Choose Privacy Week: The Archivist’s Perspective

Often in this day and age the public feels, sometimes rightly so, that their information is too readily available online. To help combat that fear, the American Library Association has created Choose Privacy Week, an “annual, week-long event that promotes the importance of individual privacy rights and celebrates libraries and librarians’’ unique role in protecting privacy in the library and in society as a whole.” [1] While archivists are not often working directly in the libraries, nor are we librarians, we do understand the similar role we play in preserving archival information and providing access to that  information to the public. We understand the importance of a user’s privacy. Our need to honor privacy while remaining transparent as we preserve governmental records can be a tricky balancing act.
We have invited two member of our Transparency Team (Nova Dubovik, the State Records Committee Executive Secretary, and Rosemary Cundiff, the GRAMA Ombudsman, to help explain the laws that we follow when providing access to information here in our Research Center.

 

The Archivist’s Perspective

By Nova Dubovik and Rosemary Cundiff

The Utah State Division of Archives and Records Service (“Archives”) staff members go to great lengths to protect the privacy rights of citizens by preventing unauthorized access and balancing that with government transparency.   

Alan Barnett, reference Archivist at Utah State Archives, expressed that “[m]aintaining both governmental transparency and individual privacy is key to preserving our democratic system.”  He references the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), which is Utah’s records access law, and remarked on “the need for a balance between these two demands.”  Alan pointed out that, “the State Archives works to keep that balance between making government transparent to citizens, while protecting private information about individuals.”  

GRAMA provides the guidelines to determine the proper classification of records.  It is the basis for determining whether to restrict or not restrict access to a record based on the content of the information, and the context of the request. At the Archives, when a researcher requests material, to prevent the unintentional release of sensitive information, the staff reviews the holding classification and content.  If necessary, the information is segregated and redacted before granting access.  For the Archives a particularly relevant section of GRAMA is the section which states that restricted classification is not permanent, and that after 75 years a “records shall be presumed to be public.” (Utah Code Section 62G-2-310). This section of the GRAMA defines how privacy interests diminish over time. For example, a telephone number from a 50-year-old phone book would not have the same privacy concern as a current personal phone number.

Another interesting example of diminishing privacy over time is an Archives collection about the Castle Gate Relief Fund Committee. These records document the needs of families in the aftermath of the Castle Gate mining disaster, as well as amounts of relief funds provided to each family. When records relating to adults in this collection were requested in the past, they were restricted as private records, however, today they have become public records documenting Utah’s rich history. It is of note, that the records in this collection related to children will continue to remain private until the records are 100 years old to protect the children’s privacy. 

As indicated by Alan, there is a balance between preserving individual privacy and government transparency and documenting our history. The Archives is quintessential in balancing all to promote a democratic system for future citizens.  

 

Endnotes

[1] “Why Privacy?”,   American Library Association, accessed May 1, 2017, https://chooseprivacyweek.org/why-privacy/.

 

 

 

MayDay, MayDay!

Every year on May 1st, the Society of American Archivists focuses on how institutions can plan to preserve their collections in the event of an emergency. This year, the Utah State Archives and Records Service was able to participate in this nationwide campaign in a variety of ways.

On April 20, 2017, Archives Staff participated in Utah’s annual earthquake drill (Great Utah ShakeOut) and reevaluated our red “go bags.” During the drill, staff huddled under desks and tables until the “shaking” stopped. We then quickly and efficiently moved to our designated safe location until it was deemed safe to return to work. Staff were asked to determine the successes and failures of the drill to be discussed at a later time.

For our actual MayDay events this morning, staff gathered for a large re-appraisal project.

One of the core concepts of collection survival is to ensure that records are identified and maintained according to their appraised value. This allows for records to be destroyed or preserved in accordance with their approved retention schedules. As part of a larger cleanup and inventory project, a number of boxes were identified in our permanent repository that had been marked for destruction. Yet, some of the boxes appeared to have intrinsic historic value. These boxes needed to be reviewed and reappraised to determine if the records should be destroyed according to their retention schedules, or if the retention schedule should updated to allow the records to be incorporated into the permanent repository collection and maintained. As the old adage states, many hands make light work. In a few short hours we were able to correctly appraise all of the record series, many of which were slated for permanent preservation.

With the re-appraisal project finished, the staff gathered in the afternoon to discuss disaster preparedness and recovery. A video discussing the 2011 and 2016 earthquakes in New Zealand was introduced to open a discussion about planning for our response to such an event here in Utah. (The Wasatch Fault here in the state is an active fault that could cause serious damage).

The discussion also included a followup to our Great Utah ShakeOut drills and how we can improve our policies to better protect our staff and the records in our care.

As our preservationist, Alan Barnett, mentioned last week, preserving the records of Utah’s government for future generations is a core part of our job. A key component of that preservation is to ensure that the records will survive in the event of a disaster. Each year MayDay allows us to set aside some time to plan and prepare for the worst case scenario. This ensures that those future generations will have the records they need to understand our present and past.

Personal Digital Archiving

Photo by Open Minder / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / https://flic.kr/p/cB6m9J

As part of Preservation Week, we wanted to share information on how you can preserve one of the more difficult forms of records both for institutions like the Utah State Archives and in our personal lives: digital and electronic.

Why Digital is Special

Paper is one of the more stable forms on which people have recorded information throughout history, using it to “…make our laws, conduct our business, correspond with our loved ones, decorate our walls, and establish our identities.” 1 And then came the Digital Revolution. Advances in electronics, devices, and communication have radically changed how we save and record information. While the new abilities are amazing and useful, they also introduce new problems for the long-term.

Digital formats (word processing documents, spreadsheets, web pages, texts) and media (hard drives, thumb drives, CDs, the “cloud”) are surprisingly fragile in their own ways. Documents become corrupt or get left behind in software upgrades, hard drives have a terrible habit of failing without warning, and anything portable can be easily lost. Also, with the extension in capacity comes that many more items to manage and preserve.

Selection and Organization

Do we just save everything just in case? Unfortunately this is a poor method of having anything valuable survive into the future. There are costs associated with storing more than you need, from the payment to a cloud service based on size to the increased failure of some of the largest hard drives. 2 These costs may drive short-term decisions in the wrong direction with terrible results. It will take time, but out of the many files created in a digital life, only some should be selected for caretaking. These might include:

  • family photographs
  • email
  • important documents and vital records
  • financial information
  • genealogy
  • audio and video recordings

Any organization system will work as long as you use it. Key points include using enough details for someone else to understand (who is “Aunt May”?) and using filenames to sort for you. For example, use the most important detail at the beginning, if it’s the date lead a filename with YYYYMMDD to stay in chronological order.

Clutter can thrive just as well on your computer as in the hall closet. Schedule a regular time to go through files, whether when you add them–as in downloading photographs from your phone, or a time of year like tax season. 3 Even if your “backlog” is large, you can start good habits now to keep it from growing in the meantime. Unlike that back of the closet, forgetting about digital files means they may disappear long before you get around to it again, so aim for yearly check-ups at the very least.

Preservation

Learn more about Preservation Week April 23-29, 2017

There is no single method for digital preservation, it’s a complex issue that is being tackled by archives and library professionals around the world. A few things to get you started:

  1. Diversity your storage – much like your investment portfolio it’s a good idea to use different media and locations for storage. Spread your files around by function, form, or what works best for you. 4
  2. Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS) – used by libraries to plan multiple copies in multiple locations to guard against media failure and even natural disasters. 5 Depending on how you set it up, a computer backup may be a good duplicate copy, but don’t rely on automation you don’t fully understand.
  3. The “3-2-1” rule – an easy to remember way to figure out your copies and storage solutions. 6
    • Make 3 copies
    • Save at least 2 copies on different types of media
    • Save 1 in a location different from where you live or work

Preserving your digital life may be hard, but it’s not impossible. Understanding the risks and taking a few starting steps will go a long way toward being able to have photographs, letters (email), video, and more for the next generation.

Additional Resources

[1] Nicholas Basbanes, On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History (New York: Vintage Books, 2013), xii.
[2] Backblaze, “Annualized Hard Drive Failure Rates,” https://www.backblaze.com/blog/hard-drive-failure-rates-q2-2016/ (accessed April 27, 2017).
[3] Smithsonian Institute Archives, “Clean Sweep in the New Year: Organizing Digital Photos,” https://siarchives.si.edu/blog/clean-sweep-new-year-organizing-digital-photos (accessed April 27, 2017).
[4] Library of Congress, “Why Digital Preservation is Important for You,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWkPufGDA6o (accessed April 27, 2017).
[5] LOCKSS, “Preservation Principles,” https://www.lockss.org/about/principles/ (accessed April 27, 2017).
[6] Digital Photography Best Practices and Workflows, “Backup Overview,” American Society of Media Photographers, http://www.dpbestflow.org/backup/backup-overview (accessed April 27, 2017).

Preserving Your Historical Family Records

S23526FireDeptPhotos
SLC Fire Department photos, Series 23526

 

This week has been designated as Preservation Week by the American Library Association. This designation is a chance to highlight the importance of preserving items worthy of passing on to future generations. These items are held in thousands of museums, libraries and archival institutions, as well as in many family collections.

Here at the State Archives it is a core part of our job to preserve the records of government in Utah for the future. While we work with a large and diverse collection of government records, the basic principles of preserving these historical records are the same as those for preserving the historic family records you may have. The key to preserving any historic records is recognizing the threats that may damage or destroy them, and taking steps to reduce the risk from those threats. The major threats to our historical records include water, heat, light, dirt, pests, and handling. Here are a few tips to help preserve your priceless family documents:

  1. Gather all your historic family photos and documents together, organize them, and make an inventory. Many family records are lost simply because we don’t keep track of what we have.
  2. Put your family records in protective enclosures. Acid free archival boxes and folders are ideal for this. These enclosures can provide protection from water, dirt, and light and keep things from getting scattered.
  3. Store your records in a climate controlled space. Wide swings in temperature and humidity will damage materials over time. Don’t store records in a shed or in the attic where temperatures can reach extremes. Avoid storing items under water pipes and if you store them in the basement, keep them at least six inches off the floor, in case of flooding.
  4. Don’t wear out your priceless family heirlooms with use. Make sure your hands are clean when you handle them. Wear cotton or nitrile gloves to handle photographs. Make copies of things for hanging on the wall or for regular use. Don’t paste originals in scrapbooks or albums. Keep the original pristine for future generations. If you want to save your grandmother’s cookbook, copy the information and quit using the original. Digitize items to distribute copies among the family. Put the original away where it won’t get handled to death.
  5. If you are worried about your ability to properly care for your family records or don’t have someone to pass them on to who will care for them, consider donating them to a professional institution where they can be preserved and available for the entire extended family for years to come. There are a variety of institutions throughout Utah that can be repositories to preserve your historic records. The  Utah Manuscripts Association provides a list of most of the major archives in Utah.

By taking steps to protect the records that tell the story of our families, we can insure that the family legacy we have collected will live on to tell that story to future generations.

For more information on Preservation Week and additional information on preserving your family heirlooms go to http://www.ala.org/alcts/preservationweek/resources .

Endangered Data Week

Endangered Data

A healthy democracy relies on an active and informed citizenry, which in turn depends on transparent government and open access to information. Today, this reality is under constant threat, whether from the fragile nature of digital data or the ongoing risk that information can be easily removed from the public domain. Threats like these demand a greater awareness and accountability from both engaged citizens and the institutions that exist to serve the public good.

edw-logo

Endangered Data Week is an effort to bring the concerns inherent to preserving and providing ongoing access to digital information to the forefront of the public consciousness. The Utah Division of Archives and Records Service (State Archives) is mandated to preserve and provide access to the permanent records of Utah government. Endangered Data Week provides us with a unique opportunity to explore how we currently work towards these goals, as well as provide an update on where this work will take this institution in the future.

Current Efforts

The State Archives provides records management services to state and local governmental entities across Utah. This work helps insure that records are properly scheduled, and that data is either destroyed according to its retention schedule, or preserved as a permanent record of enduring value.

A primary function of the State Archives is to preserve and provide access to permanent government records through the Research Center. The State Archives has made an institutional commitment to developing systems and programming that allow us to preserve and provide access to digitally-born government data with the same confidence and surety that we have for paper records. The State Archives Digital Preservation Framework documents the high level goals and principles that the institutional Electronic Archives Program is founded on.

Currently, the State Archives is in a unique position to not only help manage, preserve, and provide access to government information, but to also help educate citizens on their rights to access that information and help guarantee government accountability. Utah’s Government Records Management and Access Act (GRAMA) provides the statutory authority that governs the preservation and access of government information, and several members of the State Archives staff are engaged in this important work of helping promote and guarantee ongoing government transparency and accountability.

ORP
Open Records Portal Home Page

This work of preserving and promoting open government is supported by the State Archives administration of both the Open Records Portal and the Utah Public Notice Website. The Open Records Portal offers a dynamic web space that allows Utah citizens to make GRAMA requests and access government records online, while the Public Notice Website informs members of the general public of government activities by posting agendas and minutes from open public meetings online.

The Future

Helping secure open government and transparency through the preservation and access of government records is a central mission of the State Archives. Multiple institutional efforts are underway to build on the programs that help us support this important mission.

Currently, State Archives staff are engaged in building the Electronic Archives Program based on the fundamental principles outlined in the institution’s Digital Preservation Framework. This includes establishing the policies, procedures, and guidelines that govern the entirety of the program: from the moment digital government records are born to their eventual preservation in the State Archives. Another major piece of this effort is securing a digital preservation system that will allow for the ongoing preservation of electronic records, while protecting their authenticity and access. In this effort to help ensure the long-term viability of endangered data, the Electronic Archives Program is founded on a variety of international standards, including the Open Archival Information Systems (OAIS) reference model, the Trusted Digital Repositories standard, and the DCC Curation Lifecycle Model.

lifecycle_web
DCC Curation Lifecycle Model

The continued growth and development of the Open Records Portal provides another opportunity for the State Archives to promote open government and insure that data, that might otherwise become endangered, is made open and accessible to citizens. Future development of the Open Records Portal will focus on enhancing the experience and capabilities of both portal users, as well as the assigned records officers for each governmental entity tasked with responding to GRAMA requests and making the public information from their institution openly available for online public inspection and use.

These are some of the major institutional efforts currently being undertaken at the State Archives to promote open government. By providing the tools and information for citizens to interact with their government, the State Archives is helping build a more active and engaged citizenry who will actively partner with us to achieve the goals of open government, transparency, and a prevention of the loss of endangered data.

America Comes to the War, 1917

As many probably already know, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the United States entering the Great War, later known as World War I. Our country was forever changed by the events of the Great War. Today’s social, cultural, economic, and political landscapes can be attributed in part to those events.  Over the next year and a half, the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service will be highlighting record series related to the war to help us understand this period of time  and the role local communities played in the larger conflict.

Today, April 6th,  is the official anniversary of Congress’ announcement to enter the war.

This was a drastic change from the President’s plea for neutrality, made less than three years earlier. At the beginning of the war, Wilson urged Americans to remain neutral “during these days that are to try men’s souls,”1  and, while war raged in Europe, public opinion in our country was fractured. There were groups that sympathized with our European Allies and supported our entrance into the war. Other groups had family or friends still living in the countries under the rule of the Central Powers and wanted the United States to remain neutral. The isolationists, a third group, also felt that this conflict was not our business or our problem and that our country should not be involved at all.

WilsonAddressesCongres04.02.1917 (1)
145th Field Artillery scrapbook, Series 10339

Over the next three years, a number of factors contributed to Wilson’s change of mind. But America’s road to war is a topic so broad that historians have been writing books about it for decades. A select set of titles are offered below. All of these factors culminated in Wilson’s address to a Joint Session of Congress on April 2, 1917.
Wilson’s forceful words were a ringing endorsement of protecting not only our country, but others who had suffered for trying to remain neutral as well; he asserted that Germany’s current tactics were “a warfare against all mankind… a war against all nations.”2  

[America’s previous stance of neutrality was] no longer reasonable or desirable where the peace of the world [was] involved and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to that peace and freedom [lay] in the existence of autocratic governments backed by organized force…controlled wholly by their will, not by the will of their people.3

Yet Wilson’s call to action was also a call for caution and moderation. America’s “motive [would] not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, or human right, of which we are only a single champion.”4

CongressResolution04.06.1917
145th Field Artillery scrapbook, Series 10339

Wilson’s words led to days of discussion throughout our country. From conversations around home fires to conversations in Congress, Americans were deeply invested in the outcome. Newspapers ran story after story about the ongoing war, U.S. responsibilities, and the danger of Germany and her allies.
On April 6th, America officially entered the war as a result of votes in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Their resolution committed “all of the resources of of the country” to bringing “the conflict to a successful termination.”5

PresidentProclamation04.06.1917
145th Field Artillery scrapbook, Series 10339

Wilson immediately signed the resolution and issued a War Proclamation later that same afternoon, which also identified “alien enemies” living within the United States, and outlined how they could expect to be treated.6

The events of April 6, 1917, still have an impact today. As we commemorate the various anniversaries, we hope to document and help facilitate better understanding of  the role that Utahans played in the conflict and how the larger conflict affected Utah.

Upcoming posts will continue to highlight the images found in the 145th Field Artillery scrapbook, found in the State Archives’ permanent collection as we prepare it for online access through our Digital Archives.

You can learn more about World War I and the Centennial Commemoration events around the our country at the following links:

As noted above, here are a few books about the U.S.’s decision to enter the Great War:

  • America 1914 – 1917 by Walter Millis (1935)
  • America’s Entry Into World War I: Submarines, Sentiment, Or Security? by Herbert J. Bass (1964)
  • Over Here: The First World War and American Society by David M. Kennedy (1980)
  • Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I (Studies In Conflict Diplomacy Peace) by Justus D. Doenecke (2011)
  • The Zimmermann Telegram: Intelligence, Diplomacy, and America’s Entry into World War I  by Thomas Boghardt (2012)
  • America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One by Burton Yale Pines (2013)
  • The United States in World War I: America’s Entry Ensures Victory by Jane H. Gould (2014)

Notes

  1. Woodrow Wilson: “Message on Neutrality,” August 19, 1914. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=65382.
  2. Utah National Guard, 145th Field Artillery scrapbook, 1917-1918, President Wilson’s Message Asking Congress to Declare that a State of War Exists with Germany, Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 10339.
  3. Ibis.
  4. Ibis.
  5. Utah National Guard, 145th Field Artillery scrapbook, 1917-1918,Text or Resolution passed by Congress, Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 10339.
  6. Utah National Guard, 145th Field Artillery scrapbook, 1917-1918, President Wilson Issues Proclamation that a State of War Exists, Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 10339.

Sources

The American Presidency Project. “Woodrow Wilson: “Message on Neutrality,” August 19, 1914. Accessed March 31, 2017, at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=65382.

National World War I Museum and Memorial. U.S. Enters the War. Accessed March 31, 2017, at https://www.theworldwar.org/us-enters-war.

Utah National Guard. 145th Field Artillery scrapbook, 1917-1918. Utah State Archives and Records Service. Series 10339.

Transparency in the Archives

Here at the Archives, we have a number of people that are focused on facilitating transparency in government. We took the time to speak with a few of them to see what they do.

Rosemary CundiffRosemary Cundiff is our Government Records Ombudsman. Her days consist of helping the public understand how they can access current government records, helping government employees respond to Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) requests, and mediating between the two groups.

Since she began this new role about five years ago, Rosemary has consulted with
thousands of individuals.  Regular questions include how to request records, how to appeal a denial, how to respond to GRAMA requests, how to classify records, and how to interpret the GRAMA law (see her Sunshine Week post on GRAMA’s legislative updates).

Another aspect of her position is to assist the State Records Committee by mediating between the public and the governmental entities during the appeals process. Rosemary contacts every group that brings an appeal before the State Records Committee to see if they would like to meet and explore possible compromises. Of those contacts, 123 have accepted and tried to work through the mediation process; 81 have reached a successful resolution.

When asked how she supports transparency in her work, Rosemary stated that “we provide forms, the Open Records Portal, and information for people,both government employees and the public, to use” to help them access public records.

Archives Training TeamNova Dubovik is the Executive Secretary for the State Records Committee and works with our Open Records Portal (see her Sunshine Week post on our Portal to Sunshine). She works to train government employees on the GRAMA law and the process for responding to record requests.

She helps government employees understand their requirements as records officers, shares information about the Open Records Portal and how it can be used by both government employees and the general public, and helps the State Records Committee in their work to balance between an individual’s privacy and government transparency.

When asked about transparency, Nova stated that the public has the right to access government records and she works to make that process easier. “Transparency is important, it’s not just a pain…It is the history of our agencies, and how we handle the issues of government.”

Glen Fairclough, a former newspaperman,Glen Fairclough.jpg is the administrator for our Public Notice Website. He works with government agencies to help them provide access to public meeting information on the Public Notice
Website.

As part of his work, he monitors the law regarding who and what needs to be on the website. There are 3 subsections in the law identifying the different requirements for the different types of agencies. Glen helps all of these agencies to know what needs to be made available and how they can use the Public Notice Website.

When asked about how he supports transparency, Glen noted that the public has the right to access the government information provided at public meetings. The website provides information about upcoming and past meetings. It includes meeting agendas, topics for discussion, meeting locations and maps for directions. Government agencies can also post their meeting minutes or recordings. It is just one more way for our residents to access their government.

The Archives understands the importance of transparency and government accountability, and actively works to promote transparency and trust between government and its citizens. This week we have tried to highlight just a few ways in which we are working to create a relationship built on trust and transparency.swlogo2

Telling the Government’s Story

Defining aswlogo-vc-nr.jpg fact-based, historical government narrative can only be done though existing historical records. As stated previously, government records are the business of the governed and, here at the Utah State Archives, our purpose is “to provide quality access to public information” (Utah Code 63A-12-101 (2)(i)(2010)).

With millions of records in the Archives’ custody, this task can seem overwhelming at times. Our records processing staff, in concert with our wonderful volunteers, diligently work to describe records in
our custody and create research guides, indexes, inventories, finding aids, and other tools for accessing historical records.  Beginning in June of 2006, the Archives also began providing access to records online. Today, there are over one million items available on the Utah State Digital Archives. Each record series that the team is able to process is another set of records easily accessible by the public.

As we process our collections and work to make the records readily available to our residents, the story of our government emerges. Our own Jim Kichas has written about our collection from Utah’s Department of Health regarding the 1950s sheep radiation study (Series 11571). These investigations into sheep deaths in Cedar City, Utah during the 50s were linked by the government to fallout from the Nevada Testing Site, and provide an in-depth look at problems suffered by and the government response to those that were “Downwind in Utah.”

The government record collections here at the Archives can also be used to help everyone understand their personal family history. Gina Strack works tirelessly to provide access to vital records which link us from generation to generation. Birth and death records that have become public records are made available online. Marriage records and Court records (such as divorce and adoption) that have been transferred to the Archives’ custody can be accessed through our Research Center. Using these government records we can understand just how we are connected to our ancestors who created our communities.

These are just two types of records that are preserved by the Archives to provide the foundation for Utah’s fact-based, historical government narrative. There are many more within the collection, and we work to ensure the public can access them. For, as Mizell Stewart III  has written, “Access to meetings, minutes and records of our elected and appointed representatives is a key element of the constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It is not strictly for the benefit of the news media.” (Sunshine Week celebrates the public’s right to know, by Mizell Stewart III VP of New Operations, USA Today Network)