Name/Title: Jarrett M. Drake, Digital Archivist
Responsibilities: As the digital archivist at Mudd, I’m responsible for the development, implementation, and execution of processes that facilitate the effective acquisition, description, preservation, and access of born-digital archival collections acquired by the University Archives. The emphasis on ‘born-digital’ is to distinguish my work from that of digitization, which is a process that converts analog material into digital formats. Born-digital records are those that originated as microscopic inscriptions of 0’s and 1’s on a piece of magnetic media.
Preserving and providing access to those 0’s and 1’s, or bits, is too challenging a problem for any single person to solve, so many of my duties require me to collaborate with others in the University Archives and across campus. This often involves me meeting with our University Archivist, the Assistant University Archivist for Technical Services (to whom I report), and the University Records Manager. As exciting as it is to dive into the past by hacking away at old and new media—and trust me, doing this is really exciting—the most important element of my success is laying the infrastructure for our Digital Curation Program, which we initiated two months ago. Infrastructure is invisible to most of us but critical for all of us. More on that in future posts.
Lest I lead you to believe that I work exclusively in the digital realm, I also do things that archivists have always done: processing paper records and performing reference services in person, on the phone, and over email.
Ongoing projects: Because our Digital Curation Program is rather nascent, I spend a majority of my time drafting policy documents for the program as well as revising workflows for how we process born-digital records. Outside of that, I contribute to several Library-wide working groups and task forces. When I’m not doing one of those two things, you can probably find me working with a new digital preservation tool or strengthening my command of various operating systems.
Worked at Mudd since: I began at Mudd in November of 2013. Prior to Princeton, I served as University Library Associate at the Special Collections Library of the University of Michigan, a post I maintained for nearly two years while I completed my master’s degree in information science at the School of Information. Before Michigan, I had brief stints at the Maryland State Archives and Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Why I like my job/archives: Contrary to general perception, archivists are concerned equally with the future as they are with the past. Yes, we manage records that document past activities, but we do so only for future use by researchers. In this way, I see my job as a digital archivist as one that preserves the past in order to promise the future. That promise is harder to ensure when it comes to digital records, but it’s a challenge that I find to be terrifyingly exciting and incredibly meaningful. Also, I learn something new each and every day, which is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my work.
And though I put a lot of time and energy into curating bits, I joined the profession because I like people. I enjoy assisting them with their research questions and it gratifies me that I can contribute to the creation of new knowledge about the past. The roughest days I encounter are immediately turned around when a researchers says “I can’t thank you enough for your assistance” or “without you, I’m not sure I could have answered this question.” Those are my reminders that I chose the right profession.
Favorite item/collection: Recently I responded to a researcher who sought information about the first Japanese student to graduate from Princeton. I spent some time digging around our Historical Subject Files and our Alumni Undergraduate Records collection to learn that in 1876, Hikoichi Orita was the University’s first Japanese student to graduate.
In addition to his alumni files, we have a copy of his student diary, which I told myself I would read slowly over my career. It’s in English, in case you’re interested in viewing it, too. This is a classic example where a researcher informs the interests of the archivist, instead of vice versa.