2012 Archives Year In Review

December 28, 2012

Another year in the circular filing cabinet, another year in review. Only difference from the other ones is, I’m right.

Most Interesting Acquisition: One’s Personal Archive From Twitter
Though it hasn’t quite been completely rolled out, Twitter’s announcement that they were targeting year-end for release of tool that would allow users to download all of their tweets was a great boon for those interested in their personal archives. The issue of who owns online data and content — the user or the service provider — continues to be a major unresolved, and growing, conflict. The encroachments we’ve seen this year (*cough* Instagram *cough*) are unlikely to end until the relationship is legally defined, and test rockets will continue to be sent out until the right trajectory is found.

Until then, tools like what Twitter is providing are not only essential to protecting one’s information and assets, but will also open up new ways to research and play with what we create. If only Archivists had been consulted long ago! Make sure the data and materials you put in are what you can get back out whenever you want them in oder to preserve integrity, support usability, and migrate when desired.

Most Archivally Philosophical Documentary: United in Anger: A History of ACT UP and How to Survive a Plague
Two documentaries released in the same year about the same critical moment in world history, centered around some of the same events and people. When Hollywood does this (Prefontaine, Capote, Hitchcock, etc.) it becomes a horserace to see who can release first, and there is invariably a ranking of one as inferior in quality, interpretation, casting, and such, as if one were the straight-to-video low budget knockoff (a la the “Mockbuster“).

In this case, however, we got a lesson in historiography and story-telling. Even within fiction, there are many story lines to follow and many ways to remember or interpret events. Alternate views do not denigrate one another, but create a fuller picture or help the viewer come to their own interpretation or understanding. Indeed, the filmmakers of each documentary (Jim Hubbard and David France) are friends and helped one another get their films made.

Perhaps less philosophical an issue but still in need of underscoring is the reminder that archives matter because stories matter, history matters, and it needs to be remembered and retold, especially when it is something so important as the AIDS crisis and the reaction to it. These events were not that long ago, but memory fades fast. We need archives and the storytellers who use them to stave that off.

*Special Mention: This Is Not a Film
Darn tootin’! It’s a video! Now get offa my lawn!

Most Egregious Use of Archival Material in a Documentary: Chronicle
How did Vince Howard get from Dillon to Seattle and back in high school after graduating? Either Chronicle or Friday Night Lights is totally bogus, or the corruption of college football has seeped down to the high school level!

#waytotakeastand Award for Archives: Let’s Just Solve The File Format Problem
DIY culture seems to be maturing from individual, ephemeral solutions to collaborative, far-reaching problem solving as embodied by groups like Code for America and the Archive Team.

The great thing these groups are doing is taking a stand and saying “Let’s not just complain about a problem or how nothing is being done about it, let’s figure out how to solve it and then just do it.” The Archive Team’s first Let’s Just Solve The Problem effort to create a compendium of file formats and their documentation has the potential to be an essential resource for archivists (and everyone else) who are dealing more and more with digital files and need to find ways to preserve their content for the future.

#yourenothelping Award for Archives: New York Times Review Of “Decasia” Blu-Ray Release
Dave Kehr’s review is part appreciation of the piece and part doomed love ballad to the medium of film. Ignoring the fact that this is a review for an optical disc version of a film, for confusing the issues of access formats (DCP, Blu-ray) vs. original or preservation formats (film or otherwise); and for citing acetate as the “new” film format that will last for hundreds of years (if properly cared for); and for inferring that no “major” archive regards (any) digital media as a preservation format; and for misrepresenting the nature of how digital media is stored and accessed; and for suggesting that scratches and flaking emulsion are what gives a film its character, I say thee pffftttttt. You’re not helping us advocate for how to care for all media types (as we must).

Archivist of the Year: Hurricane Sandy Responders
Being a bit of a homer here, but I’m still amazed by the response I saw to recovering not just archives and other collections after the storm, but also the effort to restore cities, infrastructures, and people’s lives. If you’ve never been through a natural disaster and the aftermath or loss and uncertainty, it’s hard to realize the shellshocked feeling it creates. Perhaps even more difficult to grok is the way people then bond together in support in those times, and how important it is just to see someone else and tacitly commiserate, let alone have them reach out and help in a reminder that, even as specks of cosmic dust, we have a place and some amount of importance in this crazy world.