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Meet Emma – our most recent co-op student

In 2021 Artefactual began working with educational institutions offering co-op programs that align with our work in IT, computing, information systems, archives and libraries. Since that time we have hired several students, many of whom have stayed with the company after their co-op term finished. A community of practice needs to incorporate mature models and experience as well as newer research into archival theory, software development, deployment, and digital preservation. Artefactual benefits by supporting students through work and bursary opportunities (this year we are sponsoring a student to attend the UK ARA conference) and we have met and recruited some stellar professionals over the last 2 years.

Our most recent hire is Emma. Emma started working at Artefactual in May 2023 and we wanted to learn what drew them to working with us.

You’re new to the company. What drew you to Artefactual and the systems archivist co-op student position?

Before I started the archives program at UBC I had done some volunteering doing arrangement and description, so I felt like I understood how that worked relatively well (even if there is certainly more I could learn!). But the position here at Artefactual was something very different from the other kinds of archival work that I had encountered so I was curious to learn more about how archival work and private sector work could overlap.

I had also heard some very good things about working at Artefactual from people I knew that were already working here so environment-wise that was pretty appealing. I also think what Artefactual says about their values and being a part of community of practice felt like a corporate setting that could also feel like a good place to work. Artefactual seemed like somewhere where the only priority wasn’t how much money we’re making and that other values were important too. I also know that digital preservation is super important and is only going to become more important as time goes on. I have gathered that not all archives know how to handle digital material and, as someone who also doesn’t currently have that knowledge, I wanted to learn more about digital preservation through the work here as well.

As a student and future information professional, what excites you about working at Artefactual and in digital preservation in general?

Starting with digital preservation, I came of age in this unique moment where the internet was first showing up in peoples’ homes and computers were first showing up in peoples’ homes. By growing up in that timeframe, I feel like that gave me a really immediate sense of before and after when it comes to digital information. There is so much digital material that I remember from my own childhood that you cannot find anymore; even just individual files that I saved for myself that, again, I can’t locate or access. This is just a personal slice of the much larger issue when it comes to digital content – we have this huge opportunity to preserve and provide access in ways that are appropriate and that respect peoples’ privacy to huge swaths of information that was not possible in the same way before digital content.

Basically, I think digital preservation is extremely important because there is an opportunity to preserve information from official sources that maybe got buried or hidden in the past intentionally or not, there is a similar opportunity to share and make available individual people’s perspectives that archives may have historically not considered important enough to keep as a part of the official record. Obviously it is not possible to keep everything, everywhere, all at once, but digital preservation, to me, is a really unique area that we haven’t fully worked out yet, but is so important from the content side and something really important to work on as it is not a fully resolved question.

That kind of leads into what excites me about working at Artefactual – it is cool to be seeing how these digital preservation theories and standards we are learning in school are being applied and how they feed into different systems and preservation workflows. Getting to learn about all these things which, in turn, feeds back into being able to do digital preservation well is a really big part of what excites me.

What do you foresee being the biggest challenge as a student working in digital preservation for the first time?

I think a big challenge is understanding that my responsibility is not to understand every single technical aspect of how all these systems work. That said, I am curious, and it is helpful to understand those areas to a certain depth – so engaging and digging into those topics enough to understand but not so much that I overwhelm myself is a challenge. Also, many of the standards and systems in digital preservation connect to each other, and these multiple layers lead to the challenge of trying to answer “when do I know enough?”. It is also hard to balance school, life, and work, and I think that that is something that is globally true.

You have experienced using AtoM through your archival coursework, what has been the most surprising thing you have learned about the software since starting at Artefactual?

By thinking about how to explain AtoM to other people and learning more about it myself, I have realized how many different ways there were to record and access information. For example, I had no idea that taxonomies were a feature and were editable, or that menus could be customized – all those kinds of levels of control. I think when I was using AtoM before, I was like ”what are the things that are immediately relevant to the thing I am trying to do?”. Transitioning from not exploring things beyond what I needed to interact with, to learning the system in-depth has taught me a lot about the level of flexibility and options available in AtoM.

Permissions were also completely new to me, I did not know AtoM had any way to restrict access to digital objects or limit what you can do with them and I think that is something it seemed like a big differentiator between AtoM and [other systems]. I didn’t know AtoM had anything that approached that level of control.

I guess the biggest thing that’s new to me, is thinking about how to explain all the different things you can manipulate without giving the impression that “there are no rules anywhere”. Everyone needs a fixed point to start from which they can build out their understanding.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I played the trombone for over 10 years from middle-school through college – so that’s kind of fun I guess. Our high school marching band got a runner-up in a competition at Disney World, and we were not good at marching in-step; I particularly was very bad at it and trombones are in the front. I think that the only reason we placed was because we had some pretty fun dance moves.

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