the top 10 things I don’t let stop me from getting things done (with digital archives)

This morning, I presented this list at the 2014 Society of American Archivists conference in Washington DC before a question and answer session with my colleagues Brian Dietz, Jason Evans Groth, Ashley Howdeshell, Dan Noonan, and Lauren Sorensen. We had a great time talking to the audience. Questions and answers are fun! Which reminds me, if you ever have a question about digital archives or digital preservation–please take advantage of this great resource created by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Innovation Group: qanda.digipres.org

I was surprised and grateful to receive an overwhelming amount of positive responses to the list. My Twitter notifications went off the chart. To all of those people tweeting: thank you for helping to spread the word! I never said a lot of these things out loud before writing the list, so your kind comments were very encouraging, and I appreciate the support. 

Many people asked me to share my list online. Ask, and you shall receive. Honestly, I winged it during the session, but here are the notes I used:

Hello, I’m Gloria Gonzalez–the digital archivist at UCLA Library Special Collections. (The program says I work at UC Irvine, but that’s okay because my driver’s license says I’m 5′ 6. I’ll take it as a compliment because UC Irvine is awesome–go Anteaters!)

First, let me provide a little context: in 2010, the UCLA Library (under the leadership of Tom Hyry) joined five units together. The Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library History and Special Collections for the Sciences, the Center for Oral History Research, the Performing Arts Special Collections, the Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections and the University Archives united to form Library Special Collections. That means I basically work with everything under the sun.

A la Susan Sontag, I wrote a list for you. Here are the top 10 things I don’t let stop me from getting things done (with digital archives).

10. “the sky is falling” mentality | Which goes like this: “the bits are rotting; the bits are rotting!” It’s 2014, and the vast majority of archivists couldn’t care less about saving and providing access to digital files. When feeling like Chicken Little, I remind myself that this is probably not a life or death dilemma.

9. professional status | I began leading digital archiving initiatives during grad school at UCLA. I have now employed several graduate students from the UCLA Information Studies program to work with digital collections (shout-out to recent grads Beth McDonald and Lori Dedeyan, who have both done amazing work with our digital collections). If you manage students well, empower them, and trust them, you will see wonders.

8. lack of practical experience | Sure, I took classes, attended workshops, and read the literature–but I never touched a write blocker before ordering one for Library Special Collections a little over two years ago.

7. that one time I set a write-blocker on fire | Mistakes are unavoidable, so I use them to my advantage by openly laughing at myself and sharing my failures.

6. deficiency of technological knowledge | What I do have is a philosophy degree, which came with technological curiosity, an experimental outlook, a love of uncertainty, the desire to learn, and the well-crafted ability to Google.

5. age, gender, and background | If you haven’t noticed already: I am young, female, and my last name ends in -EZ. These things come in handy occasionally, but not in information technology work where women and people of color are truly disadvantaged. Instead of dwelling, I focus on being a good role model and enjoy knowing that the potential to change the unconscious biases of others is an inherent byproduct of my work.

4. haters | (Haters out there, you know who you are.) When you work amongst incredible rare books and manuscripts, judgemental people can make you feel lame for being the one person in the corner of the room saying “Uh, hey y’all, what about all these floppy disks?” Haters motivate me to prove that my work is complementary to traditional roles and responsibilities.

3. impostor syndrome | Symptoms include chronic self-doubt and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. Even on good days, it’s easy to feel like an ignoramus disguised as one of the best digital archivists in the country.

2. the absence of a Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (FRED) and a formal digital preservation policy | One of these things is essential to long-term success, and the other isn’t–but it does make you look cool. I’m proud to be FRED free. As far as digital preservation policy goes, I found that the interests of library administration and other campus stakeholders increase tenfold with researchers knocking on the door asking to use the stuff.

1. FEAR | Getting things done with digital archives can be terrifying, especially at first. I’ll finish by giving you all my now not-so-secret-weapon. To face anxieties, I use the Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s novel Dune.