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2014 NDSA Philly Regional Meeting: January 23-24

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The following is a guest post by Nicole Scalessa, IT manager at The Library Company of Philadelphia, an NDSA member.

Digital stewardship is a prime topic for small institutions trying to keep pace with the increasing demands for digital content. The Library Company of Philadelphia, a special collections library founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, hosted the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Philly Regional meeting to inform and connect mid-Atlantic institutions so they may consider new collaborations to meet digital preservation demands.

The intent of the NDSA Philly Regional meeting was to present a slate of speakers that represented some of the most influential thinking and trends in digital preservation today. The event was opened to new audiences to spread the word of NDSA’s accomplishments and ongoing activities. Members of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, PhillyDH, and the Delaware Valley Archivists Group were in attendance. The event, on the cusp of ALA Mid-Winter, also drew audiences from around the country from as far as North Carolina, Florida, Colorado and Washington State.

Things kicked off Thursday evening, January 23rd, with a welcome by Library Company Director John C. Van Horne and an introduction by Erin Engle, digital archivist with NDIIPP.  Erin provided a clear presentation of the NDSA mission to advocate for common needs among members through reports, guidance, meetings, events and webinars. As an example, she mentioned the 2014 National Agenda for Digital Stewardship, an insightful look into the trends and current state of digital preservation and a tool to help decision makers and funders.

Emily Gore presenting on DPLA during the NDSA Philadelphia Regional Meeting. Credit: Nicole Joniec
Emily Gore presenting on DPLA during the NDSA Philadelphia Regional Meeting. Credit: Nicole Joniec

This was followed by an enthusiastic and compelling keynote by Emily Gore, DPLA director for content, entitled “Building the Digital Public Library of America: Successes, Challenges and Future Directions.” A theme of sustainability resonated through her talk as she described the development of the DPLA and how it became clear that the hub model was the most successful strategy for the long term success of the project. The establishment of hubs is driven by the idea that asking a few existing digital repositories to aggregate content is the most efficient way to bring more institutions into DPLA. Hubs help DPLA with the management of data aggregation, metadata consistency, continual repository services, promoting new digitization, encouraging community engagement and self-evaluation for the improvement of existing and the development of new DPLA hubs.

The evening progressed into a series of lightning talks that focused on standards for preservation, digitization and description. This was a natural transition in the conversation and established a complete picture of the issues that must be addressed in any collaborative digitization strategy. Consistency was the prevailing message for success when conformity is often unattainable.

Meg Phillips, NARA’s external affairs liaison, initiated the lightning part of the evening with a presentation on the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, “a tiered set of recommendations for how organizations should begin to build or enhance their digital preservation activities.” She emphasized the importance of this document as a tool for self-assessment, program planning, institutional advocacy, strategic planning, and as a way to open communication with content creators. The success of the document lies in its simple descriptive format that is content agnostic. It includes four levels of preservation – protect your data, know your data, monitor your data, and repair your data; across five functions – storage and geographic location, file fixity and data integrity, information security, metadata and file formats.

Ian Bogus talking about the ALCTS Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendations. Credit: Nicole Joniec
Ian Bogus talking about the ALCTS Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendations. Credit: Nicole Joniec

Ian Bogus, MacDonald Curator of Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries lightening talk was entitled “Why Create a Standard on Digitization? An Experience Creating the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendation.” The goal of this project was to establish an acceptable minimum standard that would resonate with staff with different degrees of digitization experience. With this standard libraries can create digital surrogates that are sustainable into the future. The guiding principles of the project were to create a standard high enough to meet adequacy, that kept in line with other recommendations and projects, did not reduplicate existing work, was basic enough for novices to use and was accurate enough for experts.

The evening was concluded with a fun discussion on metadata, with some serious undertones. George Blood of George Blood Audio|Video|Film discussed how we as librarians are “Describing Ourselves to Death” and the “the Failures of Metadata.” He began by affirming he is a metadata pessimist because no one asks “what problem are we trying to solve? Or “what are we trying to provide metadata for?” Most metadata is collected “just because we can” and because of this we do not test our metadata. The variety of metadata standards across and within institutions is staggering. Sometimes metadata standardization costs more than digitization itself. He encouraged the audience to consider what is a standard, does a standard need to be perfect, what are the implications of local modifications, and is there a one size fits all solution? This was quite a formidable list of questions to end the evening but a wonderful starting point for the Friday unconference the next morning.

A session during the unconference portion at the NDSA Philadelphia Regional Meeting. Credit: Nicole Joniec
A session during the unconference portion at the NDSA Philadelphia Regional Meeting. Credit: Nicole Joniec
Unconference agenda comes together at NDSA Philadelphia Regional Meeting. Credit: Nicole Joniec
Unconference agenda comes together. Credit: Nicole Joniec

Approximately 50 attendees convened to propose and vote upon the unconference sessions.  The largest sessions included “making the case for digital preservation,” “let’s discuss a consortium data center,” and “how do we approach becoming a regional hub of DPLA.” The smaller breakout sessions included discussions on minimal standards for archival description, engaging leadership and encouraging organizational responsibility for digital projects, approaching rights and access issues, metrics for evaluation of digital archival resources, new technologies in digitization, and teaching digital preservation in library science and graduate archival programs. Notes from these sessions will be forthcoming on the event web page here.

The two-day event was attended by nearly one hundred and fifty people from around the country and ended in promising collaboration discussions and new friendships. This experience demonstrates that NDSA Regional meetings offer opportunities for local institutions to connect with one another while becoming informed on trends in digital stewardship on a national scale.

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