FOIA, Born-Digital Collections, and Cross-Training with Archivists

0765_born_digital_sepia_w1Hello Bloggers! The first month of school is over and everything is going great! Starting on the process of creating a best practices/workflow for BitCurator, and almost finished with my process paper so that I am able to set a thesis defense date!

Additionally, at the Clinton Library, I was able to hang out with the archivists again this semester in the first of a few cross-training meetings! Basically, for half a day once a month, I go up to the archives and learn the process of being an archivists. Any person in the museum world can do this, just the same as someone from archives being able to come down to the museum and learn a few things.

The best part is that I asked to work with the born-digital archivists. It is very exciting and interested. I worked with Adam, who is mainly responsible for the born-digital files that are sent as a request through the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. There are a few different ways to search for information, which are all of course online. However, before that information can be viewed by the public, the archivists need to edit, or redact, certain private information. Even though we as the American public have a right under FOIA to view information about Bill and Hillary Clinton, it still doesn’t mean that we have a right to view their personal emails where they discuss where to go to dinner. This is where the archivists come in – with redaction’s. They black out information that is either personal to the person or detrimental to the nations security and allow the records to become public. Because there is such a back log of FOIA requests, sometimes it can take a year for a request to even look at records.

The first step in the overall process is the request. Lets say that I send in a FOIA request to research information on Bill Clinton’s political trip to Israel. The archivists are given the request, and they do a general search in order to find if there is actually any relevant information. So, if the request for Clinton’s trip to Israel revealed 18,000 hits, that information is recorded. Since the archivist is already going through a different collection, the request is shelved behind the other requests. Time goes by, and finally the request to search for Clinton’s political trip to Israel is now ready to be processed. The archivist who did that initial search with 18,000 hits now takes the files, PRINTS THEM OFF, and edits them by hand on pieces of paper. Crazy! It’s amazing to me that a born-digital collection at its core is edited by hand on paper – not digitally. These files are then allowed to be viewed for the general public, and I am alerted that the processing is completed because I was the initial requester.

It’s been really cool to be able to shadow and cross-train with the archivists! I love learning this stuff – and hope to continue to update you on the great stuff I am learning along the way!

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