Sandy Rodriguez, head of digital archives and stewardship at UMKC, will receive the 2018 Missouri Library Association Outstanding Professional Librarian Award October 10 at the MLA Annual Conference in Columbia, Missouri. Rodriquez studied music education as an undergraduate, but developed a passion for digital preservation.
You originally studied music education, but decided on library work. What caused that shift?
As I was finishing my music education degree, I realized that working with large groups of children all day long was completely sapping my energy, but I did love engaging in a learning space. When an opportunity arose to combine my analytical skills with my music subject knowledge in order to facilitate access to sound recordings in libraries, I jumped at it.
Would you say that digital preservation has been a ‘stepchild’ of the library system until recently? And does it seem possible or likely that it will become the predominant focus of preservation?
Digital preservation is receiving increasing attention in our profession though we’re still not yet where we need to be. In terms of the libraries and archives in the UM system, we’ve turned our attention to outreach and advocacy to raise awareness around the challenges, risks and solutions for preserving digital content because yes, absolutely, we’ve got to shift our focus to meet the challenges of preserving digital content. If you consider that the solution for preserving degrading content, be it paper, film or sound recording, is often to convert to digital, then it is a looming area of risk that needs addressing.
What are the challenges in digital preservation?
There are so many challenges, and I outline many of them in the poster, Where is that [dang] file? Why we should care that UM maintains our digital future. To begin with, if you think about how the barrier for creating and publishing content has been lessened, and how much we use digital infrastructures to find information, to connect with each other, and to do our work, then determining what to preserve in a sea of content is impossible without dedicated resources. If we consider how rapidly technology changes (hardware and software), it becomes obvious that preserving digital content, or ensuring ongoing access of that content, means investing in active management over time, including developing strategies, enforcing standards, creating and enacting preservation action plans, monitoring the “health” of digital content by regularly checking its integrity, and responding to issues or new developments as they arise. The barrier to preserving digital content is high, and I’d encourage anyone interested to explore more of the challenges and solutions in my poster.
What sort of project really excites you?
A consistent thread in my career is a focus on surfacing the less visible parts of any structure, particularly centered on humanity and the human experience. For instance, if you ask most people about what they think of when they think of librarians, they will most likely conjure up an image of the friendly person who greets you, offers research assistance, and helps you identify authoritative sources, and hey, we have those friendly and helpful library workers! What they likely don’t think of are the library workers who enable that access, who negotiate the licenses, who remove barriers to discovering distinctive materials, who maintain the many technologies and physical spaces we use. I am fascinated by how we might surface and recognize these hidden aspects of our structures, to sustain the value of the whole with a focus on community outcomes.
This focus on surfacing less visible parts of structure is also informed by my experiences as a woman of color. So many of our societal systems have caused great harm to people from marginalized and underrepresented communities so I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with locating ourselves within the framework of these larger systems to understand how to disrupt cycles of oppression in our daily lives. I have the great fortune of working with a brilliant graduate student and archival assistant, Anthony LaBat, on a project to critically examine and update library artifacts (finding aids, metadata, etc.) that contain biased and outdated language, that do not center the perspectives of the community documented and that inadvertently contribute to upholding harmful narratives that support systemic oppression. We’re starting with our collection documenting the 1968 uprising in Kansas City and are using the many librarian- and archivist-led frameworks offered by the collective, Archivists Against History Repeating Itself to inform this work.
What would you tell a student who is interested in library science? Or digital preservation specifically?
If you’re just entering this profession, you’ve likely got a long career ahead of you so you must be familiar with digital technologies, but please do not forget that these are just the tools of our time. They can be wielded to advance humanity as well as destroy it, and librarians and archivists have a crucial role in shaping cultural memory by determining what will persist into the future.
What are your favorite parts of working at UMKC?
UMKC offers a learning environment that allows us to engage directly with students in experiential learning opportunities. These experiences have been incredibly rewarding because not only am I able to slow down, refocus and think deeply about the purpose of this work, and share my knowledge, but I learn so much from the students. My assumptions are challenged all the time and I’m reminded of the importance humility plays in the learning process.
Do you have a collection of which you’re particularly fond?
The Marr Sound Archives is what brought me to UMKC. To be able to listen to the voices of our past, hear first-hand accounts of historically significant events and illuminate our culture and society at a particular point in time, is an experience that leaves an impression. Unfortunately, the radio broadcast material and distinctive rare recordings held in the sound archive are under-utilized in the classroom (though they are often requested by researchers), but I believe we have some opportunities to explore how to better utilize these source materials to enhance the learning experiences of students.