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In the Stacks: meet the Digital Archivist Michelle Tom, and learn about her role

December 17, 2013

The college’s Morse Library has long been a clearinghouse for information and archives, but did you know that the college now has a digital preservation program, as well?

“Establishing a digital preservation program and defining the role of a digital archivist are direct results of the recent strategic plan for the library and archives,” explains Lisa Viezbicke, the director of library and archives for the college. “The plan and some of its key objectives are to strengthen archives and special collections; and to collaborate with a wide range of colleagues to strengthen understanding of and teaching about research skills, ethical use of information, and information management for digital files and personal information.”

In that vein, new Digital Archivist Michelle Tom will be working on managing the collection and overseeing the maintenance of the college’s digital records and archives--you can meet Michelle below, and learn more about her work in her own words.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to add Michelle's knowledge, experience, and excitement to the library and archives team,” Viezbicke says. “Please extend a warm welcome as she makes her rounds to listen, consult, and develop plans for resources that may be destined for storage in the digital archives.”

Michelle Tom 

Name: Michelle Tom

Occupation: Digital archivist

Hometown: Hayward, Calif. (and in between then and now I've been through N.Y.C. and Boston)

What brought me to Beloit: The College Archives needed one project done, and then another. I just kept finding more things to keep doing. My job is to preserve and provide access to Beloit College's digital historical legacy, which means that I'm trying to manage our digital files over the long term.

Basically, I want to make sure that the College Archives are able to keep collecting and maintaining the same things we've always collected, only in the new formats that they exist in now. But that's harder than it sounds because digital media is so much more finicky and ephemeral than paper! Even just 10 years is not a huge leap into the future, but it's enough to put into question our ability to still access things. This is for a whole host of reasons, including lack of appropriate hardware (anyone got a spare Zip drive lying around?), incompatibility of proprietary file types, programs, and operating systems (why does this Word doc from 2001 only have little squares all over it?), and inadequate documentation of what people have (good luck finding that one photograph named img_092348814). Even the person who diligently backs up their files every day is guaranteed to run into all these issues given enough time.

In order to mitigate the risks of all this potential data loss, there needs to be an ongoing program dedicated to digital preservation that is integrated with the College Archives, and that's what I'm here to work on.

You may have seen me: Probably not much outside the Archives, but I'll be getting around more soon.

What’s on your desert island jukebox? Musicals

Any do-over requests to lodge with the universe? Explain. Not personally, but why can't we time travel into the past as well as into the future? Come on, physics, you can do it! (Given the choice I'd rather go into the future, but it would be nice to have the option of coming back home. Plus, dinosaurs.)

What can’t you live without? Friends and family, humor, TV, delicious food, cats.

Any advice? Something I wish I had learned earlier is to not be afraid of failing at things. You learn so much more, remember more of what you learned, and it makes you less worried about making more mistakes. And it usually means you will have entertaining stories to tell. You should make an effort to do things you're not good at sometimes.

What do you do in your free time? What do you wish you did in your free time? What I do is watch a lot of genre television and obsess over my fantasy football team. What I wish I did is finish all the crafts I start, while still watching all the TV and winning all the fantasy football.

What’s your karaoke standard? I have a few, but I kill "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton and "Just Like Jesse James" by Cher.

What are you most looking forward to? My partner Anne and I are having a baby later this month(ish), so that's a pretty big deal. And a friend of ours knitted Star Trek and Doctor Who sweaters for the baby to wear, so that's another big deal.

Michelle Tom 2