Talking About Museums and Digital Preservation

Image courtesy of

In anticipation of the Museum Computer Network conference next week in Seattle, I’ve been giving some extra thought lately to museum community involvement in digital preservation.

We (the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, that is) work with many partners from a range of industries, and in the last couple of years this has taken place mainly through the National Digital Stewardship Alliance.

The NDSA is a collaborative effort, leveraging the knowledge and expertise of our many digital preservation partners, to help preserve access to our national digital resources for the benefit of present and future generations. The NDSA currently has over 130 organizational members, and growing. With just minimal involvement, all members have access to a vast network of experience, and can participate in one of the many ongoing projects to help research and/or spread the good word about the importance of digital preservation.

Why is this helpful for museums?  As we say time and again, all digital material is fragile, and needs maintenance to survive over the long term.  So in addition to preserving digital art (or digital surrogates), there are also other preservation needs that will be increasingly important for museums, such as for electronic records, digitized publications (catalogs, for instance), and preservation of online exhibition websites.

And within the NDSA, museums are definitely stepping up to the plate.  So far, the museum related membership includes ARTstor, The Hagley Museum, IMLS, Rhizome, Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  These organizations now have easy access to learn from other museum colleagues, and many other organizations, as they approach solutions for digital preservation.

Screenshot from Rhizome ArtBase in Viewshare

As an example, see this previous blog post interview with Ben Fino-Radin, Digital Conservator for the Rhizome ArtBase online archive of digital art, who talks about what’s involved in the maintaining and preserving of this collection.  Ben was also a participant this summer in our Digital Preservation 2012 conference, through our panel session on digital cultural heritage.  This panel featured some great presentations and discussion on the range of issues involved in digital cultural projects, both visual and performing arts, throughout the country.

All NDSA members are also involved in one or more of the five specialized working groups.   So far, museums and related organizations are mostly involved through the Content Working Group, with ongoing projects that focus on the selection, discovery and preservation of digital content in many topic areas.  Within this working group, there is one team that is specifically working on arts and humanities content, which is a great way for arts groups to find out what others in the field are doing. If your museum is not already a member of the NDSA, think about joining – it’s free, easy to join, and there are many advantages (see the membership page for information on how to join.)

In addition to the resources of the NDSA, museums are also discovering the benefits of Viewshare, an open source tool developed by the Library of Congress that enables viewing, organizing and enhancing of digital collections.  The data can be used to discover trends within collections, and there is a “gallery” option for displaying images, which  makes it perfect for museum collections. Viewshare is freely available to any organization, all it takes is signing up for an account, which right away gives you access to the many options for this tool (and there’s a helpful online guide available, too). There are several previous blog posts in The Signal discussing the uses of Viewshare, including this one, and this one.

Viewshare map view of the Kress collection.

As an example of museum use, The National Gallery of Art has made good use of Viewshare to create an online view of the Kress Collection, which, in addition to the images, includes information about collection origins, sellers, locations of items, and purchase dates. The Rhizome ArtBase also has a collection view showing 400 born-digital artworks and associated information; this also allows for such discovery as tracing the development of emergent technologies.  And I hear through the grapevine that there’s another blog post coming soon with more information about both of these Viewshare projects.

For museums and other cultural organizations located in the Washington, DC area, we have recently started a monthly Digital Cultural Heritage Meetup Group – informal gatherings open to all who are interested in the preservation of digital culture.

So, there are many avenues available for museum involvement and learning in the digital preservation community.  Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the Museum Computer Network conference, and learning more myself about all the latest technology projects in museums.

Nov. 5, 2012: fixed a broken link.


  1. Debbie
    November 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    The link to Viewshare does not work

  2. Bill LeFurgy
    November 5, 2012 at 11:05 am

    The Viewshare link has been fixed.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.