One of the joys of attending the Society of American Archivists conference is the chance to experience a wide range of interesting and well-planned sessions on anything from data wrangling to transparency in managing the records of refugees. I particularly appreciated the chance to wander through the many posters, which provide a slower pace for perusing and absorbing research project results.
The common thread in all sessions and workshops this year was the conference’s chosen theme of transparency. I thought it both important and appropriate that the conference was held in DC this year, as so much of our current public dialogue revolves around the importance of government records; as information professionals, we continue to wrestle with the concept of transparency and what it means for our democracy. Zeynep Tufekci’s opening plenary highlighted the many cross-connections among memory, technology and social media. She argued that what we remember is intricately tied up in the opaque algorithms of big tech. We need more transparency in the social media sphere for the records generated through our use of these platforms to bear evidentiary value.
To provide a bit more detail about one of the sessions I found most interesting, the workshop on digital preservation as a “black box” offered presentations that riffed on various approaches to the persistently-tough challenge of managing electronic data and records. Institutions have approached this challenge in diverse ways, but a common pathway includes developing a policy that is “just right” for each organization. One presenter during this session argued that it is essential to recall (and highlight) core organizational values while developing a digital preservation strategy. What we preserve–and our approach to preservation–reflects our overall mission.
On a lighter note, I really enjoyed having some time to connect with records and archives friends from far-flung places. Serendipitous conversations are always the highlight of any conference. I look forward to next year’s gathering!