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.
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.
Julia 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.