Web-Archiving at UCSF: now with Request to Capture

As you may remember, we’ve been going through the process of revamping our web-archives collections and services, and have been posting some updates as we go along. As we’ve written about on here before, in the Archives we periodically crawl and save copies of UCSF websites to document the institutional history and changing and developing public face of the University.

If you spend much time attempting to save and document websites, you quickly learn that things on the web change A LOT, and they change quickly — a lot more quickly than you might think, in fact. The average life of a website is only 100 days. Here in the Archives, we feel this most clearly as the speed with which our “URL Seed List” (the list of sites we’re archiving) becomes out of date, and does not include important new campus websites.

We’re in the middle of an ongoing project to try to better address these gaps in our collecting by manually updating our lists to reflect more centralized UCSF IT record-keeping, and by coordinating our efforts with the UCSF IT and Web-Governance groups to make sure we get at least one good copy of sites that are at “end of life.” But there’s more to this too, if you’re a member of the UCSF community then we want to hear from YOU about what sites we should be collecting.

We’re excited to announce that we’ve added a new section to our website where UCSF affiliates can submit a request to have their site captured and added to the archive, and/or have the url added to our seed list for ongoing capture. Just as with the physical archives, our collection is curated, so we cannot guarantee selection of your site for capture, but regardless we want to encourage you to submit far and wide!

We know there are many important UCSF-affiliated websites that we’re not currently capturing, and so we’d love to expand our collections to better reflect the rich institutional life of this dynamic and diverse community of researchers and clinical practitioners. So if you’re in charge of a website that we should be capturing, submit a request to us today!

Submit requests here: https://www.library.ucsf.edu/archives/ucsf/web/

Born-Digital Archival Description

We know that, if you’re not an archivist, the intricacies of archival descriptive standards and finding aid creation might quickly make your eyes glaze over. However these descriptive standards are pretty important to our work, and to the usability of the materials we collect, so we want to take a moment to share an archival description project that some archives staff have been working on. It may seem mundane, but we think it’s a pretty big deal.

If you’re a regular archives user you probably know that most of the information about our collections is recorded in a finding aid — a document which provides contextual information about the collection and gives a list of all the things inside. We describe collections this way — in aggregate rather than individually like books or journal articles — because it’s important to maintain the context of an archival collection. A chain of letters or emails, for example, are best understood when they are viewed alongside all the other pieces of the chain. Not only would it be impossibly labor intensive to individually catalog each letter or each email, but it would also end up being an impediment to actually accessing and understanding each individual piece. The meaning of each item in a collection relies completely on its context.

When we are describing collections and making finding aids here in the archives, we often refer back to standardized guidelines which the archival field has produced to define the rules about how to describe something. In our case, this is usually a document called “Describing Archives: A Content Standard”, also known as DACS. DACS does contain some guidance about describing digital archival materials, but for many born-digital materials (laptops, smart phones, magnetic disks, and the files they contain), DACS lacks the information and specificity we need as processing archivists.

To help try to address this problem, Charlie Macquarie (our digital archivist) has been working for the past year with the other digital archivists in the UC System — Annalise Berdini at UC San Diego, Shira Peltzman at UCLA, and Kate Tasker at UC Berkeley — to come up with a set of detailed instructions for describing these materials. This team started by examining existing practices used in finding-aid creation at 35 different archival institutions, and from these examples and from professional experience drafted a detailed set of rules. They solicited and received feedback from archivists and librarians across the UC System in 3 different rounds of review, and received approval to publish and establish these guidelines as a UC-wide standard for describing born-digital archival material.

Now that these guidelines are published, anyone can view them and provide feedback. The most up-to date version of the guidelines is available on GitHub as a repository, and a static version of the guidelines (if you don’t want to navigate a GitHub page) can be viewed as a pdf file inside that repository. As computing, processing, and describing practices evolve these rules will necessarily have to change accordingly, so the document should be considered a living one. If you’re interested in the ins and outs of archival description, please feel free to provide feedback (or submit a pull request) if it strikes you!

Now that this UC-wide guideline exists to help inform our own institutional practice here at UCSF, we hope to be able to start adding information about born-digital collections to our finding aids more frequently. Keep an eye out for new description of digital archival materials coming down the pike!

Finally a special thanks is in order to David Uhlich, Kelsi Evans, David Krah, and Polina Ilieva who all reviewed and provided important feedback to the guidelines in the initial review phases.

 

Archives Staff Volunteer Day

Last week all of us in Archives got together to do a volunteer day with the Sutro Stewards working in their nursery and doing maintenance on the Sutro Forest. You might think of the Archives as a bookish place, but we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty with other kinds of stewardship besides the historical. As spits of rain began to fall we climbed the hill to the summit of Mt. Sutro to spend a day digging in the dirt and working in the weeds and the fog.

The Sutro Stewards work to conserve habitat through ecological restoration and native plant propagation while providing recreational opportunities in the UCSF Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve. We were led in our work by Amy Kaeser, executive director of the stewards, who explained the group’s activities collecting and propagating native Bay area plants in their nursery and restoring native habitat while building and maintaining trails and recreational facilities on the mountain.

Amy Kaeser speaking to archives staff.

Amy Kaeser talks to archives staff about the Sutro Stewards Nursery operations.

Our volunteer tasks for the day consisted of re-potting plants in the nursery and weeding areas in the field where native plants had recently been re-introduced. Half of us started by re-potting native Yerba Buena, Sticky Monkey, and Columbine plants that needed bigger pots to continue their life. We finished almost 200 of these by the end of the day.

The other half of us ventured out into the field to pull weeds (himalayan blackberry, cape ivy, and nasturtium) from newly-planted plots where natives were being in the process of being re-introduced. We successfully pulled innumerable weeds, and also discovered several buckets worth of weird trash, all while learning about the ecology of the Sutro forest and mountaintop. Did you know that you can eat the seed pods of nasturtium? They taste a bit like horseradish.

Archives staff pulling weeds from hillside while our crew leader talks to someone in the foreground.

Archives staff pulling weeds from newly planted areas.

We had a great day digging in the dirt, being outside, and helping re-introduce some of the natural biodiversity back to Mt. Sutro. As much as we love the vaults, it’s always good to get some sunshine (or, in this case, fog and rain).

Archives staff posing in the nursery for a group photo