Published: June 14, 2019

Heather Bowden and Walker Sampson, professors from the University Libraries, are being honored with a Preservation Publication Award from the Society of American Archivists (SAA) for their 2018 book “The No-Nonsense Guide to Born-Digital Content.”

Professors Heather Bowden and Walker Sampson hold their book. Bowden currently directs Special Collections, Archives, and Preservation in the University Libraries. Before that, she taught at the University of Denver, and in 2016, wanted to use a book for one of her classes called “Archives: Principles and Practices” by Laura Millar that wasn’t available. One day, she logged onto Twitter and tweeted at the author, who tweeted to the publisher, Facet Publishing, and they resolved the issue.

“A tweet is what started the whole thing!” said Bowden.

A few weeks later, Facet reached out to Bowden directly asking her if she would like to write a book for them based on her research specialties, which are digital preservation and digital file formats. Realizing from her own teaching experience that she had many students coming into her courses anxious about born-digital content workflows and knowing there were few books on the subject, she decided to write an entry-level guide on the subject geared towards her students and those with experience in the field.

“My intention was to open the doors for these folks who just didn’t think they could do it,” she said.

Walker Sampson, a digital archivist with Special Collections, Archives and Preservation, signed on mid-way through the project, and together Sampson and Bowden wrote chapters pertinent to their areas of expertise, including the basics, then acquisition, digital preservation storage and strategies, access, and new and emerging areas in born-digital materials, to name a few.

The authors want students settled in working with paper-based materials to think about the interpretation process of messages on paper.

“Understanding the basics of preserving and interpreting born-digital information is no different. It helps to understand how digital information is encoded and fixed onto physical media to make informed decisions about how best to preserve and provide access to it."

-The No-Nonsense Guide to Born-Digital Content

Bowden noted that archives are constantly seeing more digital documents come in over documents of paper-based materials. She challenges her students to consider what percentage of the content they’re creating daily only exists in a digital format.

“In 50 years, what are your boxes of papers going to look like when you give them to the archives?” she asked. “Your archives are going to be your passwords and your cell phone and your social media or downloads from your social media.”

Sampson said that with this book, readers will not only gain confidence in their newly-developing skill sets, but they’ll also be able to see a more seamless path between the principles of physical and digital archives. Bowden said that all of this information is best absorbed through a playful mindset, knowing that the nature of archives will continue to evolve in time and that adopting an attitude of fearlessness will help people weather the storm.

In August, Bowden and Sampson will be presented with the award at the Council of State Archivists (CoSA), the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), and the SAA’s Joint Annual Meeting. This award is meant to recognize the author or editor of an outstanding published work related to archival preservation.

Congratulations, Heather and Walker!