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Engaging Communities to Preserve: The History Harvest as a Collaboration Model for Digital Preservation

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This is a guest post by Meghan Vance, a Public History graduate student at the University of Central Florida.

As a Public History graduate student at the University of Central Florida, I had the unique opportunity to participate in an internship with E-Z Photo Scan, a member of the NDSA Outreach Group.  This internship evolved from a business-university partnership in local digitization events. In the spring of 2013, UCF conducted a History Harvest, a community-based digitizing event of personal artifacts to be placed onto the UCF digital archive, the RICHES Mosaic Interface. The History Harvest began at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a series of events to bring communities together to not only learn about their own history, but also to digitize personal materials for greater knowledge and access. As UCF began their own version of this event, E-Z Photo Scan kindly offered scanning and digital processing services to the community. The college, local businesses and community members came together for one afternoon to digitize history. It was a great success and everyone walked away with new experiences in digital history.

Ruth Brown performing at the Dreamland Ballroom, North Omaha, NB, ca. 1949; from History Harvest
Ruth Brown at Dreamland Ballroom, North Omaha, NB, ca. 1949; from History Harvest

But the History Harvest left a lingering question in my mind: How can all historical organizations (from a house museum to a volunteer-based historical society) digitize their artifacts and archives for public use and preservation? Thus began my internship with E-Z Photo Scan. They took me under their wing and taught me a plethora of information about digital preservation.

I used this new learning to begin a research project to address my looming question. Not attempting to reinvent the wheel, I looked for other’s that have discussed this topic. Mike Kastellec outlines in his article, Practical Limits to the Scope of Digital Preservation that these organizations face four fundamental issues: Technology, Access, Selection and Finances.

Using this concept, I began exploring the many facets of digital preservation through various blogs, such as The Signal, and digitally published materials. Essentially, each of these four topics were merged with more specific digital preservation information to gain a better understanding of the challenges that small organizations will face when attempting to digitize archives.

The History Harvest became a collaborative platform to overcome the challenges of file formatting, data storage, open access and a myriad of other digital preservation concerns. The solution was simpler than I thought; collaboration and community partnerships were the keys not only to digitization processes but also long-term digital preservation.

Often, the two biggest challenges that small organizations face are lack of manpower and money. Through collaboration with private businesses, universities, libraries and other data management companies, small organizations can conduct local events to crowd-source the digitization and digital preservation efforts.

The conclusion of my internship produced a draft guide for small institutions, Growing Community Engagement and Digital Preservation: Planning and Practice. This document serves as a tool from which organizations, large and small, can understand the many components of digital preservation and learn how community-based events, such as the History Harvest, can alleviate some of the stresses of going digital.

By no means is this document an end project. I hope to expand the research and begin to work personally with organizations to begin the processes of digitization of archives and artifacts for long-term digital preservation. But with the partnerships and collaboration of multiple groups, hopefully this will become a first step to bring the physical past into the digital future.

Update, 9/5/2013: Meghan’s guide is available at She welcomes any comments.

Comments (2)

  1. I enjoyed your article, Meghan. How can we get a copy of your draft guide? (or is it not yet ready for prime time?) Thanks.

  2. Hi Susan,

    Thank you for the nice comment. I wrote a blog during my internship, and a copy of the guide is posted. It is still in it’s draft phase, but I welcome any comments/suggestions!

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