The following is a guest post by Jefferson Bailey, Strategic Initiatives Manager at Metropolitan New York Library Council, National Digital Stewardship Alliance Innovation Working Group co-chair and a former Fellow in the Library of Congress’s Office of Strategic Initiatives.
As a recent blog post recounted, each year at the National Book Festival NDIIPP has a booth showcasing a variety of outdated storage media – from laserdiscs to 8” floppies – to help remind people of the speed at which digital storage technologies become obsolete. The exhibit is always a crowd pleaser and helps advocate for the importance of personal digital archiving. Of course, antiquated storage media is not just a feature of personal digital collections. The collections of most libraries, archives and museums also contain a growing quantity and assortment of storage media. For institutions whose mission is predicated upon preservation, getting collection content off of rapidly-aging storage devices is a significant and immediate challenge.
Last month, OCLC launched its Demystifying Born Digital Reports series, which features short reports offering practical advice and guidelines for institutions starting to develop policies and workflows for how to process, manage and preserve born digital materials. Building off of OCLC’s 2010 survey of Special Collections and Archives, Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives (PDF) and prefaced by the Defining Born Digital (PDF) essay, the reports are available under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NC-SA) and can be downloaded from the project page.
The first report, You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media, (PDF) outlines four basic steps for addressing born-digital content on physical media: locate, count and describe, prioritize for treatment and repeat the process. (If that sounds too basic for you, worry not, as there are 15 additional sub-steps).
Included in the report are 11 technical steps for transferring content from readable media and into a preservation-friendly environment, including, among others, using write blockers, generating checksums and thoroughly documenting all actions. As its title suggest, the report offers a straightforward and easy-to-understand roadmap for “first steps” in preserving digital materials.
After getting bits off media, the NDSA Levels of Preservation document (comments still encouraged!) can help formulate those “second steps” towards developing a larger digital preservation strategy.
The second report (additional reports are forthcoming), Swatting the Long Tail of Digital Media: A Call for Collaboration,(PDF) serves as an intriguing thought exercise exploring collaborative possibilities in creating SWAT (Software and Workstations for Antiquated Technology) sites – essentially multi-institutional digital forensics labs that can offer the tools, technologies and expertise to access, read and acquire digital content on a range of obsolescent media types and migrate it into an environment where it can be managed and preserved. As the report notes, few institutions will have the staff or funding necessary to do this work on their own. At the same time, vendor options may prove prohibitively expensive.
The OCLC report outlines potential funding models for building SWAT sites (consortia-funded, on-demand, SWAT-as-a-service (SWATAAS, if you will).
One also wonders if a mobile version of a SWAT site is not also a possibility. We have seen similar efforts to convert vans and buses into mobile scanning stations or maker spaces. Perhaps a mobile physical media conversion and digital forensics lab is in order. Short version: Goodbye Scannebago. Hello Bitmobile!
The Signal has featured a number of similar collaborative ventures working to address the issue of endangered data on physical storage media. The Tangible Media Project, though operating within the Library of Congress, works directly with (and within) each curatorial unit of the Library, using a rolling “jukebox” cart to transfer digital content off of optical disks. Other collaborative ventures, such as the BitCurator project (Cal Lee’s recent slides [PDF] provide a good overview of the project), are building multi-institutional teams to tackle the problems of born-digital materials. Collaborative ventures in traditional collection storage and in digital preservation have proven the value and feasibility of disparate institutions combining resources, knowledge and infrastructure to build a centralized solution to community-shared preservation needs. SWAT sites could fill a similar role.
Until the day when we can flash a Bit-Signal spotlight with a 1 and 0 silhouette into the sky and have the Bitmobile come a-calling, these two reports provide some user-friendly instructions for institutions beginning to manage their born-digital assets on physical storage media.