Ph.D. Candidate Profile: Vanessa Reyes

Thumbnail image for VReyes_Picture.jpgWhen I discuss the management of my photos and files with Ph.D. candidate Vanessa Reyes, my "digital estate" appears headed for foreclosure. An eager teacher, Reyes offers gentle, thoughtful guidance. Multiple copies of content should be stored in multiple locations. PDF format, which is the current ISO preservation standard's best practice for the next five years, will reduce tampering and preserve the content's integrity. Storage clouds, like DropBox, need to be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism and selectivity when one deposits content in spaces that do not have security safeguards to prevent altering, borrowing without permission, or permanent loss.

"The minute information doesn't belong to you, it becomes important," cautions Reyes about the vulnerability of my personal data. "All content has value and we aren't always aware of it in the moment."  

As a recipient of a GSLIS doctoral fellowship, Reyes' current research contributes to the emerging field of personal information management (PIM), which quantifies how individual users are organizing, managing, and preserving information. Having worked in legislative, university, and public libraries, Reyes became interested in exploring the PIM field when she noticed that researchers' interest was sparked when they used appropriately organized and preserved personal collections for scholarly work. "Creation and preservation of content and its usage go hand in hand." Yet no preservation standards exist for PIM. Reyes believes we need to change the status quo to maintain access and prevent loss of our digital heritage.

While information institutions house and maintain information, and make it accessible to users, Reyes believes individual users need the tools and support to know how to manage and preserve their content once a resource has been created. She aims to make a sustainable difference in how our digital heritage is preserved for future generations by examining trends of how individual users are managing and preserving their information. Although universities and colleges have created awareness about how to preserve content by featuring contact information for special collections personnel on websites, Reyes believes that information institutions need to embed such instruction in educational curriculums to inform individual users. At the August 2013 Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting, she presented the poster, "Examining Personal Digital Photo Management and Archiving Strategies," which was a qualitative study of how a sample of graduate students in every Simmons College school (e.g., nursing, GSLIS, management) managed, organized, and shared their personal digital information. By reviewing student mobile phones, tablets, and computer desktops, she concluded that "everyone is messy." The research suggests the need for standardization and education among students about how to organize and preserve content to make it usable.

Reyes' research also suggests there is also room for improvement in how all organizations manage and preserve their collections. Her article "We Created It, Now How Do We Save It? Issues in Preserving Personal Information: A Review," suggests that information institutions, such as libraries and archives, are not following preservation standards for several reasons, including limited staff resources and other priorities. As a result, information loss is occurring and preserving digital content is posing new challenges that many organizations are not equipped to handle. The article will be featured in Professor and Dean Emerita Michèle Cloonan's journal, Preservation, Digital Technology & Culture, in September 2013.

Reyes also practices what she preaches. As a staunch advocate for preserving digital heritage, Reyes collaborated on an "Activism in Archives" presentation with her classmates from Professor Jeanette Bastian's class LIS 605 Special Topics: Community Archives and Local Heritage Collections, which was featured at the 2012 Boston Anarchist Book Fair in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition, she was a teaching assistant for the first offering of LIS 401 Foundations of Library & Information Science, taught by Michèle Cloonan. In addition to helping Professor Cloonan with course logistics, she taught a class about personal information ethics that highlighted the importance of communicating to the public about ways to preserve cultural heritage for effective future use. She will also be a teaching assistant for the upcoming Fall 2013 LIS 471 Photographic Archives class taught by Professor Martha Mahard.

Using the Simmons GSLIS doctoral program as a platform to launch her teaching and research career, Reyes is hopeful about overcoming the challenges associated with preserving digital content. Opportunities to develop better tools and storage solutions, and to preserve information for future generations exist on the horizon. She also reminds me about not forgetting the importance of paper in a digital universe as such materials also capture cultural heritage. "Understanding the complexities involved with digital copyright, culture, organization, technological tools, and maintenance is necessary to provide effective access to knowledge for future generations."

By Dean's Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer

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