Category Archives: Uncategorized

History of Records Law in the United States, Part 2

Welcome back! My last post in this intermittent series considered the records implications of the grievances articulated by the colonists in British North America against King George III in the Declaration of Independence, making it more of a prequel to US Records Law because the United States was not an independent country in 1776. This post will cover the first law passed by the United States Congress which addressed issues of records and information management, the Records Act of 1789, formally known as an Act to provide for the safe-keeping of the Acts, Records and Seal of the United States, and for other purposes. This was just the fourteenth law passed by the first Congress!

The act itself is broken up into seven sections, in which a number of information management issues are addressed. The first section, however, simply renames the Department of Foreign Affairs as the Department of State, the name by which this executive branch department is still known today. The second section is where things get a bit more interesting for our present purposes. It directs the Secretary of State, upon receiving information about the passage of a new law by congress, to “cause every such law, order, resolution, and vote, to be published in at least three of the public newspapers printed within the United States, [and shall also] cause one printed copy to be delivered to each Senator and Representative of the United States, and two printed copies duly authenticated to be sent to the Executive authority of each State; and he shall carefully preserve the originals, and shall cause the same to be recorded in books to be provided for the purpose.” 1 Stat. 68 (Chapter 14)

Here, we see the recognition that providing access to the law of the land was a fundamental responsibility of the newly formed federal government. As newspapers were a vital channel for information dissemination in the colonial and early republican eras, this was an obvious choice for the nascent federal government to utilize in spreading the word about new laws across the country.

Thanks to the magic of the Library of Congress’ digitization efforts, we have an example of this process in action to examine. Here’s the link to a printed version of this very law: U. S. Laws, S. (1789) An act to provide for the safe keeping of the acts, records, and seal of the United States, and for other purposes. New York: Printed by Thomas Greenleaf. New York. [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, This broadside printed in New York City would have helped spread the news of this law’s passage.

Interestingly, the responsibility around these records and information management tasks were placed within the Department of State in this law. As one of the original cabinet departments established by George Washington, this agency has a long and wide-ranging history and has been involved in many different activities over time. Remember that the National Archives and Records Administration will not be founded for 145 years! How many laws concerning records management in the federal government will be cover before then? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned and find out in my next post! For now, that’s all on the Records Act of 1789 and the first attempt by Congress to regulate the management of government information in the new United States.

A Second Hearing for AOTUS Nominee

Earlier today, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held its second hearing for Colleen J. Shogan, President Biden’s nominee to serve as Archivist of the United States. I watched as it took place live (you can view the recording here) and wanted to share some of my thoughts and observations of the proceedings. I further want to echo the statements published by the Council of State Archivists and the Society of American Archivists endorsing Dr Shogan’s nomination. I look forward to her receiving a confirmation vote before the full senate soon.

The hearing was led by Committee Chair Gary Peters and included questions from Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Jon Osoff, Josh Hawley, Roger Marshall, and Thomas Carper, although not in that order.

Much of the questioning directed at Dr Shogan related to recent events that have put NARA in the national spotlight, a place which the agency is relatively unfamiliar. These include the incident involving March for Life protestors being asked to cover their shirts in Archives I building near the mall, controversies related to classified records being found at the homes of Former President Trump, Former Vice President Pence, and President Biden dating back to his time as VP, questions related to overclassification in general, large backlogs of records requests from veterans seeking records of their service to obtain benefits, and questions about records related to COVID. Overall, I felt Dr Shogan answered these questions to the best of her ability and indicated that she will work to maintain the non-partisan nature of NARA. Many of the issues which committee members spoke about are not within the jurisdiction of the AOTUS, most notably classification. This is an important point as it underscores the relative positionality of NARA as compared to other larger federal agencies which it seeks to work with on records issues. Creating agencies are responsible for declassification, and staffing challenges/funding priorities have made this situation quite poor across much of the government.

The hearing did include a few exchanges where the nominee was asked to speak about or defend previous academic work and social media posts which suggest that she holds liberal positions on a number of political issues. Senator Hawley in particular pushed Dr Shogan to respond to Twitter posts he had printed out, including a retweeted post in support of an assault weapons ban. She repeatedly answered “My social media is in my personal capacity, senator” which led him to further accuse her of grandstanding and evading his questions. In a move that’s squarely on the nose, he would later go on to post on Twitter about the entire sequence. Rand Paul would later step in and declare that her being a liberal was not a disqualification for this position because “If we got rid of liberals, we would not really have a lot of librarians or archivists.” Oh how true that statement is, perhaps revealing more about the situation than Senator Paul meant to suggest…

What does this hearing mean for the future of Dr Shogan’s nomination? Given the composition of the Senate, I think she has a good chance of appointment if brought up before a full chamber vote. That being said, given the entrenched positions of both parties regarding some key issues including document classification and Presidential Records, the vote may again spilt evenly along party lines, where it fell last fall. I, for one, would like to see the nomination proceed and for the national archives to have a permanent leader. Dr Shogan would be the first female nominee confirmed to this role and is well qualified for the job. My parting words to the senate: confirm her already and move on to more pressing challenges facing the country!

Music Recommender Systems and CCR

I recently found myself, as I do more often than I should, scrolling through reddit. This thread caught my eye and confronted me with my own assumptions and biases about music listening and discovery in the age of streaming.

My first reaction was to think “Obviously someone who likes the Grateful Dead enough to be on the subreddit for the band also likes, or at least has heard of, Creedence Clearwater Revival.” While embarking upon my own CCR listening session, I reflected more on how the recommendation-driven approach of Spotify and other music streaming services has radically restructured the ways in which people discover new bands they might enjoy, even if those bands are both Bay Area rock bands founded in the 1960s.

I will date myself and add a bit of self-deprecation here by noting that I bought the CCR compilation Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hits at a Sam Goody sometime in the late 90s, and thought I was the coolest 12 year old a few years later when they were featured in The Big Lebowski and I already knew their songs (side note: I still don’t like The Eagles through no fault of their own because of this movie). I dimly recall my mom questioning my decision to buy this CD and wondered why I didn’t want something from a more contemporary band but I was not to be deterred in my quest to discover classic rock! In the early days of the internet, music streaming did not exist and the way my friends and I would find out about new music or expand our horizons was by listening to the radio, watching MTV/VH1, raiding our parents music collections, or getting someone’s older sibling/cousin/friend to share some hitherto unknown artist.

But I digress…what this post really got me thinking about was how fundamentally different music listening and discovery is today. To be clear, I do not think that the “old” way of stumbling into a given musical artist is better than what the streamers are able to provide for modern listeners, but I do feel that these recommendation algorithms can divorce music from its cultural context. Is this artist being recommended to me because they preceded the band I am listening to right now, or because they were influenced by them? Do they share a dummer? Or does the platform just have the data to predict that I’ll enjoy them based on the habits of similar users to me?

I guess I was just so struck by someone unironically asking on an internet forum if anyone had heard of Creedence Clearwater Revival that I have thought about it more than once in the past week. It speaks to the personalization that is part and parcel of streaming platforms, but also the solo nature of music discovery as opposed to the fundamentally social processes involved in hearing about new sounds from other humans. All of this is taking place at the same time as Americans are spending more time alone as we continue to churn through these not-quite-still-a-pandemic months. This trend even rose to the attention of national media recently, perhaps reflecting a situation where a lonely redditor, fresh off of putting his nickel down to hear Willy and the Poor Boys, has no one they’d like to talk to in person about their new favorite band and so takes to the internet to ask if their fellow musical travelers have heard of Creedence. In the words of the Dude, “that’s just, like, your opinion man”.

Also, I guess I will be writing about anything on here that’s on my mind that is vaguely about technology, cultural heritage, and related topics.

The Last Archive, reviewed

I first read Jill Lepore’s A is for American in an undergraduate history course on the United States before the Civil War; the following year her book The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity was a key inspiration for my senior honors paper in which I tried to localize the historical memory of King Philip’s War around Bristol, RI, where the conflict ended following Metacom’s killing. She also wrote an article in The New Yorker in 2015 on web archiving and digital preservation that I assign to students and still recommend. When I saw the announcement of her latest venture, a podcast, I knew I had to tune in. It’s not like I have too much going on in the middle of this pandemic, plus the title was “The Last Archive,” so on-brand!

The stated goal of the show is to answer the question “Who Killed Truth?” over the course of ten episodes tracing a modern history of facts and evidence. I will admit that the first few episodes, on an unsolved murder case in Vermont, the lie detector, an invisible woman, and the invisible man, felt a bit scattered and without a clear focus. Perhaps it was a function of my thoughts on the current public health and political climate in our country right now but episodes 5-8 on computational election prediction, the polio vaccine, the failed attempt to build a National Data Center, and the 1977 National Women’s convention were spot-on in terms of tone and content. In each, Lepore provides historical context for urgent issues facing our society, giving the listener a better idea of how we arrived in a place where many people distrust vaccines but trust the private sector to manage vast stores of personal data about each of us. Episode nine, focusing on Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, climate change, and citizen science projects documenting bird deaths was a reminder that more people should read that book, and the final episode ties things together neatly and enticed me to pick up a copy of her latest book IF THEN: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.

The podcast is livened up by voice actors reading some of the records used to write the episodes, and the show’s website provides additional info on the archives and sources used in the production. The final episode featured the Computer History Museum and the Internet Archive, among other repositories. I, for one, think the internet airwaves would benefit from more explanations of punch cards and the efforts to extract data off of them!

Is this indeed the titular last archive? I hope not, for my own sake as an archival educator and researcher. What it is, though, is a fascinating and engaging history podcast for anyone interested in how we’ve come to construct truth and knowledge in the modern United States. Give it a listen, it’s well worth the addition to your COVID-era media diet.

Non-exhaustive list of media consumed during the COVID-19 Pandemic, briefly annotated

In these pandemic times we find ourselves in, the world feels as though it’s been tossed upside down and cast asunder. I find myself alternating between deep dives into the news, reading the latest developments and coming to terms with the reality of what’s going on, and periods where I force myself to turn away and consume other media. These are some of the things I have turned to in these moments. They are by no means recommendations and they are not even necessarily good. It’s just a semi-random and not complete list of what I’ve been watching, reading, and listening to while I work through these decidedly weird weeks.


Movies and Television:

  • Tiger King. Need to have something to talk to my friends about in our group chats. What happened to Carole Baskin’s husband? Sound off in the comments.
  • Vanderpump Rules. In my house we also watch plenty of other Bravo shows which I don’t like quite as much, but I will recommend VPR to everyone. The first few seasons of this show are truly transcendent reality television, if you don’t like them then there’s no hope in converting you.
  • What Men Want. A fun little rom-com starring Taraji P Henson, who should be given all the roles she wants forever and ever.



I’m had to move my teaching online and have been doing other stuff besides all this nonsense. If you’re reading this, know that I love you and hope to see you in person soon. We’re living through a global tragedy and I can only hope that we make it through and imagine how to collectively heal our world and create a more just environment. The pandemic has revealed the cracks in our society like never before and the need for justice is as urgent as ever. Now, I’m off to wash my hands!

Literature on Digital Repository Policy Development

This week, I have been looking into the collections policies and other policy documents of digital repositories, specifically data repositories. The other day, I came across this First Monday (open access!) article, “A balancing act: The ideal and the realistic in developing Dryad’s preservation policy” which I thought was worth summarizing here.

The authors report on their process for developing the preservation policy for Dryad, a general purpose scientific data repository. A Preservation Working Group consulted peer repositories and selected four which directly informed their process. The working group identified work already taking place and considered what a Preservation Policy should contain in developing their final document. In the article, the authors highlight important lessons learned such as the need to maintain realistic expectations and consider the constraints of the technology currently in place at the repository.

I have found few articles reporting on policy development in this way and thought this was a good example to share. Often in digital curation contexts, policy development is an afterthought or individual process, rather than a collaborative effort with diverse inputs. While it can seem trite to go through the process of creating policy rather than “doing the work,” it is vitally important for the vitality of organizations to have meaningful and well-thought-out policies which can inform future practice and help introduce new members into ongoing work. Here’s to publishing articles like this in the future!

Hierarchy of Google Products

With all of the recent talk about Google’s updated logo, I thought I’d share an observation I had this week while using two Google products: image search and Google Scholar. Here’s a screenshot, taken today, of

Google Images screenshot

And here’s a screenshot, taken today, of

Google Scholar screenshot

As you can see, the Scholar landing page still displays the old logo. Does this signal a shift in Google’s commitment to their scholarly literature search product? I hope not! Scholar is one of my favorite Google projects and a regular part of my research process. Update the logo and show us that Google Scholar is still thriving!


In which something I co-authored appears on the internet

Last week, an article I co-authored with Ixchel Faniel and my dissertation advisor Beth Yakel was finally published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST).  The article reports on the results of a survey we conducted of 1,480 academic authors who cited ICPSR data in peer-reviewed publications, and is part of the larger DIPIR project which I was a part of for more than two years as a research assistant while in graduate school.

In the paper, we present a literature-based model to represent the relationship between data quality and user satisfaction with data in a reuse context. We tested this model with our survey data, using multiple regression analysis. The results of our survey indicate that data completeness, data accessibility, data ease of operation, data credibility, and documentation quality all correspond significantly with data reuser satisfaction. These findings suggest that repository managers should look to these areas when creating or updating guidelines or policies for data deposit and evaluation.

The paper is live on the JASIST website here. It’s not open access 🙁 but I’m really proud of this work! Email me if you want to talk about it or any of my other work.

Linux in the Wild

One of my first posts on this site was about Linux, and I always love seeing examples of how Open Source software powers so many computing devices which we interact with everyday. On a recent plane trip back from Seattle (where I attended ASIS&T. It was awesome!) I settled into my seat and prepared to watch a movie on the seatback screen when it suddenly went black. Confused, I looked up and noticed that the entire plane had lost their screens as well.  A few seconds later, much to my surprise, this appeared on screen as the software loaded:

Wild Linux

Can you see tux in the upper left corner? That’s right- Delta’s seatback screen are powered by Linux! After another period of intense scrolling text as the system rebooted, I was eventually greeted  by the clean welcome screen:

Delta Welcome

After this snafu, the system remained on for the rest of my flight, and I was able to watch Parks & Recreation while editing some files. I must have looked like a weirdo when I whipped out my phone to take pictures of the software loading on my seatback screen, but I always love witnessing moments like this. The experience of flying a commercial airline is designed to be sleek and streamlined, but remembering that much of this software runs on Linux was a refreshing reminder that the polished face of Delta runs on a complex infrastructure.

I’ve also been thinking about the recent dustup between Groupon and the GNOME project. Groupon used the trademarked name of the popular Open Source desktop environment as the name of their new point-of-sale system, filing trademarks that infringed upon those already in place for decades. I was surprised to see Groupon making this move when my assumption is that some portion of their developers and code is based on Linux. After some confusion, it looks like Groupon is pulling back and will change the name of their product. Score one for the OS lobby!

I wonder how many consumers know how important Linux is to so many aspects of our computational lives? How can we increase awareness of this software, and how would knowing more about Linux change conversations in society about the role and place of computing in everyday life?


Archival Articles on Wikipedia

My regular readers will know that I edit Wikipedia from time to time, and that I am a doctoral student in an iSchool who studies archives. I was therefore overjoyed to attend this session at the Society of American Archivists annual meeting this August. The session chairs, Dominic McDevitt-Parks and Sara Snyder, successfully signed up new editors for Wikipedia accounts and introduced them to the basics of editing. As a group, we even made some progress on a few articles relevant to archives. A wiki page documenting the session is located here.

I fully agree with the goals of this session: to increase the quality of Wikipedia articles which relate to archival concepts, archival institutions, and archivists. Since August, I have been looking for opportunities to edit archival articles. Now, this term I am working as a Graduate Student Instructor (also known as a TA at universities not named Michigan) in a course on archival access systems. During a recent lecture, my lead instructor provided an overview of many of the archival software platforms that exist today. Following along, I happened to google Archon and ended up on its Wikipedia page: Archon (software). I was dismayed to see that the article was not up to date and listed the tool as in active development when in fact it has merged with ArchivesSpace and is no longer maintained. I made a mental note to follow up and edit this page to reflect the most current information.

A few days later, when I returned to complete my edits, I noticed that someone else had come in and begun my work for me! A sentence indicating the inactive status of the project was tacked on to the end of the article. I still made some edits, cleaned up the page, and made sure that things were up-to-date. However, during this time I discovered that ArchivesSpace itself does not have an article yet. That’ll be a task for a later date.

You may be asking yourself- what is the point of this story? Well, if you see an article related to something having to do with archives that needs work, edit it! I did a bit of writing on a small article and discovered a much larger task that I will tackle in the upcoming weeks.

What wiki-event is happening at SAA next year?? I’m there!