Archiving Workshop
Charles Babbage Institute

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CBI Hosts ACM Archiving Workshop

The Charles Babbage Institute hosted a two-day workshop on archiving policies and practices during 21-22 May 2014.  The workshop, sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery’s History Committee, brought together a diverse group.  Attendees hailed from five countries, numerous professional backgrounds (computer science, library science, history, journalism) and diverse institutions including newly launched and well-established museums, research libraries, national laboratories, and academia.  The event aimed at disseminating professional knowledge about archival policies and procedures to ACM members and other computer professionals.

Martin Campbell-Kelly, Jon Bashor, Geoffrey Darnton, and Carol Hutchins examine ACM archival materials at CBI workshop.

R. Arvid Nelsen, CBI’s archivist and curator, briefly introduced archival principles then quickly turned to a “hands-on” exercise.  Each participant received an archival box and was asked to consider the types of information that it contained and embodied, from the specific documents in individual folders to the wider context implied by the collection.  Participants examined organizational records from ACM itself as well as personal papers from Edmund Berkeley (one of ACM’s founders) and Carl Machover (SIGGRAPH 98 History Chair).  A folder created by computer scientist Jean Sammett, cryptically entitled “Herb Problem,” prompted spirited discussion.

Archiving principles of provenance and original order were Nelsen’s pre-lunch topic.  Presentations by each workshop participant followed.  Elizabeth Feinler emphasized that archival collections result from many individuals’ work, including an Internet Engineernig Task Force (IETF) working group.  Joan Collins described work done by 300 members of LA SIGGRAPH where a single movie frame might be the product of 50 people’s efforts.  Chuck House discussed his efforts to collect and organize high-tech historical materials.  Kevin Murrell, from the UK National Museum of Computing (f. 2007), is building a museum around working computers and archival records.  Historian Martin Campbell-Kelly highlighted the current EDSAC reconstruction.  Also from the UK, Geoffrey Darnton is archiving the Information System Design and Optimization System (ISDOS) project in requirements modeling.  Jon Bashor of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has informally collected rich materials on computing.  Sally Jo Cunningham from Waikato University in New Zealand is archiving the work practices of computer science colleagues.  Scott Campbell is organizing a computer history museum at the University of Waterloo.  Federico Novick from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is researching Latin America’s internet history.  Carol Hutchins, from NYU’s Courant Institute, discussed software tools.

Workshop participants during underground archival caverns tour. From left: Jon Bashor, Scott Campbell, Martin Campbell-Kelly, Carol Hutchins, Geoffrey Darnton, Joan Collins, Sally Jo Cunningham, Arvid Nelsen, Federico Novick, Kevin Murrell, Elizabeth Feinler, and Chuck House.

Subsequent discussions focused on collection development, appraisal, and archival processing methods as well as extended appraisal of digital and electronic records.  For digital records, the archival principles of provenance and documentation may require new procedures and appropriate software tools, including digital-forensic ones to establish or define the “original” version.  No visit to CBI is complete without touring the underground climate-controlled storage caverns and the upstairs CBI office suite, where the group viewed the newly installed archival workstation.  The final workshop topic – privacy and levels of access – responds to demands by donors to develop alternatives to wide-open WWW access.  A formal report with photographs and additional details may be found at <>.

Thomas J. Misa


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