Jody DeRidder is the Head of Digital Services at the University of Alabama Libraries in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She is one of 24 Digital Preservation Outreach & Education trainers situated across the U.S. Since she first joined the DPOE Trainer Network, she has shown unbridled enthusiasm for the DPOE program and for digital preservation education in general. She recently led a series of three webinars hosted by the Association for Southeastern Research Libraries that had record-breaking numbers of attendees. She has also taken a leading role in posing and answering questions on the DPOE Listserv. We took some time to ask Jody a few questions about what she does at the University of Alabama, how she became involved in DPOE, and a little bit about her experience delivering her webinars. Her enthusiasm for her trade and really, the spirit of DPOE, shines through all of the responses she wrote.
Heather: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at the University of Alabama Libraries.
Jody: I’m a very curious and analytical person; I love solving puzzles, and it seems that’s what life is all about. In the past 12 years, I’ve earned master’s degrees in both Computer Science and Information Sciences, wandering into the digital library field quite by accident, though I’ve been in love with books and libraries all my life. For the past 10 years, I’ve developed and supported digital library software. At UA Libraries, I oversee all digitization and management of our digital content for the long-term. I am also responsible for automating, as much as possible, the workflows that contribute to our online services and our digital archive. That covers quite a bit, actually; while my team is involved in production digitization (we have digitized about 15 TB of manuscript material in the past 3 years) and usability studies, I spend much of my time programming, and the rest of it working with other departments, developing and supporting collaborative efforts. In general, my job is to find the lowest-cost, most feasible way to support creation, preservation, access and delivery for digital content… and then to make it happen.
Heather: How are you involved in digital preservation at your organization?
Jody: I convene the cross-departmental group who develop our digital preservation policies and efforts, set the agenda and track our progress. As the steward of all our archival files, it’s my job to prepare all incoming content for the archive, to automate the creation and updating of LOCKSS manifests, to implement decisions regarding our storage system, to research the necessary and most feasible preservation metadata we can capture, and to create the workflows and software to support our choices. For example, I’ve built software to automate the capture and verification of checksums prior to backups, to ensure that good copies are not overwritten with corrupt ones. I monitor our progress in LOCKSS participation, develop and support databases to track our content, and locate, adapt, or write whatever software we need to support and manage our content. I also developed our storage system, which leverages the file system to maintain order, stores metadata at the level to which it is applicable, and which is largely software-independent.
Heather: How did you come to attend the DPOE Train-the-Trainer workshop?
Jody: I have long been concerned with the challenges facing the smaller and less well-endowed institutions who are struggling to determine how best to support their digitization efforts. While the well-funded few are busy establishing best practices, the majority are of us are seeking practical solutions that can be implemented with whatever resources are available. When I saw the DPOE workshop description, I saw it as a real opportunity to be able to help offer basic, no-nonsense solutions to others who are overwhelmed by the complexity of digital preservation issues. So many people just want to know where to start, and what they can feasibly do. Many of us look to the Library of Congress as a guiding light; the DPOE Train-the-Trainer workshop was designed to help spread that light as it builds a network where we can all help one another and share what works. I was excited to be included!
Heather: You have had some very successful training events recently. Can you tell us more about these?
Jody: Prior to the DPOE training, trainee candidates had been advised that we needed to commit to presenting the DPOE materials within the first 6 months following training. Many small institutions cannot afford to either bring in trainers or send their people on trips, so webinars are often the training venue of choice. The Association for Southeastern Research Libraries hosts many very helpful webinars in our region, so I immediately contacted John Burger, the Executive Director of ASERL and asked if he’d be interested in allowing me to present via that venue. John was very enthusiastic, so after the DPOE training, we set dates and worked out the details. ASERL hosted my series of 3 webinars on consecutive weeks in February, covering the six DPOE Basic Preservation modules.
The first webinar covered identification of digital content to be considered (the Identify module), and selection from this for preservation (Select module). The second webinar addressed how and what to store (the Store module), and considerations for protection of one’s content (Protect module). The final webinar covered management issues (Manage module) and providing continued access to materials over time (Provide module). John Burger was kind enough to open up this series of webinars to anyone, anywhere, free of charge. I sent out some last-minute announcements, and it was posted on the Library of Congress site; we were astonished at the response. Attendance broke all the ASERL webinar records, by far. 272 people signed up for the first one, 322 for the second, and 311 for the third; some attendees were from overseas, and the range of represented institutions was phenomenal. Many people contacted me saying they didn’t see the postings in time and missed the first one, asking if it was recorded. Actually, the recording on the first webinar failed, so John kindly let me re-record that presentation. All of these webinars are archived and freely available, on the ASERL website.
Heather: What did you feel was most successful about your workshops?
Jody: I made a point of breaking up the presentation with polls of the audience, and questions for them to answer; that seemed to help engage people, and helped direct my focus. I particularly wanted participants to apply the concepts to their own situation, and to give that some thought and make notes about how they could move forward. It’s one thing to present theoretical guidelines, and quite another to actually apply them. So, on the first webinar, I walked the audience through an example of how the identification and selection process could take place in Special Collections, which was the area the audience was most concerned about. They really liked that. Taking note of what the needs of the audience are, and responding to them, makes the workshops into an interaction, a conversation and a real communication venue.
One thing really stood out from the email messages I received afterwards: people liked how structured and organized the webinars were. Taking a confusing and complicated issue like digital preservation and turning it into something with concrete steps and manageable tasks makes it possible for people to move forward, and I think this was the whole point behind these modules. I was careful to revisit where we were in the series of modules at the beginning of each one, and also recapped the DPOE Baseline Principles at the end of each webinar. The combined effect was that this series was a very well organized, coherent package, and the kudos for this should go to Nancy McGovern, who designed the modules and provided feedback on the draft presentations.
Heather: What are your overall thoughts about the experience?
Jody: I was struck by how desperately people need simple, straightforward instructions and guidance particularly for the content of the “Store” module. Many “how-to” questions arose in that module. I think this is what is most present and pressing for these small institutions; after all, if they can’t effectively store their content, the whole point of digital preservation is moot for them. It seems to me that the feedback from the audience can help us determine where the most pressing gaps are, so that we can, as a community, seek methods to fill them. For example, one attendee told me she had a donated drive with over a terabyte of data. How could she effectively apply the steps of creating an inventory of that content? As a computer scientist, my mind went immediately to what code would need to be written to crawl those directories for her, capturing the available information and formatting it, so she would have a clear sense of where to start, and avoid many hours of manual labor. Situations like this point out the need to develop open source, simple-to-use tools that we can all share.
Heather: Do you have plans for holding more training events?
Jody: Already I and two other trainers (Amy Rudersdorf and Sarah Rhodes) presented a workshop at Computers In Libraries, on March 20th. John Burger and I have talked about repeating the webinar series at some point, and possibly expanding on them to meet the stated needs of the audiences. I have been approached to do this webinar series for the membership of the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and also to help develop a more basic series for local governments and historical societies; so I expect I’m far from done! After more research into what I can provide, I also hope to develop a workshop for ASERL to better address the many questions that came up during the presentation about what and how to store one’s digital content. It’s very important to me to put effective, practical digital preservation measures into the reach of even the smallest institutions who need it.
Heather: What kind of impact do you think these workshops will have on your community?
Jody: I think they lay the groundwork for folks to know where to begin, and to map out the overall picture of what needs to take place. This is incredibly valuable; so many of us have been floundering with all that needs to be done. Just having a road map is a tremendous gift. Clarity and order in the face of confusion is very empowering. I expect almost all of the participants went back to their institutions and began to develop inventories, and to connect with the others at their institution who need to be involved in selection, planning, and management of their content. Certainly many of the participants already signed up for the DPOE listserv, where we are working to answer all the questions that came up in the webinars! I’m hoping that we will build a strong network of connections and communication which will enable us to share information, identify gaps, and collaboratively seek solutions that will effectively address the challenges we face. Together we can do so much more than alone. DPOE has provided us with the tools and the opportunity to focus and share our concerns and work together to develop answers.
Heather: If you were to offer one piece of were to advice to aspiring digital preservationists what would it be?
Jody: Make multiple copies and store them safely in geographically diverse locations!!!
This is the second piece in an ongoing series of DPOE Trainer features. See our first DPOE Trainer interivew with Zoe Friedlander, The Academy Meets Digital Preservation. Also check out DPOE Trainer, Sam Meister’s Signal blog post on the 2011 DPOE Train-the-Trainer Workshop.
April 18, 2012: Edited attribution to illustration.