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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.