SLIS alum Christopher Felker was recently elected the 2012-2014 national representative of the Steering Committee for the Society of American Archivists (SAA) Government Records Section, and plans to use his role to advocate for revisions to the archival standards that describe litigation records.
Felker works as the Civil Rights Project Archives Assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he is involved in processing UCLA’s collection of Civil Rights litigation records. His experience is reflected in the National Archives and Records Administration response to an urgent need for revisions in government archival standards. In a mandate that carries out a presidential memorandum to reform records management for the 21st century, all agencies must begin to manage their records in electronic format by the end of the decade.
“Currently, when a legal case closes, the records go to Federal Records Centers at the National Archives,” Felker said. “Without archival descriptive rules, no one will know how to find this public information later. Many times, these cases turn out to be very important in the future – especially cases involving civil rights litigation.” Currently, there is no transparent or standing relationship to bring the archival community into the process of accessioning or describing the civil rights case files at these federal records centers. “Improving communication and coordination is critical to having access to what some feel is a significant portion of American history,” Felker said.
Archival standards are one of many issues Felker will work on as a national rep for SAA’s Government Records Section, which concerns itself with the administration, organization, and care of government records. Enhanced data curation and the expansion of digital archive collaborations are two other areas on which Felker plans to focus.
“Data is cited everywhere, but sometimes older data sets can’t be read effectively, or the software to read it no longer exists,” Felker said. “Our task is to save these old sets in the lowest common denominator formats so that anything can read it, and then also save them in the top two or three most-used formats. It’s a tremendous amount of work and collaboration.”
Recent opportunities for delivering a set of services that together form a reliable, scalable, and inexpensive computing platform “in the cloud” are perfect for presenting data sets and court documents using linked resources. At the University of California, whether by contracting with external vendors or situating digital special collections on servers already maintained by the university, these records can be published very rapidly. Over time, the social networks embedded in court cases will surface, and gradually a national authority file can be constructed for cases involving hundreds of individuals and corporate parties over many decades.
Felker graduated from SJSU SLIS in December 2009. Prior to earning his MLIS, Felker earned a law degree from the University of Connecticut and worked at the Department of Justice from 2002-2005. He also clerked at the Navy Court of Criminal Appeals from 2007-2008 while earning his MLIS degree. It was through his legal work that he first became interested in handling litigation records across the records continuum, both in the court system and in university or social archives.