Resident Spotlight – National Security Archive


As we move into the eighth month of our residencies I’d like to highlight the work of Julia Blase, who is currently hosted by the National Security Archive located within the Gelman Library at George Washington University (it begs repeating that this archive has no relation to the National Security Agency).

The National Security Archive places emphasis on usable history, human rights, and open government, by collecting and providing analyses of declassified government documents in the areas of foreign and national security policy. The primary research vehicle of the Archive is the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, though the analysts also go on research expeditions to libraries and archives foreign and domestic, and occasionally receive donations of papers from other historians and journalists. Some of the crowd favorites are the CIA “Family Jewels,” Area 51/U-2 aircraft, Cuban Missile Crisis, and 1953 Iran coup documents, as well as the September 11th sourcebooks. However, as Julia points out, it is hard to pick any one collection as a ‘favorite,’ since so many hold broad research and education appeal. The archive also frequently hosts international visitors who are seeking to introduce laws similar to the Freedom of Information Act in their own home countries.


Watergate related a/v materials

Amounting to 5TB of content, the archive has come to rely on several systems for managing their collections, thus spurring the initial proposal to introduce a resident who could bring an archival perspective to their processes in order to gain awareness of the extent and placement of the collections. The project ultimately seeks to promote intellectual control and access for both visitors and analysts.

Using Excel for simplicity and to enable collaborative editing, Julia has worked to create a comprehensive index of the digital collections. Also, in immersing herself in the NSA’s workflows for content management, she has come to understand the ways in which analysts interact with and retrieve information from the collection. With the archive being very much driven by internal use, Julia incorporates this awareness and understanding of the staff idiosyncrasies to improve on the management of the digital assets.

“I am using my expertise to refine their ideas into something that is very actionable, both from a technology and management standpoint…I understand the archive may not have resources to invest in each plan I prepare, but I want to offer a universe of solutions and to start a helpful, archives-wide conversation before the management chooses which route to take.”

As she moves into the second half of her residency, she will look to provide guidance to staff on grouping collections for better search and browse functionality, specifically in reference to the electronic briefing books (EBB), which are topically focused sets of documents they have made available online through their website. She has already received positive feedback for her creation of a comprehensive, search- and browse-able internal inventory of the EBBs, with several of the analysts telling her how much time they save having to go to only one location to find the collection name, subject terms, EBB number (unique identifier), and a link to all of the associated documents. She is also asking Archive staff for their assistance as she expands the searchable index. One of the unique features of the Archive is the length of time it has been collecting digital items – some digital collections are over sixteen years old. Luckily, many original staff members are still working with the Archive and can help Julia uncover useful information about the source and content of legacy collections.

Upon completion of the residency in May, Julia hopes to have introduced one centralized and exhaustive index that is understandable to the most senior staff members to the newest interns. She will also have produced an Assessment Report that outlines possible directions for future digital asset management at the Archive. The index will improve the ways in which analysts and users navigate the collection, and the report will help the Archive to further advocate for access to primary source documents and for evidence-based research regarding the history and actions of our government.


 ProfileLOC1Julia Blase is the National Digital Stewardship Resident at The National Security Archive. Her project is entitled “The Digital Dissemination Challenge,” in which she is capturing and analyzing information about the Archive’s collections, systems, workflows, and culture, and using that information to build a unified digital asset management strategy. Prior to accepting this position, she worked at the American Alpine Club Library in Golden, CO. She holds a B.A. in Art History from Duke University, a Master’s in Management from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and a M.L.I.S. from Denver University. Follow her blog here.

Other links:

National Security Archive

Tom Blanton (NSA Director) on Colbert

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February Updates

This past month…

My blog post on TBMA through the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ Bigger Picture Blog (February 20, 2014)

Resident Lauren Work’s post to The Signal with NDSR updates (February 28, 2014)


Resident tour of American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, February 28. Photo by Emily Reynolds

Coming up…

First ever Home Video Day in NYC (March 1st)

Digital Cultural Heritage DC (DCHDC) meetup featuring my presentation on TBMA and the Smithsonian (March 20th)

Residents MargoLaurenMolly and I will be talking about New Voices in Digital Curation at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (April 15th)

NDSR Symposium at the National Library of Medicine (April 8th)

Preliminary program:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

8:30-9:30         Registration

9:30-9:45         Opening Remarks, George Coulbourne and Kris Nelson, Library of Congress

9:45-10:45       BitCurator Demonstration, Cal Lee, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science

11:00-noon      Panel discussion on Social Media, Archiving, and Preserving Collaborative Projects

1:15-2:15         Panel discussion on Open Government and Open Data

2:45-3:45         Panel discussion on Digital Strategies for Public and Non-Profit Institutions

For other information about the symposium, please contact Maureen Harlow at


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Digital Preservation @ AMIA:

This past week at the annual AMIA (Association of Moving Image Archivists) conference, I was fortunate to hear presentations on digital preservation workflows from organizations such as Witness, Human Rights Watch, and BAVCall of which deal with the obstacles of ingesting footage and works from producers taking part in varying forms of production, and utilizing different formats for recording (much like time based media artists).  In introducing their modified workflows to the field, there are now more case studies and examples of ways in which a digital asset management system and ingestion workflow can be molded to best fit an institution’s needs. 

Kara Van Malssen of AVPreserve presented on the basics of planning a DAMS, with focus on stakeholders, how tools go about producing results, and customization. These slides can be found here.

MoMA has also had a significant voice in this conversation with their current plans for a DRMC (Digital Repository for Museum Collections). The DRMC will execute a number of actions using micro-services and archival description tools from Archivematica and AtoM in order to hold their born-digital and digitized works. A current mock-up of the user interface was presented, with a particular emphasis on how TBMA components can be described and linked within the system.


thoughts on digital assets and the introduction of classes into TBMA repository criteria….

It is necessary to look at the importance of higher-end policies and preservation strategies when considering the sorts of challenges that are imposed on an institution and DAMS when incorporating digital components of time based media works. Instead of a more granular approach, in which works are reviewed on a case-by-case basis with attempts to formulate descriptive and prescriptive metadata specific to each piece, there should be considerations for defining classes of works that can help determine automated fields for documentation, define authenticity standards, and also delegate custodial roles (by which I mean determining how/when a repository should alter an asset in order to ensure long-term preservation). This is particularly beneficial in standardizing processes in a situation where the repository is serving a number of Designated Communities that are exhibiting works with similar needs and significant properties.

Maybe these classes could be defined by their dependency on format and/or software, thus helping categorize works based on needs and limits related to authenticity and plans for emulation/migration/refreshing/etc.  Or maybe they could be defined by more specific terms (ie. video game, single channel video, performance based projection, website, etc.) that can help determine fields for a technical narrative and questionnaires for the artist. Either way, the institution could be free to define whatever classes they wish as long as they implement and follow standards for each.

Learning to Love you More – In 2010, SFMoMA acquired Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July’s collaborative online project.

However, while these class structures could help ease and partially automate the process of determining solutions to various factors (such as modes for later access, documentation of third party software dependencies, expanding PDI requirements, creating new AIP classes, etc. etc.), there still remains the necessity for collaboration. This collaboration should start prior to acquisition and continue through the ingest of the assets. Conversations should incorporate the artist interview, looking towards how the intent of the work relates to what the limits are to altering it’s digital components, as well as if the artist might be willing to see the work evolve in order to resist obsolescence.

Of course, it goes without saying that an institution would need to refine and re-structure their policies over time, while also adding additional classes as the collection grows. Monitoring digital assets and assessing the needs of newer acquisitions are actions very much required as part of the life cycle model in digital preservation and should be mirrored in museum workflows.

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TB(M)A : Upcoming Events

Absolutely no reason for anyone to stay at home in the months of October and November….


When: October 19th, 2013, 11 am – 2 pm

Where: National Building Museum (401 F Street NW Washington, D.C.)

What: Home Movie Day events provide the opportunity for individuals and families to see and share their own home movies with an audience of their community, and to see their neighbors’ in turn. It’s a chance to discover why to care about these films and to learn how best to care for them.



When: October 27, 2013,  1 pm – 4 pm

Where: Brooklyn Historical society (128 Pierrepont St., Brooklyn, NY)

What: Advocating awareness of audiovisual heritage and its stewards, the UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (WDAVH) is an event aimed at the general public to draw attention not only to the range of at-risk audiovisual formats and genres, but also to promote community building among cultural institutions and archives. This year, the AMIA NYU student chapter has created a screening based around the theme of surveillance.



When: November 5 – 9, 2013

Where: Richmond Marriott, (500 Broad St. Richmond, VA)

What: The AMIA Annual Conference provides an opportunity for a diverse array of professionals and students to meet, share information and work together through an intensive and cost-effective learning forum for audiovisual preservation and access.


TECHNOLOGY EXPERIMENTS IN ART: Conserving Software-Based Artworks Symposium WASHINGTON, DC

When [POSTPONED]: January 17, 2014, 10 pm – 5 pm

Where: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (700 Independence Ave SW  Washington, D.C.)

What: This day-long symposium will bring together artists, conservators, programmers, curators, and technicians. Their presentations will examine the challenges of conserving software-based artworks from a variety of perspectives—by exploring works created from the 1960s to the present, and looking at the ways technology, experiments, and art co-exist.



When: November 21 – 23, 2013

Where: Carnegie Museum of Art (4400 Forbes Avenue Pittsburgh, PA)

What: From well-established museums to independent projects, from physical galleries to digital spaces, the symposium seeks out the sites where time-based media resides, with an eye toward innovative approaches in traditional and non-traditional venues alike.

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TBMA Progress

tv460As part of my first week on-site at Smithsonian I’ve been catching up on readings and documentation from the myriad of events over the last few years that have been related to TBMA curation and preservation. Many of these meetings have ultimately led institutions (including Smithsonian) to create working groups devoted to finding solutions to the issues brought on by handling, exhibiting, and conserving complex works that contain audiovisual, sculptural, and/or other technical/performance elements.

I’ve also been skimming over implemented acquisition forms that seek out technical specifications and descriptive information related to the significance and structure of a TBMA piece (site, time, space, audience participation, format, creation and exhibition hard/software, etc.). Alongside this, I have been reviewing the development timelines of TDR frameworks (OAIS, InterPARES), as well as more granular standards (PAIS, PREMIS), and audit/criteria checklists and procedures (TRAC, DRAMBORA) that many institutions consider the most viable options for developing and assessing digital repositories for their digital assets.

Moving between these two worlds – the concepts and descriptions related to the intent and aesthetic of an artist’s piece, to digital storage architecture requirements and the undeniably dry terminologies they utilize – has made it obvious why the nature of TBMA works are inherently difficult to wrap into a preservation-worthy ‘package’ containing digital bits, all-encompassing metadata, and linked documentation and equipment. Oh, and by the way, there’s still authenticity and obsolescence to grapple with, especially when planning for re-installation/exhibition in the future (and hey, I’d like to think that’s why we’re all here – to ensure access).

Fortunately, I’ve been reading a recently published book, suggested by Glenn Wharton (former Conservator at MoMA) in a Smithsonian TBMA  interview, titled Preserving and Exhibiting Media Art: Challenges and Perspectives (2013). In Chapter 4: Media Art and the Digital Archive, I think Cosetta G. Soba states the question that is at the heart of this dilemma:

Regarding contemporary art’s modes of existence, what can and must be archived in a digital library of complex works, according to which criteria, and in what order, still remains to be defined. How can we archive textual and contextual components in one aggregated complex of data and metadata so as to take into account the variability of the installations and their “plural immanences?”  (110).

I assume I’ll be hearing this question iterated in a number of ways through the next 8 months, but hopefully we’ll all be moving towards more concrete solutions that can be both demonstrable and successful for institutions currently holding, acquiring, and digitally preserving TBMA.

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AMIA 2013 – Richmond, VA

This year the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) will be convening in Richmond, VA from November 6-9. I’ll be helping out with a pre-conference workshop on small gauge projection, as well as presenting on two panels: Improvising the Archive: Preserving Material that Resists Traditional Preservation Methodologies and The Queer Perspective: LGBTQ Artists in the Archives.

Check out the preliminary program with panel details.

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First post!


Inaugural National Digital Stewardship Residency

Us residents will be starting projects this upcoming week at various host locations across D.C. and Maryland for the next 9 months. My project is particularly focused on working the idiosyncratic properties of time based media art (TBMA) into trustworthy digital repository models among museum institutions. This research will take place at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Feel free to also follow me on twitter @ekemeyer, and/or all of the residents by searching #NDSR

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