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Canned Preserves: Reaching Out from the Classroom and Beyond

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The following is a guest post by Kevin Marcou, a second-year student in the School of Library and Information Science at Catholic University of America and a Crowley Company contract worker at the Library of Congress.

Recently, while clearing out a backpack, I found a 3.5” floppy disk dating from high school. Of course, I no longer have a floppy drive, nor can I purchase a computer with one. So now the disk occupies a rueful place on my desk, holding my middling poetry and AP Physics reports, all of that data locked forever — unless I want to splurge on a floppy disk reader.  The lesson I’ve learned over the past several months is that it’s easy to think that digital preservation begins and ends with saving treasured files onto a storage device; the hard truth learned from my floppy disk is that caring for your digital files is an ongoing, dynamic process.

Catholic University Students, with the Author Standing in the back. Photo credit: CUA Digital Media Services
Catholic University students at their April 24 presentation, with the author standing in the back. Photo credit: CUA Digital Media Services

In “Digital Curation,” a Spring 2012 class (PDF) at the School of Library and Information Science at the Catholic University of America, we’ve spent this semester studying the theory and complexities of that process —creating, appraising, ingesting, preserving, storing, accessing and transforming digital information to ensure viability. If you’re one of my fellow students exclaiming, “Hey, that sounds a lot like the sequential actions of the UK’s Digital Curation Centre’s Curation Lifecycle Model!,” you’d be correct. The class covered each cycle action of the DCC model, and to provide real-life examples, invited speakers from the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, the National Archives and Tessella.

It was rewarding when everything started to click.  When, for example, I realized how long-tail graphs spoke to preservation strategies or how you could use the DROID file format identification tool and PREMIS entities to feed into DCC Lifecycle Model activities. My own work is preservation-based, and it was giddying to realize I’ve been producing Archival Information Packets (PDF) all along without realizing it. The Digital Curation course speaks to me in many avenues of my life, relating to lessons learned in other classes at CUA, to both my professional and personal lives. Other students in the class say they’ve had similar awakenings throughout the semester.

Metro Mug by user robh on Flickr
Metro Mug by user robh on Flickr

When digital preservation begins to make sense for library and information science students we want share the excitement with anybody who’ll listen — or anyone who is forced to listen (I’ve lately engaged Metro passengers in this fashion). On the evening of April 24, our class had a great opportunity to participate in the American Library Association’s Preservation Week with a presentation we developed throughout the semester and gave in CUA’s Mullen Library.

We geared the presentation to CUA undergraduates, but the information we presented applies to everyone. Our goal was to present an overview of the principles of digital curation and offer advice on software and hardware useful in applying those principles. The class was divided in four groups, each of which researched one of four digital preservation concepts:

Catholic University student Chelsea Palcher. Photo credit: CUA Digital Media Services
Catholic University student Chelsea Palcher. Photo credit: CUA Digital Media Services

1) Why digital preservation is important;

2) What digital content you should keep;

3) How to manage digital content; and

4) Where best to store digital content.

Not to oversell our presentation, but it was easily better than ten Super Bowls! It was well-received by the audience, which included members of the NDSA’s Outreach Working Group, and we raised questions and offered examples of new tools and approaches to file saving. We were particularly pleased to do some good outreach. Outreach, after all, is what being a librarian of any sort today is about.

Speaking of outreach, the Digital Curation class also turned an eye this semester to the NDSA’s Outreach Working Group’s Digital Preservation in a Box. We tested the current Box materials and suggested new tools and resources that could be used to shore up some areas we thought could use some fleshing out. The Box is a gentle introduction to digital preservation. In this project, the class experienced the reality of digital preservation in not-so-gentle a way: we discovered current Box links already dead or outdated. This was a valuable, real-world lesson. The class has been motivated all semester by knowing that our work is contributing to a great resource while we participate in a national initiative like the NDSA.

We hope what we’ve submitted will make its way to the Box and onto your internet-capable device in the future! There’s a sort of poetic beauty in this effort: it’s a fruitful garden always in need of water and weeding. Caring for and cultivating your digital files is an unending cycle, but I’ve found it a deeply rewarding exercise, whether in performing public outreach as a future librarian or saving those poems and AP Physics reports.

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