What does a digital archivist do?

 

OAIS-model [Wikimedia Commons]

OAIS model [Wikimedia Commons]

This post is a follow up to my previous one that described the overall landscape of current job ads for digital archivist positions (many of which are still open as of today). This post lists the range of duties and responsibilities that I’m seeing in these ads, half of which were posted by university libraries, and the others by an array of independent research libraries, museums, and government archives. It’s important to note that most ads reflect the highly collaborative nature of born-digital management. In some environments, the new digital archivist will have significant responsibility for coordinating aspects of a decentralized team’s work across the library and, in some cases, the broader institution. Some combine responsibility for digitization and born-digital management activities. One hopes that the archivists hired into these jobs aren’t spread too thinly. So what are the broad characteristics of digital archivist positions? Here are some taken from the various ads that are expressed well in that they’re clear about the duties and encompass activities that most digital archivists will undertake. Some indicate responsibility for leadership and coordination, while others clearly are for hands-on, in-the-trenches “processing archivists.”

  • Lead the institution’s risk imaging and digital forensics activities, developing imaging workflows for all digital media formats. Collaborate with other archivists to outline image disposal criteria and create appraisal and disposition workflows.
  • Provide leadership and expertise for programs, particularly the description and arrangement of electronic records and the development of policies and procedures in collaboration with manuscript catalogers to be instituted across the Library.
  • Develop & document workflow across campus and library units in order to support the preservation, access, and security of born digital materials into the future.
  • Collaborate with appropriate Library staff in managing digital library materials within the relevant Library-wide discovery, preservation, storage, and delivery systems
  • Work to develop and ensure the long term preservation, organization, distribution and retrieval of digitized, born-digital, and traditional institutional assets.
  • Propose, design, and carry out processing and cataloging projects involving appraisal, transfer, accessioning, ingest, description, arrangement, cataloging, preservation, and access for institutional records in all media formats.
  • Organize, catalog, and classify existing digitized and born-digital materials using existing digital forensic tools. Prepare and maintain finding aids and coordinate original cataloging using best practices and standards including DACS, EAD and MARC.
  • Extensive working knowledge of archival and records management principles and best practices, especially as related to digital records preservation and digital record keeping systems, but not excluding records in traditional media.
  • Provide support for the management of born-digital materials, particularly those pertaining to [library/archives name] and/or generated by units of the campus, advising on the appropriate capture, management, discovery, and preservation strategy.

And some duties that are specific rather than overarching:

  • Contribute to the Library’s on-going transition from analog to digital holdings.
  • Identify and inventory physical digital media throughout the collections.
  • Coordinate web archiving projects with appropriate library specialists.
  • Create documentation and provide training on digital forensic techniques, including imaging disks, verifying file authenticity, producing forensics metadata and searching for personal identity information.
  • Aid in development of additional initiatives related to the care of born-digital materials, including migration policies, distributed digital preservation processes, and emulation strategies.

Many additional specific responsibilities appear in ads. I’ve included the ones that have potential for being of widespread use to those creating digital archivist positions. Watch for part three of this series of posts. It’ll focus on the skill sets being required by hiring institutions.

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About Jackie Dooley

Jackie Dooley leads OCLC Research projects to inform and improve archives and special collections practice. Activities have included in-depth surveys of special collections libraries in the U.S./Canada and the U.K./Ireland; leading the Demystifying Born Digital work agenda; a detailed analysis of the 3 million MARC records in ArchiveGrid; and studying the needs of archival repositories for specialized tools and services. Her professional research interests have centered on the development of standards for cataloging and archival description. She is a past president of the Society of American Archivists and a Fellow of the Society.

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