This Be the Beloved Curse: Learning to Love Ever-Evolving Born-Digital Description

Research output: Other contribution


The title of the presentation, “This be the beloved curse” is taken from Philip Larkin’s poem “This be the curse.” In it, Larkin describes the cycle of life where children are messed up by their parents, who, with the best intentions, “...fill you with the faults they had/and add some extra, just for you.” He goes on to explain, though, that our parents, in their turn, were equally messed up “ fools in old-style hats and coats…”, handing on what Larkin terms “misery” from one generation to another.

As archivists, and especially as archivists working with digital formats, our “beloved curse” is the constant change of technology and archival praxis. We make the best or at least the most practical collection management decisions possible today for preservation and access based on repository mission and the resources and expertise available at the time. We mean well, but the decisions we make today are doomed to obsolescence. To our successors, our choices will seem uniformed, ineffective, or even bizarre. For our part, we, too, believe our predecessors were, in the main, crazy. “Why did they do it this way?!?” we moan.

In the final line of the poem, Larkin advises his readers to not “...have any kids yourself,” but this isn’t an option for archivists. Our collections live forever! In order to continue to be effective stewards of digital-format documents, archivists must routinely revisit the collection management decisions of predecessors at their repository and do our best for our collections, trying to pass on as little “misery” as possible. In this presentation, we’ll share two case studies demonstrating how, at the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center and, with the hiring last year of a new Digital Archivist, we’re learning to embrace our beloved curse of constant change, focusing on the area of arrangement and description. The case studies will demonstrate how previous archivists described digital-format personal papers and university records, asses those approaches, and share new decision trees, tools, and procedures we are creating and implementing now. Megan Mummey (she/her pronouns), Director of Manuscript Collections, and Andrew McDonnell (he/him pronouns), Digital Archivist, will lead off with our first case study about born-digital description in manuscript collections centered on the Kentucky League of Cities records. Ruth Bryan (she/her pronouns), University Archivist, and Andrew will continue with a second case study from the University of Kentucky Athletics Film and Video collection. We hope to demonstrate that, rather than cursing our predecessors (and ourselves), we’re learning to love ever-evolving description of digital formats as a natural part of the digital lifecycle.

Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - Jun 11 2024

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