The following is a guest post by Megan Forbes, Manager of Collection Information and Access, Museum of the Moving Image.
Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Digital Library Federation’s 2011 Fall Forum, where I participated in a panel about data management, digital curation and digital preservation. I felt a bit like I was punching above my weight compared to the other members of the panel; at the Museum of the Moving Image, although digital media is a key component of our exhibiting, education and collecting activities, we’ve only recently started the process of figuring out what to do with all this stuff in the long term.
The issues of digital preservation and management are complicated for any museum that maintains a permanent collection.
When we accession objects – digital or otherwise – we are making a commitment to hold them in the public trust, to act both strategically and ethically regarding their stewardship and to provide public access to them. Issues of selection aside (not my area of expertise), these commitments require completely new standards for description and storage.
With the support of a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Museum of the Moving Image and its partners at the University of California, Berkeley and the Walker Art Center are working to change the way museums and other collecting organizations work together on software development, use and governance. Moving Image specifically is working to define what it means to acquire, catalog and manage information about digital objects within the context of the museum setting and in relation to those objects as part of a permanent collection.
To do this, we’re evaluating our current data structure standards for museum activities such as acquisition, cataloging and conservation and then supplementing them with elements from standards focus on digital and variable media, such as those developed by DOCAM, Electronic Arts Intermix and the Variable Media Network. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how little we need to stretch our existing standards to accommodate these new fields.
The storage question is proving to be much thornier. Here at Moving Image, we just wrapped up a multi-year, multi-million dollar renovation and expansion project, which included a brand-new collections storage facility with state-of-the-art temperature and humidity controls.
Our paper materials will be happy there; unfortunately, our video games could not care less. Agreeing to take care of digital objects in perpetuity means shifting our attention from materials that we have the ability to stabilize to materials for which there is no stable state that lasts longer than a few years.
Our work on the software development project has shown us that museums are becoming more amenable to giving over the job of storing and maintaining digital data to outside vendors with hosted solutions. While that is certainly one option for digital stewardship, the model I would most like to see is one of collaboration, between museums and libraries, academic institutions and other organizations that have developed more mature strategies for digital preservation and access.
Museums, libraries, archives and other related cultural organizations are adept at describing how they are unique and different from one another, essentially taking the silo approach. If instead, we can focus on the ways in which we are alike, we can bring together institutions grappling with similar issues and develop a model for sharing knowledge, resources and experiences in order to create solutions to our common problems.