Thursday, August 04, 2011

Interview with Peter Hirtle, Senior Policy Advisor, Cornell University Library

Recently, I had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing Peter Hirtle, Senior Policy Advisor of Cornell University Library. For my readers who may not recognize his name, Peter served as President and Vice President of the Society of American Archivists (SAA); was an active member of the Section 108 Study Group, Library of Congress/Copyright Office; and co-wrote with Emily Hudson and Andrew T. Kenyon Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for Digitization for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums. Those are just a few aspects of his notable service and professional work. Please visit his VIVO page to learn more about his background, experience, and publications.

Over the past few years, Peter has unwittingly become my copyright mentor, answering my emailed questions when I was an MLIS student at Rutgers and providing checklists to follow in Copyright and Cultural Institutions. When I cannot untangle a copyright issue, I turn to Peter Hirtle to help me make informed decisions. So, when the opportunity arose during a recent email exchange, I asked if he would be willing to be interviewed for this blog. Not surprisingly, I was thrilled when he replied that he would be honored to be interviewed for Here and There.

At the time, Peter was in Oxford, England, visiting his wife, who had been Cornell University Librarian prior to her current gig – Bodley’s Librarian. He offered to have the interview via Skype, but since he would be returning to Ithaca in a short time, I offered to visit him at Cornell instead and hoped I could tour the school’s legendary Special Collections while I was there. Peter very kindly set up a series of excellent tours (which will be covered later this month), and was generous of his time, giving me two hours for the interview and a lovely visit in the Olin Library cafe.

Because Peter has been actively involved in the archival community since the mid-1980s, especially in the areas of digital archives and copyright issues, I was looking forward to hearing his thoughts on a range of different topics. Below are a series of videos that represent the breadth and depth of our discussion. I've set the volume at it's lowest setting, which means you'll need to adjust it to your comfort level. The originals were shot in HD, and these all may be viewed in HD by adjusting the setting in the lower left corner of each viewer.

In this first clip, Peter discusses Encoded Archival Description (EAD), the semantic web, linked open data, and other solutions for presenting archival information online in a more meaningful and wide-reaching way. This clip is little over 3 minutes long.

Next, Peter speaks about partnerships (or, if you prefer, collaborative relationships) between cultural heritage institutions, the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and the work involved in identifying potential copyright owners for orphan works. This clip runs for approximately 5.5 minutes.

As a follow-up to the copyright discussion, Peter talks about risk mitigation as it applies to digitizing collections. He also gives tips on what cultural heritage institutions should know when dealing with copyrights. His examples make his points in a very practical way. This clip is a bit over 6 minutes long.

Since I’m still relatively new to this career, I was especially interested in hearing what Peter had to say regarding the “must-have” skills, experience, and attributes every newly minted archivist should have. A deep knowledge of the fundamentals of archival theory and practice may be key, but he wants folks to have a solid foundation in IT and technical skills. Watch the clip to see why (it clocks in at a little over 4 minutes long)

Following along the lines of archival practice, here we talk about the More Product, Less Process methodology. A good portion of our discussion isn’t included here (because we talked about it for a considerable time), but Peter does an excellent job of weighing the pros and cons of MPLP and summarizing the methodology. The clip runs for almost 5.5 minutes.

Finally, we have a short, but powerful clip of Peter explaining the importance of archives and why being an archivist is the best job in the world. I agree with his sentiments and add that being able to discover something different every day is one of my favorite parts of the work. This clip runs 2.5 minutes.

Peter Hirtle’s complete contact information can be found here.


Anonymous said...

Hi. these are very nice. I'm curious to know what kind of camera you used and what type of lighting you used. The camera was mounted on a tripod i assume. thanks.

Deb Schiff said...

I used a Canon VIXIA HF M32 with the ambient lighting. I also used the DM-100 Directional Stereo Microphone on the 90 degree setting. It was indeed mounted on a tripod -- a really nice travel tripod -- the VT-2100 fluid head video tripod. All equipment was purchased at B&H photo -- excellent service and really good buys.

Anonymous said...

thanks Deb. I ask because i'm looking for a light weight, rather portable system to conduct some video oral histories with faculty at my school. I don't want to tote around a lot of heavy equipment and lighting. Peter looks very good in your vids and the audio is great. nice job.

Deb Schiff said...


The camera and all the stuff was very reasonable and lightweight. I even carried all the camera equipment (other than the tripod) and my still camera in a Lowepro bag (BestBuy) that I slung over my shoulder.

I'd recommend this set up for oral histories -- especially the camera and the mic because it fits right into the camera attachment. If you go with it, just be gentle. Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Myself and a colleague did some video oral histories a while back. My colleague ran the camera and i asked the questions. He's a professional film maker and wanted to make sure the subject remained within the camera lens. Assuming one person is running the interivew, how do you ask questions and monitor the subject in lens. i mean does it get cumbersome or tricky?

Deb Schiff said...

If you set it up correctly, little monitoring needs to be done. Prior to recording, I asked Peter where he would be comfortable sitting and gave myself a wide enough shot so that if he did move a bit, I could handle it. Preparation is key. I don't mind that he's not looking directly at the camera. Although if we had enough room, I would have set the tripod up differently, but I'm more than satisfied with the results. It was my first time using the camera for an interview, so not bad. :)

Kevin in NY said...

I love it when professionals with lots of experience get to share their broader insights and opinions. It's very valuable for us newcomers to the field, as we try to develop our own thoughts and opinions. Thanks for sharing the interview.

Deb Schiff said...

Thanks Kevin. I feel the same way.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do these interviews and tours of archives. Each one has been a valuable experience. Meeting these folks, sharing the work they do with the people who read the blog, and seeing the treasures is the most fun an archives/libraries/museums geek like me could have!