Getting the DigPres411: An Interview with Lisa Gregory of State Library of North Carolina

The five recipients of the inaugural National Digital Stewardship Alliance innovation awards are exemplars of the creativity, diversity and collaboration essential to supporting the digital community as it works to preserve and make available digital materials. In an effort to learn more and share the work of the individuals, projects and institutions who won these awards I am excited to continue our series of interviews with the award winners.

Lisa Gregory, the Digital Collections Manager at State Library of North Carolina, accepted the award for an innovative institution on behalf of the State Library and the State Archives of North Carolina, part of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. NCDCR was selected by the awards committee for their work educating state employees and information professionals on digital preservation through their website, online tutorials, and @digpres411 Twitter account.

Trevor: Could you tell us a bit about what you and your colleagues are working on? It would be ideal if you could briefly describe a few different projects in terms of their goals, audience, the work you all are doing, and any signifiers of your success?

Lisa: Our targeted audience, state employees, is challenging. It’s dispersed, and most of them would probably think ingesting files meant some sort of eating disorder. So we’ve been trying over the last few years to build an online suite of digital preservation resources approachable to those outside of the field. There’s a lot of good work being done in the area of digital preservation education – one example is the National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s “Digital preservation in a box” website – however we felt a niche existed for talking to state employees through resources that address their specific needs in language they can (hopefully) understand.

Some of these resources include, , built to help those at different levels of understanding about digital preservation, as well as our online tutorials, which address file naming and saving your Facebook data (with more to come!). These go together with the more comprehensive guidelines and best practices documents produced by the State Archives Electronic Records’ Branch. The Digital Preservation site received more than 114,000 visits last year, which exceeded our expectations by a good amount. Another signifier of success has been that folks have mentioned knowledge of the website before we even bring it up. That’s exciting for us!

Our @digpres411 account, which tweets digital preservation-related events as they happen and on anniversary dates, is meant for a more general audience. Why do we tweet? We believe that one of the ways to make digital preservation relevant for the average person is to show that loss happens regularly. Those tweets can also help practitioners if they need examples of events to communicate to their own audiences. We’ve currently got around 330 followers, which isn’t “Bieber-level” but we’re pleased.

Trevor: Are there any other digital preservation projects in the State Library and State Archives that you would like to make sure readers of the blog are aware of? Again, it would be ideal if you could describe them in terms of their goals, the work you are doing and any current signifiers of the projects success?

Lisa: Readers of this blog may already know about our CINCH tool, which my colleague Amy Rudersdorf wrote about in The Signal earlier. I won’t go into the details about that tool here but if you’re looking for something to help with ingest of documents or photos on the web, check it out. And we’re working on v. 2.0 that addresses some of the feedback we’ve gotten about adding more functionality.

I also want to mention the award-winning GeoMAPP project. GeoMAPP initially focused on identifying permanent geospatial information in North Carolina and then transferring that data to the State Archives. In the second phase, the team focused on access to the archival data and using traditional GIS tools and inventories to make that data accessible. There was an active informational partner network and many white papers on the preservation of and access to archival geospatial information were published. The team also developed a suite of business cases to help institutions make the case for preserving GIS information. The project team was very successful in moving this from a demonstration project to production in each state (every grant project’s holy grail!). In August 2012, the Society of American Archivists awarded the preservation publication award to the team for its paper on archival processing of permanent geospatial data.

Finally, the other success we’ve had in the area of digital preservation is validation of the Library’s and Archives’ expertise in preserving digital information by the head of the Department of Cultural Resources, Secretary Linda Carlisle, as well as s support of our social media archiving and access program. I think most people in this field know how valuable it is to have administrators who support what you do, and having them recognize the growth and importance of this program on an ongoing basis is something we’re proud of.

Trevor: Could you tell us a bit about the State Library and State Archives participation in the National Digital Stewardship Alliance? Specifically, what value does participating in the Alliance bring to your institution and how do you think the members from the alliance benefit from your participation?

Lisa: My colleague, Amy Rudersdorf, is on the NDSA Coordinating and Outreach committees, and there are several other employees who participate on other committees as well. Plus, I think we’re all tuned in to what the Alliance is doing through listservs and The Signal.

I’ve imagined the digital preservation community as one of those city-building simulation video games. Only a few years ago it was pretty much a blank terrain – now we’ve got a rockin’ village with stores, houses, and even a small tourist industry. That sort of cohesiveness, the sharing of resources and the building of infrastructure, only comes through initiatives like the Alliance that put you in touch with other practitioners on a regular basis. It’s invaluable. While the Archives and the Library serve the entire state, we have to bootstrap a lot of what we do. We hope that our participation in the Alliance brings a small- or mid-sized institution’s perspective to the table.

Trevor: What are the overall goals for this work and how does digital preservation fit into your institution’s mission?

Lisa: The mission of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, of which the Library and Archives are a part, includes striving to “enrich lives and communities, creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, and libraries in North Carolina that will spark creativity, stimulate learning, preserve the state’s history and promote the creative economy.” In addition, both the Archives and Library have have specific legislative mandates to preserve the record of state government and how citizens engage with state government. For us, digital preservation is about access to our state’s cultural heritage over time. We believe that having access to those documents will “enrich lives,” “create opportunities,” and “stimulate learning” into the future.

Trevor: Do you feel like there are any particularly salient lessons learned through the State Library and the State Archives digital preservation projects and programs? If so, it would be ideal if you could describe a little of the backstory and context for the lessons learned.

Lisa: Most of the lessons we’ve learned are probably pretty familiar to others in this field – try to engage stakeholders and find champions. At the Library, the Digital Information Management Program started with the acceptance by a few librarians that state agencies weren’t going to wait around until we had everything figured out before they started publishing online. Before institutional buy-in, before workflows were mapped out, these librarians committed to riding the wave of that change. So I think one lesson we’ve learned is that you can start small and still build a great digital preservation program. And, a few years ago, the legislature actually gave us a few staff positions to help support the program (a somewhat unprecedented event, and one that came in no small part because of the hard work of our supervisor, Jan Reagan).

The other lesson we’ve learned is that you can plan for digital preservation and still be on the lean side when it comes to resources. IMLS grant funding has helped us tremendously, but we’ve also done a lot of slogging through files, using older computers, and testing open tools with documentation that could fit on a business card. You just have to be willing to get creative.

Trevor: What advice do you have for librarians and archivists at state libraries and archives around the nation?

Lisa: Like I mentioned above, entering into digital preservation now means joining a community. I think we can all stop saying our field is “young.” This also means there are no more excuses for not entering that community! In reality, a lot of people are finding these duties added to their current job, which can be daunting. Thankfully, there are a lot more colleagues now who have probably dealt with challenges similar to yours or – an aspect of the community I really value – who get morbidly intrigued by new challenges and are excited to tackle them.

While the field is not young, we frequently advise folks that this is still a foreign concept to many both inside and outside of cultural heritage or information technology institutions. It can be overwhelming or even threatening. So even if you’re excited, always gauge your audience and be prepared for some friction. But persevere! You’re doing good work.

As you may have caught on from the question about institutional mission (I’m giving up all of our secrets!) we encourage people to sell preservation in terms of access. You can’t have the latter without the former, and access is something many people can get behind where they might not embrace preservation. This has helped a lot of the public libraries we’ve talked to, who have to make the preservation case in a tight economy.

Finally and most importantly, you have to be flexible, open to change and by all mean be willing to take chances.  This makes you a great participant in the community, and helps you remain responsive to what is best for your content.

Trevor: How did you get involved in digital preservation and what advice do you have for anyone interested on working on the kinds of projects you work on?

Lisa: I first got involved with digital preservation the way a lot of folks do – scanning. I worked at the University of New Mexico’s Bunting Visual Resources Library,  a fantastic library in their College of Fine Arts, a library that dove right in with slide digitization. Most remember the first time they heard a favorite song – it was there that I first heard the terms “access” and “master” copy. When I eventually entered the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I was fortunate enough to be a Digital Curation Fellow in the DigCCurr program. Now, I’m working with a group of colleagues who are nationally known for their work in digital preservation. I manage the Library’s preservation storage, keep tabs on our website, do some outreach, and also a few other odd jobs.

I know that a lot of people might not have this sort of path, but don’t let that dissuade you. Start small – for example, formalize some best practices for your institution or throw together an informal group of people who would be receptive to basic digital preservation planning. Fleshing out some guidelines and gathering a group of local sympathizers is a great way to build your confidence. Once you start implementing, you’ll HAVE to learn more – you’ll come upon situations that force you to broaden your knowledge base and blow holes through your envisioned future collection. You’ll end up learning more and finding fixes for those holes and before you know it, you’re in!

Trevor: Could you tell us a bit about the various different folks working on digital preservation related work at the State Library and State Archives? I want to make sure they get recognized alongside you for the work that resulted in this award, but I’m also curious in the different kinds of roles and work that your colleagues are engaged in.

Lisa: In the State Library, my aforementioned colleague Amy Rudersdorf manages the branch I’m in, the Digital Information Management Program. She has the technical chops (she teaches digital preservation at several universities) but also has the challenging position of keeping track of our work as well as promoting it to administrators and others in the field. She writes the grants, liberally doles out encouragement, and also does her share of grunt work.

In the State Archives, Kelly Eubank, the Electronic Records Archivist and head of the Electronic Records Branch does a lot of direct liaising with State Agencies about stewardship of electronic records. From GIS data to email preservation, she hasn’t let any of the stickiest areas of digital preservation dissuade her and has been instrumental in several large grants in those areas. She is also a frequent speaker in national forums.

We have others in the Library and Archives who, like me, put the pedal to the metal for a lot of our routine activities. Kathleen Kenney (Library) works closely with the State Archives on our website archiving initiative and Dean Farrell (Library) manages our CINCH tool and assists with technology development in general. Rachel Trent (Archives) works with the website archiving initiative, investigates workflows for ingesting media beyond traditional formats, and also liaises with state employees.  A few others occasionally jump in when and where we need them, although their work is not directly assigned to our digital preservation program.

Trevor: Did you find any of the sessions at the conference particularly interesting or valuable for thinking about your work? If so, please elaborate on what about them intrigued you or connects with how you are thinking about your work?

Lisa: Too many to number them all here. I will say that I found the DigitalPreservation 2012 welcoming remarks by Anil Dash engaging and thought provoking, which is something that can’t be said of all keynotes! I appreciated his willingness to challenge his audience. It can be hard to hear that your ways aren’t the best ways, but that’s what spurs innovation.

I always try hard to keep a broader perspective about digital preservation. I try to acknowledge that in some ways we’re only a proverbial blip on the radar screen for others, even those we mentally cozy up to like IT specialists, or scientists working with big data, or big corporations who provide services we use. Anil, as someone who seems like a big fan of what we do but who also has a tangential perspective, helped me keep hold of that broader perspective. I think he was an insightful choice for the conference.

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