The Evolution of Archivists’ Roles from Keepers to Selectors to Collaborators / Nick Pavlik (Bowling Green State University)

Toward the latter part of the twentieth century, as the amount of information societies routinely generated increased exponentially amidst the proliferation of new analog and digital records creation technologies, archivists were compelled to recognize the unsustainability of the “archivist as keeper” framework. Not only had new technologies vastly increased the corpus of records of potential archival value, but the specter of technological obsolescence or degradation embedded in new record formats demanded earlier archival interventions that lent an unprecedented sense of urgency to archival practice. Against this rapidly growing and evolving information landscape, the “archivist as selector” framework emerged to highlight the critical importance of archivists’ appraisal and acquisition functions, and to facilitate more proactive and systematic models for such work. One such model was the documentation strategy, which offered a methodology for archivists to undertake the targeted, proactive, and ongoing documentation of specific subjects or localities. In elevating archivists’ roles as appraisers and selectors, models like the documentation strategy helped spur a wider recognition within the archives profession that archivists themselves held the power to actively shape the historical record. However, while still positioning archivists as the ultimate records authorities, such models also anticipated that the success of the “archivist as selector” framework would hinge on archivists’ capacities to collaborate and engage with records creators. Indeed, in the twenty-first century, as archival records are created in an ever more decentralized digital environment, archival science has again undergone a dramatic shift toward an “archivist as collaborator” framework in which the shaping of the historical record is necessarily a collaborative endeavor between archivists and records creators within a construct of shared authority, leading to emergent models such as participatory, community, and post-custodial archives. In tracing the evolution of archivists’ roles from keepers to selectors to collaborators against an analog-to-digital information landscape, this paper will show how the technologies of records creation have powerfully determined the development of archivists and records creators’ identities and roles in relation to the shaping of the historical record.

Transition from Analog to Digital – A Case Study of Special Olympics’ World Games Documentation / Jane Zhang (Catholic University of America)

In 1968, the Kennedy Foundation established Special Olympics, a non-profit corporation, to spearhead the Special Olympic program. Fifty years after its founding, Special Olympics has developed from “a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities to a global movement” (https://www.specialolympics.org/about/history). As part of its 50th anniversary preparations, Special Olympics Washington DC Headquarters partnered with Catholic University’s Library and Information Science Department on a two-year historical archiving project (2017-2019). The goal of the project was to organize and archive the vast array of documents, photos and videos accumulated by Special Olympics Headquarters over the past fifty years. The best of these assets can then be utilized for internal and external promotional and other uses, including a digital library. As the faculty advisor supervising two graduate students working on the project for the two years, I had an opportunity to observe a real-life case of half a century’s accumulation of documentation in the most important period of the modern history of records and recordkeeping. When the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago, the world we lived in was pretty much paper-based. The 1968 World Games documentation mostly contains neatly typewritten correspondence to be signed or signed in handwritten signatures, multi-copied tissue sheets of typewritten letters, internal memos with pre-printed space for title, date, to, from, and re: and black and white photo prints – traditional record formats practiced since the late 19th century and early 20th century (JoAnne Yates, Control through Communication, 1989). By the time of the 2019 World Summer Games held in Abu Dhabi, the trace of physical media was almost gone and the Games documentation was mostly virtual and cloud-based, including action reports produced in pdf and kept in the Department’s Dropbox and digital videos and photos submitted or uploaded in Libris, a cloud-based digital asset management system. What happened during the five decades between these two World Games (1970s – 2010s), as observed from the Special Olympics’ documentation, presents an interesting picture if reviewed in the context of records and recordkeeping history. The physical media-based recordkeeping tradition, evolved in the late 19th century and further developed in the first half of the 20th century, managed to carry through the last three decades of the 20th century (1970s, 1980s, and 1990s). The dysfunction of the traditional system eventually came at the beginning of the 21st century (2000s, 2010s). In other words, it took twenty years from 1980s to 1990s for digital items to gradually integrate into the physicality of the 20th century recordkeeping system, and another twenty years from 2000s to 2010s for the digital (virtual) system to take shape and dominate as the mainstream of recordkeeping media. The proposed paper will present the case study data to discuss the complexity of this transition from analog to digital and its implications in the development of digital archival systems. This paper will outline the historical trajectory of the dramatic transformation in archival science ushered in by digital technologies with respect to records appraisal and acquisition practices, societal and community documentation models, and the value and distribution of archival labor. In the early-to-mid-twentieth century, analog technologies of records creation provided archivists with the assurance that historically valuable records could survive in states of benign neglect for extended periods of time before being acquired by an archival repository. This lack of urgency concerning the long-term survival of historical records outside the repository fostered the predominance of the “archivist as keeper” framework within the archives profession, in which archivists played little role in actively identifying, appraising, and acquiring records but instead served as passive receivers of records entrusted into their care by others.

Preserving the Immaterial: Digital Visual Effects Records and Archiving / Evanthia Samaras (University of Technology Sydney)

Visual effects (VFX) emerged onto movie screens during the late 1960s and early 1970s through science fiction films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Westworld (1973). It was formed via the groundbreaking work of John Witney Sr., Douglas Trumball, John Dykstra and others experimenting with computer graphics and computer-controlled cameras. Half a century later, VFX has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry of technical specialists and artists using ever-advancing technologies to digitally craft and combine digital film footage, 3D models, characters, animations, environments and lighting elements and seamlessly output them as “shots” for film and television projects. Despite the fact that since the interwar period of the 1920s and 1930s, libraries and archives have been established to collect and preserve film and television heritage, VFX collections are not adequately represented in any of our national institutions. Preserving VFX is a challenging process. How do we ensure that VFX records will be understandable and usable into the future—beyond the lifespan of most software applications? How can we engage with a workforce that faces globalized labor market pressures to invest their valuable time and resources into recordkeeping? How can we negotiate with the owners of VFX—commissioning film and television studios and producers—to implement consistent delivery and archiving requirements and allow access and use of VFX records into the future? How do we introduce this immaterial, technically challenging and seemingly invisible component of media production into cultural heritage collections; while adequately preserving evidence of its history and evolution? This paper will explore some of my findings and explorations to try and answer these questions through the examination of past and present practices and developing an understanding of the complex climates in which VFX records are generated, controlled and disseminated. Including findings about how VFX companies have been managing their records and archiving in recent years, and how film and television studios mandate delivery and archiving requirements that lack consistency and take advantage of the oligopsony market. The paper presents a brief history of screen effects and associated physical and digital records and artifacts from the early twentieth century to present day. Through historical analysis, it also presents three notions—studios’ inclination to only preserve assets that support future profits, institutions’ proclivity to collect material film and television artefacts, and negative generalisations and erasure of VFX – to explain why, despite having existed in mainstream film and television for decades, have VFX records not been adequately preserved to date. While the preservation of VFX records is no doubt challenging, it is a worthwhile undertaking. Film and television are a ubiquitous part of human culture, and visual storytelling has the power to not only entertain, but to inform, challenge and inspire audiences. For over fifty years, VFX has supported and elevated film and television storytelling and will continue to do so. Isn’t it about time that we support and elevate VFX—and start preserving the history and legacy of this significant member of the telecinematic discourse?