D2A: Direct to Archive

It’s interesting how not only one’s discipline but also one’s practice within it so sharply shapes your view of methods and technologies both near and far. Reading the [Project Bamboo proposal][pbpro], for example, prompted a field researcher like me to respond that the library is not … [quotation here].

As I noted in [my 4/6 presentation][46] in Chicago, I don’t want to marginalize the library. I want to re-center it as a working repository to which many contribute as well as upon which many draw. All of this means that I see the library, or archive (I will use the two interchangeably), as a collaborator in my research process. One way it can do that is to help warranty the safety of my data. How can it do that?

By acting as my backup? That’s right. The archive needs data to exist, and field researchers need a safe place for their data. The great advantage of the digital age is that copying data is easy and inexpensive — all things considered. Just as importantly, in the digital age I can give the library my data and still have it for myself. In fact, by giving a copy away early and often I guarantee I will have it for myself.

This is something I am calling **Direct to Archive**, or **D2A** for short. One of the greatest chores in going through a collection of recordings, be they images or audio or video or even pages of field notes, is properly sorting, labeling, outlining, and indexing them. It is joyous when you discover something, but in between those moments of joy are long trawls through a variety of materials. (The trawling of course is what sets up the discovery: it’s only by flipping through photo after photo of an artifact that suddenly, to one’s conscious mind but not really suddenly, a pattern emerges.) One does it when you’re logging materials as you gather then, and then there’s the later effort to do something similar when you turn over a box of materials to an archive.

But why wait? Why not simply make the two motions the same? Coders call it DRY, short for “Don’t Repeat Yourself.” The application here is simple. A lot of field researchers are already using some for of digital asset management software (DAM for short). For me, it’s an application like [Adobe’s Lightroom][lr] which I use to organize my images. So right away a couple of important caveats here:

1. I don’t have any good DAM software for audio or for video. (There’s something for a future Project Bamboo team.)*
2. This software only organizes my digital images and the relatively small percentage of film images — slide and print — that I have had the time or wherewithal to digitize.

My current process when I get back from fieldwork is to take the memory cards out of my camera and/or my camera bag and put them in my card reader. I fire up Lightroom to import the images into my library — Lightroom’s own term. That library sits on an external hard drive, but I have the option, which I use, of simultaneously backing up images to another volume. In the image below, you should be able to make out that backing up to another volume, in this case called “StJerome”, can occur even as I am uploading images onto my main volume.

![Lightroom “import” window](http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/6/23/import-window.png) *[Click here to embiggen][big].

Why not make that other volume a hard drive sitting in an archive vault somewhere? My current DSL connection probably wouldn’t support it, but it will some day. (I could come close now if I was willing to pay AT&T an exorbitant amount of money every month, but I’m not.) Another alternative would be something like the Flickr export plug-in that someone has already made for Lightroom. Why not a similar plug-in for an archive. All my images in my library not only have all the usual EXIF information, which one day will have GPS already built-in, but I have gone through the trouble of adding a fair number of tags:

* Louisiana
* Boat
* Crawfish Boat
* Gerard Olinger

*All my images?* Yes. Why not? I have nothing to hide, nothing to lose, by making all my images available. Any system could easily make it possible for a researcher uploading his data to later manage it, setting terms and conditions for usage. One easily imagined term is that no materials would be available to the public for two years, three years, five years, or until a certain date. *Et cetera.* In the detail below, you can see that “Flickr” is one possible export. If I can export that easily to my Flickr account, surely I should be able to export to an archives. ([Here’s a complete view of the export window in Lightroom][lrex].)

![Lightroom export detail](http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/6/23/export-selection.png)

Such a system would have multiple advantages:

* A researcher would have a reliable back-up.
* Such a system backing one up would also encourage researchers to be more thorough-going in their logging — let’s admit that it helps to have an audience and that might take the edge off a task too easily put off for later.
* Archives would be in a collaborative relationship with researchers from the very beginning of a research project, making it possible not only for archivists and librarians to have a fuller understanding of the research process but also for researchers to have a better understanding of data management. Equally compelling is the opportunity both parties would have in potentially developing new ideas or seeing new things in extant materials. (The old saw about more hands make the work lighter applies here.)
* Finally, archives could guarantee their own development, nurturing collections even in their formation. (Please note that I’m not concerned about how this might bias data collection. I have faith in the process over the long term.)

[pbpro]: http://projectbamboo.org/
[lr]: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/
[46]: http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/5/20/4-6_Laudun.pdf
[lrex]: http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/6/23/export-screen.jpg
[big]: http://johnlaudun.org/assets/2008/6/23/import-window.jpg