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December 28, 2011

2011 Archives Year In Review

When the world ends next December, all of our blathering and fretting over the best way to preserve archival materials will prove to have been in vain. In spite of it all, we trundle ahead with our work like the Sisyphean hero. Normally, I imagine the hill decades or centuries long; if asked my opinion about a new movie or album or current event, I say ask me again in 50 years. But, considering the circumstances, the normal timeline needs accelerating. Thus, the 2011 Archives Year in Review.

Most Interesting Acquisition: Library of Congress to receive entire Twitter archive
Though easily mocked by Your Dad (Yes, Twitter is mostly banal content, but so are the journals and letters of the past that are considered important source materials today) this acquisition is important not only because of the snapshot it provides of everyday life and the way that technology affects or is adapted by society, but also because of the technological efforts required to ingest and preserve the collection. As LOC Digital Initiatives Program Manager Bill Lefurgy says in the article, the Library needs to develop guidelines and methodologies for how to accept and manage very large data sets in anticipation of future acquisitions. The Twitter data presents an excellent opportunity to collaborate with private industry on improved means for data transfer and preservation.

Most Appropriate Reaction to the Twitter Acquisition: Tweeted by @AlbertBrooks, “Damn. If I had known this I never would’ve done that one about my ass”

Most Archivally Philosophical Documentary: Knuckle
The argument over the best use of archival material in a documentary is a parlor game, no real answer but a playful way to show off one’s erudition and argue for argument’s sake. Instead I ask the question, when does source material become archival material? Ian Palmer’s Knuckle, a documentary about the tradition of bare-knuckle fighting to settle disputes among families in the Irish Traveller community, was videotaped periodically over 12 years before being crafted into a film. Palmer states that he put the tapes away in boxes and didn’t even know what the content was until reviewing it when production started. What defines an archive? Age? The way it’s stored? Frequency of access? Original intention for the materials? An original creator vs. a re-user of existing material?

Most Egregious Use of Archival Material in a Documentary: Flying Monsters 3D with David Attenborough
The 3D processes used in this film did not exist during the dinosaur age, so I can only assume that they used some crappy post-process conversion on the source footage. Very disappointing.

#waytotakeastand Award for Archives: Association for Recorded Sound Collections Copyright Committee
Many people don’t realize that audio recordings made prior to 1972 fall under state and not federal copyright law. This means that the same length of copyright, public domain applications, and Section 108 protections do not apply to audio recordings unless a state has modified its laws to mirror federal statutes. This is seldom the case, and as a result the access to pre-1923 works and the ability of libraries and archives to take care of such works has been severely limited. Since 2009, ARSC has been rattling cages in the federal government to prompt a change to this odd exemption, and the US Copyright Office will be releasing a report studying the issue in the near future. Way to take a stand!

#yourenothelping Award for Archives: Digital Photo Frames
I know all the HGH we’re taking is giving us enormous heads and wide bodies, but imagine those heads stretched from 4:3 to a 16:9 aspect ratio. We don’t have to worry about preserving digital photography because our great-great-grandchildren will be so freaked out by the monstrosities they see that they will destroy them all anyway. The insidious infiltration of devices like these (and widescreen televisions) present a major need area for media education.

Archive of the Year: That Box of Photos Under My Bed
It’s got some really great stuff in it. I swear I’ll get around to taking care of it in 2012.

Happy New Year!

Joshua Ranger

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