealing with tape, you can focus on and address that. And I think it’s a little more clean and efficient. In reality though, most collections are mixed collections. With our AIDS History Collection we’ve got manuscripts, ephemera; we’ve got tapes. I hope we don’t have floppy disks; not that I’m aware of. We have transcripts of oral histories as well as the physical tapes. So we’re already getting hybrid collections. In the digital world it becomes a little more challenging to sort out how to represent that information, especially when you’re getting different types of digital-born information.
So if you’re collecting websites that are related to a Nobel Prize winner, then you’re getting their physical papers as well as their electronic files off the hard drive, and there might be video of when they received the award, and you have to take that in too. And that may or may not be web-related, but maybe you’ve pulled it off of YouTube. It becomes that next challenge.
In a way it’s been stepping stones: I’ve worked with specific media, I’ve processed manuscript collections, I’ve done digital-media-asset management only, and now I’m going to have to combine all those things in some sort of miraculous way as my colleagues and I try to figure out what the best workflows are. And there’s no one good solution because every time a new collection arrives, or bits and pieces of a new collection, there are new challenges to face. Not only how to process these media as part of a collection, but how to represent them and preserve them and save them and create access to them. It’s that next-level complexity. So in a way it’s a logical progression, though it’s not necessarily a sane progression. It does end up starting to combine everything. So at some point, I’ve become more of a generalist than [a specialist].
PV: Well it seems like UCSF had some vision in hiring you, because you have all these strengths and this great perspective—the digital and the physical worlds. I don’t think it’s a miracle, but I know it’s challenging.
Since you work with mixed collections, what percentage of time do you estimate working with moving images?
KC: Soon it will be a lot. But to date I haven’t had to work with them very much. Mostly it’s been planning for what I’m going to do with this one particular AV collection, as I now have money to do the reformatting, I’ll be spending a lot of time with that collection. So, I’ve had a couple years where it’s been on the back burner, I’ve done some planning here and there as I’ve done other things. But because it’s our primary moving image collection, I haven’t had to touch it much yet; but that will be my focus for the next year, for example.
PV: And was that supported by the library?
KC: Yes, we have a special digital endowment.
PV: Great, that’s very innovative.
PV: And if you could describe a typical day or week in your job?
KC: There isn’t one. [Laughter] It really varies. I’ve tried different strategies for planning out what I want to get done in a given year, or a two-, three-, four-year timeframe. And for the most part that’s worked; there’s always crossover. So I work with a group of pathologists, and they have a virtual microscopy site that I help manage for them. Three or four times years we get in a new batch of electronic species, which then have to be processed and preserved. I’m working with a group of stakeholders that have digital-born photos as well as video, although we haven’t started handling the video yet. That has to be in a fairly controlled environment and not shared campus-wide; it has to be closed, because there are so many access restrictions. I also handle that. And then there’s planning for digitization projects for digital reformatting, either be it for photos or video, or possibly special collection books. And then there’s committee work. It’s always a mixed bag. So there’s no typical week! [Laughter.]
PV: It keeps things exciting.
KC: It keeps things exciting. Every once and a while, I’m allowed to just focus on one project. I did a newspaper digitization project and I was able to just focus on that for a quarter, which was really great, because that was a lot of planning and prep. But now we have a situation where they still do print most of the year, they do some digital-born during the summer, and then we also have a web-archive for the edition they’ve put up online, which sometimes varies a little bit from the print, and how are we going to connect those dots? And so, I’m busy.
PV: And, have things changed over the past few years, or even since you came here? And how so?
KC: I think at this library we had a very traditional perspective on what a collection was. And for the most part that was print-based materials. And I think enough has been written in the literature about the importance of unique collections. There’s been a shift over the last couple of years to focus on creating better access mechanisms to our unique collections. And that’s great. I think there’s been a philosophical shift. There’s certainly been a technological shift. There’s always great new technology coming in—lots of wonderful consortial efforts that you can either take advantage of or participate in, in terms of managing any type of asset. I think that’s huge.
On the technical side of things, the openness to share information, technologies, and workflows is huge. For those of us who work in smaller libraries, we don’t have the benefit of having large IT groups and think tanks, so we’re really the beneficiaries of all the work that’s going on out there. And that it’s open-source doesn’t necessarily make it easy or free but it does make it more accessible. We can also participate in new technologies. We have acceptance on our campus that, yes, we should standardize our technologies because that didn’t even exist when I got here. And there are standardized technologies that everyone else is starting to use, and if we all participate in those same technologies, we all benefit. So there’s also been a philosophical shift there as well, which is really nice.
PV: You mentioned that you still have a relationship with the IT side. How often do you meet with them? How often do you collaborate on processing projects and access projects?
KC: Right. So I’m fortunate in that I still sit with that group. It’s very casual… “I saw this product, did you see it?” And we have ongoing dialogue about that. Mostly I function as a solo librarian, where I’m choosing technologies or proposing technologies and then soliciting help for installing, modifying, figuring out upgrade paths, and if I’ve [made the right choice]. And the guys that I work with are really great about jumping in and looking at things and giving me their feedback. And I have just enough technical knowledge that we can hold a conversation.
PV: That’s key.
KC: Yeah, that’s really key. I don’t have programmers working under me at the moment. I have had them in the past, off and on. But we’ve reformed our IT group so it’s much more fluid now, which is nice. And most of the programmers are working on a variety of interesting things; some tie in directly with what I am doing, and some don’t.
PV: How many people do you work with approximately on that side? Or how many people are available?
KC: There are probably … of the five programmers, two specifically are available, and there’s a third that chimes in now and then.
PV: That’s great, you’re lucky. And how do you continue your professional development in this area and network with others in the field?
KC: I tend to go to conferences or workshops. I just went to Curate Camp, which is an “unconference.” And that was a nice variety of people. It was an interesting informal structure with everyone from digital archivists and digital librarians to IT guys, to architects, to forensics people. There were a couple of public librarians there. So it made for some interesting discussion in terms of how to handle a wide variety of file formats, including media. What you do when it’s still reading-room access only. We talked about policy; we talked about technology. That was one of the better ones I’ve been to in a while.
PV: Where was that?
KC: This was in Stanford. And then once or twice a year I try to get to a conference or something like this. These little one or two day things tend to be inexpensive and often happen on the west coast, so it makes it easy.
PV: So what conferences do you like to attend?
KC: I try not to go to the same one twice. [I’ve been to the] Joint Conference on Digital Libraries. I’ve also been to the VRA once, which was really interesting. Digital Library Federation is the only one that I’ve been to repeatedly.
PV: Do you go to any of the traditional archivist conferences, like SAA?
KC: No, but I’m going to start. Mainly because of the issues of hybrid collections and how that affects how you’re describing and connecting things. I definitely want to start being more involved in that. So, that’s my goal for this year. I lurk; I lurk a lot of places. I lurk on SAA, I lurk on the COOL listserv. I’m a lurker. And with budget cuts I can’t do a lot of conferences every year. And sometimes I’ve given my money to one of the programmers and say, “Go to Open Repositories, this is what I need you to learn, and come back with a technical perspective.” Because I understand things from the digital archiving perspective, but I need their take on it too.
PV: That’s great. It seems like the California Society of Archivists and then SAA, they could really benefit from your perspective. So it’s great that you’re ….
KC: It’s nice that they’re really making a push for the digital. They hadn’t been up until the last couple of years it seemed. There were a few people on the fringes, but now it seems there’s some momentum.
PV: And what in your opinion leads to the creation of positions such as yours in libraries and archives?
KC: I don’t know. I think it’s the realization from the leadership that there’s specific knowledge that’s needed in information management around digital and that that’s unique. And you need somebody to just focus on that because it’s a huge issue. And I’ve found that there are a lot of people across the country … I keep hearing of more and more positions being started. Especially at Curator Camp I met people I hadn’t met before, which was great. I met a contemporary at Stanford, somebody from University of Oregon; there were people there from Alabama. It was interesting, because on the digital librarian side of things, we don’t usually get together. There’s a group at SLA, there’s some people through SAA, but not so much at ALA from what I understand; those might be public librarians that have digitization projects. So we tend to congregate at places like DLF, but that’s not necessarily a professional society. Or we glom on to each other when we meet, with promises that we’ll continue communication. And I think in this case we will.
Most of those positions have been created out of the leadership’s recognition that that’s specialized expertise, and that some of us come from such a wide variety of backgrounds that we bring other things than just that expertise. But I think for traditional librarians it’s hard to think in terms of information management. They think in terms of access to journals and books. We bring this other level of expertise. It’s starting to come around. Again, I think that’s part of the cultural shift that’s happening now. And I’m starting to see more of that.
There’s definitely been a much bigger push in the digital humanities than there has been on the science side of things. I think the digital humanities is unique in that they’ve really gotten a community together sharing information—and sharing, even, how to create a physical space to promote creative thinking where people are creating digital born audio and video and presentations and incorporating that into their research. And I think the sciences are just catching on that they should be doing that too; I’m not sure why it’s taken that long. I’m seeing that there’s a big push for that, and a big push toward connecting all those bits of information like the do in the digital humanities. I’m starting to see more positions on the science side of things, similar to what’s happening in the digital humanities, which is great.
PV: Yeah, it’s great that you’re not working in isolation. Power in numbers, it’s great.
KC: Yeah, absolutely.
PV: And what do you think are the obstacles to creating positions like yours?
KC: [30:28] Funding. Mostly funding. There’s still some technical obstacles, especially when you think in terms of reading-room access only. How are you going to stream things? Because you can’t have a server room in your archive. And if it has to be kept secure enough to warrant reading-room access only, is it logical to stream it over the network? How are you then connecting the permissions information, probably only contained in the finding-aid, to the [file itself]?
So I think there are some policy issues that a lot of people still seem to be grappling with. Some of it is accepting that, in the digital realm, you don’t need to do things that differently [from] the traditional archival-processing realm. And I’m hearing more and more people saying I’m just taking what I did in the old analog world and applying it to the digital world. And I think that’s great; they’re not over-thinking what their workflow process is.
But mostly it’s funding. We have much diminished funding, even for traditional preservation. There’s not a lot of money for digital reformatting. And I think it’s also that (again) slow philosophical shift at the leadership level that these are unique collections and they have to have special treatment if we’re going to preserve the institutional memory. And that’s all kind of tied together when you have dwindling funds, but growing need.
PV: And can you talk about any challenges that you face in your own position?
KC: There are so many!
PV: So far you’ve made it sound like everything is sort of working.
KC: I think where I panic is that I know there are things tucked into manuscript boxes that need digital reformatting or digital preservation that we’ll never be able to access again—that push/pull. The archivist side of me knows that we should be preserving everything and creating access, and everything should be [preserved] in its original format. And the technical side of me is like, well it’s lost. We lose manuscript pages all the time. I mean, we don’t [specifically], but archives do. And, you know … you just chalk it up to being no longer available. You never know what’s going to be of historic value. That to me is a huge challenge.
I think the other challenge is finding where to build community. Outside of UCSF; across UC; with colleagues at other universities, and how do we do that in a way that we all benefit so that we’re not recreating the wheel. That’s something I’ve been actively working on the last couple of years. And I think that’s an interesting challenge. And so much of it is social. It’s not technical, it’s just how people are approaching things and whether or not they’re open to sharing.
PV: I wonder if that’s changing. I feel like it is. Because otherwise we won’t get the work done if we’re not working collaboratively.
KC: Right, and I think it’s also that people are busy and they just get overly-focused on what their doing locally, and often they don’t take that breath and that three seconds to step aside and say, “Huh, maybe I should contact one of these other people.” Or start a conversation. And sometimes those conversations will save you several hours worth of effort. But I think we get into that busy, busy, busy mode and we don’t step back enough.
PV: It’s true. And what are some of your recent accomplishments? Or how would you describe your impact?
KC: Certainly reformatting the digital newspaper and getting it up [online] was huge. I wish we could do more with media in that regard. But that involves different departments on campus and I just haven’t made that push. More recently, [I’ve been] gathering stakeholders and really being the glue to get different departments on campus talking about what they’re doing with their digital-born assets—be it [inaudible], or data research, or communications-related images that are used for print and web—to sit around the table and talk about policies and solutions and workflow solutions. That’s been huge. That hasn’t really happened on this campus before, which is strange: Why wouldn’t you, because you build efficiencies that way. But I’ve had a lot of success in starting to do that.
So I’ve had the stakeholders group of communications directors going for a while. And I realized they need more training on how you actually become a photo editor, and what that is, and how you select; and also getting them to do the same thing with their digital-born video. Because they’re hiring photographers and videographers and collecting [whatever gets made] and those assets are used to promote the university. But they’re not managing these assets. I mean, at best they’re in file folders somewhere, hopefully named, and not with noise. [So I’ve been] trying to get them into using an asset management system. And getting them over that mental hump of spending [the extra] fifteen minutes—because that’s all you need, and your stuff is in there, and you can find it again. But again, they’ve got mental blocks about those fifteen minutes.
PV: And has that been a social process?
KC: Mostly it has been a social process. The technical aspect of it has been easy. “Oh, I can batch upload images.” Yeah, see, that didn’t take long. But it’s getting them over those mental blocks, and then discovering where there’s education and training that the library can then participate in. And helping them to be even more efficient at their jobs so that everyone can benefit, so that the group can benefit. [Which includes telling them things like,] No, you don’t want to upload a hundred photos, you want to upload the five good ones. And you don’t want to upload all the raw video, you want to upload that ten-minute clip that you are going to use. Or that ten-minute clip that’s on the web because that’s what people are going to reference. Then you connect it to all the raw stuff on the backend.
PV: So you’ve been able to apply standards and they’ve been open to it?
KC: Yes. And I’ve gotten them to use taxonomies. And it’s been huge. They had no idea the library had this expertise. What do you think we do?
PV: And then are there any other accomplishments?
KC: That’s the biggest one so far. My next big one is working with the research community and that’s infinitely more complicated because that’s spread out all over the our main campus on Parnassus, and then spread out all over on our second campus at Mission Bay. And the research scientists don’t talk with each other. It’s a sad state of affairs. They used to chat in the mailroom, but we don’t have mailrooms so much anymore because everything is electronic. And [so I’m] trying to bring together people from the Office of Research and Contracts and Grants, and our Clinical and Translational Science Institute, because we have people creating data, people creating media. We have lab notebook issues where we’d like them to use electronic ones so we can get that information immediately. And sometimes there are images and video associated with that [information] that we could connect [to the data] instead of it just sitting on a shelf in analog form, which is really painful for me when I go into a lab and I see that. And they can’t recreate the research quickly, because it’s all in disparate bits, and they’ve not set any parameters in how they’re creating relationships between those disparate bits. Also making sure that it’s secure and that it’s preserved and that it always comes down to what’s publishable. That’s my next thing to attack.
PV: That’s huge.
KC: It’s very huge. But at least I’m able to get people started around a table. Whether or not I can get them more than once, we’ll see.
PV: And what do you think needs to be changed about the status of moving image specialists in libraries and archives?
KC: I think there has to be acknowledgement that this is a specialized field and [that] it’s necessary if you have those materials in your collection. It’s not as simple as having a can with a reel of 16mm film and a projector with a decent bulb in it; it’s much more complex than that. For the large moving image collections, I think that’s obvious. When you have hybrid collections, that [needed] expertise is less obvious. I think there has to be a way for the senior librarians to acknowledge that they need to bring in experts to help manage [AV material] in some cases. I think having that expertise is critical—because I can’t be an expert in everything. I’ve really become a generalist, and that’s fine, but then I have these reels of audiotape and I have nothing to play them on. So then what do I do? I can’t even listen to them to see if the quality is good. And it would be really great to have somebody who could just come in and just handle that and deal with that specialized format. It would be so much easier by comparison—there really is expertise that has to [be included]. Even in finding the equipment and identifying tape speeds, and quality, and then doing an assessment and making an evaluation—it’s really time consuming. Libraries would benefit from that expertise because they could do that assessment more effectively. And I don’t think we promote that enough in the hybrid libraries and we need to.
PV: Plus moving image specialists tend to have an eye for that kind of stuff. They just kind of tackle it, much in the way that you have an eye for bits. You’re not intimidated by the format or anything like that, so you just go for it. And we need more proactive approaches to handling collections.
KC: Yeah, I think so too.
PV: Is there anything else you wanted to add? That was actually my last question. So if you had any thing else to say about your life in the digital library….
KC: … As a hybrid librarian? I think it’s really exciting. I think we need to continue to generate excitement about this on our campuses as the value of the libraries is being questioned, especially in academia. That we have unique collections makes our libraries and our special collections and our archives really special. It brings additional value to the institutional memory. And I think people take that for granted, and more and more in the electronic age. Everyone just thinks everything is automatically saved, or it will be good forever. That they have it on a tape and it’s sitting on a shelf, and they don’t think that in five years we may not have a machine to play it on. I have a drawer full of zip disks, and I have saved the zip drive so that if I needed to access them I could. I have them [saved in another format], but that’s the original format they came to me on. It becomes more and more complex and I think people don’t understand that.
Also, people never understand the historical value in the moment; you never know what that projected historical value is. And conceptually, because we have so much information now, that’s become harder and harder for people to grapple with. I was just reading some of the John Muir papers that showed up on Calisphere, and thinking this is so great, look at who he’s writing to—we have this wonderful correspondence. But it’s not thousands and thousands of emails; it’s like one letter here, three months later another letter. And it’s much more manageable, and we can readily understand the historical value. I don’t know how we justify that with the thousands of emails each faculty member is getting, or the media they’re creating. And how do you even begin to weed through or justify the preservation cost? I think that’s where we’re going to run into the biggest issues with maintaining the value of the academic library.
PV: Selection criteria becomes really important.
KC: And almost impossible. You can select, but then you still have all these other issues: How do you maintain perpetual access? What does access mean? Do you have to have layers of visualization tools on top of this stuff so that it makes any sense at all? You know the preservation issues seem simple by comparison to what the access issues are. And I’m not saying the preservation issues are easy. But as an archive what are you doing with this?
PV: Lots of good questions ….
KC: That remain unanswered.
PV: To be continued. Thank you so much for your time, Kathleen.
KC: Thank you.