NARA Applied Research Partners are Featured at the MARAC 2011 Spring Meeting

Last week, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC) held its Spring meeting in Alexandria, VA.  If you happened to miss the conference, our Tech Tuesday post is a summary of two related events.

The Friday morning MARAC session, “S5. New Tools to Address Electronic Records Challenges” was well attended as you can see in this photo.


The session featured Dr. Peter Bajcsy (National Center for Supercomputing Applications, NCSA), Dr. Maria Esteva (Texas Advanced Computing Center, TACC), and Dr. William Underwood (Georgia Tech Research Institute, GTRI) – who discussed technology tools they developed to help archivists do their work.

However, even before the MARAC session took place, NARA’s Archives Assembly hosted a special preview of the session in College Park on Thursday May 5.  The three panelists also happen to be NARA Applied Research (NHA/IA) partners, whose work you may have been following in our past Tech Tuesday postings.

The event was also an introduction of NARA’s new Chief Information Officer, Michael Wash.  Mr. Wash shared words in support of the research work that NARA is conducting with the partners, emphasizing the collaborative nature of work, which already involves various NARA work units such as the Information Security Oversight Office as well as with the Special Media Preservation Division.  He highlighted the importance of these partnerships with one of his favorite quotes,

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.”

— Benjamin Franklin

So, essentially, these collaborations help the research partners understand each unit’s challenges, as they work closely with NARA to refine their research to help address and possibly apply some solutions.   They also provide NARA staff the opportunity to try out some of the latest technology in carrying out their work.

What I loved about the preview is that it was a friendly, conversation-style presentation (no speakers at a podium flipping PowerPoint slides at you), which took place on the stage in the Archives II Auditorium.   The panelists provided a brief description of their ongoing projects, and we learned how their work intersects with each other.

Dr. Bajcsy (pictured here at the far left) started the conversation with discussions about file format conversion and validation tools (see my Nov 9 Blog post); Dr. Esteva (center) then described the importance of these tools for use in Visualization and Data Mining models (Feb 11 Blog); and Dr. Underwood wrapped up the session describing his long-time work with archivists (spanning more than two decades!) to evaluate, locate, review/redact sensitive records.  Bill also discussed his work on automated record type identification.  He ended by discussing  file format tools developed by GTRI with NARA to collaborate alongside The National Archives (in the United Kingdom) to improve TNA’s PRONOM registry and DROID application used by archivists around the world – and here at NARA – (see our Dec 10 post).  The session was moderated by Applied Research Acting Director, Bob Chadduck (far right).

After the presentation, the audience was invited to ask questions – but in keeping with the informal tone of the event, they were also invited to bring their lunch up to the 3311 conference room to continue the conversations.  And three new NARA staff took us up on the offer: two new archivists from the Archivist Development Program, Kate Kim and Matt Hebert (both from NARA’s Electronic and Special Media Records Services Division), and Shannon Niou, from the Center for Legislative Archives.

Kate came to NARA from archival research environments in California, so she fully understands the importance of academic collaborations in a research setting.  In thanking us for the opportunity to meet with the partners, she said, “It is really fantastic to be part of an organization that supports such great work.”

Matt actually attended both the preview and the MARAC sessions and got a closer look at the work behind the research; here’s what he wrote:

“The presentations by NARA’s Applied Research partners at College Park and MARAC were both really fascinating.  However, the MARAC presentations featured slides that better illustrated the functionality behind their respective projects, so I think it was useful seeing both presentations.

I was most impressed by Dr. Bajcsy’s Polyglot system for file format conversions and ‘universal rendering.’  Apparently, Polyglot is already available for institutional download and enterprise-wide implementation; I hope NARA pursues this because I think it would useful tool for NARA employees in many different areas.”

So, dear reader, were you at the Friday MARAC session (or possibly even at the preview session)?   If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts – and we’re always happy to answer any questions you might have about the research that’s being done with you in mind.

One thought on “NARA Applied Research Partners are Featured at the MARAC 2011 Spring Meeting

  1. I thought the presentations were interesting. As an archivist, it is also important to see what our future is going to be like. Although there will always be “paper” and “repositories,” our future as a profession is changing and we must be ready for the new realities of the digital age.

    The conversations with the applied research partners demonstrate that NARA is thinking aobut the future and is committed to broadening access to its records through cutting-edge innovations in technology developed by some of the most knowledgeable experts in the information technology profession.

    NARA must continue to think about new strategies for dealing with digital records. thanks for hosting this event.

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