No New Backlogs

Workshop on Technology and Archival Processing
Dan Cohen of the Digital Library of America.Photo by Jon Chase, Harvard Staff PhotographerDan Cohen of the Digital Library of America.Photo by Jon Chase, Harvard Staff Photographer
By Marilyn Dunn, Executive Director and Radcliffe Institute Librarian

Having largely completed the effort to eliminate unprocessed collections, the library remains determined to create no additional backlogs. With the hope of finding new methods to expedite processing, the Schlesinger Library, supported by Academic Ventures and Events Management teams, has assembled a wide range of scholars—from software engineers and computer scientists to art historians, archivists, and technologists, including representatives from Microsoft and Google—for interdisciplinary collaboration on how to deploy technology to streamline archival processing. In April the third workshop on technology and archival processing convened in the Knafel Center, with participants drawn from across the country and Europe for a two-day workshop dedicated to recognition software.

That workshop built on the discussions at the previous two, which included a strong concern about the vulnerability of audio, audiovisual, and digital files. Among the highlights were a panel of scholars and digital archivists discussing the future of the finding aid in a digital environment and sessions exploring the application of facial-, voice-, and handwriting-recognition software for full-content searching. Two plenary speakers set the tone for the day: Dan Cohen, of the Digital Library of America, opened the conversation about the role of the finding aid, and Lambert Schomaker, of the University of Groningen (Netherlands), presented on the MONK project, a digital environment to help humanities scholars discover and analyze patterns in texts. He also set the scene for a discussion of the application of automated-recognition technologies that could fundamentally transform access and the practice of archival processing and description.

These workshops have consistently appealed for innovation and experimentation, and the Schlesinger Library has heeded this call by establishing an experimental processing space, a laboratory where archivists can freely think about ways to scale up the use of technology for innovative archival processing and apply it onsite. But the culture of innovation is not limited to this team, and experimentation is alive in all other areas of the library, with projects going forward in research services and published-materials processing. This is our new and expanded focus, and we will deploy it in the service of preventing new backlogs.

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