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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter Saur April 28, 2017

New Beginnings: Introduction to the Special Issue on AERI 2016

  • Leisa Gibbons EMAIL logo and Karen F. Gracy EMAIL logo


On July 8–12, 2016, the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at Kent State University hosted the eighth Archival Education and Research Institute (AERI). AERI is an annual event that brings together researchers, educators, students, and professionals from North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand to share knowledge, promote collaboration, and mentor new and emerging scholars in the areas of archival research and pedagogy. The conference was attended by ninety-five participants from eight countries, including faculty members, doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows, and ten undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the AERI-affiliated Emerging Archival Scholars Program (EASP). The five-day event included sixty-three paper presentations, fifteen posters, seven workshops, two plenaries, and a half-day unconference event.

In this introduction, the hosts of the conference and co-editors of this issue, Leisa Gibbons and Karen F. Gracy, provide a brief overview of the conference highlights and introduce the research papers presented here.

1 Plenary Sessions

The first and second days of the conference featured plenary sessions by two noted speakers: Dr. Mindy Farmer, Director of the May 4 Center at Kent State University, and Dr. Sue McKemmish, Professor of Archival Systems at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Farmer’s talk was entitled “Exhibiting Evidence: Using the Archive to Make Sense of Difficult Topics,” and she explored the challenges that she has faced in making records about tragedy and scandal more accessible. Her presentation described her current work with the May 4 Center, a Kent State resource center which focuses on presenting historical accounts of the events of May 4, 1970, when National Guardsmen shot at students protesting the Vietnam War, killing four and wounding nine others. She also explored her previous work as an archivist at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, an institution that which has the responsibility of presenting a fair and unbiased account of Nixon’s presidency, including records relating to his role in the Watergate scandal. Dr. Farmer’s presentation brought into vivid relief the particular difficulties of historical representation in the face of contested truths, a situation that seems all-too-relevant given the current political climate in the United States and elsewhere.

On the second day of the conference, the morning plenary was provided by archival leader and AERI regular, Dr. Sue McKemmish from Monash University, Australia. The title of her presentation was “ARK Research: The State of the Art,” and it reported on the trends, issues, and opportunities for archival and recordkeeping research in the English‐speaking world. McKemmish commenced with an update on previous analysis done by herself in collaboration with Dr. Anne Gilliland on archival research trends over the last 10 years. As evidenced in her presentation, archival research themes are rich, diverse, and continuing to expand. Trends in current research include activism, agency and autonomy, archival systems design, big data, post-conflict societies, and trust. Also evident was significant influence from critical studies and humanities with continuing focus on social justice, but also deeper understandings of the signifying nature of archives and their role in society. McKemmish also noted an increasing array of research methods, including those born from archival and recordkeeping traditions, as well as those adopted and adapted from other disciplines.

A key part of McKemmish’s presentation was an update on the Research Grand Challenges initiative, first introduced to AERI in 2011. Of the six societal challenges identified, McKemmmish notes that the archives and recordkeeping community has shown evidence of research and implementation of solutions in three areas. Most extensively researched are the areas of human rights, social justice and inclusion, development (governance and accountability), and peace and security. Other major areas that present opportunity for the archival and recordkeeping research communities include climate change, global health, and addressing the information society and technological change.

The focus of the second half of McKemmish’s presentation was on identifying challenges and opportunities through transformative scholarship. McKemmish described and acknowledged the nature and goals of the current trend in criticality, with particular reference to the emerging field of critical archival studies, spearheaded by Michelle Caswell and Ricardo Punzalan, and the Australian continuum approaches to critical archiving and recordkeeping, influenced by research by Joanne Evans and Greg Rolan. Linked to this, McKemmish emphasized the importance of critical reflection on the purpose and role of archival and recordkeeping research and practice. Such reflection is an essential part of our maturing discipline. Of particular note in this part of the presentation was identification of the widening gap between research in academia and research in practice. This challenge was linked to the goal of enacting transformation through research in order to move from theorizing to implementation by working with scholars in practice as partners as well as collaborators.

2 Paper Panels, Workshops, and the Unconference

The scholarly work presented at AERI was gathered into twenty-two panels, and organized into three tracks or streams; the first track focused on critical studies in archives, the second track included papers on design and use of archival and recordkeeping systems for and by communities; the third track included work in the areas of digital preservation, digital curation, and education for archives professionals.

Conference workshops, which ran concurrently with the paper streams, included practical sessions on dissertation completion, creating persuasive research and teaching statements, fostering collaboration, as well as deep dives into community-focused research design, curriculum design for small archival programs, and online teaching for archival studies. The EASP students had two sessions that focused on orienting these emerging scholars to the field and helping them plan for applications to doctoral programs.

The morning of the third day of AERI featured an unconference session, which drew approximately twenty-five participants. The Unconference offered AERI attendees the opportunity to discuss emerging issues or concerns in a less formal setting than the panel, paper presentation, or poster sessions. Participants spent the first thirty minutes brainstorming a set of topics and then they self-organized into breakout groups according to their interests. For more information on topics featured in the Unconference session, we direct readers to Eileen Horansky’s student report of AERI, which can be found in this issue.

3 Paper and Poster Competitions

The conference included two competitions, awarding prizes for best paper presentation and best poster. Paper judging for 2016 provided an opportunity for all AERI attendees to participate in a peer review process. With all members of AERI including students and faculty potentially eligible to be selected as a reviewer, this process was designed to contribute to the established collegial goals of AERI. Forms were handed to the moderator as well as to a random member of the audience selected by the student volunteer. Participation in the paper judging was well supported and feedback was high quality. The organizers also included an audience participation component to the poster competition, allowing attendees at the poster event to cast votes for their favorites. First place in the paper competition, which included a grand prize of a $250 gift certificate from the Society of American Archivists, went to Ricardo Punzalan and Diana Marsh for their work, “Expanding Impact Studies: Native and National Research on Impact Stories of Digitized Ethnographic Collections.” The second place winner was Michelle Caswell (“Critical Theory and Its Archival Applications”) and the third place winner was Jamila Ghaddar (“To What Ends? Lebanese Archival Memory”). Jonathan Dorey, Vladan Vukliš, and Noah Geraci each received honorable mentions. In the poster competition, Ramona La Roche’s work, “Bajan to Gullah: A Kaleidoscopic Cultural Mix,” earned first place and a much-coveted copy of Rowman and Littlefield’s Encyclopedia of Archival Sciences (2016). Second place went to Greg Rolan (“Design Modelling for Participatory Recordkeeping”) and third place was awarded to Nathan Moles (“Use and Users in Open Government Data Curation: A Case Study of Conceptions, Perceptions, and Expectations at the City of Toronto”).

4 Social Events and Tours

On the first day of the conference, the hosts provided a Newcomer’s Orientation to welcome first-time AERI attendees and give them the opportunity to learn more about AERI history and the conference’s special role in bringing archival scholars together as a community. Seasoned AERI organizers such as founding members Anne Gilliland (University of California, Los Angeles), Richard Cox (University of Pittsburgh), and Patricia Galloway (University of Texas at Austin) provided context for the impact of AERI over the last decade, including its role in building the international archival studies community of researchers and educators, mentoring doctoral students and junior faculty, and recruiting students at the undergraduate and graduate levels from diverse backgrounds to encourage them to undertake doctoral education in archival studies. The welcome session included an informal mentoring event that matched attendees interested in particular topics such as dissertation writing, job seeking, and promotion and tenure to help newcomers and other mentees establish initial connections to potential mentors and seek advice.

As is typical of past hosts, the 2016 conference organizers provided several occasions for attendees to explore unique resources found on the host campus and in the surrounding area. The conference opening reception was held just outside the School’s MuseLab, a creative and collaborative space for thinking, doing, and learning about museal things. MLIS students provided informational tours of the Lab during the reception. On Friday, July 8, attendees were also invited to visit several campus attractions, including the May 4 Center, the Kent State University Museum, and KSU Special Collections and University Archives. On Monday, July 11, twenty-five attendees travelled to the nearby city of Cleveland to visit the world-renowned Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the visit included a tour of the Hall’s Library and Archives, found on the Cleveland State University campus, and an afternoon visit to the museum facility, located on the southern shore of Lake Erie in the downtown area.

5 Acknowledgements

The success of AERI 2016 relied on the expertise, support, and sacrifice of many people, including program committee members, sponsors, and student volunteers. The program committee consisted of the following members: co-chairs and colleagues Leisa Gibbons (Assistant Professor) and Karen F. Gracy (Associate Professor) of the School of Library and Information Science at Kent State University; Anne J. Gilliland, Professor, Department of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles; Ricardo L. Punzalan, Assistant Professor, College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland; Wendy Duff, Professor and Dean, and Nathan Moles, Ph. D. student, of the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto; Kelvin White, Associate Professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Oklahoma (EASP director) and, Eileen Horansky, MLIS student and graduate assistant at Kent State University.

Our generous sponsors included our host institution, the School of Library and Information Science, Kent State’s College of Communication and Information, and various units on campus that provided tours of facilities, as noted above; the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which provided funding to support the attendance of the Emerging Archival Scholars Program attendees; and the publishers that provided prizes in the form of archival publications and cash awards for our paper and poster competitions, including the Kent State University Press, Rowman & Littlefield, and the Society of American Archivists.

Last, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the contributions of our students from the Kent State University MLIS program. Eileen Horansky, who served as Kent’s student representative on the Program Committee, provided untiring support as our graduate assistant during the months prior to the conference and was our volunteer coordinator during the event. Eileen’s report in this issue provides a student perspective on the value of AERI for those entering the archival and special collections professions. Other MLIS students who volunteered during the conference included Chloe Bragg, Katy Farrell, Madeleine Fix, David Roberts, Bridget Sutter, Cassandra Walker, and Andrea Wittmer.

6 The Future of AERI

The 2016 conference marked a turning point for AERI, as it was the first self-sustaining meeting; prior AERI events (2009–2015) were subsidized through funding from two Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grants. For the first time, costs for the AERI conference were paid for almost entirely through registration fees and sponsorships, with IMLS providing scholarship support for EASP attendees. The strong attendance numbers for the Kent State meeting delivered proof that the AERI goal of providing a unique opportunity for archival scholars to come together as a community can, and will, continue. AERI creates a collegial space for sharing knowledge about cutting edge research and pedagogical advances in the archival multiverse, and this tradition will be carried forward in 2017 by the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information.

AERI continues to evolve as the field itself evolves. Recent research and pedagogical trends evoked in AERI programs indicate that the roles of archives and archivists are continuing to expand past the traditional concepts of archivists as passive recordkeepers and archives as sacrosanct repositories for noncurrent records. Today’s archivists are also researchers, educators, philosophers, and activists, and contemporary archives are often contested spaces where previously marginalized voices challenge dominant historical narratives. By providing a venue for new methodologies, theoretical frameworks, and critical perspectives, AERI has enriched and expanded the scope and relevance of archival studies and played a key role in fostering the concept of the archival multiverse.[1]

7 Papers Featured in This Issue

The four papers presented in this issue of Preservation, Digital Technology & Culture were drawn primarily from the third track of the AERI 2016 program, and feature work having either a strong connection to the digital preservation and digital curation areas or which explore certain technical challenges and ethical dilemmas of access and preservation in the digital realm. The editors of this issue found these papers to be particularly resonant for this journal’s audience and thus were excited to be offered the opportunity to disseminate the work of these researchers in another venue.

Patricia Galloway’s paper describes a personal passion for understanding and communicating the experience of using computers. It is told in part through her own personal experience with computing over decades, as well as her students’ experience exploring the complexity of understanding digital file creation in a legacy computer system. The key argument in Galloway’s paper is that to preserve and curate knowledge of the culture of computing it is essential to comprehend the ways people interact with technologies, and how these interactions in turn shape the computing environment. Galloway refers to the computing environment as the software and hardware, shaped by the user through configuration choices. Ultimately, Galloway, through telling a story about her own use of computers, highlights that the relationships people have with their technologies, are part of a larger story about digital culture. The story of digital culture is a tale imbued with a reciprocal interaction and intention between human and machine.

In his article “Digital V-Mail and the 21st Century Soldier: Preliminary Findings from the Virtual Footlocker Project,” Edward Benoit III provides a glimpse into the challenges faced by military personnel who wish to collect and preserve records of their time in the armed services. As Benoit shows through a report on his study of communication and documentation methods used by servicemen and women, in the digital era military personnel use a panoply of personal devices and communication methods, such as mobile phones, Skype, email, Facebook, and other social media sites. The locations of their digital records include a variety of personal, cloud, and social media locations. Today’s soldier is less likely to use postal mail or official communication channels such as military email for private communication, preferring instead to use private devices and external commercial services. The dispersion of military personnel’s private records across these various devices and platforms suggests that their private records are at high risk for loss. To reduce that risk, Benoit suggests a potential solution in the form of an open-source, cross-platform system or application that would be designed specifically to address the military community’s need for a secure site to store and preserve their private communications and documents.

In her work, “‘Making a Killing’: On Race, Ritual, and (Re)Membering in Digital Culture,” Tonia Sutherland tackles the troubling moral and ethical dilemmas that emerge when digital traces of tragic events are continuously reinscribed via social networks and media outlets. She explores the phenomenon of how digital documentary evidence of racially-motivated murders of African-Americans, often recorded using cellphone cameras, is continuously circulated and recirculated in the digital environment. Sutherland juxtaposes the imperative of preserving digital records of such events with the right to be forgotten, i. e., the rights of the deceased and their families to privacy and to not be violated anew in the wake of such grievous tragedies. She argues that in the digital space, the traditions of remembrance and bearing witness through such evidence have been “appropriated to reinforce systems of white supremacist power and racial inequality, reinscribing structural and systemic racism.” Sutherland uses critical race theory, performance studies, archival theory, and digital culture studies to frame and contextualize her argument, and offers readers a chance to contemplate the ethical ramifications of making such digital records easily accessible, particularly when such actions collide with human rights imperatives.

In her paper “Police Body Cameras and Professional Responsibility: Public Records and Private Evidence,” Stacy Wood examines the governance, accountability, and recordkeeping frameworks around the increasing use of police-worn body cameras, and use of outsourcing in data management in the United States. Wood notes that evidence management and chain of custody processes are traditionally performed in-house and supported by extensive security protocols, legislation, and policy that created and supported a framework and system of trust. However, Wood notes that use of body-cams and use of cloud-based evidence management systems run by third part suppliers is being rolled out without effective consultation and accommodations to legislation and policy. The main issues presented in Wood’s paper concern the ethical implications for records and information professionals and the role they should play in the design and control of systems and frameworks to support the creation and management of authentic, reliable, and secure electronic records. To support this argument, Wood points out that records play many roles, including as instruments that establish legal rights, as cultural heritage, and as part of organizational requirements, which include administrative, social, political, and financial accountability. The implications are that use of police-worn body cams and increased marketing of the effectiveness of these tools, as well as the footage being managed by private corporations, will reinforce and potentially even validate repressive police processes. Wood’s suggestion is to consider the implementation of these kinds of technological advances, particularly in an area that requires considerable public trust, from a systemic point of view that connects actions such as body-cam programs to implications for social justice and good citizenship. In this scenario, Wood reminds the reader that it is ethically essential that records and information professionals be in at the ground level in making these policy decisions and to advocate for the potential impacts and outcomes of these kinds of initiatives.

Published Online: 2017-4-28

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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