Content Matters Interview: The Montana State Library, Part One

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Diane Papineau. Photo credit: Patty Ceglio

In this installment of the Content Matters interview series of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Content Working Group we’re featuring an interview with Diane Papineau, a geographic information systems analyst at the Montana State Library.

Diane was kind enough to answer questions, in consultation with other MSL staff and the state librarian, Jennie Stapp, about the MSL’s collecting mission, especially in regards to their geospatial data collections.

This is part one of a two part interview. The second part will appear tomorrow, Friday December 6, 2013.

Butch: Montana is a little unusual in that the geospatial services division of the state falls under the Montana State Library. How did this come about and what are the advantages of having it set up this way.

Diane: In addition to a traditional role of supporting public libraries and collecting state publications, the Montana State Library (MSL) hosts the Natural Resource Information System (NRIS), which is staffed by GIS Analysts.

NRIS was established by the Montana Legislature in 1983 to catalog the natural resource and water information holdings of Montana state agencies. In 1987, NRIS gained momentum (and funding) from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Montana Department of Health and Environmental Sciences to support their mining clean-up work on the Superfund sites along the Clark Fork River between Butte and Missoula. This project generated a wealth of GIS data such as work area boundaries, contaminated area locations, and soil sampling sites, which NRIS used to make a multitude of maps for reports and project management. Storing the data and resulting maps at MSL made sense because it is a library and therefore a non-regulatory, neutral agency. Making the maps and data available via a library democratized a large collection of timely and important geographic information and minimized duplication of effort.

GIS was first employed at NRIS in 1987; from that point forward, NRIS functioned as the state’s GIS data clearinghouse, generating and collecting GIS data. NRIS operated for a decade essentially as a GIS service bureau for state government; during this period, NRIS grew into a comprehensive GIS facility, unique among state libraries. In fact, in the mid-1990s, NRIS participated in the first national effort to provide automated search and retrieval of map data. Today, beyond data clearinghouse activities, MSL is involved with state GIS Coordination as well as GIS leadership and education. We also are involved with data creation or maintenance for 10 of the 15 framework datasets (cadastral, transportation, hydrography, etc.) for Montana, and also host a GIS data archive, thanks to our participation as a full partner in the Geospatial Multistate Archive and Preservation Partnership (GeoMAPP)—a project of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA).

Butch: Give us an example of some of the Montana State Library digital collections. Any particularly interesting digital mapping collections?

Diane: Our most important digital geographic collection is the full collection of GIS clearinghouse data gathered over the past 25 years. The majority of this data is “born digital” content made available for download and other types of access via our Data List. Within that collection, one of our most sought-after datasets is the Montana Cadastral framework—a statewide dataset of private land ownership illustrated by tax parcel boundaries. The dataset is updated monthly and is offered for download and as a web map service for desktop GIS users and online mapping. We have stored periodic snapshots of this dataset as it has changed through time and we also serve the most recent version of the data via the online Montana Cadastral map application. The map application makes this very popular data accessible to those without desktop GIS software or training in GIS. Another collection to note is our Clark Fork River superfund site data, which may prove invaluable at some point in the future.

In terms of an actual digital map series, our Water Supply/Drought maps come to mind. For at least 10 years now, NRIS has partnered with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to create statewide maps illustrating the soil moisture conditions in Montana by county. DNRC supplies the data; NRIS creates the map and maintains the website that serves the collection of maps through time.

Butch: Tell us a bit about how the collection is being (or might be) used. To what extent is it for the general public? To what extent is it for scholars and researchers?

Diane: Our GIS data collection serves the GIS community in Montana and beyond. Users could be GIS practitioners working on land management issues or city/county planning for example. Other collections, such as our land use and land cover datasets and our collection of aerial photos, may be of particular interest to researchers.  The general public also utilizes this data; because of phone inquiries we receive, we know that hunters, for example, frequently access the cadastral data in order to obtain landowner permission to hunt on private lands. Though we don’t track individual users due to requirements of library confidentiality, we know that the uses for this collection are virtually limitless.

The general public can access much of the geographic data we serve by using our online mapping applications. For example, patrons can use the Montana Cadastral application that I mentioned plus tools like our Digital Atlas to see GIS datasets for their area of interest. They can use our Topofinder to view topographic maps online or to find a place when, for example, all that’s known is the location’s latitude and longitude. In 2008, in partnership with the Montana Historical Society, we published the Montana Place Names Companion—an online map application that helps patrons to learn the name origin and history of places across the state.

Butch: What sparked the Montana State Library to join the National Digital Stewardship Alliance?

Diane: While we’ve played host to this large collection of GIS data and we have long been recognized as the informal GIS data archive for the state, we had yet to maintain an inventory of our holdings. Thankfully, we never threw data out.

We realized that in order to gain physical and intellectual control over this collection of current and superseded data, we needed to modernize our approach. The timing couldn’t have been better because it coincided with the concluding phase of GeoMAPP.  In 2010 MSL participated as an Information Partner, beginning our exposure to formal GIS data archiving issues. Then in 2011, MSL joined GeoMAPP as the project’s last Full Partner. This partnership permitted us to envision applying archivists’ best practices while we reworked and modernized our data management processes.

In some ways we were the GeoMAPP “guinea pig” and we are grateful for that role—so much research had already been done by the other partners and so much information was already available. In return, what MSL could offer to this group was the perspective of three important GeoMAPP target audiences: libraries, archives, and GIS shops.

Butch: Tell us about some of the archiving practices that the Montana State Library has defined as a result of its partnership with GeoMAPP and the National Digital Stewardship Alliance. Why is preservation important for GIS data?

Diane: I’ll start with the “why.” GIS data creation is expensive. By preserving geographic data via archiving, we store that investment of time and money. GIS data is often used to create public policy. Montana has incredibly strong “right to know” laws so preserving data that was once available to decision makers supports later inquiry about current laws and policies. Furthermore, making superseded data discoverable and accessible promotes historically-informed public policy decisions, wise land use planning, and effective natural disaster planning to name just a few use cases. From a state government perspective, the published GIS datasets created by state agencies are considered state publications. Our agency is statutorily mandated to preserve state publications and make them permanently accessible to the public.

To guide us in this modernization, MSL developed data management standards, policies, and procedures that require data preservation using archivists’ best practices. I’ll discuss a few highlights from these standards that illustrate our particular organizational needs as a GIS data collector and producer.

In order to appeal to the greater GIS community in Montana, we decided to use more GIS-friendly terms in place of the three “package” terms from the OAIS model. We think of a Submission Information Package (SIP) as “working data,” a Dissemination Information Package (DIP) as a Published Data Package, and an Archive Information Packages (AIP), as an Archive Data Package.

MSL chose to take a “library collection development policy” approach to managing a GIS data collection rather than a “records management” approach, which makes use of records retention schedules. What this means is we’re on the lookout for data we want to collect—appraisal happens at the point of collection. If we take the data, we both archive it (creating an AIP) and make DIPs at the same time. The archive is just another data file repository, though a special one with its own rules. If the data acquired is not quite ready for distribution, we modify it from a SIP (our “working data”) to make it publishable. We do not archive the SIP.

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Montana State Library Data Collection Management Flow

We’re employing the library discipline’s construct of series’ and collections and their associated parent/child metadata records, which is new to the GIS group here at MSL.  In turn, that decision influenced the file structure of our archive. Though ISO topic categories were GeoMAPP suggestions for both data storage as well as for data discovery, MSL chose instead to organize archive data storage by the time period of content unless the data is part of a series (i.e. cadastral) or if it was generated as part of a discrete project and is considered a collection (i.e the Superfund data). Additional consistency and structure should also come from the use of a new file naming convention (<extent><theme><timeframe>).

MSL is archiving data in its original formats rather than converting all data to an archival format (i.e. shapefile) because each data model offers useful spatial characteristics that we did not want to strip from the archived copy. For archive data packaging, we use the Library of Congress tool “Bagger” and we specifically chose to zip all the associated files together before “bagging” to save space in the archive. Zipping the data also permits us to produce one checksum for the entire package, which simplifies dataset management and dataset integrity checking in the workflow. We decided not to use Bagger’s zip function for this because the resulting AIP produced an excessively deep file structure, burying the data in multiple folder levels. To document the AIP in our data management system, we’ve established new archive metadata fields such as date archived, checksum, data format, and data format version.

Part two of this interview will appear tomorrow, Friday December, 2013.

Updated on 12/6/13 to include links to part two of the interview. Updated on 12/11/13 with a revised version of the Montana State Library Data Collection Management Flow document.

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