A Word About Digital Files and Acquisition Negotiations

As we begin to bring into the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections born-digital material from personal archives, we are reviewing our guidance documentation for language that supports our custodial, administrative, and access needs as they relate specifically to digital files.  Some of the resources that we have been looking over for examples are:  the AIMS White Paper; the PARADIGM project; “Navigating Legal issues in Archives”, Menzi L. Behrnd-Klodt; and “Trust Me, I’m an Archivist: Experiences with Digital Donors,” Hilton, Christopher, Dave Thompson and Natalie Walters, Ariadne Issue 65.

Working with donors, both for personal and administrative collections, always involves negotiation and appraisal of the material.  What we have noticed first-hand has been reported by many other institutions.  That is, donors of digital content have more concern regarding rights and access to their digital files than to their paper files.  In some part, this may be because often the content of digital files is unknown.  Issues related to opening files on carrier media, lack of appropriate drives or software, and general vagueness around what might be on that pile of CDs or diskettes bubble to the surface perhaps more reactively than concern of what might be in the box of paper and slides that hasn’t been opened in ten years.

During the negotiation phase we have been actively using some of the digital content-based interview questions suggested by the AIMS white paper, the PARADIGM project, and created through a joint Harvard-MIT library project.  Based on our experiences, we are starting to put together language for use during donor negotiation that addresses pre-acquisition appraisal tasks for digital files.  This language includes the types of tasks the Institute Archives and Special Collections staff will undertake, and notes both donor and Institute Archives and Special Collections’ obligations during this process.

Examples of donor obligations include:
·    keeping all of the files until official (and successful) transfer has been completed
·    providing access to any computers and accounts that hold files, and
·    providing account names and passwords when necessary for file access.

Examples of Institute Archives and Special Collections obligations include:
·    safeguarding any account and password information
·    keeping an inventory of the files and controlling access to them during appraisal, and
·    using best practice to clean-up the digital footprint for any files not transferred to the Institute Archives and Special Collections.

We know that as our knowledge of the concerns and challenges grows with more donor interaction so will our language and guidance documents.  We anticipate this to be an area for development within our documentation and our procedures.


About Kari R. Smith

Kari is Digital Archivist at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Libraries. She is also a senior instructor of the Digital Preservation Management Workshops series.
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