2011 - Panel 9 - Constructing the Digital Memory: Emerging Practices in the Creation and Preservation of Born Digital Human Rights

Panel 9, May 31, 2011, 11:00 am-12:30 pm

Moderator: Pamela Graham, Columbia University
Presenters: Sarah B. Van Deusen Phillips, Center for Research Libraries; James Simon, Center for Research Libraries; Pamela Graham, Columbia University; Alex Thurman, Columbia University; Tessa Fallon, Columbia University; Christian Kelleher, University of Texas at Austin
Rapporteur: Bridget Gazzo, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library

The first presentation was "The Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study" by Sarah B. Van Deusen Phillips and James Simon.

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) Global Resources Network is currently engaged in a two-year project supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to examine how human rights organizations use digital technology to document human rights abuses. Simon opened this presentation by explaining that the project grew out of an interest in determining what happens to human rights documentation when the paper trail becomes digital, including management of materials that are born digital and the use of the new media. CRL is engaged in the project to study and assess current practices of human rights organizations, to ascertain how adequate these practices are for advocacy, and to track the chain of evidence.

Van Deusen Phillips provided details, explaining that they assessed documentation practices and technologies in Mexico, Rwanda, Russia, and the United States. The study is designed to assess the state of current available technology; to identify challenges in the collection and preservation of documentation; to identify best practices for metadata acquisition and preservation; and to encourage and support collaboration between human rights organizations and libraries and archives. She presented findings on Chiapas, Mexico and Kigali, Rwanda, noting that a pattern of documentation and collection emerged. In Chiapas, the documentation is created within small grassroots groups, on paper or orally; these small organizations share information among themselves and pass it on to mid-size professional organizations that consolidate and digitize the information; and the mid-sized organizations forward it to large national and international institutions, such as governments, courts, universities, libraries and the media. Van Deusen Phillips noted problems in Chiapas with the preservation of paper and VHS tapes, problems stemming from moisture and mold. Although she was granted access to the offices, archives, and staff of the small human rights organizations, across the board in Chiapas the staff was unwilling to let her take photos. Van Deusen Phillips documented what she saw by sketching each evening while the images of the kinds of documents and how they were organized were still fresh in her mind. She described canalseisdejulio, the mid-size professional organization in the Chiapas case study. Canalseisdejulio is a media collaborative in Mexico City that has been in operation for about 25 years and has produced over 50 documentary films about human rights and counter-political movements.

Van Deusen Phillips described the study in Kigali, Rwanda, where she was allowed to take photos. The document situation was very much the same, perhaps more organized. Ibuka is a genocide memorial site and activist group that advocates for the civil and human rights of survivors. It is also an umbrella organization for a number of other groups focusing on gender and legal rights, and HIV treatment. It has three primary objectives: genocide memory, justice, and survivor needs. Individuals in Rwanda and in other countries submit documents to Ibuka's regional offices. Regional offices send consolidated information and copies of documents to Ibuka's Kigali main memorial center. The Kigali center distributes the information to the national and international media and shares information with other groups. The Kigali Memorial Center Archive provides access to archives for activism and research.

CRL will convene an advisory group to: assess the adequacy of documentation practices for supporting downstream purposes; evaluate standards of metadata, provenance, and legal requirements for electronic evidence; compile best practices; and create tools to support the collection, maintenance, and long-term storage of electronic documentation.

The link to the study is here: http://www.crl.edu/grn/hradp/electronic-evidence

The second presentation was "Collecting the Human Rights Web" by Pamela GrahamAlex Thurman and Tessa Fallon.

Graham began by defining the Human Rights Web (HR Web) as basically everything about human rights on the internet: reports, articles, books, journals, testimony, blog posts, multimedia, and social media. The project has been able to capture all these different kinds of content, except social media because of its proprietary nature. Graham added that all the content they are capturing is open-access and non-licensed. She then explained why they are collecting the HR Web. First, it has high research value. In some cases, digital has replaced print, so it is to maintain the current level of collecting. In other cases, it is to expand the scope and range of collecting, and finally, some content is ephemeral and at risk. They began with a planning grant in 2008, and are presently halfway through a 3-year grant from the Mellon Foundation. They are looking into web archiving other content areas. Content selection is an open process so they can better source the ideas from out in the field. They are collecting materials from NGOs, national institutes, bloggers, and both established and at risk sites. They are not archiving content from counties with archiving initiatives, and they are coordinating with similar web collecting programs to avoid duplication.

Thurman covered the stages of permissions and harvesting. They use a standard permission request form available in English and 5 other languages. They request permission and, if they receive no answer, they wait a few weeks and place another request. If they do not receive an answer to the second query, having made a good faith effort, they proceed with capturing the content. For harvesting, they use Archive-It, a web archiving service, and for preservation they copy the content and structure of the website into a WARC (Web Archive) file. The WARC files are stored at the Internet Archive and in Columbia's Fedora repository. They cannot capture password protected sites, and they preserve only the form and content of sites, not their functionality. They begin their harvesting process with an initial site assessment, in which they anticipate what will be able to be captured, and crawl scoping, in which they define the domain. They run a test crawl and then re-scope to pick up what was missed and to block unwanted material. Then they do the actual capture and review for quality control. Fallon explained that they provide access through Columbia's OPAC, through Archive-It, and through WorldCat.

The third presentation was "Preserving Human Rights Archives and Cultural Patrimony: Strategies of the Human Rights Documentation Initiative" by Christian Kelleher.

Kelleher began by explaining that the Human Rights Documentation Initiative makes an effort to address the entire life cycle of electronic records. The 2007 conference at Columbia University caused the University of Texas at Austin to create their Human Rights Documentation Initiative, and he showed a website for the Initiative, that brings together a lot of the materials they have created and collected in the course of their human rights programming. They, like Columbia, also use Archive-It, and use procedures similar to those at Columbia to catalog the material. They have created a thesaurus, and they catalog the web resources using their own thesaurus terms. On their web page, they have a link out to both the live URL and the archived URL. He pointed out that there are two distinct categories of materials on the web. Although website resources are well-served by harvesting, the individual documents within a website are not served by this method of capture. He makes a strong distinction between the categories, giving the example of a list of publications on the website, Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, in Guatemala. The Initiative has developed another project through which they download each individual publication and place it in the University of Texas digital repository, where it is then cataloged and/or made full-text-searchable. This treatment allows for more detailed information and refined control over individual publications. Another example of this is with another group called Equipo Maíz in El Salvador. They want to have a lot of control over the materials they have. On their website, they have publications that are only available electronically. While investigating what to do with a broadside from the site called Página de Maíz, the Initiative found out it had not been cataloged. They cataloged the title in the University of Texas OPAC and linked it to their digital repository, so it is now full-text searchable and fully discoverable.

Kelleher then described the non-custodial archiving program. They partner with organizations, but they do not collect their archive. Rather, they work together to preserve it, make it available, and to promote the organization's activities. This model preserves cultural and historical patrimony of the original materials. An example of a partner organization is Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, in El Salvador, where they have a great historical archive, including the files of Radio Venceremos, along with its original recordings of rebel radio broadcasts. In the partnership efforts, the Initiative is jumping over the mid-level professional organization of Van Deusen Phillips' model to work directly with the specific actors in the realm of human rights documentation. The best example of a non-custodial project is their work with the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The Initiative's recently launched website for this project is the best resource for original documentation of the Rwandan genocide. As an example of a beneficial partnership, the URL for the Kigali Genocide Memorial (http://genocidearchiverwanda.org.rw/) points to a server on the University of Texas at Austin, but the material appears to come from Rwanda. A software tool called Glifos, developed in Guatemala, uses a wiki structure to provide access, which allows the cataloging to be done in Rwanda. The material can be digitized and cataloged in Rwanda, in the Rwandan language, by staff of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, and then the hard drives are brought to Austin to be loaded on the server.

In this case, the Initiative works with the non-custodial partner, the Kigali Genocide Memorial, as the mid-level professional organization, who then in turn extends the Initiative's efforts and training in Rwanda to other human rights organizations. Training and collaboration are very important parts of their programs. The partner organizations are able to gain legitimacy by throwing around the name of the University of Texas, allowing them to gain support within the national and international community which allows them to preserve, catalog, and make available the materials they already have, but also allows them to create new archival materials, do new testimonies, and collect materials from different organizations. Kelleher then showed details of the website for the Kigali Genocide Memorial site. Through the partnerships, they not only support the digitization of the documents, but also support the organizations that are creating the original documents.

Questions & Comments:

Adán Benavides (University of Texas at Austin) asked the first question of Van Deusen Phillips. He asked if she thought her inability to take photographs in Mexico was due to the cultural aversion to photography since it is very common in many situations in Mexico not to be allowed to take photographs. In addition, culturally, for many indigenous groups, taking a photograph is perceived as taking their soul. Van Deusen Phillips replied that she thought it was more an issue of concern about her. She was on site for only ten days, not really enough time for them to get to know her and to build trust. She had relied on being introduced to the archives staff by a trusted local person. Although he was able to get her into the archives, it was still a situation of artificial trust, so it was somewhat limited. Benavides said in his experience sometimes the suspicion on the part of the administrators is that the photograph would be misused, and probably to denigrate their work. Van Deusen Phillips said yes, they had plenty of reasons to be concerned. How were they to know she would not share it with the federal government of Mexico, or with the opposition? For similar reasons, they have a fear of digital documentation. They worry that, if the information goes on the web, who is going to use it, and where, and why? Simon explained that their intent on that project is to get as specific information as possible, such as specific case studies or types of documentation, but it is a real challenge to get that kind of data, especially considering how far removed they now are from the events of the day. The protective role of the mid-level organizations to provide a buffer so the small groups are not instantly squashed sometimes means they can see a piece of paper or an archive, but not copy it.

Graham asked Kelleher how they have gone about building trust in the partnerships with the non-custodial part of the project. Kelleher noted Graham's earlier observation that the human rights organizations do not have records management skills. He explained that is what the non-custodial model provides. The Initiative works for the non-custodial organizations. Kelleher clarified that the Kigali Genocide Memorial made the decisions about what to include in the archive and what to make available online. They have another partner that has decided to have nothing online. The Initiative is working with them in the short-term to help them manage their resources, and they have a written agreement to make the material available down the road. In the short-term, the Memorial does not want anyone to know about the materials of the one partner that has decided to have nothing online because it would be dangerous for the people involved. Kelleher explained that with all their partners, they do what the partners want.

Fallon asked Kelleher how he presents the Human Rights Initiative to administration as a function of the university library. Kelleher answered that it is a real challenge, especially when the issue is funding. He points out that in some cases it is an opportunity to expand their funding. They have a foundation that has funded their efforts with the Kigali Genocide Memorial that is not a supporter of library programs, but rather is a supporter of human rights programs.

Kelleher then asked the group from Columbia what changes they would like to see in Archive-It and what they think is lacking in the tool. Fallon said she would like to see changes to the way Archive-It groups crawls. It does not provide a sufficient level of management within the tool. Thurman added that the California Digital Library (CDL) has a competitor tool called Web Archiving Service. With this tool, it is very easy to put together all the crawls of any given site and to compare the crawls of the site. Fallon concluded by saying that the Archive-It interface is not as user friendly as the CDL tool.