Snapshot: Kevin Glick
By Katharine Dunn, Dean's Editorial Fellow
Kevin Glick has fit a lot of professional success into the first decade of his archives career. One of his early archives jobs, which he held before graduating with a library science degree, was as project manager for the U.S. team of InterPARES (International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems), a Vancouver-based project that has been tackling large-scale digital preservation issues for more than 10 years. Since being hired by Yale in 2002 as electronic records archivist, Glick has added a couple of other jobs to his title: He is now head of both the university archives and information systems in Manuscripts & Archives. Glick is also an adjunct professor at Southern Connecticut State University and at GSLIS, where he teaches records management. He travels regularly to work on digital preservation and archives projects around the world, and next summer he’ll teach records management at Yonsei University in Korea for both GSLIS and Korean students.
Q : What kind of materials is the
Yale archives bringing in these
The two big focuses right now are modern architecture and GLBTQ [gay,
lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer] studies. The accessions affect me when they have a digital component. An example of a collection we brought in on GLBTQ lately is from a nonprofit organization in Connecticut called Loves Makes a Family that was set up around marriage equality work. Its entire life existed in the last decade, so though they were active there were less than 10 boxes of paper records. I took in several hard drives’ worth of material, as well as social media: their Twitter feed and Facebook account.
You are responsible for most aspects of digital preservation at Yale. How technologically savvy are you?
I became proficient along the way. I’m a medievalist by background, so I didn’t even get into digital preservation until I was in library school. Before I started my MLS [at the University at Albany, SUNY], I got a part-time job at the archives there. The dean of the library school approached me because he had
secured a research grant to study electronic records from the point of view of medieval diplomatics, which was something that I had done. It means authenticating documents by evaluating signatures and seals and handwriting and paper. The concept for the InterPARES project was to take that study and create a modern diplomatics, to come up with some equivalent for digital
Digital preservation is complicated. There is no single silver-bullet solution. Much of this is still research.
The InterPARES project was based on what you happened to have done for your previous master’s degree?
That was the original project. It evolved into dramatically more things.
So basically you’re in exactly the right career.
Yes. I went from an average to below-average medievalist to suddenly people wanted to hear what I had to say in this other area.
What does authenticity mean in the digital environment?
That’s a tough one. It means getting the thing that was set aside by the person who created it to serve the purpose for which it was created. Then you document whatever change is made to show a chain of custody through time and to document the archives’ role.
One of the real problems in digital preservation is defining what the thing is you want to preserve. Take Facebook. When I talked to Love Makes a Family, all they knew is they had a Facebook group profile and they wanted to preserve it. But a Facebook profile isn’t a thing; it isn’t saved anywhere. It’s a bunch of data stored as separate components and only presented to the user
dynamically on the screen based on the user’s profile information and everybody else’s information. Any one of their group pages is actually several thousand little files and data points that are being pulled together at any one time. Facebook doesn’t have a corollary in the paper world, so we have to figure out how it serves its purpose, and what parts of it help it serve its purpose.
How did you preserve Facebook?
I joined the Love Makes a Family Facebook group and archived everything I had access to. The result was about 55,000 files. One issue that I needed to deal with was that when I looked at the code, my name was on every file because that’s what happens in Facebook — it constantly knows who you are
and dynamically pulls together a number of different data elements so it can show you the thing that you’re supposed to see. But I didn’t want to persist in this record. To get around that I created a Facebook profile for a fake person. I kept it up for only a few days, but it allowed me to have a less direct impact on the final set of records.
One issue I imagine with preserving Facebook files is the privacy of the people who are not in that group but who posted on the group’s wall. How do you deal with privacy issues like this?
It all depends on the situation. With Facebook we decided the content would be open to the public because the site didn’t require any permission to get to. There are other portions of this organization’s records that are more restricted.
The Library of Congress announced recently that it is archiving all of Twitter. Some people are upset because though they may tweet to the world they believe that’s different from LC’s holding onto their words forever. How is what you’re doing with Facebook different?
They do have some similarities. I think this whole Twitter thing goes even further, though, because it’s everything. With Facebook we’re targeting a small population, deciding there’s some historic reason for archiving the information. There is another similar [privacy issue] that has been coming up in digital preservation. There’s a push to use computer forensic tools to help rescue things from donors. I understand why law enforcement may need to use them, but the downside of the forensic tools is that they can find things that people, donors perhaps, thought they had destroyed. I’ve got real qualms about the ethics of an archivist’s using those tools.
Where do we stand as a planet on digital preservation?
Digital preservation is complicated. There is no single silverbullet solution. Much of this is still research. A common misconception that people have is assuming that digital preservation is identical to paper preservation. People often ask things like, ‘What’s the gold CD format, the one that will never
disintegrate or change?’ The problem is that storing on good media only mitigates some of the many risks inherent to digital collections. While this may delay media decay, it may increase other risk factors like hardware and software obsolescence. Digital preservation cannot be passive. It must be active. I need to keep touching it to save it.
Interview by Katharine Dunn