Category Archives: Technology

Archiving for the Future: AILLA Launches Free Online Course

BY SUSAN S. KUNG, AILLA MANAGER

The Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) is delighted to announce the launch of a free online course called Archiving for the Future: Simple Steps for Archiving Language Documentation Collections, available at https://archivingforthefuture.teachable.com/. The course material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BCS-1653380 (Susan S. Kung and Anthony C. Woodbury, PIs; September 1, 2016, to August 31, 2020). The course is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Logo, Archiving for the Future: Simple Steps for Archiving Language Documentation Collections

The course is a resource to aid people of all backgrounds in organizing born-digital and digitized language materials and data for deposit into any digital repository (not just AILLA) for long-term preservation and accessibility. The target audience for this course is anyone who is engaged in creating materials in or about Indigenous, endangered, under-documented, or minority languages as part of language documentation efforts, including language rights, maintenance, and revitalization. It was designed particularly for individuals or groups made up of academic researchers and/or Indigenous or endangered language speakers and community members, though anyone may benefit from it.

The curriculum follows simple steps to guide participants through three phases of work to organize language documentation materials for archiving, and it explains in detail what to do before, during, and after data collection to facilitate the long-term preservation of the data. The course is designed to be informative, engaging, and accessible to anyone, especially to those with no previous experience archiving collections of language materials.

Infographic showing the three phases and nine steps on which the curriculum is based

This course was developed by four members of the AILLA staff: Susan Kung, AILLA Manager and grant co-PI; Ryan Sullivant, AILLA Language Data Curator; Alicia Niwabaga, Graduate Research Assistant 2017–2018; and Elena Pojman, Undergraduate Research Assistant 2019–2020. Sullivant and Kung interviewed representatives of various DELAMAN (delaman.org) archives and other digital data repositories in the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, and Cameroon. Niwagaba collaborated with Kung and Sullivant to develop an early version of the course that the AILLA team taught live at the Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang 2018) at the University of Florida in Gainesville during June 18–22, 2018. Niwagaba created the educational animated videos that are embedded in the course to illustrate key aspects of the curriculum. Pojman researched curriculum platforms in which to build the online course. Teachable was selected for a variety of reasons, including its simple yet attractive aesthetic that displays all course modules in the left side bar (see illustration below); its ease of use and progress tracking for enrolled students; its responsiveness to different technology; and the built-in ability to quickly and easily set up the same course in multiple languages. This last feature is especially important since AILLA staff plan to translate the curriculum into Spanish and Portuguese to make it more accessible to AILLA’s Latin American audience. Once the curriculum software was selected, Kung and Sullivant expanded the original 2018 workshop curriculum and wrote the additional content. Pojman wrote the objectives and activities for each step, built the English course in Teachable, and created all of the graphics that are used in the curriculum.

Screenshot of the Teachable student interface, including an embedded video developed for this curriculum

In funding and academic environments where it is becoming increasingly common for researchers to be responsible for archiving their own research data, the AILLA staff saw a need to train language researchers to do this work so that the resulting language collections would be well organized, well described, easy to navigate, and available to reuse for further research and education. While there are some language documentation programs in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand that train language documenters to do these tasks, most do not, and almost no training on how to archive language documentation is available in Latin America. The AILLA team created this course to fill these gaps. 

Digital Stewardship Prevents Permanent Loss of Archives

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In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is the final installment in a series of five. Read part onepart two, part three, and part four.

BY ASHLEY ADAIR, Head of Preservation and Digital Stewardship, University of Texas Libraries

The UT Libraries’ Digital Stewardship unit supports digital preservation work across the University of Texas Libraries. When Libraries repositories, such as the Alexander Architectural Archives, LLILAS Benson, or the Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America begin new digital projects, the Digital Stewardship unit often helps develop initial processing plans. Unit staff install tools and provide training to recover data from older media such as floppy disks and Zip disks, or for acquiring files produced by partner organizations and depositing researchers. Processing of these materials must be planned and undertaken very carefully since data may be at risk of permanent loss due to obsolete formats and media, or because of political or physical issues in local environments.

Floppy disk from a UT Libraries archival collection

Taking a life-cycle approach, the unit also coordinates long-term safekeeping of these valuable and sometimes vulnerable files. Digital Stewardship developed file organizing, naming, and description practices for uniformly storing all of UT Libraries’ diverse preservation data in keeping with international standards. When repository staff complete processing, the Digital Stewardship unit takes in copies of data to be preserved, vaults them to long-term storage, maintains detailed centralized records, and manages off-site backup copies. The unit collaborates with UT Libraries repositories continuously over time to enhance organization-wide digital preservation practices, adapting to new developments and the growing scale of data to be preserved.

Still from Sustainable File Types video, visible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JCpg6ICr8M&feature=youtu.be.

Administración digital

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi, PhD (@jenniferisve)

La unidad de Administración Digital de las Bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas (UT) apoya el trabajo de preservación digital en el conjunto de bibliotecas de la universidad. Cuando repositorios como el Archivo de Arquitectura Alexander, LLILAS Benson o el Archivo de Lenguas Indígenas de Latinoamérica comienzan nuevos proyectos digitales, la unidad de administración digital ayuda a desarrollar planes de procesamiento. El personal de la unidad instala herramientas y provee entrenamiento para recuperar datos de medios antiguos como disquetes o discos Zip, o para la adquisición de archivos producidos por organizaciones colaboradoras e investigadores que depositan sus archivos en los repositorios. El procesado de estos materiales debe ser planeado y realizado con mucho cuidado puesto que los datos pueden estar en peligro de borrado permanente debido a formatos o medios obsoletos, o por cuestiones políticas y de tipo medioambiental.

Disquete de una coleção archival de las Bibliotecas de UT

Con un enfoque de ciclo de vida de los datos, la unidad también coordina la custodia a largo plazo de estos archivos valiosos y a veces vulnerables. La administración digital desarrolló prácticas de organización, denominación y descripción de archivos para almacenar de manera uniforme todos los diversos datos de preservación de las bibliotecas de UT de acuerdo con los estándares internacionales. Cuando el personal del repositorio completa el procesamiento, la unidad de Administración Digital toma copias de los datos para preservarlos, los guarda en un almacenamiento a largo plazo, mantiene registros centralizados detallados y administra copias de seguridad en otras localizaciones. La unidad colabora con los repositorios de las bibliotecas UT continuamente a lo largo del tiempo para mejorar las prácticas de preservación digital de toda la organización, adaptándose a los nuevos desarrollos y la creciente escala de datos a preservar.

Niels Fock con dos hombres cañari en Tacu Pitina, Ecuador, 1974. Archivo de las Lenguas Indígenas de Latinoamérica https://ailla.utexas.org/islandora/object/ailla:259355 Foto © Eva Krener

Gestão digital

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

A unidade de Gestão Digital da UT Libraries apoia o trabalho de preservação digital de todas as bibliotecas do sistema. Quando um dos repositórios das Bibliotecas, seja o Alexander Architectural Archives, a LLILAS Benson ou o Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America, inicia um projeto digital novo, a unidade de Gestão Digital geralmente auxilia a criar os planos iniciais de processamento. Os profissionais da unidade instalam ferramentas e dão treinamento para recuperar dados de mídias mais antigas como floppy disks e discos Zip ou para adquirir arquivos produzidos por organizações parceiras e pesquisadores com trabalhos depositados. O processamento desses materiais deve ser planejado e empreendido com muito cuidado, pois os dados podem estar expostos ao risco de perda permanente causado por formatos e mídia obsoletos ou por problemas políticos ou físicos em ambientes locais.

Disquete de uma coleção arquival das bibliotecas UT Libraries

Utilizando uma abordagem de ciclo de vida, a unidade também coordena a guarda a longo prazo desses arquivos valiosos e às vezes vulneráveis. A Gestão Digital desenvolve práticas para organizar, dar nomes e descrever os arquivos visando a armazenagem uniforme de todos os diversos dados de preservação da UT Libraries em conformidade com as normas internacionais. Quando os funcionários de repositórios concluem seu processamento, a unidade de Gestão Digital providencia cópias dos dados a serem preservados, armazena-os em sistema de armazenagem segura de longo prazo, mantém registros centralizados detalhados e providencia cópias de reserva em local externo. A unidade colabora de modo contínuo com os repositórios da UT Libraries ao longo do tempo para aprimorar as práticas de preservação digital em toda a organização, sempre se adaptando aos novos avanços e ao aumento em escala do universo de dados a serem preservados.

Students Use Digital Tools to reveal “Hidden” Collection of Pre-Colonial Objects

Nasca bowl with birds

Students in Astrid Runggaldier’s Art and Archaeology of Ancient Peru class were tasked with an intriguing project this spring: take a collection of pre-colonial objects that is, for all intents and purposes, invisible, and make it visible using digital tools. Their efforts have come to fruition with a first-of-its-kind online exhibition titled Ancient Coastal Cultures of Peru: People and Animals at the Edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The objects in question are part of the Art and Art History Collection (AAHC) at The University of Texas at Austin, a collection associated with the Mesoamerica Center and the Department of Art and Art History. Consisting of ancient artifacts, ethnographic materials, and historical objects primarily from the Americas, the collection, curated by Runggaldier, spans approximately 5,000 invaluable objects for research and studious exploration. These rare pieces do not have their own dedicated exhibition space, although since 2017, select objects rotate through the Ancient Americas gallery at the Blanton Museum of Art (see “Mesoamerican Artifacts Highlight Makeover at UT’s Blanton”).

Chimu spout-and-handle vessel with human effigy

Long focused on the need for a virtual museum to showcase the AAHC collection, Runggaldier looked to the field of digital humanities to devise a project with a few objectives in mind. “Approaching this project from a digital humanities perspective could simultaneously serve in the stewardship of the collection, create an educational resource at UT and beyond, and provide an opportunity for students to become involved in learning goals and tools of digital scholarship, as well as museum studies approaches to collection management and curation,” she said.

Nasca vase with trophy head

Enter the LLILAS Benson Digital Humanities Curriculum Redesign Award. The award provides UT faculty and graduate student instructors with dedicated staff support by LLILAS Benson digital scholarship staff along with a grant of up to $250 to cover expenses incurred in the design or redesign of a course with Latin American, U.S. Latinx, and/or African Diaspora Studies content. Runggaldier applied and received the award, which she used to redesign the Ancient Peru class. For this endeavor, she has worked with Albert Palacios, LLILAS Benson digital scholarship coordinator.

Student’s final project, showing object comparisons

Palacios explains that the goal of the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship Office is to “introduce digital humanities principles, methods, and special collections meaningfully and with a critical lens” in the redesign of undergraduate and graduate courses. “Through lectures, class activities, individual assignments and group projects, we aim to strike a balance in the knowledge we impart as co-instructors,” Palacios continues, “so that students leave the course with a well-rounded understanding of the subject matter and course content, as well as information literacy and research methods, basic and more advanced digital skills, and knowledge of ethical issues surrounding collection development and use.”

Chimu vessel

First-year student Miguel Belmonte, a neuroscience major, attests to the success of this aim: Before this course, “I had never used or even known about digital scholarship tools. It was a unique experience.”

Nasca objects depicting chile peppers; postcard showing twentieth-century vendor

Students were divided into teams of four for the final project. Each team had to research objects in the UT collection from two different pre-colonial Andean groups—the Chimu and the Nasca. They then had to compare the objects they chose to an object from another museum collection. To provide context for visualizing the environments of Peru, Runggaldier selected images from the Benson’s Hispanic Society of America Postcard Collection, which has been digitized, described, and mapped by School of Information graduate student Elizabeth Peattie, who is the LLILAS Benson Digital Scholarship and Special Collections intern. Three other indispensable contributors to the success of this project were Brianna Crockett, collections assistant and Art and Art History undergrad, who assisted in the compilation and description of digital assets; Katy Parker, Humanities Liaison Librarian for Fine Arts, who provided research support for students throughout the semester; and Nicole Payntar, doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology, who designed assignment grading criteria and rubrics for research and digital project components.

Student slide featuring Chimu objects and thematic postcard

“I truly enjoy seeing the aha! moment in students’ eyes as they figure out how to use open-source digital tools to make their research more dynamic and interconnected,” says Palacios. “For many, the learning curve is steep, so the digital scholarship staff’s role is to help them overcome this. Luckily, we continue to hear that the in-depth and intense experience was worth the challenge!”

Runggaldier and Palacios had originally planned an in-person opening event to celebrate the going live of the online exhibition. Given the current closure of campus due to the covid-19 pandemic, this was not to be. We encourage readers to visit the online exhibition and to share their opinions on social media by tagging @llilasbenson and @UT_AAH and using the hashtag #digitalhumanities.

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More information: Contact Lauren Macknight, Art and Art History, or Susanna Sharpe, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections

Digital Preservation and the LLILAS Benson Post-Custodial team

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In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is part four in a series of five. Read part one, part two, and part three.

By DAVID BLISS (@davidallynbliss), Digital Processing Archivist, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections @llilasbenson

Over the past decade, LLILAS Benson has undertaken post-custodial archival projects in collaboration with partners throughout Latin America and beyond. Post-custodial archival practice encompasses a range of theory and methodology, built on the premise that digital technologies make it possible for collecting institutions like LLILAS Benson to provide access to archival collections from Latin America without taking physical custody or removing them from their original contexts of creation and use.

The Fondo Real de Cholula digitalization team in Puebla, Mexico. The team creates checksums for all files before sending them to the Benson for processing and preservation.

Through these post-custodial projects, LLILAS Benson staff and partner repository staff work together closely to identify collections of interest, select appropriate digitization equipment, and build metadata collection strategies. The materials are then digitized and described on-site in Latin America by partner repository staff. The digitized collections are then transferred to LLILAS Benson, where they are processed, preserved, and in most cases published online. Because the original collections are often vulnerable or sensitive, frequently touching on delicate human rights issues, long-term preservation of their digital copies is especially important to LLILAS Benson staff and partners in Latin America.

A digital photo of a 1607 document from the Fondo Real de Cholula collection. Digital preservation begins the moment each photo in the collection is taken, to protect the integrity of the digital collection.

In recent years, the LLILAS Benson team has integrated file fixity checks in all post-custodial projects. When launching a project at a partner site, LLILAS Benson staff now teach project team members the basic principles of digital preservation and the importance of fixity checks, which verify that files have not been altered or corrupted over time. The project teams are taught to create and verify checksums prior to transferring a batch of files to LLILAS Benson, using free software available in Spanish or Portuguese.

David Bliss and Dylan Joy, of LLILAS Benson, join scholars, government officials, and others at the Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla for the launch of the Fondo Real de Cholula digital preservation project. Photo: Revista el Arca de Noé, June 26, 2018.

These checksums now accompany all file deliveries from project sites, and help the LLILAS Benson team identify corrupted or missing files immediately. These checksums speed LLILAS Benson’s processing and preservation work, allowing the files to be published online and preserved long-term more easily. The checksum workflow also encourages each partner to include fixity checks in any future digitization projects they undertake, thus contributing to the partners’ own digital preservation capacity.

Equipo poscustodial LLILAS Benson

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi (@jenniferisve)

@llilasbenson

Durante la última década, LLILAS Benson ha emprendido proyectos de archivo de tipo poscustodial junto con socios a lo largo de América Latina. La práctica de archivo poscustodial abarca una serie de teorías y metodologías basadas en la premisa de que las tecnologías digitales hacen posible que las instituciones colectoras como LLILAS Benson provean acceso a las colecciones de archivos de Latinoamérica sin su custodia física o su eliminación del contexto original de su creación y uso.

A través de estos proyectos poscustodiales el personal de LLILAS Benson y sus colaboradores trabajan en estrecha colaboración para identificar colecciones de interés, seleccionar el equipo de digitalización adecuado y desarrollar estrategias de curaduría de metadatos. Los materiales son digitalizados y descritos en Latinoamérica por parte del personal de cada archivo para luego ser transferidos al equipo LLILAS Benson, quien procesa, preserva y publica los materiales en la mayoría de los casos. Debido a que las colecciones originales son a menudo vulnerables o con contenido delicado, y frecuentemente tocan temas relacionados con derechos humanos, la preservación a largo plazo de sus copias digitales es especialmente importante para el personal y los socios de LLILAS Benson en América Latina.

El equipo de digitalización del Fondo Real de Cholula, en Puebla, Mexico. El equipo crea sumas de verificación para todos los archivos antes de enviarlos a la Benson para su procesamiento y preservación.

En años recientes, LLILAS Benson ha añadido verificaciones de permanencia de archivos en los proyectos poscustodiales en curso. Con el inicio de cada proyecto en el archivo de los colaboradores, el personal de LLILAS Benson enseña a cada equipo los principios básicos de preservación digital y la importancia de añadir verificaciones de permanencia, que verifican que los archivos no han sido alterados o dañados con el tiempo. Los equipos de los proyectos aprenden a crear y verificar sumas de verificación usando programas gratuitos en español o portugués antes de transferir un conjunto de archivos a LLILAS Benson.

Una foto digital de un documento de 1607 del Fondo Real de Cholula. La preservación digital comienza en el momento en que se toma una foto, para proteger la integridad de la colección digital.

Estas sumas de verificación ahora acompañan todas las entregas de archivos desde el lugar de los proyectos de digitalización y ayudan al equipo de LLILAS Benson a identificar archivos dañados o faltantes de inmediato. Esto acelera las tareas locales de procesamiento y preservación en LLILAS Benson y anima a cada colaborador a incluir controles de verificación en cualquier otro proyecto que puedan emprender en el futuro. Esto a su vez contribuye a la capacidad de preservación digital propia de los colaboradores.

David Bliss y Dylan Joy, de LLILAS Benson, en el Archivo Judicial del Estado de Puebla para el lanzamiento del proyecto de preservación digital del Fondo Real de Cholula. Foto: Revista el Arca de Noé, 26 de junio de 2018.

Equipe pós-custodial da LLILAS Benson

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

@llilasbenson

Durante a última década, a LLILAS Benson empreendeu alguns projetos arquivísticos pós-custodiais, em colaboração com entidades parceiras espalhadas pela América Latina e outros lugares. A prática arquivística pós-custodial engloba uma gama de teorias e metodologias assentadas na premissa de que as tecnologias digitais possibilitam a instituições recolhedoras de coleções, como a LLILAS Benson, disponibilizar o acesso a coleções arquivísticas latino-americanas sem necessidade de obter custódia física ou a remoção das mesmas de seus contextos originais de criação e de uso.

Equipe do projeto de digitalização do Fondo Real de Cholula em Puebla, México. A equipe cria checksums para todos os arquivos antes de enviá-los para a Benson para processamento e preservação.

Por meio desses projetos pós-custodiais, as equipes de profissionais da LLILAS Benson e dos repositórios parceiros trabalham em contato estreito para identificar coleções de interesse, selecionar o equipamento de digitalização adequado e criar estratégias de coleta de metadados. O material é então digitalizado e descrito pela equipe de repositório da entidade parceira em cada local específico da América Latina. Em seguida, as coleções digitalizadas são transferidas para a LLILAS Bensonm onde são processadas, preservadas e, na maioria dos casos, publicadas online. Devido ao fato de muitas coleções originais serem vulneráveis ou sensitivas por causa de referências frequentes a questões delicadas de direitos humanos, a preservação a longo prazo de cópias digitais é especialmente importante para a equipe da LLILAS Benson e entidades parceiras na América Latina.

Uma foto digital de um documento de 1607 da coleção Fondo Real de Cholula. A preservação digital começa no momento em que cada foto da coleção é tirada, para proteger a integridade da coleção digital.

Em anos recentes, os profissionais da LLILAS Benson vêm integrando verificações de fixidez de arquivos em todos os projetos pós-custodiais. Agora, ao lançar um projeto em local parceiro, a equipe ensina às equipes do projeto os princípios básicos da preservação digital e a importância das verificações de fixidez para constatar se os arquivos não foram alterados ou corrompidos ao longo do tempo. As equipes de projeto aprendem a criar e verificar as checksums (somas de verificação) antes de transferir qualquer lote de arquivos para a LLILAS Benson, usando software gratuito disponível em espanhol e português.

David Bliss e Dylan Joy, da LLILAS Benson, no Arquivo Judicial do Estado de Puebla, México, para o lançamento do projeto de preservação digital do arquivo Fondo Real de Cholula. Foto: Revista el Arca de Noé, 26 de junho de 2018.

Essas checksums já acompanham todas as entregas de arquivos oriundos de locais de projetos e ajudam a equipe da LLILAS Benson a identificar imediatamente arquivos corrompidos ou faltando. As checksums aceleram o trabalho de processamento e preservação da LLILAS Benson, permitindo publicar os arquivos online e preservá-los a longo prazo com mais facilidade. O fluxograma de checksums também incentiva cada entidade parceira a incluir verificações de fixidez em qualquer projeto de digitalização a ser empreendido no futuro contribuindo, assim, para a própria capacidade de preservação digital de cada entidade.

Digital Preservation and the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America

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In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is part three in a series of five. Read part one and part two.

By SUSAN SMYTHE KUNG, PhD, Manager, (@SusanKung), and RYAN SULLIVANT, PhD, Language Data Curator, (@floatingtone), Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America @AILLA_archive

At AILLA, we are developing guidelines for language researchers and activists that are intended to facilitate the organization and ingestion of their collections of recordings and annotations of Indigenous, and often endangered, languages into digital repositories so that these valuable digital resources can be preserved for the future. One of the areas of focus for these guidelines is on the importance of using open and sustainable file formats to increase the likelihood that digital files can be opened and read in the future. To help explain these ideas, we produced a short animated video that is available under a Creative Commons license on YouTube at https://youtu.be/2JCpg6ICr8M.

Screenshot from AILLA. 2018. Sustainable File Types , https://youtu.be/2JCpg6ICr8M, CC-By license.

Many digital documents are produced using proprietary software, and future users will need to have the same, or similar, software to open the files or read their contents. While documents in proprietary formats can be put into a digital repository so their bitstreams (all the ones and zeroes) are preserved well into the future, the exact copy of the file a user downloads years from now may be impossible to use if the proprietary software it was made with is no longer available. Documents preserved in these non-open and non-sustainable formats then end up like cuneiform tablets: objects whose marks and features have survived a long passage through time but can only be read by a small number of people after considerable effort and study.

A group of Cañari leaders leaving a meeting in which they discussed the formation of cooperatives to buy land. Cooperativa de San Rafael, man reading: José Zhinin, secretary, law, Antonio Guamán Zhinin president. Man in the door, José María Pichisaca. Front left, Paolo Guamán. photo right, in blue, Francisco Quishpilema; in red Manuel Guamán. Ecuador, 1968. https://ailla.utexas.org/islandora/object/ailla:259974 Photo © Preston Wilson.

Choosing sustainable open formats helps ensure that materials are not just preserved but are accessible and usable into the future, since open-source applications can be more easily built to read files stored in non-proprietary formats.

Archivo de las Lenguas Indígenas de Latinoamérica

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi

@AILLA_archive

En AILLA (por sus siglas en inglés), estamos desarrollando pautas para lingüistas y activistas con la intención de facilitar la organización e ingesta de sus colecciones de materiales de documentación de idiomas en repositorios digitales para que estos valiosos recursos digitales puedan conservarse para el futuro. Una de las áreas que resaltamos en estas guías es la importancia de utilizar formatos de archivo abiertos y sostenibles para aumentar la probabilidad de que estos archivos digitales puedan ser abiertos y leídos en el futuro. Para explicar estas ideas hemos producido un video animado corto que está disponible con licencia de Creative Commons en Youtube: https://youtu.be/2JCpg6ICr8M.

Captura de video de AILLA. 2018. Tipos de archivo , https://youtu.be/SuAUGDzKTol, licencia CC-By.

Muchos documentos digitales se producen con software propietario y se necesita el mismo software (o un software parecido) para abrirlos o leer su contenido. Es cierto que se puede meter documentos en formatos propietarios en un repositorio digital y sus bitstreams (todos los unos y ceros) serán preservados hasta el futuro, pero cuando el usuario del futuro lo descarga, no existe garantía de que aquella copia fiel sea accesible porque es posible que el software necesario ya no exista. Los documentos así preservados en formatos no abiertos y no sostenibles entonces terminan como tableta escritas en cuneiforme cuyas marcas y figuras han sobrevivido tras el tiempo pero solo son legibles por un pequeño conjunto de personas muy especializadas.

Niels Fock con dos hombres cañari en Tacu Pitina, Ecuador, 1974. https://ailla.utexas.org/islandora/object/ailla:259355 Foto © Eva Krener

Escoger formatos sostenibles y abiertos ayuda a asegurar que los materiales no solo permanezcan sino que estén accesibles y útiles en el futuro ya que será más fácil crear una aplicación de fuente abierta para leer archivos almacenados en formatos no propietarios.

Arquivo dos Idiomas Indígenas da América Latina

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

@AILLA_archive

Na AILLA, estamos desenvolvendo diretrizes para pesquisadores linguísticos e ativistas com o objetivo de possibilitar a organização e inserção de suas coleções de gravações e observações em idiomas indígenas (muitos em perigo de extinção) em repositórios digitais para que esses valiosos recursos possam ser preservados para o futuro. Uma das áreas de enfoque para essas diretrizes é a importância de utilizar formatos de arquivo abertos e sustentáveis para aumentar a probabilidade de que esses arquivos digitais possam ser abertos e lidos no futuro. Para ajudar a explicar essas ideias, produzimos um vídeo curto com técnica de animação, que está disponibilizado sob licença da Creative Commons no YouTube, em https://youtu.be/2JCpg6ICr8M.

Captura de tela de AILLA. 2018. Organizing for Personal vs Archival Workflows , https://youtu.be/iZVACb_ShiM

Muitos documentos digitais são produzidos utilizando software proprietário. Assim sendo, o usuário do futuro terá que ter o mesmo software ou similar para poder abrir os arquivos ou ler seus conteúdos. É viável armazenar documentos criados em formatos proprietários em repositório digital, para que seus bitstreams (todos os uns e todos os zeros) sejam preservados por muitos e muitos anos; por outro lado, é também possível que a cópia exata do arquivo baixado pelo usuário daqui a muitos anos seja impossível de utilizar, se o software proprietário que o criou não esteja mais disponível. Documentos preservados nesses formatos não-abertos e não-sustentáveis podem acabar como as táboas de escrita cuneiforme: objetos cujas marcações e funcionalidades sobreviveram uma longa passagem pelo tempo mas só podem ser lidos por um número pequeno de pessoas após considerável esforço e estudo.

Transcrições de histórias tzeltal na Coleção Terrence Kaufman. https://ailla.utexas.org/islandora/object/ailla:257561 Foto © Gabriela Pérez Báez

A seleção de formatos abertos e sustentáveis ajuda a garantir que certos materiais sejam não só preservados mas também acessíveis e utilizáveis no futuro, considerando que é mais fácil construir aplicações de código-fonte aberto capazes de ler arquivos armazenados em formatos não-proprietários.

Digital Preservation and the Alexander Architectural Archives

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In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is part two in a series of five. Read part one.

By KATIE PIERCE MEYER, PhD, Head of Architectural Collections, Alexander Architectural Archives | @kpiercemeyer @UT_APL

Architectural archives are confronting challenges associated with collecting born-digital records, as computer-aided design and building information modeling has become standard in architecture, design, planning, and historic preservation. The resulting digital design records complicate long-term preservation in archival repositories, as many of these are created using a variety of (often proprietary) software programs.

A sample CD from the Volz & Associates, Inc. collection. Born-digital archiving requires preservation two ways: retention of the original media and capture of the data for long-term storage.

Over the past few years, the Alexander Architectural Archives took its first steps toward processing born-digital media from a collection donated by a historic preservation architecture firm. The Alexander Archives has approached this effort as a learning opportunity – for students and staff – to develop digital preservation knowledge. Graduate research assistants have learned about digital archives and preservation at the UT School of Information and apply their new skills, working with staff at the Alexander Architectural Archives and UT Libraries’ Digital Stewardship unit to develop preservation plans, recover data from legacy media, create preservation images to be vaulted to tape, and draft public access workflows.

Abbie Norris, digital archives Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architectural Archives, processes 813 floppy disks, CDs, zip disks, and flash drives, imaging the disks, capturing metadata like disk size and file types, and recording everything for documentation in the finding aid.

Read more about these efforts and the learning process from the perspective of one of the GRAs at the Alexander Architectural Archives.

Archivos de Arquitectura Alexander

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi

Para el Día Mundial de la Preservación Digital, los miembros del equipo de Preservación Digital de las Bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas han escrito una serie de entradas de blog que hacen destacar las actividades de preservación en la universidad, y para enfatizar la importancia de la preservación en un presente de cambio tecnológico constante. Este texto es el segundo en una serie de cinco. Lea el primer texto.

Los nuevos registros digitales están representan un desafío para su recopilación por parte de los archivos de arquitectura al haberse convertido el diseño y modelado de construcción por computadora en el estándar en arquitectura, diseño, planificación y preservación histórica. Los registros de diseño digital complican la preservación a largo plazo en los repositorios del archivo puesto que son creados con diferentes programas informáticos, muchas veces patentado.

Disquetes 3.5” de la colección Volz & Associates, Inc.

En los últimos años, los Archivos de Arquitectura Alexander (Alexander Architectural Archives) dieron sus primeros pasos hacia el procesamiento de medios de origen digital de una colección donada por una firma de arquitectura de conservación del patrimonio histórico. Los Archivos Alexander han abordado este esfuerzo como una oportunidad de aprendizaje para el desarrollo de conocimiento de preservación digital, tanto para estudiantes como para su personal. Los asistentes de investigación graduados que han aprendido sobre archivos digitales y preservación en la Escuela de Información de UT aplican sus nuevas habilidades trabajando con el personal de la unidad de Administración Digital de Archivos de Arquitectura Alexander y las Bibliotecas de UT para desarrollar planes de preservación, recuperar datos de medios analógicos y crear imágenes de preservación para ser guardadas en cinta.

Lea más (en inglés) sobre estos esfuerzos y el proceso de aprendizaje desde la perspectiva de uno de los estudiantes graduados de los Archivos de Arquitectura Alexander.

Arquivos Arquitectônicos Alexander

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

Para o Dia Mundial da Preservação Digital, os membros do equipe de Preservação Digital das Bibliotecas da Universidade de Texas escreveram uma serie de entradas de blog que enfatizam as atividades de preservação na nossa universidad, para explicar a importancia da preservação no contexto de um presente de tecnología em fluxo constante. Este texto é o primeiro numa série de cinco. Ler o primer texto.

A área de arquivística arquitetônica vem enfrentando diversos desafios ao congregar registros criados em mídia digital (“born-digital records”) nesta era em que o design por computador e a modelagem de dados para construção já se tornaram padrões nos setores de arquitetura, projeto, planejamento e preservação histórica. Os registros digitais resultantes desses processos complicam a preservação a longo prazo em repositórios arquivísticos, pois muitos desses registros são criados por programas de software diferenciados que frequentemente são proprietários. 

Battle Hall é o sede da Escola de Arquitectura e dos Arquivos Alexander. Foi desenhado por Cass Gilbert no estilo Beaux Arts.

Há alguns anos, o Alexander Architectural Archives tomou os primeiros passos para o processamento de mídias criadas digitalmente, utilizando uma coleção doada por uma firma de arquitetura de preservação histórica. A abordagem escolhida foi encarar esse trabalho como uma oportunidade valiosa, oferecida não só a alunos mas também a equipes profissionais, de desenvolver conhecimentos sobre preservação digital. Foi criada uma equipe de GRAs (assistentes de pesquisa de pós-graduação), que aprenderam tudo sobre arquivística e preservação digital na Escola de Informação da UT e agora aplicam suas novas competências trabalhando com os profissionais do Alexander Architectural Archives e da unidade de Gestão Digital da UT Libraries para criar planos de preservação, recuperar dados contidos em mídias antigas, criar imagens de preservação para depósito eletrônico em fita, e elaborar fluxogramas para o acesso pelo público.

Aprenda mais (em inglês) sobre esse trabalho e veja como foi o processo de aprendizado da equipe, ouvindo a perspectiva de um dos GRAs atuando no Alexander Architectural Archives. 

Reflections from World Digital Preservation Day: Introduction

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In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is part one in a series of five.

Introduction to Digital Preservation

BY DAVID BLISS, Digital Processing Archivist, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections; ASHLEY ADAIR, Head of Preservation and Digital Stewardship University of Texas Libraries

In recent decades, the archival field has been transformed by the rise of digital historical records. As computers of all kinds have worked their way into many areas of our professional and personal lives, collections of documents donated to archives in order to preserve individual and institutional histories have come to comprise both traditional paper records and those created using these computers. Digital records can be scans of paper or other objects, born-digital files comparable to paper records, such as Word or text documents, or entirely new kinds of objects, such as video games. Archivists are committed to preserving digital records, just like physical ones, for future generations to use and study. Digital preservation refers to the full range of work involved in ensuring digital files remain accessible and readable in the face of changing hardware and software.

A box of floppy disks, part of an archival collection held by UT Libraries

Unlike traditional physical media like paper, which can typically be kept readable for decades or centuries with proper housing and ambient conditions, digital files can be lost without periodic, active intervention on the part of archivists: legacy file formats can become unreadable on modern computers; hard drives and optical media can break or degrade over time; and power outages can cause network storage to fail. Digital archivists take steps to prevent and prepare for these contingencies.

There is no one perfect or even correct solution to the challenge of preserving digital files, so each institution may use different tools, standards, and hardware to carry out the work. Typically, however, digital preservation involves choosing suitable file formats, maintaining storage media and infrastructure, and organizing and describing digital objects in a standardized way that ensures future archivists and users can understand and access what has been preserved.

Cassette tapes to be digitized, containing recordings relevant to indigenous languages

Digital preservation represents a significant effort that cannot be carried out by a single person or group. At the University of Texas Libraries, dissemination of digital preservation knowledge and skills is a crucial part of digital preservation practice. Training and pedagogy spread digital preservation expertise within the organization and out to researchers and partners, allowing the Libraries to preserve an ever-growing amount of valuable data.

Introducción a la preservación digital

Para el Día Mundial de la Preservación Digital, los miembros del equipo de Preservación Digital de las Bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas han escrito una serie de entradas de blog que hacen destacar las actividades de preservación en la universidad, y para enfatizar la importancia de la preservación en un presente de cambio tecnológico constante. Este texto es el primero en una serie de cinco.

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi, Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation in Latin American and Latina/o Studies

En décadas recientes, el ámbito de los archivo se ha visto transformado con el aumento de los registros históricos digitales. A medida que las computadoras de todo tipo han pasado a formar parte de muchas áreas de nuestra vida profesional y personal, las colecciones de documentos donados a los archivos para preservar historias individuales e institucionales ahora presentan tanto los registros en papel tradicionales como los creados con computadoras. Los registros digitales pueden ser copias escaneadas de papel u otros objetos, archivos digitales nativos similares a los registros en papel, como documentos de Word o texto, o tipos de objetos completamente nuevos, como los videojuegos. Los archivistas están comprometidos a preservar los registros digitales, al igual que los físicos, para que las generaciones futuras los utilicen y estudien. Así, la preservación digital se refiere a la gama completa de trabajo involucrado en garantizar que los archivos digitales permanezcan accesibles y legibles ante el cambio de hardware y software.


Una caja de disquetes, parte de una colección de archivos de las bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas

A diferencia de los medios físicos tradicionales como el papel, que por lo general pueden ser preservados por décadas o siglos en condiciones de guardado adecuadas, los archivos digitales pueden perderse sin la intervención periódica y activa por parte de los archivistas: las computadoras modernas no pueden leer algunos de los formatos de archivo más antiguos, los discos duros o los medios ópticos se pueden romper o degradar con el tiempo y los cortes de luz pueden causar fallos en el almacenamiento en la red. Los archivistas digitales toman medidas para prevenir o prepararse para este tipo de imprevistos.

No hay una solución perfecta ni correcta para el desafío de preservar archivos digitales, por lo que cada institución puede utilizar diferentes herramientas, estándares y equipos para este trabajo. Por lo general, no obstante, la preservación digital implica elegir formatos de archivo adecuados, mantener medios de almacenaje y su infraestructura así como asegurar la organización y la descripción de los objetos digitales de una manera estandarizada que garantice que los futuros archivistas y usuarios puedan comprender y acceder al material preservado.

Fitas cassette que contienen grabaciones relacionadas con los lenguajes indígenas, y que serán digitalizadas

El trabajo y esfuerzo necesarios para la preservación digital no puede ser realizado por una sola persona o grupo. En el conjunto de bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas, la difusión del conocimiento sobre preservación digital es una parte crucial de la práctica de preservación. Mediante esfuerzos de capacitación y pedagógicos tanto dentro de la organización como entre investigadores y colaboradores, estas bibliotecas están logrando preservar una cantidad cada vez mayor de datos relevantes.

Introdução à preservação digital

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

Para o Dia Mundial da Preservação Digital, os membros do equipe de Preservação Digital das Bibliotecas da Universidade de Texas escreveram uma serie de entradas de blog que enfatizam as atividades de preservação na nossa universidad, para explicar a importancia da preservação no contexto de um presente de tecnología em fluxo constante. Este texto é o primeiro numa série de cinco.

O advento dos registros históricos digitais causou uma completa transformação do setor arquivístico nas últimas décadas. Computadores de todos os tipos estão cada vez mais presentes em cada vez mais aspectos da vida profissional e pessoal. Essa mudança também afeta as coleções de documentos que são doadas a instituições arquivísticas com o intuito de preservar histórias individuais e institucionais. Hoje em dia, uma coleção pode reunir tanto registros tradicionais em papel quanto registros criados por esses diversos computadores. O que chamamos de registro digital pode ser uma simples página ou objeto que tenha sido escaneado ou qualquer arquivo que já tenha nascido em forma digital e que seja comparável com um registro em papel como, por exemplo, um texto regidido em Word. Registro digital pode também significar uma coisa inteiramente nova como um videogame, por exemplo. Arquivistas são profissionais que se dedicam a preservar registros digitais para utilização e estudo por futuras gerações, como já é feito com os registros físicos. A preservação digital pode incluir  uma ampla variedade de tarefas, todas com o objetivo comum de fazer com que um arquivo digital se mantenha acessível e legível mesmo com as frequentes mudanças na área de hardware e software.


Uma caixa de disquetes, parte de uma coleção de arquivos mantida pelas bibliotecas da Universidade de Texas

Um arquivo digital é diferente do arquivo em papel ou outros meios físicos tradicionais, que geralmente pode ser mantido legível por muitas décadas ou mesmo séculos, se armazenado em invólucro adequado e sob as devidas condições ambientais. Um arquivo digital pode se perder para sempre se não houver uma intervenção periódica e ativa por parte de um arquivista. Certos arquivos em formatos mais antigos podem se tornar ilegíveis em computadores modernos. Discos rígidos e mídia ótica podem quebrar ou estragar com o tempo. Cortes de energia podem causar panes em sistemas de armazenagem em rede. O arquivista digital é o profissional que sabe tomar medidas tanto de prevenção quanto de preparação para essas e outras contingências.

Não existe solução perfeita, ou sequer correta, para o desafio que é preservar um arquivo digital. Diferentes instituições utilizam diferentes ferramentas, normas e hardware. De maneira geral, no entanto, as seguintes tarefas devem ser realizadas: escolher o formato de arquivo adequado; providenciar e manter uma mídia e infra-estrutura de armazenagem; e organizar e descrever os objetos digitais de uma maneira que seja padronizada e que permita a futuros arquivistas e usuários entender e acessar o que foi preservado.

Fitas cassette com conteúdo relacionado às idiomas indígenas, que serão digitalizadas

A preservação digital é um empreendimento importante que não pode ser executado por apenas um indivíduo ou grupo. Na UT Libraries, a disseminação de conhecimentos e competências de preservação digital é uma parte essencial dessa prática. Temos cursos de capacitação e pedagogia para disseminar essa especialização em preservação digital para toda a organização e também para pesquisadores e parceiros externos. É esse trabalho que capacita a Libraries a preservar um grande volume de dados valiosos que não pára de crescer.

The Unseen Library: Technology

As we’ve spent the last several months gathering information and feedback from the campus community regarding the future of the University of Texas Libraries, more than once we’ve encountered the response, “I wasn’t aware the Libraries did that.”

Too often, the support that libraries provide to users goes unnoticed. Much like electricity or running water, the services and resources that backstop the central work of research and learning at the university don’t get much attention unless something prevents them from being available. Students routinely assume that the Libraries’ website just leads them to other websites that have the articles they need. Researchers who access journals directly from web searches in their offices can’t understand why going to those same links when they’re off campus generates a page requesting payment for a resource. Users rarely conceive how a book requested through interlibrary service can arrive in their hands from points across the globe in a few short days.

Libraries tend not to focus much attention on blowing their respective horns. Mostly they’re too busy bootstrapping the work they’re expected to do. But they’re also doing the unexpected, especially in areas of need associated with reliance on modern technology. So let’s take a look at how the Libraries Information Technology (LIT) team spends their time when they’re not keeping a website that serves 10 million people a year running or managing the hundreds of computers and providing support for the untold volume of hardware and software required by a top-tier academic library.

Dan Rather - American Journalist. Website from the Briscoe Center.

The Libraries has discernible connections to complementary organizations on campus like the Harry Ransom Center and the Briscoe Center for American History; the historical ties to these collections are long-standing, and the Libraries is an ever-present supplementary resource for researchers at those campus gems. But our LIT team also provides the technical backend support for the HRC and Briscoe Center that allows them to focus efforts and resources on more essential work. They administer the Ransom Center’s staff portal that provides support for the professionals that care for the center’s world-class collections. And our team have helped to build and manage several sites that provide web access to the Briscoe Center’s high profile collections, including the archives of journalist Dan Rather and former Texas Governor Bill Clements and provide the digital versions of the center’s Sanborn Fire Maps collection.

Global Middle Ages Project website.

LIT also plays a central role in developing digital scholarship tools with researchers and faculty from across campus, but especially heavily in the area of digital humanities. For more than 10 years, the Libraries has worked in the creation and management of Voces, a Latino/a experience oral history site developed by Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez of the Moody School of Communications; Voces celebrated a relaunch of their enhanced website last year. The Libraries worked with associate professor of English and comparative literature Geraldine Heng to build a web portal for to the digital resources collected through the Global Middle Ages Project for collaboration among scholars to weave together independent work into a cohesive resource. LIT has also worked with Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) to support the digital efforts of the Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), which will include resultant work from an NEH grant AILLA received last year.

Voces website.

Libraries’ technology expertise is also deployed in service of academic units around campus in support of learning and research on campus, by helping to provide access to departmental-specific digital collections. Faculty in the College of Fine Arts (COFA) relies heavily upon the Fine Arts Library’s digital image collections for teaching, and staff in the library coordinate with LIT to make those resources available through the portal to the Visual Resources Collection.

Source: Colección Conflicto Armado del Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen
Source: Colección Conflicto Armado del Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen. Available in LADI.

The support our LIT staff provides extends far afield of campus, too. Significant global partnerships — especially those connected to efforts at the Benson Latin American Collections — have been reliant on core contributions from the Libraries. Initial work developing a landing site (Kigali Memorial Centre) for the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where digital records of the survivor testimonies reside, were handled by Libraries’ IT staff in coordination with Benson archivists and KMC staff. The Libraries’ also provided the resources for the construction of Primeros Libros, an international effort by collecting institutions to digitize the first books published in the Americas. One of the most notable and controversial projects endeavored by the Libraries was to help facilitate the digital preservation of the Guatemalan Police Archive (AHPN), a cache of over 10 million documents that provides evidence of human rights violations in the Central American country between 1960-1996; LIT has helped to build, maintain and enhance the web resources of this project since its inception, ensuring that this important record won’t be lost to sociopolitical transitions in the region. More recently, staff from LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections and the LIT team have been building upon a project — initially funded from a 2014 Mellon grant award — that takes a more comprehensive approach to preserving the culture and history of Latin America. The Latin American Digital Initiatives (LADI) repository represents multiple collections shared through the practice of post-custodial archiving to catalog digital resources provided by our southern neighbors.

Francisco Bravo’s "Opera Medicinalia" (1570).
Francisco Bravo’s “Opera Medicinalia” (1570). Available at Primeros Libros.

Beyond their hands-on expertise, Libraries’ technology professionals have accepted roles on various committees across campus to help guide university policies in technology and digitization, currently holding seats on the Central IT Executive Commission and Identity & Access Management Committee. Our staff are not just regarded for their excellence in libraries, they are recognized as leaders in the field.

The stereotype still prevails at times, but it’s worth reinforcing: the library is not simply a book storehouse. It is an active participant in the digital environment, and essential – though much of the time, behind the curtain  – to the successful work of others.

Though the lights will on occasion go off, and the water may cease to flow, our committed experts doing their best to make sure that on normal days, things are working better than they should and library users are none the wiser.

 

 

Meet the Talents: GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky

Michael Shensky joined the Libraries last year as the GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator to enhance the resources available from the Research Data Services unit with added expertise in Geographic Information Systems, which are increasingly becoming central to our online lives. Shensky took some time to talk about the importance of GIS and where he sees it in the future.

GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky.
GIS and Geospatial Data Coordinator Michael Shensky.

Michael Shensky: Whenever I’m asked what GIS is, and I often am when I tell people what I do for a living, I always start with a very simple definition and expand from there. I typically tell people that GIS is an acronym that stands for geographic information systems and that it is the technology that is used to manage the data behind many of the maps they encounter online and in mobile apps. I also find it helpful to explain that the “geographic information” part of GIS refers to geospatial data (data that features both coordinate information identifying a place on Earth and attribute information that describes something located at that place) while “system” refers to the software and hardware components that are used together to manage this unique type of data effectively.

GIS is incredibly important in our daily lives because it is used to guide and facilitate much of the work that local governments, state and federal government agencies, utility companies, non-profit organizations, and academic researchers carry out. If all GIS software were to suddenly stop working tomorrow, it would be very difficult for those who rely on geospatial data to effectively manage their operations and this would have a dramatic impact on the lives of everyone, not just GIS users. For instance, cities might have difficulty assigning work crews to conduct road repair work if they cannot access their database of pothole locations, fire departments might struggle to respond to the locations of emergencies if they can’t quickly look up the location of an address, and technology companies would see apps that include mapping functionality suddenly break as the data fails to load properly.

While most people do not realize the significant role that GIS software plays behind the scenes in the operations of many organizations, if they look closely enough they can find traces of its impact in their daily lives. If they come across a map when browsing the web, there is a very good chance that GIS software was used to design its layout and manage the data behind the features depicted in it. If a new store or restaurant opens in their neighborhood, it is likely that GIS software was used to analyze demographic and consumer spending data for their local area to determine that this would likely be the most profitable location. If they use the routing functionality built into their car dashboard, the street data used to route them was likely created or edited with GIS software. If they visit the website of their local city or county, it is quite likely they will find a web page designed specifically for sharing geospatial data that has been developed with their taxpayer money and which has been made publically available for anyone to download and use in GIS software.

 

Given the organic nature of its development, how can standards be developed to manage the proliferation of GIS data?

shensky extraMS: In the GIS world, there are open standards developed by non-profit organizations like the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and there are often competing proprietary standards developed by for-profit companies like Esri, whose software products dominate the GIS industry in the United States and many other countries. While we are very fortunate that these standards exist so that there is agreement on how data should be structured and how it should be read by GIS software, there are downsides to having multiple standards to choose from. Having multiple standards to choose from puts GIS professionals in a tough position when we want to share data with others, since we often need to ensure that data is available in multiple standard formats to make it easy for other GIS users to work with the data regardless of whether they are using open source software or Esri’s ArcGIS software.  This situation is further complicated by the fact that the popularity of specific standards can fluctuate over time and occasionally completely new standards are developed while older standards may fall into disuse and become functionally obsolete.

For the geospatial data in the UT Libraries’ collections that we are currently in the process of trying to make more easily accessible, we are aiming to share the data in every common standard format that we can.  Our goal is to facilitate access to our data for all GIS users, regardless of which software they use or standards they prefer. This approach of making shared datasets available in multiple formats has become quite common on data portals operated by other universities as well as those developed by cities, counties, and federal government agencies. As any good organization would, we plan to stay on top of the latest geospatial data standards and ensure that we are making datasets available in the formats that GIS users expect to find and like to work with.

 

How did you become a specialist in GIS?

MS: That’s actually a really interesting question, because I sometimes look back on the last decade and wonder that myself. The career path I envisioned for myself shifted quite a bit during my college years and a few chance decisions that didn’t seem particularly significant at the time ended up playing a very substantial role in leading me to the position I’m in today.

As a junior, I was contemplating my changing my major to anthropology or geography since I had really enjoyed taking classes in both disciplines, and I ended up selecting geography partly because I knew that GIS was a required class in that program and that this class would provide me with a technical skill upon graduation. At the time, I had never used or even seen GIS software but I knew it was used to make maps and that sounded really interesting to me. I didn’t actually end up taking that required GIS class until my last semester as an undergraduate and I did I was a surprised to find it a little less exciting and more challenging than I had originally expected. Right after graduation I started applying for a variety of jobs that I thought I might qualify for and the first one I was offered was a paid GIS internship. I didn’t find the job all that interesting at first and during my first few months there did not see myself making a career out of GIS.

This initial lack of fulfillment actually even ended up being a contributing factor in my decision to enroll in a Geography graduate program – I wanted to develop new skills that would open up different job opportunities. While in grad school I continued to work at this same GIS job part time and found that I started to become more interested in the work I was doing as I was assigned more advanced and challenging projects. Because of the GIS skills I gained in this role, I was offered a GIS research assistant position during my last two years of graduate school and then ended developing my master’s thesis project from the work that I did in this role. By the time I completed the work for my master’s degree, my perspective on GIS had changed dramatically, and when I was offered a full time job teaching GIS classes and managing the GIS computers labs for the Geography department at California State University, Long Beach, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advance my career in GIS. I ended up spending several years in this position which allowed me to further develop my technical skills, gain teaching experience, and develop an even greater respect for the value of GIS software in academic research – all of which prepared me for well for my current role here at the UT Libraries.

What sort of projects have you been working on at UT?

MS: I’ve been working on a few different projects since I started here at UT, the biggest of which is focused on developing a new geospatial data portal that will be part of the UT Libraries website. This portal will allow users to search for geospatial data in our Libraries’ collections that can be used with GIS software. We have been referring to this project internally as the “GeoBlacklight” project because it uses open source software of that name to provide a web interface and data search capabilities. We are optimistic that this project will be completed in the first half of 2019 and that it will be available to the campus community before the start of the fall semester. Once it is rolled out, visitors to the website will be able to search through a variety of geospatial datasets including georeferenced scanned map images from our PCL Map Collection and vector datasets developed from items in other collections like the Benson Latin American Collection and Alexander Architectural Archives. I’m really excited to be a part of this project because I know this portal has the potential to benefit everyone in the campus community regardless of their role and area of specialization. Once the portal is finished and made available, it should be easy for faculty to find data that they can use to develop instructional materials, for students to find data they can use in research projects, for Libraries staff to find data they can use to highlight notable collections, and for everyone in general to browse through when curious about the interesting maps and datasets we have available here at the UT Libraries.

San Salvador map from the PCL Map Collection.
San Salvador map from the PCL Map Collection.

Screenshot of the search results page in a still-under-development version of the UT Libraries GeoBlacklight portal
Screenshot of the search results page in a still-under-development version of the UT Libraries GeoBlacklight portal.

addition to the GeoBlacklight project I have also been working on a program of coordinated outreach and education about GIS both internally within the libraries and externally with departments across campus. As part of this effort I have helped organize events like our recent Local Perspectives on the State of Open Data discussion panel which brought GIS experts from the City of Austin, Travis County, Texas General Land Office, and Texas Natural Resources Information System here to campus to share their thoughts on GIS and open data. I’ve also taught several GIS focused workshops that provided an opportunity for all members of the campus community to learn about GIS and further develop their geospatial research skills. In order to introduce library personnel to some of the capabilities of GIS I’ve also spoken at and helped organize a series of linked data information learning group meetings. I’ve been glad to see that this multifaceted approach has been successful in helping get the word out about GIS on campus and I’ve noticed that I am starting to hear from more and more people each week who are looking to learn more about how they might be able to use GIS in their work.

 

What are some of the interesting ways GIS will be used in the future?

MS: While it’s impossible to know exactly how the way in which we use GIS might change in the future, I think there are a few developments that are all but certain. One of the major developments I foresee is growing awareness of GIS and rapid improvement in the capabilities of open source GIS software like QGIS leading to greater adoption of GIS software in a variety of disciplines and industries. If this prediction proves accurate, the lowering of financial and technical barriers that currently hold people back from using GIS software would greatly benefit small businesses, startups, non-profits, municipalities with limited resources, and more. It should also have a profound impact in the academic world as it will make it easier for researchers to incorporate GIS into their work. I think we will see GIS software being used much more widely in fields like history, journalism, linguistics, ethnic studies, and in the humanities more generally. If this does in fact happen, it will not only open up new avenues for research in these fields but will also make it easier for those working in these different disciplines to work together with each other across departments because they are using a shared technology. Even in disciplines where GIS is already widely used, like geology, biology, geography, and anthropology, I think there will be increased rates of adoption, especially among researchers in developing countries who can start using open source GIS software without having to worry about expensive software licensing or significant software limitations. From my experience in a previous GIS position at another university, I saw firsthand how difficult it could be for researchers in my department to work with colleagues from universities in other countries whose institutions could not afford access to the same proprietary software resources until they all started using open source software to facilitate collaboration.

Example of a QGIS project
Example of a QGIS project.

In addition to the many benefits I think we will see from growing awareness of GIS software and open source GIS software in particular, I think GIS technology will become more useful and powerful as technology continues to improve. Perhaps the biggest impact on GIS will come from new and emerging categories of mobile devices that will make it possible to view and interact with geospatial data in ways that are quite different from the manner in which we engage with geospatial data now on the flat screens of our computer monitors and cell phones. In the 9 years that I have been in this field, there have been several completely new categories of devices that have been released (smart watches, augmented reality glasses, and virtual reality headsets being the most notable) all of which can be used to display new types of maps and I think we will see these technologies mature in a way that will affect how maps are made.

Virtual reality is the currently the most significant of these technologies for working with geospatial data due to the availability of relatively affordable consumer grade headsets and their ability to give users a three dimensional immersive map experience. While I think virtual reality maps will become increasingly common and useful, I think augmented reality devices ultimately hold the most promise of any emerging technology. Right now augmented reality glasses are held back by their high price points, large size, and limited field of view but companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have all indicated that they are working on addressing these challenges. If any of these companies (or newer companies like Magic Leap who are also focusing on augmented reality technology) can create a wearable device similar in size to a pair of regular sunglasses, sell it for close to the price of a high end cell phone, and have it effectively overlay 3D objects on top of a user’s normal field of view, I think this would revolutionize how GIS professionals manage data and produce maps. It would also of course open up enormous opportunities for researchers who are looking for new ways to explore geospatial data and visualize their research findings. While a breakthrough like this may not happen this year or next, I think it is just a matter of time before our technology reaches this point and GIS software will have to adapt to facilitate the production of geospatial content for these new types of devices.

 

 

 

The Tomorrow Librarian: Harold Billings’s Legacy, 1978-2003

The cover of Billings' book Magic & Hypersystems: Constructing the Information Sharing Library.
The cover of Billings’ book Magic & Hypersystems: Constructing the Information Sharing Library.

Few can claim a career as long or legacy as lasting as Harold Billings. He began working for the University of Texas Libraries as a cataloger in 1954 while still pursuing his Master’s in Library Science and by 1978 was the director of the general libraries. He remained in that position until his retirement in 2003. Throughout his career Billings was able to navigate the immense changes in technology and constant challenge of keeping faith in value of libraries. Billings achieved this by inviting innovations that others of his time resisted. As a result of his leadership, UT Libraries thrived, growing its collections, introducing new digital services, and building its reputation as one if the highest ranking research libraries in the nation.

Today, technology and UT Libraries seem inextricably intertwined as students conduct research using their access to hundreds of online databases, use software in the computer labs, and create 3-D printed projects in the Foundry makerspace. When Billings first entered the field, libraries looked and functioned very differently. Throughout his career, Billings pushed UT libraries toward incorporating innovative technology from early searchable databases and the online card catalog to resource sharing and partnership with other libraries through TexShare.

Library staff member gestures to a poster titled "Searching the Database" that lists database queries.
Library staff member gestures to a poster titled “Searching the Database” that lists database queries.

While leading the general libraries forward in incorporating new technologies, Billings simultaneously continued to build the print and research collections at UT Libraries. A literary scholar himself, Billings’ love of research and books carried over into his many roles over his career at UTL. He maintained a close relationship with Harry Ransom, acquiring collections for the Center, and corresponded with several authors both regarding his own scholarship and to help bring literary collections to UT. The general libraries also saw tremendous growth of their collections over his career, from acquiring their 1 millionth volume while Billings was still a cataloger to holding over 7 million volumes by the end of his tenure as director.

A hand-colored drawing of an owl by Barbara Holman on the linen cover of Billing's book Texas Beast Fables.
A hand-colored drawing of an owl by Barbara Holman on the linen cover of Billing’s book Texas Beast Fables.

Billings’ love of books, research, and collecting extended beyond his role at UT. Inspired by his admiration for and friendships with writers and artists, Billings published literary works and criticism throughout his career and well after. Some of these publications include a biography of one of his favorite poets, Edward Dalhberg, and Texas Beast Fables, a bestiary of Texas folklore. Billings also built a personal collection of art favoring local artists as well as Newcomb pottery and Elvis memorabilia. From his early education through his retirement, two facts are undeniable: Harold Billings loved libraries and he loved Texas.

Harold Billings looking over a large manuscript of sheet music.
Harold Billings looking over a large manuscript of sheet music.

An exhibit highlighting these aspects of Billings’ career and life will be on display in the Scholars Commons beginning November 1st, and an online component can be viewed on Scalar. Borrowing the title of his 1995 essay on the future of libraries, we’ve given the exhibit a name that we think embodies Billings’ role as an innovative leader in the field: The Tomorrow Librarian.

Virginia Barnes and Rachael Zipperer are graduate research assistants from the university’s School of Information.

In Memoriam: Harold W. Billings