Session 24: Interrogating Digital Archives

Moderator: Amelia Acker (University of Pittsburgh)
Putting Public Controversy to Work: Smartphone Architecture and the Archival Profession / Roderic Crooks (UCLA)

The archival community, including professional organizations, should engage in advocacy work with regard to public controversies around new forms of records and recordkeeping practices, specifically those related to smartphone architecture and surveillance. This presentation uses one such controversy, the circulation of potentially revealing data created by minors via mandatory one-to-one tablet programs in public schools, to point out how archival theory can guide and potentially make productive use of public concerns and how the professional bodies of the archival field might meaningfully shape discourse and subsequent policy actions. First, this presentation uses a detailed, rich case study to describe the origins of one such controversy through a detailed study of a single one-to-one tablet computer program in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Based on class observations, photographs, and interviews with teachers, students, and administrators as a one-to-one program was rapidly rolled out over two consecutive school years in a South Los Angeles public high school of approximately 500 students, this project examines the variety of ways that a specific iteration of smartphone architecture (Apple’s iPad tablet and set of school-mandated apps) functions in the context of institutional recordkeeping, including classroom instruction, school discipline, and evaluation. Data generated by the use of tablets and apps in the school’s daily routines — e.g., instruction, discipline, evaluation, discipline — circulated largely beyond the reach of individual instructors, school administrators, or district personnel. In effect, data created by teachers, students, and administrators were only rarely and partially accessed through educational activity within the school, but completely accessible for analytics, aggregation, resale and market research. The bulk of processing and capture took place offsite, accomplished by private companies operating remotely. Second, this project reviews the general contours of the public controversy over the program as it played out in the regional and national press as a dispute over privacy and the appropriate role of technology. While policymakers and teachers’ unions expressed competing visions of public education and disputed the suitability of this particular one-to-one tablet computer program, all sides ignored surveillance concerns and overlooked a number of sites of student data capture, immediate implications of new regimes of recordkeeping, and potential conflicts with existing law. Finally, this project suggests ways that the broader archival community can meaningfully engage in this disputed and contentious terrain. Archival theory can help to crystalize inchoate public concerns over surveillance and ubiquitous data capture by defining smartphone user data in terms of networked records; introducing concepts of co-authorship and co-creatorship to student records creation; and extending ideas of communities of records to nuance claims based on technical utility. Archival professional bodies might increase their standing and relevance in the eyes of a perpetually indifferent public by explicitly engaging with these frequent controversies, particularly since they will likely continue to accompany the proliferation of smartphone architecture in many domains of everyday life.

The Archival Reference Knowledge Framework as an Assessment Tool for University Archives Websites / Jonathan Dorey (McGill University)

This paper will present the results of my doctoral work, a two-phase study on the user-friendliness of university archives websites in Canada. The goals are to determine how we can operationalize the Archival Reference Knowledge (ARK) (Duff, Yakel, & Tibbo, 2013) framework to systematically investigate the websites of university archives and to determine undergraduate students’ expectations of Canadian university archives websites and the barriers they face when accessing these. I have gathered quantitative data about all Canadian universities with an archives website, in French and English (n=81) and asked undergraduates to answer a questionnaire on their expectations, the barriers they face, and the relative importance of various information features present on archives websites.

One issue that relates to websites as an entry point into the collections rests with the ability to locate these websites. Subject access is still scant (Beattie, 1990; Beattie, 1997; Daniels & Yakel, 2010) due to a lack of standardized controlled vocabularies and a lack of resources for archivists to provide such detailed descriptions. Access tools such as finding aids often don’t fulfill the needs of users (Yakel, 2002) or are simply too difficult to find online (Tibbo & Meho, 2001). A lack of education in archival terminology and practices forces users to rely on library education and search paradigms, which skew their expectations regarding archival retrieval systems (Yakel, 2002). The ARK framework seeks to address many of these elements by articulating the types of knowledge needed to conduct good reference work and provide exemplary service to users. This framework can be used to assess existing archives websites and determine how user-friendly they are.

A previous analysis of archives websites was performed, based on the Archival Intelligence model (Yakel & Torres, 2003). Archival Intelligence served as a basis to articulate the ARK framework. Bromley (2010) examined 30 American university archives websites and found that the three dimensions of the Yakel’s (2013) AI model are either not fully addressed or not addressed in a systematic way. For phase one, the selected websites are analyzed using an adapted version of Bromley’s coding structure, combining features found in Katte (2002) and Gillispie (2005). The new coding structure is remapped to the ARK framework, with additional elements stemming from the ARK framework, e.g. contact information, instructional tools.

In phase two, a questionnaire was developed using the Archival Metrics Website/Access Tools survey as a basis. The first section of the questionnaire contains thirteen of the twenty original questions. Minimal changes were made to reflect a general assessment instead of an assessment of specific institutional websites. The other questions were dropped because they focused on features that were not the relevant for this doctoral study. For the second section of the questionnaire, respondents are asked to rate the importance of the elements identified during phase one on a Likert scale. The data from phase two will be used to re-examine the assessment tool from phase one and determine which weight, if any, to give to each of the information features.

In Interfaces We Trust? Exploring Preservation of Personal Financial Information Among Young Adults / Robert Douglas Ferguson (McGill University)

The Canada Revenue Agency recommends individuals retain their personal financial records for at least 6 years. Yet service providers with e-billing options provide limited long-term storage and access to records, frequently for as little a single calendar year. Leading researchers in personal digital archiving argue that online services are often unreliable solutions for long term preservation and access to virtual possessions despite the web becoming the place where many individuals access and store their personal content (McCowan & Nelson, 2009; Lindley et al, 2013; Marshall, McCown, & Nelson, 2007). Despite this known issue, the growing popularity and availability of e-billing furthers the trend of the Internet becoming the default location where people view and retrieve their personal information, including their personal financial information.

The purpose of this paper is to explore whether young adults (ages 18-26) compensate for the limited archival features included with e-billing in relation to their personal collections of financial information, such as for account statements, bills, and receipts. To date, few studies have specifically explored personal financial information management or personal digital archiving related to financial behaviours (Vines et al, 2011; Vines et al, 2012; Kaye et al, 2014). Previous studies have focused on older adults populations and report a persistent and strong attachment to paper records for tracking personal finances. To date, no studies have explored whether young adults, who are typically early adopters of information technologies, fully embrace e-billing and information technologies to manage and preserve their personal collections of financial information.

This paper presents data gathered through a set of semi-structured interviews. During these interviews, participants gave the researcher a guided tour of their personal collection of financial information in their home. During the tour, participants were asked to provide an overview of the contents and structure of their personal collection of financial information including the spaces and tools they use. Participants were also were asked to describe the lifecycles of their financial records and discuss typical problems they encounter when managing, preserving, and retrieving items from their collection.

Results will be analyzed using Grounded Theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Charmez, 2006) to describe the extent to which young adults actively back up their personal financial records, particularly those records which are “born digital”, and the extent to which young adults depend on interfaces to fulfill short and long term archival functions for their personal financial information. Results of this research provide some insight into how information technologies or services can be expanded to assist individuals with the management and preservation of their electronic financial records. This research also aims to construct a set of recommendations for young adults that can help them establish a foundational but flexible practice for preserving financial information for their future.