Faces of UMSI: Rebecca Frank

Rebecca Frank’s interest in the PhD program at UMSI began with a question she asked as a graduate student pursuing an MSI in Preservation of Information.

At the time, she was working as a University Library Associate at the Art, Architecture and Engineering Library, and assisting Shannon Zachary, head of the U-M Library’s Department of Preservation and Conservation, on a project developing disaster plans for all campus library locations. This project, coupled with her UMSI coursework, prompted Rebecca to think about how disaster planning was being applied in digital preservation. 

“I went to my instructors—Beth Yakel and Paul Conway—and asked where I could find articles about disaster planning in digital preservation,” Rebecca says. “Their response was that I was looking for information that didn’t exist, and that I had found a good topic for a research project.” 

Rebecca’s question led to her master’s thesis, “Disaster planning for digital repositories,” where she found out that in addition to being interested in the topic, she also enjoyed the research process. 

“I really ended up in the PhD program here because I had a question at work that I couldn’t answer,” Rebecca says. “Through that question, I discovered all these things about research and the UMSI PhD program that I probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise.”

With Yakel as her advisor, Rebecca has worked on a number of projects in her three years in the UMSI PhD program. As a graduate student research assistant on Yakel’s Dissemination Information Packages for Information Reuse (DIPIR) project, Rebecca collected data and conducted analysis for the study that looked at data reuse practices among social scientists, archaeologists, and zoologists. 

Each summer, Rebecca also participates in the Archival Education Research Institute (AERI). The annual week-long conferences are open to undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, and faculty undertaking research and teaching in archival studies. The institutes are designed to stimulate growth and strengthen education and research support in the field.

Through her involvement in AERI, Rebecca has had the opportunity to network with people from all over the world who study digital preservation, including Joanne Evans from Australia’s Monash Univeristy, with whom Rebecca will be conducting research in summer 2015 on sustainable infrastructures for digital preservation. 

The summer research project is jointly funded by the Australian Research Council and the National Science Foundation’s selective East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI) program. The NSF provided for only 215 fellowship awards for its 2015 EAPSI program.

Rebecca’s research seeks to understand the lifecycles and outcomes of digital preservation projects, and will evaluate a large batch of federally-funded efforts from the Australian National Data Service in order to discover how certain projects were able to successfully create infrastructure for digital preservation. 

“I’m really excited about the whole experience. We were able to propose a unique project that will be really interesting to research,” Rebecca says. “And it’s one of the first projects to look across an entire ecosystem of projects to study large-scale outcomes of how we are doing in terms of infrastructure development and preservation of digital information.”

The research will contribute to a larger project that Evans is working on, in which she is developing an archival recordkeeping system to manage the records of communities experiencing identity, memory and accountability crises. The system will help to enfranchise users and improve access to archival records for these communities.

For her doctoral dissertation, Rebecca is continuing to think about risk and digital preservation. Specifically, she’s looking at certifications for trustworthy digital repositories and information infrastructures to support the preservation of digital information.

Once she earns her PhD, Rebecca plans to pursue a career in academia and continue to conduct research in digital preservation.

“I found my way into research and the PhD program through an unconventional path, but once I got here, I realized that’s where I should have been all along,” Rebecca says. “Hopefully I’m laying the groundwork for a research agenda that will continue to be compelling and rewarding.”