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Robin Chandler - Learning Resources

Robin Chandler
Director of Digital Libraries, UC San Diego
Interviewed 05/10/2012

Robin Chandler shares the dramatic story of how her library’s digitization of five cartons of incriminating evidence led to the University of California San Francisco being sued by the Brown and Williamson (B&W) tobacco company for the return of stolen property. The documents showed that B&W knew that tobacco was addictive and that there were linkages between smoking, heart disease and lung cancer. B&W was attempting to keep documents from being made freely available in the public domain. Plus, learn from Robin Chandler why we need to have a Grateful Dead Archive.

A powerful tobacco company. An anonymous sender. A library scanning allegedly “stolen property”. Death threats. Was it “stolen” property? Does the public have the right to know? Who was Mr. Buds?

“Seize opportunities…there are events that happen around you that can lead to really important things…the youngest person in the room can actually contribute a great deal to something. I’d also say to be brave…don’t be afraid…you can really make a difference.”

In her first job leading a department, Robin Chandler was the head of Archives and Special Collections at UC San Francisco’s Library and Center for Knowledge Management from 1995 to 2000. Only in her mid-thirties, Robin Chadler was managing the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (LTDL) ( LTDL currently “contains more than 14 million documents (80+ million pages) created by major tobacco companies related to their advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific research activities” (LTDL Homepage).

Documenting grassroots movements
Consider documenting the process of popular movements. For example, the UC San Francisco Library, being part of an academic health center, had a mission of public health. They were documenting the whole process of a grassroots movement around tobacco in California that revolved around the anti-smoking ballot initiative, Proposition 99. “Prop 99” passed and allowed the state to levy a tax on tobacco sales. Revenues would be spent on helping educate the public about the hazards of smoking. Documenting the process involved reaching out and getting the papers of individuals and organizations that had made this ballot initiative possible.

Advice to young people entering the field: Seize opportunities and be brave!
Robin Chandler was only in her mid-30’s in her first job as head of a department and running a Special Collections unit within the University of California system.
- “Seize opportunities…there are events that happen around you that can lead to really important things…the youngest person in the room can actually contribute a great deal to something. I’d also say to be brave…don’t be afraid…you can really make a difference.”

Collection level access vs. Item level access
Item-level metadata creates access at the item level. How do you work your archival principles and thoughts about arrangement and description in a project with unique challenges?
- “Archivists are usually thinking very much at a sort of collection level or series level and what was really clear about this particular set of materials is that we were really talking about item level access, and each—each letter or memorandum or report was something of unique interest.”
- “Because we knew that the power of the material was going to be in the ability to search the documents. The more possibility that you could mine that material, the better it would be.

Arm yourself with knowledge
Be knowledgeable about the definition of “property”, prior restraint and issues of publication, the First Amendment, and what is appropriate to be in the public domain.
- For example, the five cartons contained copies of original documents. B&W was arguing that the documents were their property. Essentially, “that meant that what they were really trying to assert was that—that copies were still property. And in a sense they wanted to control the information.”
- UCSF argued that “they were copies, they weren’t the originals, so they really couldn’t use that…sort of argument that—that they had their originals, so how could you argue that you had stolen property?”
- “And it quickly sort of escalated to this really interesting kind of free speech first amendment issue that—could the tobacco companies essentially exercise prior restraint on us to keep us from making the material accessible.”

Focus on sharing science pre-print data
Physicists want to share their pre-print data.
- “Physicists gather data and they analyze the data and—and they’re always sort of on the cutting edge of—sort of computers and the idea of sharing information.”
- “High energy physicists from the beginning are—they’re all about the pre-print…they’re more interested in actually sharing their information even before it gets published.”
- “So it’s just—it’s just this—very much this dissemination kind of culture.”
- “There are only usually a few labs around the world…SLAC [Stanford Linear Accelerator Center] or CERN or KEK in Japan, but you’ve got—you’ve got physicists from all over the world that want to use those machines, so you might have, you know, 2 to 3 to 400 scientists all working on one experiment, but they’re all very interconnected and they—again, they share all of their information.”
- “The physicists are distributed world-wide, and there is—it is no coincidence that Tim Burners-Lee was at CERN and that he invented the Web because of that need to essentially connect physicists.”

Be prepared for backlash (or worse, death threats)
Not everyone in the field will agree with you, even if you feel that you’ve done a very important public service.
- “There were our defenders, that really felt that, you know, we had done something fantastic, that it was just like the Pentagon Papers, that it was this great—great step forward to have put forward all this primary research material. I mean, and that was really what it was. This was making primary research material available on the web. It was a huge thing.”
- “Understandably, the archivists that were working in the corporate sector, were pretty concerned about it…that we had violated—what were archival ethics…essentially violated the trust that an archivist would have with a corporate organization and that we had—we had done the wrong thing.”
- “And not long after the publication I got—I got some—essentially what was sort of hate mail from an individual who said, you know, you have no right to do this and you better watch your back because the bullets are going to be flying.”

Committing to digitizing on a massive scale
When you have information, users and the mechanism to make the information available to users, make the commitment and digitize the content despite the size and cost. You have the “why”. Now focus on the “how”. Find the funding and get it done.
- “Based on what we had done already with Brown and Williamson, and then after that we took on the “Joe Camel papers”, which was another litigation that we put the materials up, that—that it was just—it was just clear to me that no matter what the size, that it was going to be used.”
- “And I thought that no matter what it was going to cost to do it, that in some sense the idea that you would put 30 million electronic documents up online was, yeah, a formidable challenge, but it’s kind of like, how many other times in the history of information are you going to have the technology to make something available and then a really good sense of the fact you’ve really got users.”
- “I mean, this is going to be used…you’ve got a mechanism, you’ve got information, and you’ve got users.”
- “I mean, this was scale. This was revolutionary. And it just felt like something that should get done.”
- “They embraced it and we started looking for money, you know, for how to do it.”

Archivists are really powerful people
You need to understand the “real power of records” and “the power of what archivists do”. At the same time, you also need to understand that there must be a balance between that power, the consequences of using it and your institutional responsibilities. Robin Chandler recommends reading Archives Power by Randall C. Jimerson and The Ethical Archivist by Elena S. Danielson.
- “They’re both people I really admire but they—they speak to me about—the real power of records. And the power of what archivists do.”
- “Archivists are really powerful people…we really are powerful people, and Rand, very, I think, eloquently in the sense of thinking about how we have very important roles in the creation of history and memory and—we have very important jobs to shape what happens.”
- “The really important things are thinking about that balance. Because I’ve thought about it…it was a very profound thing to know that one was putting archivists that were corporate archivists in some kind of jeopardy by what we had done and…I considered that a lot. And those were very—they were poignant arguments that they were making.”
- “Understand how powerful you are. You know, don’t doubt it. Don’t doubt it at all. It’s a very powerful, powerful job, definitely.”

Archivists are part of the larger conversation
- “There’s even kind of a larger dialogue that we’re a part of, and it’s especially prevalent now with the interconnectedness of the web that sometimes you need to—help participate in a—in a debate that would end up in a reasoned discussion and hopefully a reasonable way forward.”

A Grateful Dead Archive? Of course!
The Grateful Dead Archive Online (GDAO)

From About Us page:
- “What is GDAO? The Grateful Dead Archive Online (GDAO) is a socially constructed collection comprised of over 45,000 digitized items drawn from the UCSC Library’s extensive Grateful Dead Archive (GDA) and from digital content submitted by the community and global network of Grateful Dead fans.”
- “On April 24, 2008 band members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart announced at the San Francisco Fillmore press conference that the group was donating its archives to the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) Library Special Collections. There was a great deal of excitement about making the archives available as a research collection and as a resource on the Internet where the band’s thirty-year history could be interpreted through educational use of archives and artifacts.”
- “The GDAO website is powered by the open-source web-publishing platform Omeka supporting the display of collections and exhibits, social media tools and the uploading of user contributions as well as the community development of plugins to enhance the software.

From Robin Chanlder:
- “And there are people that…dismiss the Grateful Dead for certain associations with cultures of the 1960s, and of course that’s all true, but at the same time, it’s clear to me that historically, in another 100 years, that period of time will be looked on like any romantic period.”
- “You go back, look at anything, like the 19th century, mid-19th century and romantic movements that were happening that were—sort of, in a sense rebelling against the industrialization and these things happen all the time…It’s just part of—it’s part of youth, it’s part of history, to re-envision the world. And in that sense, you know, that’s what the Grateful Dead was part of.”
- “What’s interesting just as an historian is also to look at just how the band changed over those thirty years. And that’s very interesting because you don’t really see—you don’t necessarily have an archival record for something—a group like that.”
- “That period of time deserves to be documented as well, and it should be documented and I think it’s—again, it’s just—it’s part of what we do and what you need to do.”

Advice to young people entering the field
Seize opportunities, be brave, make sure it fits with your moral compass and go for it!
- “Seize opportunities…there are events that happen around you that can lead to really important things…the youngest person in the room can actually contribute a great deal to something. I’d also say to be brave…don’t be afraid…you can really make a difference.”
- “I’d say go for it. You know, when it comes, just go for it. Don’t let the naysayers stop you. You do have to make sure that it fits with your own moral compass. I mean, that’s the most important thing, that it’s something that—morally that you feel comfortable with...And that’s really important because whatever you do decide to do, you’ll need to live with it. But if you’ve got that…then you’ve got everything so…you’re fine. Go forth and prosper.”

Moving archivists and librarians into data management
We need to address records management at the beginning of the lifecycle during R&D. We need to work with faculty and researchers and discuss documentation strategy. Ask questions such as: What faculty papers are important to save? What data do we need to capture?