Try 5 – try it!

We’ve got a few more days before the first batch of materials for the November Council meetings are available, so in the meanwhile, I wanted to make sure folks know about current SAA President Nance McGovern’s “Try5” Initiative.  This initiative encourages archivist to try five new technical things and share their experiences. Fellow Council member Bert Lyons just published a blog post about his ideas for Try5.

So, I’m a person who in interested in technology as long as it’s something that helps me achieve my own interests. I’m not afraid of tech but I’m also not going to try it just for funsies. Also, our work computers are configured in a way in which I can’t update iTunes without having to call our library IT department to enter their admin password, so I’m kind of limited in my ability to try new things – either it needs to be something that doesn’t require something to be installed on my computer or it needs to be something that our library IT people will allow to be installed on my computer. My “technical” is going to be different from others’.

My personal interests and current work is much more heavily focused on using new tools for outreach than on digital preservation. I’m a university archivist and our university’s 125th birthday is next year, so we’re really working hard to develop timelines, exhibits, oral histories, and other materials that will be heavily used by others throughout the university during the anniversary celebration. So here are the five technical things that I’ll be trying this year as we look at new ways of collecting and presenting this kind of information online:

  • Knight Lab tools (this counts for two!). The Knight Lab at Northwestern University has created a suite of free (hooray!) tools that can aid in storytelling. The primary audience for the tools is journalists, but there are clear applications for archivists. We’re already using the very easy-to-use TimelineJS (see an example), but I want to explore JuxtaposeJS (frame comparisons for then-and-now) and StorymapJS (mapping of stories). I will also be teaching our students and staff how to use these tools. We may even be doing some basic workshops for faculty who are interested in dipping their toes into digital humanities work.
  • Oral histories on video/video editing. We’re currently doing audio-only oral histories, which can limit in some ways the use of these interviews outside of the research environment. We’re hoping to move into video next semester as our student researchers continue to conduct interviews in preparation for our 125th. The trick is, I don’t know how to do much other than press record when it comes to video. So I’m going to be working with our Digital Media Commons and others on campus to figure out what the heck we need to do to produce video oral histories that are of high quality.
  • Skype oral history interviews. More oral history stuff. To be blunt, North Carolina is a long state and we really don’t even have the ability to send our student interviewers outside of the area between Charlotte and Raleigh (about an hour and a half in either direction from here). But we’re making a push to document these important, usually underdocumented, stories. Of course, many of those people who are willing to share those stories live nowhere near here. So we’re going to be playing around with Skype as a tool for oral history interviews. I think I’ve used Skype three or four times total in my whole life. So it’s new to me even though every other person on earth is probably completely comfortable with it.
  • Instagram. I know how to use it. I have a lovely Instagram that consists solely of pictures of my dogs. And I pretty much exclusively follow other dogs — and some goats. But I don’t really have a concept of how to use Instagram for my work in the archives. So that will be what I’m trying — to figure out we can use it to reach our students. How can we (or can we) fit it into our existing social media work? We’ve done well with Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. And we should have done this a while back. But better late than never, I suppose!

And as a “fingers crossed but might not happen with all of the other 125th craziness going on” sixth thing….

  • ePADD. This one has been on the list for a while. We’ve got a system for acquiring, preserving, and providing access to born-digital records — except email. We don’t know what to do with email. First, we’ve got to work with campus ITS to simply acquire the email. That’s going to be a beast in and of itself. But we also need to figure out what to do with the email once it’s here. And ePADD looks like it might fit the bill. I don’t anticipate I’ll be able to do much more than download and play around with my own email during this upcoming year — but that counts!!

So, those are the five things I’m going to try to try. 🙂

I’ll be sharing my experiences here, and I hope that others will dive into the Try5 initiative too!!

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