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Richard Thai Joins the Caltech Library as New Digital Archivist

by Chris Daley on 2023-03-30T17:02:00-07:00 in Archives, Library News | 0 Comments

Richard Thai comes to us from CSUN where he was the ScholarWorks (Repository) Specialist, and he previously held archivist positions at the LA84 Foundation and the National History Museum of Los Angeles County. Richard holds a BA from UC Irvine and a MLIS from UCLA, where he sits on the Information Studies Alumni Association Board. The search committee was struck by Richard’s collaborative work style and his outreach efforts. We asked Richard some questions about his role in this new position.

Congratulations on your new position as Digital Archivist, Richard! Could you give us an introduction to what a digital archivist does?

Thank you! I am excited to be here at Caltech.

The role of a digital archivist can vary from institution to institution. At Caltech, I will be working primarily with “born-digital” materials. As you can guess, that’s materials that were created on a computer and not digitalized from a physical counterpart. So instead of preserving the letters and newspapers, I would be preserving emails and websites. More importantly, I would be developing the policies and workflows for preserving digital content and making them accessible. At other institutions, the digital archivist may also oversee digitalization as well. I am sure there are some “duties as assigned” waiting for me, too.

What inspired you to pursue a career in digital archiving?

The short answer: I like organizing stuff, I have a fondness for history, and I enjoy helping people.

The long answer: I thought I wanted to pursue a career in museums but the only department that had an opening was the history department. They had a western history collection that needed processing and the archivist needed help. Like many archivists, getting a taste of working in an archive was what sent me on my archives journey.

I did not intentionally set out to be a digital archivist but with things becoming increasingly digital, it is where the exciting new developments in the field are happening.

What does a day in the life of a digital archivist look like?

We are currently in process of developing our “born-digital” collection at Caltech and I am in the “training/discovery” phase of the job. This means I am attending training sessions, meeting with Library staff, researching standards/workflows, and testing out different software. Ask me again in a few months and I will have a better answer.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing digital archivists in 2023? 

Digital archiving is a relatively young field, so we do not have a deep history of professional practice to fall back upon. Many of my digital archivist colleagues have told me that they are learning on the job. At the same time, we are not held back by decades old professional dogma and there are a lot of opportunities to be a pioneer in the field. It is daunting but also a very exciting time to be in archives.

What do you anticipate for the future of the Caltech digital archives?

It will be great. There are a lot of born-digital materials waiting to be collected and processed.

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