MLIS Graduate Portfolio

Justin Barnett

Application of Technology

To demonstrate my competence in technological applications, I have chosen to present the work I am proudest of from my time in the SLIS program: an actual archival project I discovered, established, began, and documented. Much of my interest lies in preservation, and a contact in a local university library had mentioned a series of recorded VHS tapes that were laying, inaccesible, in a box in a back room, where the librarians lacked the time to make available. As part of this project, I had to become exceptionally familiar with not only magnetic media (which, admittedly, is far from what may consider a "current technology,") but also in means of digitizing and storing older material using current technological solutions and pipelines.

Over the course of roughly fourteen months, I not only began this project, but saw it to a point where these materials, previously unavailable to users, were being stored and made available through the Georgia Southern University digital commons site, allowing students, researchers, and professors to watch academic lectures on a variety of topics from decades past.

Reflection and Analysis

The storage and preservation of digital materials has become an exceptionally passionate subject of mine, not the least because of how poorly understood it actually seems to be—perhaps because we all simply assume that computers and digital material is supposed to make library work easier and more available. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth, because in many ways, these materials are more volatile and in need of regular care than the paper volumes libraries have held as their primary collections for centuries.

In this case, unique lectures on a myriad of topics, some of interest only to specific academics and others a fascinating look at historical perspectives (such as the professor in the early 80s discussion law enforcement overreach and police violence being extremely apropos to today's world), were being stored in an inaccessible and decaying medium. Not only does the magnetic strip inside VHS tapes lose stability over time, but the very means of accessing them—VCR machines—are rapidly becoming unavailable. If something isn't done soon, not only here, with this collection, but in similar collections worldwide, irreplaceable information will be lost forever.

And yet, one of the most important takeaways from this project, for me, was the realization that... it may just happen. Not because nobody cares, but because the real-world costs and trade-offs for preserving everything prohibit exactly that. There is a great deal we can do for preservation and accessibility using modern technology such as digital repositories, but at the same time, the amount of information out there to store and make accessible is growing faster than we can keep up. There is no technological silver bullet that makes things just work; every bit we save is a choice, explicit or otherwise, not to save something else with the time we just spent.

Because this was not merely an academic exercise, but a real project I worked on and made available, the reflection could easily be pages, and I have, on more than one occasion, belabored the research and materials involved to death. In the case of this project, Covid and social distancing put an end to further work, but the process documentation—an important part of any developed technique for digital work—is available for the next student worker who has a few free minutes.