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

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