In creating user story maps for DocNow, I wanted to highlight the ethical issues we are considering, including not just our potential users, but the potentially “used” present in social media data. Read the article I wrote about the process on Medium.
In 2013, the Metropolitan Library Council of NYC (METRO)graciously awarded me Innovative Internship funding to expand the Archiving Occupy Project at Queens College. The funding allowed me to gather various archival evidences (both print and digital) and present them in a digital repository modeled on the ways that the Occupy movement was presenting itself online.
The award period culminated in a presentation at METRO’s annual conference in 2014.
I want to start with an excerpt from our mission statement: “The Occupy Wall Street narrative has many authors, stances, and perspectives, and so the Queens College Archiving Occupy Project was established as an experiment to explore the question: how do we archivally approach such a multifaceted movement? No one person owns the movement, and no single archive can hope to hold the definitive history. We set out to provide one of many spaces for preserving the traces of the movement”
The Queens College Archiving Occupy Project was student-led, with 4-6 students working each semester from Fall 2011 to Fall 2013. I started out as the web developer and then became project manager with Metro’s support. Our goal was to explore different forms of collection development to match the democratic, fluid nature of Occupy.
The five forms of collection development we tried here: traditional donations, user contribution, data mining, institutional collaboration, and activist archivists. Briefly, for traditional donations: students worked with Occupy members, trying to secure a donation of posters from N17 and D17 — 2 and 3 month anniversaries with large demonstrations. For user contribution: the website is open for anyone to add to without registering, and has a mobile app. Contributors can retain copyright when they submit items, we just request the right to publish online and make preservation copies. Data Mining was done on Flickr, looking only for images with rich metadata and share-alike licenses. We first looked to collaborate with UCLA mapping to their Occupy web-archiving effort, but their project became inactive in 2012. We have now mapped our records to NYU’s Tamiment Library “Occupy Web Archives”.
The most successful of our collection development endeavors was activist archivists participating in events. The goal here was to respect Occupy’s reticence to donate to an institution and to give people an active voice in shaping the archive. Student archivists were able to see and hear first-hand the issues of archiving the movement. They went into the field to talk to participants, often with the goal of obtaining an oral history. Considering the many archiving efforts of other institutions, we just wanted to get a representative “feel on the ground”. We did not seek out organized members, but talked mostly to casual participants. We explained the purpose of the archiving project, got input, and offered tips on personal archiving. This person-to-person interaction led to more than oral histories. Student archivists gathered materials like signs, flyers, publications, and photos. Oral history participants also donated items. As of today, we have 16 oral histories and 70 reports, consisting of hundreds of items, from this form of collection development.
The Queens College Archiving Occupy Project is primarily a digital archive, though there are physical holdings not yet digitized. Our process was partially guided by the format of the website, which is geo-temporally based. The website was built on the Ushahidi platform. We chose Ushahidi, originally built to track violence in Kenya after the 2008 elections, because it is open source and was used by the Occupy movement itself on Occupymap.net. In Ushahidi, every report must have a location and time associated with it. Therefore events and records of such events were what we looked to capture. All traces of an event are visualized together on one page with a map, timestamp, photos, sound recording, related links, web archive links, twitter hashtags, whatever is applicable.
Here is an example of a typical record.
lightbox view of item.
Oral history record – talk about Dana Torres, the transcript, the people’s library web-archived blog.
Data Mined Record – list the license, creator is listed in citation, link to original location added. Web Archive Link for further research.
The varied nature of work on the Queens College Archiving Occupy Project resulted in many learning outcomes. The project had some obvious limitations. While a lack of institutional support was freeing in some ways (such as allowing user contribution) it meant that there was no funding to expand the project. Donor relations and securing a donation proved difficult, as we didn’t have any dedicated staff to work with donors to ensure their needs were met. Since students were involved, some approaches got dropped as the students moved on. A lack of manpower necessitated a small collecting scope. It took hours of scouring Flickr to find just a few appropriate records with open licenses that had both date and location. It was similarly a daunting task to dig through web archives to find relevant posts to the reports we already had.
Through my internship I learned how to conduct and transcribe oral histories, conduct an on-site preservation assessment, assess copyright on digital objects, and crosswalk metadata. I also learned the complexities of coordinating volunteers. The METRO internship provided me with a product I was able to present at the Society of American Archivists 2013 Annual Conference. Overall, the project was not designed to be an authoritative archive, but to explore how one could archive Occupy and create a possible blueprint for archiving future social movements. I now feel more prepared to face such challenges in the future.