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Alert! Help George Go to AMIA!

September 24, 2014 Blog Comments Off

ling fluentIt has come to our attention that a young professional in the field of audiovisual archiving, George Gyesaw, has twice been denied a travel VISA by the US Embassy in Ghana, one that would allow him to attend the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) conference in Savannah, GA.  Mr. Gyesaw is scheduled to participate in the conference’s Poster Session on October 9th and 10th where he is presenting a work titled “Database Solutions for Archival Institutions in Ghana. “

His was a Section 214 (B) refusal, meaning he cannot prove he has “strong ties” to Ghana that would compel him to return. The consular asked him a handful of questions about his position at the University of Ghana and his reason for traveling to the US. He was denied when he stated he was not married and does not have children.  It is worth noting that his married travel companion, a colleague of his at the University of Ghana, was granted a VISA.

The consular’s denial of Mr. Gyesaw’s VISA is at best lazy and at worst discrimination. George has worked as a database administrator for the music and dance archive within the Institute for Africa Studies for over two years.  As evidenced by a recent article he wrote for the Audiovisual Preservation Exchange, he has proven himself committed to stewarding Ghana’s recorded music and dance history. He has an invested interest in returning to his country with the new knowledge, experiences, and connections he will acquire at the conference, able to better serve Ghana’s rich heritage.

We call upon our community of archivists and activists to out the US Embassy in Ghana for their discriminatory practices and to pressure the consular to reevaluate Mr. Gyesaw’s VISA application in accordance with the following protocols for determining a Section 214 (B):

“During the visa interview they [consular] look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors. In cases of younger applicants who may not have had an opportunity to form many ties, consular officers may look at the applicants specific intentions, family situations, and long-range plans and prospects within his or her country of residence. “– US Embassy, Section 214 (B)

What can you do?

One way you can help is by Tweeting this post using and using the @USEmbassyGhana handle, or RT from our own Twitter site: https://twitter.com/actarc

Use @AMIAnet and #AMIA14 to alert the Association of Moving Image Archivists of the issue.

Stay tuned! We will keep you posted on our efforts.


Librarians and Archivists with Palestine Launches New Website and Solidarity Network

June 7, 2014 Blog No Comments

Orient House

In 2013, some good friends of ours went to Palestine to bear witness on the state’s libraries and archives after 66 years of  Israeli occupation. I was fortunate enough to attend their panel at the Radical Archives conference this past Spring and was haunted by their report. The presentation can be downloaded from Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/ctreports/radical-archives-archiving-palestine/s-0hyaB.

The committee has documented their experiences in several publications, but now all our invited to join their team. 

From the press release:

“…we are excited to launch a broad-based network in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. Any self-defined information worker who agrees with our principles is invited to become a LAP member. Members can also join solidarity project working groups and contribute their skills to support access to information in and about Palestine.”

I just joined the network and so can you! Activist Archivists is looking forward to engaging directly with these ongoing efforts.

Direct Links:
Librarians and Archivists WITH Palestine:

Librarians and Archivists TO Palestine (the blog of the original delegation):




Home Movie Day 2013: Recap and Gallery

October 21, 2013 Blog No Comments

Yesterday, a few of us ActArcs volunteered at Home Movie Day – Brooklyn,  just one of the many events that happened all over the world this past weekend in celebration of obsolete film formats. The Center for Home Movies  has a loose set of guidelines for organizing a Home Movie Day in your hometown, but the general idea is to find a space, a screen, and projectors that work (not to mention a few people who know how to use them). Do a little local advertising, print out a bunch of waiver forms, and voilà, you have a screening event that raises archival awareness through the public sharing of personal histories.

Vivese Senso Duo
Hair loss - a female problem solved!

Some Home Movie Days I’ve attended  have been a bit on the dry side with more A/V nerds volunteering than audience members watching. And if the footage is silent – as it usually is – a stifling, dead air can hang over the audience. The organizers of this year’s HMD aimed to change all that and held the event at Bat Haus, a converted garage and co-working space in Bushwick, the artiest of Brooklyn neighborhoods. A refreshments table was set up in the back that served donated beer from Brooklyn Brewery and a cornucopia of homemade cupcakes and cookies. While the addition of sugar and alcohol to a public event might seem like a no-brainer, you’d be forgetting how persnickety archivists can be about handling food and drink too close to materials. But this is how home movies were watched back in their day, screened at private parties and family get-togethers, talking and laughter serving as soundtrack; we applaud the attempt this year to recreate that context as part of the event.

Starting at the ungodly hour of 11am on a Saturday, it took a couple of hours for the audience to trickle in, which is just as well for that was about how much time it took to get the four projectors – two 16mm and two 8mm – operating in a smooth tandem. ActArc Dan Erdman showed off his private-film-collector-handiness by leading mechanical team to greatness. Volunteers inspected each film on long tables illuminated by work lights, making for some interesting photo opportunities you can see in the gallery below. By about 1pm, we had a thick, lively audience milling about, folks toggling between watching the films and just hanging out in the back or around the inspection tables. Some even came to the Activist Archivist coloring booth to give some Crayola glory to the film storage tip sheets and Home Video Day postcard teasers. Our immersion-through-craftmaking idea was a bit difficult to maintain in the dark, although many of us did learn that day that using crayons after two beers allows for some interesting art.

If anyone came to this or any other Home Movie Day event, please share your experience in the comments below, we’d love to hear your feedback.


WITNESS Archivist Explains ‘Why Archiving Your Video Is More Important Than You Think’

August 8, 2013 Blog Comments Off

WITNESS archivist and Activist Archivists member Yvonne Ng introduces WITNESS’ Activists’ Guide to Archiving Video  on Huffingtonpost.com.


WITNESS has launched its epic Activists’ Guide to Archiving Video

July 31, 2013 Blog Comments Off

This month, the good folks at WITNESS have launched their much-anticipated Activists’ Guide to Archiving Video. ActArcs member and WITNESS archivist Yvonne Ng played a major role in creating content and bringing this project to fruition. We are very proud of her efforts, as well as all of the hard work put in by her fellow creators at WITNESS. This guide does much to demystify and simplify archiving. While it focuses on video and activists, we feel the principles illuminated can be applied to a wide range of individuals. We look forward to adapting it to our purposes, and encourage others to do so as well. WITNESS very much wants feedback on this guide, which will continue to evolve in the future.


ActArc interview with Start an Archives!

July 10, 2013 Blog Comments Off

Kelly answered a few questions posed by Scott Ziegler for the always-engaging Start an Archives! blog. Scott is an archivist from Philly and a key player in the Radical Archives of Philadelphia. We’re honored to be included in their new series of  interviews with community archivists. Enjoy, won’t you?




Review: Vine

July 8, 2013 Blog 2 Comments

Vine is a video app developed for Twitter that likes to tout itself as revolutionary, but apparently the revolution will not be archived – at least not with the correct date.  I got a chance to review the app after it was finally released on Android last month; my grievances are aired below. Bottom line? Vine will allow video activists to efficiently bear witness via  6-second, GIF-style videos, but saving them for the long term will not be as easy…or fun.

If you aren’t familiar with Vine, there’s a good primer by Chloe Albenesius at PC Mag, and I enjoyed John Muellerleile’s more intimate post on his personal experience with the app.  As an artistic tool that uses little storage space (think of it as the video version of Twitter’s 140 character limit), Vine has great potential for collectors and creators of activist content. My review focuses on the three areas to look for when identifying an archival-friendly digital tool: technical metadata, file accessibility, and usage rights.

Some things I noted after spending a few hours with the app:

The preparation for the muscle mass!

  • Buggy local storage capability.  Once you have created the video, you are asked if you want to turn on sharing to Vine, Twitter, or Facebook. You can turn off all sharing and, according to the Vine help pages, the video is only accessible through your phone’s photo and video library. I had intermittent success with locating a file I created. The app created a folder within my phone’s DCIM folder, but of the six or so videos I created, only one actually ended up in this folder and only after I mounted an SD card into my phone. I’m not sure if it’s related, though, because the folder was created on my phone’s local storage, not SD card storage.  A second video uploaded after mounting an SD card also did not land into the folder. The user has no control over manually saving the file anywhere else on their phone. So, you got me.  At one point, retrieving the stored file off my phone was so befuddling that I finally just shared the video to Twitter and then downloaded the MP4 video by right-clicking and saving the file off the web.
  • Technical metadata is sloppy. The most glaring development oversight is that the technical metadata, according to Exiftool, sets the create date of my dog video to February 6th, 2036. Many of us activists on-the-go rely on the technical metadata of our digital files to tell us what we might have failed to set right in the midst of action. I sent a tweet and a bug report to Vine, so we’ll see if there’s an update soon. You can view the technical metadata report of the video here.I should note that the date issue was the case in both the file downloaded off the internet, and the one file that ended up being  stored locally on my phone.
  • Rights are not as bad as they could be: The Terms of Service agreement that Vine users will sign, usually without reading, are icky, but not atypical.  Vine reserves the rights to disclose your personal information when it deems necessary and to alter and use your content as benefits their corporate adventures, all the while taking care to let you know it’s not responsible for anything that happens to your data. It does claim, interestingly, that it has the right “to preserve” your content. This definitely not a word used in the Youtube Terms of Service (which uses the word “retain” in a similar context). I may be reading into the usage too much…but by using that term, does Vine grant itself rights to submit data to, say the Library of Congress as its parent, Twitter, does each and every one of your tweets? All in all,  it is generally not recommended by ActArcs to rely on profit-driven services to hang on to your data for a long period of time; Vine’s terms of service offers no exception. If you are storing any valued content on Vine,  keep a copy locally.

I created a Vine video of my dog  languishing in the heat on a hot summer day; my observations are based on shooting this video with an Android Photon Motorola XT897. As usual with these things, if you aren’t a phone app developer – and I am not – it can be difficult to tell if the problem you are having is with your phone, with the app, or some combination of the two. Take it all with a grain of salt and do let us know in the comments section if you have had different or comparable experiences with Vine.

Update: After other ActArcs played around with Vine on their iPhones it seems that iOS users will not have the same issues with the app as I did on my Android.  Technical metadata is sound and the files they created went directly to their usual camera roll.


Cataloging Begins on Third World Newsreel’s ‘Storage Unit Archive’!

May 17, 2013 Blog Comments Off

Saturday, April 27 Activist Archivists members returned to Third World Newsreel’s Jersey City storage space with JT Takagi to continue the cataloging process begun by MIAP intern Dan Finn. Takagi and Finn had been able to identify about 51 boxes with priority items from the NEWSREEL collection, which made our task less daunting.

A single 6 hour work day was scheduled. A team of 3 (Team 1) worked from Noon – 4:00 pm. With Takagi being the only cataloger with institutional knowledge, we found it easier to work as one, which may have slowed down data entry, but avoided confusion in our opinion. One person entered data, one inspected and read information off of the can or case, the other handled items (removed from shelf, unpacked, handed off, re-shelved) and everyone contributed opinions where needed (i.e. hard to read handwriting transcriptions, should we keep the crumbling box, etc).

JT and Rufus entrenched in metadata

We learned that, full of adrenaline, very heavy boxes can be lifted to an unreasonable height. This is a safety hazard we overlooked in our excited state, but were able to swiftly remedy with no injuries. This scenario also demonstrated further how oversized and overstuffed many of the boxes were. It is a natural inclination to want to box items for storage, archive or no. In media archiving, it is not frowned upon to put audio and video elements in archival boxes, but when it comes to film already on cores and in archival cans, shelf stacking simply makes the most sense. Those of us in the group who have gone through archival schooling are trained to accept this, but our experience last weekend clearly illustrated the benefits of doing so.

TWN films on shelf!

Entire levels of shelf space were cleared up by removing two boxes worth of heavy film cans that no single soul should have to hoist at once. Ever. Even with all the cute “lift 40 lbs” requirements in ALL archiving jobs.

 We also witnessed examples of what excess weight can do to film while in storage:

Broken archival core, causing film to warp

The great microenvironment foe made an appearance as well: vinegar syndrome. This decay can be exacerbated by storage in enclosed spaces like cardboard boxes. The basic structure of film consists of a transparent plastic base and an emulsion layer that contains photosensitive image forming materials. Fluctuating temperatures, heat, high humidity and water have a tendency to destroy the base of acetate film. In the early stages of decay, the film base releases gaseous acetic acid, the chemical equivalent of vinegar.

The visual effects of 'vinegar syndrome'

Once the vinegar scent becomes apparent, the process of decay is underway and irreversible. Soon the base begins to shrink which causes the film to curl and warp and become stiff and brittle. The vapor released can infect other films nearby (and make you feel like you’re suffocating), especially in a poorly ventilated area. At best, the decay can be slowed with cold storage though not reversed or halted. Once these effects become evident it is advised that you seek options for digitization (and if you come into some really generous funding, look into striking a new print) as soon as possible. More on film preservation and vinegar syndrome can be found here.

The few vinegar items we identified were moved to the second storage unit which contains paper documents only.

Our second major foe encountered was accidental inconsistency. Consistency is a major key to successful cataloging, and it  is implemented through clear communication. Cataloging is key for good information management, but has the potential of being mismanaged mainly because it can be overwhelming and/or mind-numbingly tedious. Team 1 ended up cataloging in an old database spreadsheet, where as the new members which came in after 4pm (Team 2!) used the updated spreadsheet. It’s a minor misstep in this instance, but we will need to merge all of the data before embarking on the next catalog session. Team 2 ended up cataloging separately for an extra hour or two. During this time, it also became clear that additional fields were needed, such as those which indicated which items needed new cans, or which had vinegar syndrome. This level of specificity would help with generating statistics that aid in budgeting and grant writing.

Sometimes, it's just not that clear

Our hiccup can be attributed to not effectively communicating the importance of using a designated spreadsheet, as well as carefully designing the structure of the spreadsheet ahead of time and ensuring that everyone knew how to use it in the same way. Despite our flaws, we carry on confidently knowing this collection will continue to get the attention it deserves.

For a brief and helpful introduction to cataloging, I suggest you take in this: Tips for Catalogers.


The Storage Unit Archive: Organizing Third World Newsreel’s 40-year-old Collection

April 23, 2013 Blog, Projects Comments Off

Saturday, April 6, Activist Archivists members and friend (thanks Joe!) came together with Third World Newsreel’s J.T. Takagi, Herman Lew, and MIAP intern Dan Finn for the first phase of our assessment project: shelf building!

Our task was simple enough: remove all boxes from storage unit, build two shelves, put all boxes back in storage unit. We anticipated an all day event. With seven of us, we managed to knock it out in five hours with some afternoon to spare.

From Left to Right: Herman, Marie, Kelly, JT, Dan, Joe

From Left to Right: Lindy, Marie, Kelly, Dan, Joe

A majority of our pre-planning for this day’s work involved searching for shelves. When considering shelving for our purposes, we all had to let go of the notion of “archival shelving.” Here are examples of what generally qualifies. Ideal points to consider:

  • 16-gauge steel open shelving

  • 18” deep (standard archive boxes won’t hang over)

  • 36” wide

  • lowest shelf 6” off the ground

  • Wood (particle board, plywood), paint and shellacs give off acidic gases

  • Wood sealed with inert polymer finish can be passable with magnetic media

Aside from shelves made from a material that will not rapidly deteriorate and infect the items you are storing, you want to be able to fully maximize shelf space, meaning they should allow for a significant amount of weight. Be it books, manuscripts, film or video; in bulk you’re looking at hundreds of pounds.

Based on the measurements we took in the storage space, archival shelving would have cost nearly $1000. Considering that the shelves we need are for a temporary storage unit, it was easier to acquiesce the ideal. We chose Shelflinks Custom Storage System shelves. The price fell under $500, and included the shelving links, lumber and delivery. These shelves satisfied our most important need for sturdy storage of heavy boxes, and can be sealed in the near future. They would not and should not be implemented in an archive, but they are fantastic in allowing for easy size customization, simple transport, and assembly not requiring top notch carpentry skills.

Ideally, film would be stored in separate cans, and video in proper cases directly on to shelves:

Film in archival cans on archival shelves.

Video in cases on archival shelves

This allows for air circulation to keep microenvironments (i.e. mold!) from developing, and allows easy access to material. Ideals are pretty, but in the real world archiving situation we are dealing with, our main concern was the safety of people going in to the storage space (heavy boxes can fall) and the need to keep excessive weight off of material whenever possible (heavy boxes crush or warp fragile formats). Currently material is stored in medium to large cardboard moving boxes, also not ideal due to degradation issues, but not apocalyptic.

Other important work materials to consider: work gloves (for wood handling and dusty boxes), optional face masks (no one bothered), a broom, power drills, a table saw (used on the floor), flat bed carts (available at storage facility), a wet/dry vacuum, and doughnuts.

Herman and Joe take no prisoners

We managed to get the oldest, most fragile boxes onto the shelves, but were a little disappointed at how many boxes remained off of the shelves. This overestimation can be avoided if you know in advance the size of all of the boxes you are dealing with. Regardless, working in the unit is safer, and our next phase in which we will perform an inventory and replace worn out boxes will be easier. Just by moving boxes in and out of the space, we got a clearer sense of the type of content we are likely to be dealing with, and even how to group the content by subject, which makes grant writing easier.

Cue 80s montage

We also learned that it is best to check for outlets in the area, as well as if those outlets have power before assuming you will be able to use a table saw. Acrobatics and a long extension cord may remedy this, but also keep in mind that you may not be allowed to use said discovered outlets.

Totally legal and safe improvisation...

Though if you’re lucky, storage space employees won’t discover your activities until you are almost finished. Return their lack of hostility with a nice once over with a shop-vac in the space you used. And share the leftover doughnuts.


The Legacy of the ‘Freex

April 13, 2013 Blog

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting – Milan Kundera

New York, NY – Friday, April 5th, I was able to catch the last two seminars and the final screening at the “We’re All Videofreex!” symposium held at the SVA Theatre. If you aren’t familiar with Videofreex, there’s a handy webliography at the end of this post for your perusal. In brief, Videofreex was an activist video outfit that operated from the late 1960′s and throughout the 1970′s. After a failed flirtation with CBS executives who considered a Videofreex series on their network, the group pirated an airwave in the Catskills and for years produced raw, provocative material as an unlicensed TV station. Their legacy stands out from a scene that includes the Raindance Corporation and the People’s Video Theater thanks to the collective efforts of the members to preserve and archive the material they produced.

The panel discussions were engaging if predictable. The members reminded us of what a hassle video production was in the early days, how home video democratized journalism, and articulated insights on video activism then vs. video activism today. The final panel was comprised of several academics who had written about Videofreex, and introduced a term I hope to hear more as the history of media activism expands: radical remembering. The term was applied by documentarian Elizabeth Coffman to works of art that challenged our notion of memory in the digital age. But “radical remembering” is broad enough to describe any project that recontextualizes the past into a tool for advocacy. From the brilliant remix “Right Wing Radio Duck” to the very presence of Interference Archive, “radical remembering” has the potential to be not just a description, but a movement; nostalgia in action.

The highlight of the evening was a 60 minute “mash-up” of clips edited by Skip Blumberg. After spending several hours getting to know the members on stage, it was a delight to see them as their younger selves, stomping onto soundstages uninvited, goofing off in their Lanesville studio; long hair exploding in every direction. The “important” parts were all there: the interview with Abbie Hoffman, with Fred Hampton; demonstrations, police brutality, Woodstock; a rather surreal clip testing special effects on the bemused face of Arthur C. Clarke. Videofreex members refer to themselves as artists as much as activists, though their humorous experimentations with dissolves and quick-cuts lacked the pretensions that often characterizes media art.

But the most surprising clips turned out to be those taken in and around the rugged hamlet of Lanesville, NY. A program on local hero “Frankie the Fist Farkle” in a boxing match with a Lanesville fireman captures a winking machismo that could only exist in a community that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And Bart Friedman pushing his “newsbuggy” down a dirt road to their neighbor Helen’s house where she is pent up with a broken leg is firmly in the canon of my new favorite things. Videofreex members fell in love with the local characters, and by all appearances the feeling was mutual. Watching this conjunction of nationwide issues with community color, one can’t help but feel that the latter might be what is missing from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I was surprised to see the audience was mostly 60+ in age and white. I had expected a younger and more diverse crowd, knowing how linked the ‘freex are to the Black Panther narrative, and the recent renewed interest in their work as forefathers of Occupy-style media outlets. But from the shoutouts of the panelists to their friends in the audience, it was clear this was a family affair, an aging community evaluating its legacy in a public forum; we should all hope to be so lucky.

Videofreex Webliography:

Official Website

Tumblr Page

Youtube Channel

Video Data Bank: VDB took on the task of archiving and making accessible most Videofreex productions. This is still the best place to catch clips.

Mock UFO sighting news report a great example of how dedicated Videofreex were to the community in Lanesville.

Video Days: What We Saw Through the Viewfinder Videofreex member Nancy Cain’s memoir of her time with the group.

Videofreex: America’s First Pirate TV Station & the Catskills Collective That Turned It on
Videofreex member Parry Teasedale’s book on the history of the group.

Activist Television
Well-written article by Eric Freedman on the video activist scene that proliferated in New York after the Sony Portapak hit the market.


New hope for sustainable digital preservation efforts in Africa (and everywhere)

March 28, 2013 Blog

George and Kelly try to get online in ICAMD, the University of Ghana's music and dance archive.

What many archivists think of as “best practices” for digital preservation can be a liability in locations where there is no reliable infrastructure to support those practices. A new technology called “white space networks” may empower off-grid communities with the ability to safely develop digital archives.

Last year, I spent three months interning in a music and dance archive within the University of Ghana, assisting APEX (Audio-visual Preservation Exchange) in their efforts to create an electronic catalog of the collection. While Ghana is one of the most economically and politically stable countries in West Africa, it still suffers from an electrical grid that is difficult and expensive to stabilize. Wi-fi is available on campus but almost useless due to frequent power outages. Ethernet connections are rare (the archive staff had to walk to another building to use a wired connection), and prone to environmental damage. Those who can afford it purchase charge-by-the-minute thumb-drive modems that draw from the cell phone network. I spent around $20 a week eating cell phone minutes with my internet usage, not exactly chump change in a country where the minimum wage is $240/month.

Due to the unreliability of the infrastructure, archive staff were understandably reluctant to install their new database on the university server. In fact, mere weeks after my convincing them to do so for the benefits of security, campus-wide access, and off-site redundancy, the server was damaged during an outage. Three months of cataloging would have been lost if there was not a copy stored locally on a donated external hard drive.

So, it was with great cheer that I received the news from arstehnica that Microsoft is testing a technology that makes use of solar power and unused airwaves to bring the internet to remote areas of Kenya. “White space networks take advantage of spectrum in unused TV channels, typically in the 600MHz range. These lower-than-Wi-Fi frequencies allow signals to pass through walls and are ideal for long-range wireless networks.”


If this technology passes through all the expected hurdles in funding, government support, and implementation, it will go a long way to democratizing archival “best practices” for all communities.


Watching Syria’s War: Video

March 19, 2013 Blog Comments Off

Yesterday a new video piece was posted on The New York Times’ site, Watching Syria’s War,  highlighting the fact that amateur video has been central to our understanding of the ongoing Syria conflict. This week marks two years since the uprising began:

“Digital video uploaded by amateurs has never been so pivotal to the way a conflict is understood…”

Photo taken from http://arizonamun.org


Video Footage Acquits Occupy Protester

March 13, 2013 Blog

Jury Finds Occupy Wall Street Protester Innocent After Video Contradicts Police Testimony 

Video evidence presented during this trial, in which the defendant was accused of running toward police and violently resisting arrest, directly contradicted the version of events claimed by police and prosecutors alike, resulting in all charges against the defendant being dropped. This article also mentions a previous trial in May 2012 in which another Occupy protester was acquitted due to video evidence contradicting police testimony.

This is an excellent recent example of the invaluable tool that video can be in voicing truth, and clearly demonstrates the importance of saving video (both analog and born-digital) as it is not always immediately apparent what the long-term value may be. The methodology behind recording and storing material is essential in rendering the content discoverable, and not just for the creator. We don’t know who may someday benefit from the content.

In addition, we’d like to point you toward this WITNESS blog post by Yvonne Ng in which she details best practices in strengthening the trustworthiness of video documentation.


Timbuktu: “The manuscripts are safe.”

February 26, 2013 Blog

A major story last month, particularly in the realm of cultural heritage (which in my mind covers a large range of professions), has been the survival status of Timbuktu’s ancient scrolls. There have been several articles chronicling the plight of these artifacts , including a great piece on the WITNESS blog posted by our own Yvonne Ng. For another good overview, I recommend this globalpost article by Tristan McConnell.

The immediate significance of this situation is the initiative taken and the courage exhibited by these individuals to preserve their cultural heritage not only for themselves, but for their fellow citizens and the world. What has occurred in Mali isn’t the norm when one takes on the role of archivist or librarian, but it is a role many have valiantly faced, often without being assigned such a task. Beginning with the recent events affecting Timbuktu, we hope to continue highlighting such efforts by archivists, librarians, activists, historians, and citizens all around.


Response to The Signal article on Activist Archivists

October 7, 2012 Blog No Comments

Howard Besser was recently interviewed by Mike Ashenfelder, writer at “The Signal,” a blog on digital preservation hosted by the Library of Congress.  The article makes a good, broad summary of the work being done by the various groups involved in archiving Occupy Wall Street.


However, it is apparent from reading the article that there is some miscommunication about the work we have done. This has become common in our relations with the media, but understandable. Off the top of my head, I can think of eight organizations and four ad hoc committees dedicated in some form to the preservation of the digital content pouring out of OWS. Sorting between the various groups – many of them working together on joint projects – and applying credit where credit is due can be an exercise in advanced calculus.  Still, I’d like take a moment to right some of the discrepancies in the article where I can readily see them.

1. The statement that “eventually the movement did archive their digital content with NYU,” is an extreme generalization. To our knowledge, the only facet of Occupy Wall Street actively submitting material to NYU’s Tamiment Library is the New York-based Think Tank group. The library is engaged in discussion with other OWS groups, but by no means can it be truthfully stated that OWS as a whole embraces such a partnership with what they perceive as a for-profit institution (NYU)*.

2. While ActArcs members did attend meetings of the OWS Archiving Group, we did NOT attend OWS Media Group meetings. We are in contact with several different key members of Global Revolution and performed a collection assessment on their material. Global Revolution is a member of the OWS Media Group, but is not confined to only OWS-related activism.

3. OMEKA was not installed on an OWS server, nor was it an Activist Archivist project, but rather one implemented by the OWS Archives Working Group with ActArcs in an advisory role. The open source collection management system was considered the best of all possibilities, but it never made it past a testing phase. ActArcs did have an active role in creating a metadata standard for cataloging Global Revolution material, though data entry was performed into a shared spreadsheet.

4.  ActArcs do not have plans to develop a phone application at this time. We do recommend content creators make use of the application Informacam, currently being developed in part by one of our collaborating organizations, WITNESS. Informacam is not for archiving purposes, but identity purposes. The app makes it easy to incorporate important location information, but does not allow a user to declare that an archive has a right to copy and/or re-distribute a work.  Therefore, the archiving world would greatly benefit from an app that is oriented towards the need of archives (or perhaps an extension to this app).

In an effort to keep the lines of communication open, we’d like to encourage those who are involved in archiving OWS to chime in their thoughts about the article, my own corrections, and add others as they see fit in the comments section.

*Legally, NYU is a private, nonprofit institution.


Remembering Dr. Michael Nash

September 4, 2012 Blog No Comments

On July 24th, 2012, Dr. Micheal Nash, Director of the Tamiment Library and the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, passed away after a long illness. While members of Activist Archivists were aware of his condition, few of us expected the worst. Our conversations on moving forward often contained the phrase “When Michael gets out of the hospital.” The alternative just didn’t strike us; there was too much to do and Michael Nash was a man who got better.

Dr. Nash – whom everyone called “Michaelnash” as if it were a single word, or “Nash” as if he were a race car driver – was a giant teddy bear of a man with a furry cap of white hair and a boom to his voice. He was a regular presence at the OWS Archives Working Group meetings, fervently articulating the intentions of his archive as a home for OWS material into a sea of skeptical faces. His respectfulness of the working group members was duly noted and while the Tamiment’s connection to NYU was a knot in their relationship, most Occupiers who met him would agree to the quality of his character.

What impressed me about Dr. Nash is that the task of earning the trust of the Occupy Wall Street Archives Work Group was not a roadblock, but an expected, understood, and above all necessary part of a working relationship between archivists and a movement in action. Even during the fevered months in the Fall of 2011 when the working group began discussion on the fate and philosophy of the OWS archives, I never once saw the feelings of frustration reflected on Dr. Nash’s face. Meeting after meeting he sported the same enthusiasm, interest, and level of engagement. He answered questions and presented arguments every time he was asked to repeat them, each time as if it was the first time. His spirit of process left an indelible impression on me as a new archivist, and I think I can speak for all of Activists Archivists when I say that I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to witness his work in action.

From all of us in Activist Archivists, we’d like to offer his friends, family, and colleagues our condolences; the community of archiving and scholars of labor history have suffered a great loss in his passing. As archivists ourselves, striving to salvage the history of social progress, Activist Archivists will commemorate his life work by incorporating his patience, empathy, and sense of duty into our own.

Rest in Peace, “Michaelnash,” and thank you.

For more about his life and  work, please check out the following links:

Michael Nash on Wikipedia.

Announcement of his appointment as the Head of Tamiment.

New York Times article on the the Tamiment’s Time’s Up Archives.

NYT Article on the of Communist Party Archives.




Want people to see your OWS collection?

February 12, 2012 Blog Comments Off

This week, I was fortunate to interview Sheila Brennan, Co-Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media‘s Occupy Archive and Outreach Coordinator for Omeka. If you’re a group or individual with a collection of materials that you want to make accessible, read on to learn about a great new free tool!

What is Omeka?

Omeka is a free, open-source, web publishing platform for displaying cultural heritage collections, creating digital exhibitions, and collecting materials and responses from public web visitors.

How might Omeka be used by an activist group or individual that is collecting materials to document a movement?

Omeka has been used as the platform for collecting after and during significant events, such as Hurricane Katrina (Hurricane Digital Memory Bank) and the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 (April 16 Archive), and most recently the Occupy Wall Street movement, Occupy Archive.

Using the Contribution plugin with Omeka, a group can start collecting files and responses from individuals through a customizable web form within 30 minutes of installing the software or signing up for an Omeka.net account.

Is it easy to use? How can I learn how to use it?

Yes, Omeka is very easy to use. The administrative web interface is intuitive for most users. The extensive Documentation, or Codex, section provides step-by-step tutorials and screencasts for novices interested in learning how to use the admin side, how to install, and for more advanced users, guidance on how to customize the site.  For those choosing to use the Omeka.net service, we also offer screencasts and step-by-step tutorials in the Help section.

How can I get Omeka? What additional hardware or software is needed to run it?

Omeka may be downloaded at any time, and like most open-source software requires a Linux operating system, or a Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP (LAMP) configured server, plus the Image Magick program. There are full instructions to guide users through the process of installing the software, in the Preparing to Install and Installation section of the codex. We also offer suggestions for finding third-party hosting.

For those who do not wish to deal with setting up a Linux server or finding an outside host, the Omeka.net service might work best for them. Omeka.net is a little less flexible for overall web design and plugin availability, but is a nice alternative and lets you launch a new site within minutes. A full comparison between the two versions of Omeka is available here.

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s Occupy Archive is built on Omeka. Tell me about the project and the collection.

The Occupy Archive is documenting and saving the digital evidence and stories from the Occupy protests worldwide that began in September 2011 in Lower Manhattan. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) inspired groups to form in small towns and large cities around the world. #Occupy Archive seeks to represent each of those groups with individual collections.

In addition to saving materials currently available on the web related to #OWS, this project is also collecting stories, photos, video, and sounds from those participating in, organizing, or observing Occupy Movements. We want to hear from you. You will retain ownership of all that you share, and you will be contributing to the historical record.

We built the Archive using the Omeka platform and have extensively used Zotero to collect snapshots of organizational webpages, forums, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, fliers, and another digital imprints of the Occupy groups. You may notice that items identified as webpages contain a .zip file–this file is a copy of the web snapshot. We also have experimented with a feed importer that allows us to grab and link to Flickr images tagged with related keywords. We are not ingesting images with rights reserved and are relying heavily on Creative Commons licensed photos.

How can activists contribute to the Occupy Archive? What will happen with
the materials in the long-run?

We encourage activists and observers to contribute through the web form in the archive. If they have photographs to share, they can upload them to Flickr, tag them with OWS and give them a Creative Commons license, and we will automatically archive those photographs.

We will then be archiving this site with George Mason University’s MARS repository maintained by the library for long-term preservation.

~ With thanks to Howard Besser and Sharon Leon!


Creating a living archive using Internet Archive + Archive-It

February 5, 2012 Blog Comments Off

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Alexis Rossi from the Internet Archive about the work that they are doing to preserve the videos, still images, and minutes of the Occupy movement worldwide. The Internet Archive is a non-profit library that aims to provide permanent access to historical collections that exist in digital format for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public. Read on to find out how activists and media creators can use this excellent resource to save their digital materials!

What are you collecting in relation to Occupy, and why?

Internet Archive accepts any media that people choose to upload to archive.org. If uploaders put an Occupy-related keyword on their item (e.g. “OWS”), it will be automatically included in our Occupy collection. We are pulling Occupy-tagged items from YouTube and Flickr that have appropriate Creative Commons licenses attached, and working with the Occupy Wall Street Minutes Working Group to save audio files documenting assemblies and meetings. We are also saving websites and URLs that have been suggested by individuals and institutions through the web archiving service, Archive-It. Additionally we collect many television channels that carry coverage of the movement, although that content is not currently available to the public on archive.org. We created these collections because we believe it is important to record major events that occur in the world, whether they are political, cultural, or natural.

How do you collect these materials?

We chose to create a collection that anyone can contribute content to because we think the people involved in the Occupy movement are the ones best qualified to tell us what should be saved. People who wish to contribute audio, video, or text materials can use the upload button on archive.org to give us files (an alternate method may be needed for files over 2GB).

Also people can send websites or specific web URLs to crawl through Archive-It to graham@archive.org, and after the sites are captured they will be accessible from the Archive-It website and added to the archive.org access page. Submission of materials does not require Internet Archive’s approval, so content is available to anyone shortly after upload.

How will you catalog, archive, and preserve these materials?

Internet Archive does not provide any additional cataloging or curation for materials, so it is important that people include sufficient metadata with their uploaded files. All user uploaded media is stored redundantly in two separate data centers, and files are audited regularly to ensure we have not lost any bits.

How will people access this collection?

Most media (video, audio, texts, etc.) is available here.

Web pages collected via Archive-It are here and these will in time be included in the larger archive.org collection.

What advice would you give to media creators who want to ensure their content is usable in the future?

Internet Archive wants to save the best digital artifacts possible. For our purposes, that means people should upload the highest quality files they have and give us plentiful metadata about the files; title, description, keywords, date, time, location, creator, license information, etc. The more metadata we have, the easier these items are to find and use.