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Content Matters Interview: The Montana State Library, Part Two

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Diane Papineau. Photo credit: Patty Ceglio
Diane Papineau. Photo credit: Patty Ceglio

This is part two of the Content Matters interview series interview with Diane Papineau, a geographic information systems analyst at the Montana State Library.

Part one was yesterday, December 5, 2013.

Butch: What are some of the biggest digital preservation and stewardship challenges you face at the Montana State Library?

Diane: The two biggest challenges seem to be developing the inventory system and appraising and documenting 25 years of clearinghouse data. MSL is developing the GIS inventory system in-house—we are fortunate that our IT department employs a database administrator and a web developer tasked with this work. The system is in development now and its design is challenging. The system will record not just our archived data, but the Dissemination Information Packages created to serve that data (zipped files, web map services, map applications, etc.) and the relationships between them. For data records alone, we’re wrestling with how to accommodate 13 use cases (data forms and situations), including accommodating parent/child relationships between records. Add to this that we are anxious to be up and running with a sustainable system and the corresponding data discovery tools as we simultaneously appraise and document the clearinghouse data before archiving.

We have archiving procedures in place for the frequently-changing datasets we produce (framework data). However, the existing large collection of clearinghouse data presents a greater challenge. We’re currently organizing clearinghouse data that is actively served and data that’s been squirreled away on external drives, staff hard drives, and even CDs. Much of the data is copies or “near copies” and many original datasets do not have metadata. We need to review the data and document it and for the copies, decide which to archive and which to discard.

When I think of the work ahead of us, I’m reminded of something I read in the GeoMAPP materials. The single most important thing GIS organizations can do to start the preservation process is to organize what they have and document it.

Screen shot of the Montana State Library GIS Archive.
Screen shot of the Montana State Library GIS Archive.

Butch: How have the technologies of digital mapping changed over the past five years? How have those changes affected the work you do?

Diane: The influence of the internet is important to note. Web programmers and lay people are now creating applications and maps using live map services that we make available for important datasets. These are online, live connections to select map data, making mapping possible for people who are not desktop GIS users. With online map makers accessing only a subset of our data (the data provided in these services), we note that they may not make use of the full complement of data we offer. Also, we notice that our patrons are more comfortable these days working with spatial databases, not just shapefiles. This represents a change in patron download data selection, but it would not affect our data and map protocols.

Technology gaining popularity that may assist our data management and archiving include scripting tools like Python. We anticipate that these tools will help us automate our workflow when creating DIPs, generating checksums, and ingesting data into the archive.

Butch: At NDIIPP we’ve started to think more about “access” as a driver for the preservation of digital materials. To what extent do preservation considerations come into play with the work that you do? How does the provision of enhanced access support the long-term preservation of digital geospatial information?

Diane: MSL is in the process of digitizing its state publications holdings. Providing easier public access to them was a strong driver for this effort. Web statistics indicated that once digitized, patron access to a document can go up dramatically.

Regarding our digital geographic data, we have a long history of providing online access to this data. Our current efforts to gain physical and intellectual control over these holdings will reveal long-lost and superseded data that we’ll be anxious to make available given our mandate to provide permanent public access. It may be true that patron access to all of our inventoried holdings may result in more support for our GIS programs, but we’ll be preserving the materials and providing public access regardless.

Butch: How widespread is an awareness of digital stewardship and preservation issues in the part of the geographic community in which the Montana State library operates?

Montana State Library GIS staff. Photo courtesy Montana State Library.
Montana State Library GIS staff. Photo courtesy Montana State Library.

Diane: MSL belongs to a network of professionals who understand and value GIS data archiving and who can be relied on to support our efforts with GIS data preservation. That said, these supportive state agencies and local governments may be in a different position with regard to accomplishing their own data preservation. They are likely wrestling with not having the financial and staff resources or perhaps the policies and administrative level support for implementing data preservation in their own organizations. It’s also quite likely that their business needs are focused on today’s issues. Accommodating a later need for data may be seen as less important. The Montana Land Information Advisory Council offers a grant for applicants wanting to write their metadata and archive their data. To date there have been no applicants.

Beyond Montana, I’ve delivered a GIS data preservation talk at two GIS conferences in New England this year. The information was well-received and engagement in these sessions was encouraging. Two New England GIS leaders with similar state data responsibilities showed interest in how Montana implemented archiving based on GeoMAPP best practices.

Butch: Any final thoughts about the general challenges of handling digital materials within archival collections?

Diane: By comparison to the technical hurdles a GIS shop navigates every day, the protocols for preserving GIS data are pretty straight forward. Either the GIS shop packages and archives the data in house or the shop partners with an official archiving agency in their state. For GIS organizations, libraries, and archives interested in GIS data preservation, there are many guiding documents available. Start exploring these materials using the NDSA’s draft Geospatial Data Archiving Quick Reference document (pdf).

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