The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) is located on the Cincinnati campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. It was established in 1947 by renowned historian Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus to collect, preserve, and make available for research, materials on the history of Jews and Jewish communities in the Western Hemisphere.
As our understanding of digital preservation, curation, and stewardship matures, archivists and other information professionals have begun to question some of our assumptions about preservation. To address current needs, the practices we have developed and taken for granted for decades are transforming in the digital environment.
Off-site and remote storage facilities are not new. They were developed in the 1930s and continue to be important for preservation and long-term retention of materials. They provide a long-term solution for paper and microfilm records, sound and video recordings, and now data.
The Information Age spawns questions for the future. How will we ensure long-term access to information, growing exponentially every day? How will we migrate data as technology moves from one medium to the next? Who determines what’s saved, and what criteria will be used to make those decisions? Most importantly, what is the cost of preservation? Who will pay for it?
The challenge that many archival repositories face is assimilating digital preservation activities into everyday workflows. In my past positions, preservation of digital assets was an afterthought—if thought about at all. As a consultant, I’ve found that planning for long-term digital preservation is still unclear in most digital initiatives. Awareness about digital preservation is growing, though work and education are still needed.
A clear understanding of the scope is the basis on which successful archival projects are built. Without it, archivists will struggle to deliver a project well.
Archivists can use several elicitation techniques to gather requirements for their projects. These methods, ranging from document analysis to in-depth interviews, provide ideas for needed projects.
Requirements for archival projects are different from goals and objectives. Requirements specify what the deliverables of the completed project must be. Requirements define the final product, service, or result. These are statements of quantitative criteria, each of which provides a measure of one or more of the project’s critical success factors. You can visualize the requirements when you consider the current condition of an organization and then examine its future state once the project is completed.
Goals and objectives are instrumental in strategic planning for archives because they turn the project’s vision into measurable targets. Goals are the ends towards which a project is directed; objectives are more detailed than goals and explain how goals will be accomplished. With both in hand, archivists build and support the vision for what they wish to achieve with their projects.
The most vital aspect of managing a successful archival project is identifying the right problem to be solved. In the cultural heritage sector, too many excellent exciting projects exist, but limited resources hamper seeing them to fruition. Archivists should prioritize projects that add value to the organization.
Although some archivists debate the necessity for item-level access, it is often more challenging to describe images in the aggregate. Collection-level description can be useful for images of the same subject, but problematic for collections with a variety of subjects, as it neither improves retrieval nor limits the handling of the originals. Group arrangement and description are necessary for large collections or when resources are limited.
Traditionally, archivists have dismissed arrangement at the item level as having little utility and being impractical for modern collections. However, archival surveys conducted over the years have found that a significant proportion of archivists have adhered to item-level description—even though it is contrary to the traditional archival practice of collection-level description. The same discrepancy between literature and practice appears to be true for visual collections.