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$1.1M grant from Mellon Foundation will facilitate advances in email curation

Chapel Hill and Raleigh, NC

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a grant for $1.1 million from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a project to develop a toolset that will enable institutions to more quickly and efficiently process emails included in born-digital collections. The UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) is partnering with the State Archives of North Carolina under the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NC DNCR) for the two-year project, which will launch in January. The Review, Appraisal, and Triage of Mail (RATOM) project’s goals are particularly significant for organizations, including libraries, archives and museums (LAMs), that need to provide public access to records while protecting private information.

“Email is often present in collections, series, or acquisitions that include other types of materials. LAMs are increasingly looking for tools and methods to identify and document both the records and contextual relationships between them,” said SILS Professor Christopher “Cal” Lee, who will serve as Principal Investigator (PI) for the project. “RATOM will support interactive selection and appraisal of records using free and open source software.”

RATOM will focus on developing new software and workflows that will help institutions identify email in born-digital collections, review email sources for sensitive or restricted materials, and perform appraisal and triage to identify and annotate records. The project will specifically explore the use of machine learning to separate irrelevant emails from those that should be preserved, and will apply natural language processing methods to identify topics of interest within those records, so the messages can be tagged for improved organization and retrieval.

RATOM will build on the successes of BitCurator, BitCurator Access, and BitCurator NLP, previous projects Lee led at SILS, as well as the Transforming Online Mail with Embedded Semantics (TOMES) project conducted by the State Archives of North Carolina (SANC). TOMES has developed software to identify email accounts of public officials with enduring value in order to capture, preserve, and provide access to important government records. In addition to Lee, RATOM project personnel will include SILS Research Scientist Kam Woods (Co-PI) and DARNC Section Head of Digital Services Camille Tyndall Watson (Co-PI).

“Despite 47 years of email creation and the vital role of email as documentation of activities across all sectors of society, the professional curation of email is still relatively immature,” said Lee. “With RATOM, we hope to significantly advance the process.”

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