A Report Back from Personal Digital Archiving 2017

Post by Charlie Macquarie, UCSF Archives Digital Archivist

I spent most of last week down the peninsula for the convening of the Personal Digital Archiving (PDA) conference, now in its 7th year, and left with some fascinating thoughts and conversations in my mind. PDA “seeks to host a discussion across domains focusing on how to best manage personal digital material, be it at a large institution or in a home office.” As a result of this focus, it also ends up playing host to all kinds of fascinating new practices and approaches to collecting, preserving, providing access to, and even thinking about personal digital information.

archivists use smart phones to photograph an 8 inch floppy disk reader.

A moment from the Born-Digital Archiving pre-PDA meetup, where archivists hover around a computer built to read 8 inch floppy disks — an almost impossible task these days

The conference covered a huge range of work, and included presentations on different ways to conceptualize digital space (screenshots, video game emulations, the list goes on), projects seeking to allow communities to directly transfer their digital materials to a library collection through apps or interfaces, and even a fascinating assessment of the way that teens store and access information about their personal finances (including the clincher that almost all ages show a tendency to simply discard financial information after a stated financial goal has been reached). Also included were some updates on the sustainability (or lack of it) of some of the field’s pioneering digital archives projects, like the Salman Rushdie papers at Emory University (hint, it’s still people, not machines, that are making it run).

Some presentations particularly interesting to a health sciences institution like our own were those on the self-collection and assessment of health and other biometric data espoused by the Quantified Self movement. Quantified Self is a loosely-organized group who collect and store data about themselves, and then use various computational and creative methods to analyze that data  for self-insights framed as citizen science.

A slide shows in a darkened room as a person gives a presentation on "QS" or Quantified Self.

Gary Wolf gives the keynote on the Quantified Self movement.

Quantified Self (the formal organization) has just embarked on its first experiment to facilitate participants testing and analyzing their own blood, which has brought up a host of questions on the ethics of collecting and making public one’s own health data. Additionally, the project raises questions about the freedoms and constraints that tend to coalesce around these projects of “do it yourself” self-quantification (not to mention the often neglected questions around power and privilege that tinge the conversation around collection of, access to, and work with self-referential data). The approach taken by quantified self practitioners is surely different than ours here in the archives, but we still face similar issues as archivists in a health-sciences university, where historical information mixes with personal narrative and private health data – both in the legal sense and the intimate emotional sense as well.

This forum was a fascinating opportunity to dig a bit deeper into the ideologies and practices behind the collection and preservation of personal digital material, and it seemed fitting that these questions were being explored in dialogue with all the people in the room. One of the biggest takeaways from the conference, after all, was that the tools and technologies to facilitate this work are often the focus of the intrigue and excitement, but that it’s the people who dedicate their time and resources to the endeavor that keep the whole thing running. Just as the Salman Rushdie Digital Collection requires the work of a cadre of dedicated digital archivists at Emory, the future of our digital past will require serious work by a broad and diverse community of archivists, technologists, historians, fanatics, and citizens.

One of the final audience comments was prescient in this regard: “it seems like what might be missing is a discussion of privilege in these projects.” Indeed, any community of practice is unlikely to persist for long if it doesn’t contain a diversity of interests.

New Accessions Spotlight (or My Cluttered Desk)

It’s been a busy start to spring here at UCSF A&SC: new events and exhibits coming up, lots of researchers, and of course many new collections. As is prone to happen during times like these, there is a pile of new materials sitting on my desk, just waiting for me to enter into our database and (eventually) our library catalog. Here are a few that I am particularly excited about:

Clark Sturges papers (MSS 2017-09)

Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, we recently were given the papers of Clark Sturges that relate to his profile of Dr. David E. Smith. Smith founded the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in 1967 in response to the medical needs of many of the young people who came to San Francisco during the Summer of Love. Sturges completed the book in 1993, and the papers are composed mainly of taped interviews, research notes, and correspondence.

Steven Deeks papers (MSS 2017-10)

Another recent acquisition is the papers of Dr. Steven Deeks. The Deeks papers are primarily concerned with his involvement in the controversial baboon bone marrow transplant to an AIDS patient in 1995. While the transplant was not successful, it illustrates the sense of desperation of people with AIDS at that time–and also the highly innovative approaches that UCSF and SFGH doctors and researchers were taking at that time to combat the disease.

Mark Jacobson papers (MSS 2017-12)

Finally, another collection that recently found its way to my desk is the papers of Dr. Mark Jacobson. The Jacobson papers are a hodgepodge of different materials, including calendars, index cards with patient symptoms and medication, a multitude of electronic records (including his PalmPilot), and this Triomune 30 box, which he picked up on a trip overseas. Dr. Jacobson also gave us a substantial number of books for our burgeoning AIDS History collection, and recently wrote a novel based upon his experiences that mentions the patient index cards in its foreword.

Irene Pope, Nurse and Activist

This is a guest post by Griffin Burgess, ZSFG Archivist.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we’re recognizing Irene Pope, nurse and activist.

Irene Pope

Irene Pope was born in Berkeley, CA and graduated from the UCSF School of Nursing in 1947. She worked as a nurse at UC Hospital for eighteen months, then continued her education at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, earning her master’s degree. She returned to the UC as head nurse and later became the assistant director of nursing.

Irene Pope (back row, center) with her UC classmates. From Medi-Cal yearbook, 1947.

Pope came to San Francisco General Hospital in 1960 as director of nursing. She inherited an institution with constant nursing turnover and little to no high-level coordination of nursing activity. Pope transformed the nursing service into a functional, united group while also focusing on improving working conditions for nurses.

At the time, nurses at SFGH were paid very little compared to other San Francisco city workers and nurses around the country. Nurses had never gone on strike before in the U.S. and were in fact prohibited from striking, so in 1966, the SFGH nurses staged a “sickout.” All staff nurses called in sick while Pope and other head nurses kept the hospital going. The sickout lasted three days and resulted in a 40 percent pay raise for the nursing staff.

When asked about the sickout, Pope gave her full support and said, “we are interested in saving the profession, as well as seeking betterment for ourselves.”

In 1971, Pope left SFGH to serve as president-elect and then president of the California Nurses Association, where she lobbied to pass the Nurses Practice Act, paving the way for nurse practitioners. Pope spent her career working tirelessly for nurses and the nursing profession as a whole, and her efforts have created lasting change at ZSFG and beyond.