An NDSR Field Trip to Martha’s Vineyard

Hello Readers.

I am the National Digital Stewardship Resident at UMass Boston’s University welcometo mvArchives and Special Collections. Last weekend I visited Martha’s Vineyard, the summer playground of presidents and the site of the most recent Mass Memories Road Show event, the 43rd overall. Despite cooler temperatures and overcast skies, it was a beautiful Fall weekend on the island.

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For the uninitiated, the Mass Memories Road Show is an ongoing community based digital humanities project conducted by UMass Boston since 2004. The goal of the project is to collaborate with Massachusetts cities and towns to organize community building events where images and stories that document the history of Massachusetts through the eyes of its citizens are collected one town at a time. To learn more about the Mass Memories Road Show project, visit UMass Boston’s Open Archives web site.

I didn’t travel to Martha’s Vineyard on this cool and overcast late October lobster-rollweekend just to support my host institution or to dine on an obscenely large lobster roll at the famous Black Dog Tavern. No, I went to work on my NDSR project. My project is to develop a digital preservation plan for UMass Boston. The ingredients in my test kitchen are the images and videos of the Mass Memories Road Show collection so I went to learn more about how these digital objects are created and collected.

My original intention was simply to float between several stations responsible for
generating the digital objects and the metadata for these objects. I was primarily interested in observing the information stations where metadata about contributed photographs is captured; the scanning and digital stations where contributed photographs are digitized; the keepsake station where large format photographs, artifacts and contributors are photographed; and the video station where contributors are recorded telling their stories. By observing these stations, I hoped to better understand the workflows used to create the collection and to gain insight on how best to preserve the resulting materials.

mv gathering

The surprise for me was the interest in digital preservation that was expressed to me by many of the volunteers affectionately known as “roadies.” Many event volunteers are information professionals who have a personal and professional stake in digital preservation. As I moved around the room, introducing myself to the volunteers, I was continually asked about digital preservation issues and my NDSR project.

mv keepsake

An artist and volunteer from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum was interested in how he could create awareness at the museum for the need for digital preservation. He was concerned that no one is collecting born digital cultural heritage on Martha’s Vineyard and that there will be a large gap in the cultural record as a result. Several librarians engaged me in discussions about digital preservation topics such as preservation friendly file formats, concerns over obsolescence and the use of cloud storage.

At the end of the day I had accomplished far more than I had set out to do — on the road in Martha’s Vineyard. My presence and participation at the road show had raised awareness in and influenced people to talk about digital preservation. All that and a lobster roll, what a trip.

Please visit this space each week and help NDSR Boston continue to generate awareness and interest in digital stewardship issues.

Thanks, Jeff Erickson

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Best Practices Exchange 2015 Wrap-Up

Hello, NDSR community! I’m Stefanie, the resident at the State Library of Massachusetts. My project entails developing more efficient workflows for the acquisition and maintenance of digital publications created by Massachusetts state agencies. The challenge we are facing is that, while the State Library is mandated to collect all state publications for public access, state agencies now post their publications to their individual websites, which are not always stable or reliable.  The library currently seeks these publications out through various methods, but isn’t able to capture even the bulk of existing documents. I’m here to help examine what we can do to improve on this. The last month has been filled with training in their DSpace repository, learning how the library is currently acquiring state publications, conducting a workflow assessment of other state libraries, and familiarizing myself with all things digital preservation.

Over the last few days, I attended the Best Practices Exchange (BPE) annual conference, held at the State Museum in Harrisburg, PA. BPE gathers librarians, archivists, and information professionals to discuss issues around “acquiring, preserving and providing access to government information in the digital era.”  A conference essentially addressing my exact project? Held a month into the residency? In a nearby state? Yes, please! This was a great opportunity for me to engage with professionals who are tackling the same issues I am here at the State Library. I learned way too much to share with you here, but will focus on some highlights…

The most rewarding session for me was what BPE refers to as “Birds of a Feather” rooms. Using the “un-conference” model, an attendee suggests a topic, then interested individuals form break-out group to discuss image2 (1)further. My supervisor, Alix Quan, led the charge and signed us up for a Birds of a Feather room centered around electronic documents workflows. I explained my project to 10 fellow State Librarians and we discussed how our institutions handle electronic state publications. The good and bad news is that it seems we’re all in the same boat. Though each library employs various tools and processes, nobody has figured out the magical formula that enables us to capture every single publication that agencies produce—all within their resources and means. I learned so much from listening to other librarians discuss their processes for acquisitions, their collection policies, the tools they use for access and preservation, and their outreach efforts. I will be touching on each of these facets throughout my project, and having this conversation early on in the residency gives me some ideas of where this project can go.

State House of PA

State House of PA

Moreover, my hope is that this session is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between state librarians and archivists, so that we can continue working together to create better workflows that benefit our institutions and the public.

Other sessions I attended included: Digitization at Any Scale, Digital Preservation Training and Education, an Archive-It Meetup, and Building Digital Preservation Workflows. Almost each session provided a case study and examined how that institution dealt with its digital content. I very much appreciated having the chance to learn from those who have come before—whether the project was ultimately successful or not. I took something away from each session, especially when it came to learning about the diversity of resources available for digital archival preservation. I see a lot of researching these tools in my future.

I also very much enjoyed Penn State University Archivist Jackie Esposito’s speech, “Archiving Digital Content: Challenges and Solutions”, which offered a frank and direct perspective on approaching digital content.  One key lesson I took away from her image3speech was that nobody knows what the future of digital preservation is. We cannot predict what software, hardware, computers, materials, tools we will be dealing with in 20, 30, or 50 years (though fingers crossed we do finally get those hoverboards that Back to the Future promised us). All we can do now is look into the foreseeable future, and ask what we can do to make sure these materials are preserved for the time we can control. Additionally, its better to do something than nothing. Even if its not the “right answer” (is there a right answer, anyway?), we need to proactively engage in preserving content now, or that material will deteriorate. This was helpful for me as I question what the best thing I can do is for the State Library. I think the best answer I have for now is…something!

Looking ahead, I will continue my assessment of how other state libraries handle their content, engage State Librarians in the ongoing discussion and collaboration that began at BPE, and begin narrowing down some ideas of how we can go about collecting more state publications. I’m excited to find out where this takes us!

Thanks for checking in,
Stefanie

A Peek Into Cloud Services: NISO Webinar on Cloud and Web Services for Libraries

On Wednesday afternoon I attended a webinar hosted by NISO about Cloud and Web Services for Libraries. For all of our digital content that we intend to preserve, we need secure and compliant storage. My project for MIT Libraries involves looking into digital preservation within the context of MIT Libraries and the current state of storage in the digital collections. I will be working as part of a team to explore, evaluate and researching the various archival/preservation storage options out in the ‘verse that would work for MIT Libraries and the Digital Preservation Unit. One of the aspects I am exploring are cloud services in relation to preservation storage, and thus the reason viewing this webinar was attractive to me.

NISOlogo

There were three panelists, which included:

  • John “JG” Chirapurath is the Senior Vice President and General Manager of ProQuest Workflow Solutions.
  • Kurt Ewoldsen is the Manager, Infrastructure and Applications Support, within the California Digital Library at the University of California.
  • Heather Lea Moulaison is an Assistant Professor at the iSchool (School of Information Science & Learning Technologies), at the University of Missouri.

Each of the panelist had a different ideas and spins on the ways clouds had been, and can be, utilized by their, or other, institutions.

John “JG” Chirapurath 

“Utilizing the Cloud to Empower Research Efforts,” was about…exactly what the title said. It was a really good presentation and introduction to cloud services through research databases. He gave me a lot of information I didn’t know about clouds. I liked that he talked about linked data and gave an example of it, (Facebook as a Social Cloud). Truthfully, I have been a bit “ehh, huh…” about linked data for a while, so it was nice to get some context.

Kurt Ewoldsen

His presentation, “Migrating CDL Infrastructure to Amazon Web Services,” was more technical and was only about the AWS (Amazon Web Services) Cloud. His information on why cloud services should be considered was very interesting, and a good checklist for what you should look for when considering a cloud services: cost, agility, and scalability! I would have liked to have seen statistics from other vendors that Kurt and his department had considered so I could understand a little better why he choose AWS as a vendor.

Heather Lea Moulaison 

“Surveying the Horizon: Preservation and the Cloud” had more to do with preservation. She talked about the challenges and opportunities for using the various cloud services for preservation. One thing I found especially interesting was when she talked about exit strategies, the “what ifs.” Thinking about the “what ifs” give me the wiggins, but it’s necessary. She gave several questions to ask ourselves when are considering whether a cloud service is right for us: What happens if service provider become obsolete, how do you get your data back? How can you understand the service and make the best of your options? Important questions, but dude…now I’ve got the wiggins.

All in all, the presentations were informative on many fronts and I am glad I was given the opportunity to listen to the panelists. Thanks for reading!

The Future of Libraries

Hello world!

This is Julie, the NDSR resident at Harvard.  The residency is getting off to a smooth – and busy! – start.  In order to get myself orientated and ready to tackle the project, I’ve been reading up on the ISO 16363 standard, attending meetings, and getting to know people across Harvard.

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One exciting thing about being at Harvard and in Boston: There’s always something cool going on! For example, today I attended a discussion on “Libraries: The Next Generation” with fellow NDSR Resident, Stefanie.  This event was part of HUBWeek, a series of events about the relationship between art, science, and technology.  All week, all over Boston, there have been events and discussions about everything from coping with climate change to the future of privacy. This particular event examined “how libraries are drawing on their past and using technology to create new resources for scholarship and education.” It featured a panel made up of Dan Cohen of the DPLA, Jeffrey Schnapp of Harvard,  and Andromeda Yelton, a freelance  librarian and technologist.

I wanted to attend this discussion because, well, first of all, I care about libraries and their future. And I think the DPLA is really cool. But most of all, I think that digital preservation, libraries, and archives are already inter-connected and will only become more intertwined in the future.

The panel raised and discussed a lot of interesting questions:  What is the role of the library in the digital age? How do libraries best serve their users? How do we make best use of a library’s physical space? How do we protect users’ privacy while still providing access? What skills will librarians need in the future? How can we create metadata that reflects the needs of the people who use the materials, rather than the bias of the people who create the metadata?

I particularly liked one definition of the role of libraries given by Andromeda, who said that libraries are a place where people are transformed through access to knowledge and other people.

The panelists went back and forth, debating these issues and taking questions from the audience. And then…imagine my surprise and delight when the conversation turned to everyone’s favorite topic…digital preservation!

FRED station at UNC Chapel Hill

FRED station at UNC Chapel Hill

One digital preservation issue they discussed: How can libraries deal with the rapid changes in technology? How can we provide continued access to digital materials when the technology we use to access them changes so quickly? For example, Dan mentioned that he had previously used the Oyster e-book service, but Oyster went out of business, and he lost access to all his books.  This also brings up another related issue: The problem of using private services to store your digital objects. What happens if those services stop working or go out of business?

The panelists also discussed how libraries have always been institutions that store collective memory – as one of the panelists said, libraries are “in the long-term” business. But will they be able to continue doing so in the digital age?

The panel also discussed another one of my interests: digital curation.

A man in the audience voiced in concern that, in the digital age, where anyone can write anything online, it may become more difficult to find quality writing and information. And, what if the only voices that come through are the ones that are really popular? As an example he said, “what if there’s a radio station that only plays Taylor Swift?” To which Stefanie and I replied, “Uh, that sounds awesome.”

The panelists pointed out that this increased authorship could actually be a good thing. Sure, it means that there are a lot of terrible zombie novels out there, and you might have to search through a bunch of them to find the one you actually want. But it also means that people who might have been ignored by traditional publishing and media now have a chance to have their voice heard. And, the panelists pointed out, the influx of information means that libraries will only become more important in the future, because libraries can help people sort through this information to find what they actually want and need.

I thought it was interesting that digital preservation and digital curation were being discussed here in terms of how they might serve the general public. That is, it seems that so far, digital preservation has mostly focused on serving academic institutions, as well as museums and archives. I don’t hear many people talking about digital preservation in public libraries, for example. But, as this panel shows, it’s clearly an issue that the public librarians are grappling with and will continue to face, as they try to help their patrons use services like Kindle.  It also seems possible that, in the future, public library patrons will want be asking questions like, “How do I save my tweets?” and “How do I get this file off my old floppy disk?” But so far, I don’t see much discussion the digital preservation community about how digital preservation might be needed in public libraries. But maybe I’m not looking in the right places? Someone tell me if I’m not.

Stacks at the Boston Public Library

Stacks at the Boston Public Library

Finally, a couple themes seemed to run throughout the panel: First, the importance of communicating with the people who will actually use your service, whatever it is. Second, the importance of collaboration among librarians/archivists/information people in order to tackle these tricky problems.

It certainly gave me a lot to think about, and I’m sure I’ll keep mulling over these questions and many others throughout the residency…And if I have any brilliant insights, I’ll be sure to share them here on the blog. And if you, dear readers, have any brilliant insights, be sure to share them in the comments!

My dad reading at one of my favorite libraries, the Summit County Library in Park City, Utah.

My dad reading at one of my favorite libraries, the Summit County Library in Park City, Utah.

NDSR Residents Take the Stage

Last week the residents were invited to present at the Annual Meeting of the New England National Digital Stewardship Alliance.  After only one week at our host institutions we were faced with the daunting task of introducing ourselves and explaining our projects.  Although it was intimidating at first, I think it gave us all the motivation to jump into the deep end of our project.  We needed to learn as much as possible in those first days, there was no time to waste.  We fit a lot of information into each of our five minutes; introducing our personal background, the host institution’s context, and the scope of our project.

NDSR Residents on stage

After the nerves of our own presentation subsided we participated in the ‘unconference’ sessions proposed the morning of the conference and voted on during lunch.  I joined “Implementing Practical Preservation Practices” not only because of the great alliteration, but also because this directly applies to my task of creating a digital preservation policy at the JFK Library. I learned so much from the other attendees, twelve people sitting around a tiny table throwing out ideas and asking each other to share experiences.  I love the unconference model because every session is decided on by the attendees so you know there’s passion for the topic.  I walked away with a long list of articles and tools to research as well as some new ideas on how to address digital storage, file fixity, and other preservation issues.

I think the best piece of advice I received from the conference is to create a vision for what you want to do and let the policy and practice follow.  You can tell I was pretty excited about this idea from my notes.

Picture of Notes "create a vision for the policy"