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Preview of Digital Preservation 2014: Panel Members from “Community Approaches to Digital Stewardship”

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Digital Preservation 2014 is hosting such a rich variety of presentations that we at the Signal want to preview some of them for you. Today, as part of our Insights Interview series, we present a Q&A with Bradley Daigle, director of Digital Curation Services and digital strategist for Special Collections at the University of Virginia and Aaron Rubinstein, digital archivist in Special Collections at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Daigle and Rubinstein will be part of a panel titled “Community Approaches to Digital Stewardship” scheduled for Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 2:00.

Bradley Daigle and Aaron Rubenstein.
Bradley Daigle and Aaron Rubenstein.

Mike: Bradley, can you please describe the challenges that the deans, technology experts and content/preservation specialists faced in the early stages of planning the Academic Preservation Trust repository.

Bradley: The Academic Preservation Trust is much more than a repository. We are a group of partners who see the preservation of our digital assets as one of the monumental challenges we face. Most practitioners grapple with the issues surrounding preservation: deans have to come to terms with the significant expense; technologists with the rapidly changing hardware and software landscape; preservation specialists with the sheer enormity of managing the entire life cycle of content. A venture such as APTrust seeks to balance and support the nature of access and preservation.

Content managers at all levels are under a significant amount of pressure to make their materials available as widely as possible. This is a laudable goal but one that should always be paired with deep planning as to the manner in which this content can be preserved. Too often we use our repositories to make content available but do not consider the long-term implications that access has on the preservation of content. In order to mitigate against such realities as mutable technologies, emerging formats, or UI enhancements, having a proper preservation strategy for digital content can dramatically reduce the resources required to keep access viable. Another important factor in planning any repository is rights management. Given the nature of copyright and intellectual property, the more we can manage our content at a granular level the better likely we will be to provide appropriate access to it. These are just a few issues that we have had to deal with right out of the gate.

Mike: Aaron, the Five College Consortium created a collaborative model for digital preservation. Can you describe the challenges they faced in the early stages of planning that collaborative model?

Aaron: We’re a small consortium made up of four private colleges and a state university. As academic libraries, we have a lot in common and also have strong programs that are collecting and creating unique and valuable digital resources. That being said, we’re not all at the same place in terms of infrastructure to store and provide access to these resources. This has made it very difficult to figure out the most efficient and mutually beneficial way to collaborate.

What’s proved to be an even bigger challenge, however, is that only one institution had begun serious digital preservation planning. The work of developing a digital preservation policy helped that institution identify the scope of their digital preservation program and begin to ensure standardized practices throughout the institution. Seeing the benefits of this process made it clear to us that the work of planning for each individual institution was key for building a strong foundation for collaboration across institutions.

Mike: Can you tell us a little more about that planning?

Aaron: The idea, then, is to kick-start institutional planning. We set ourselves the goal of seeing each institution make significant strides toward readiness within a year. To accomplish this, we came up with a three-pronged plan:

  1. Education and outreach: we need to make sure every institution has the necessary background to begin planning. We’ve invited Nancy McGovern to give her week-long digital preservation workshop at Smith College, one of our institutions. Nancy was generous enough to offer a free seat to one member from each of the five colleges. We also decided that the consortium should fund an additional seat for a member of each institution’s IT department. The goal is to invest in a librarian and IT person who will take a leadership role in that institution’s planning and also start IT and the libraries down the path together. We’ve also written a planning guide to digital preservation, which will provide a framework for each institution, prompting them with key questions and giving guidelines for developing policies and assessing current workflows.
  2. Standardization: It’s impossible to collaborate on digital preservation unless there are clearly defined minimum standards for digital objects and metadata. This effort will also help institutions inventory their practices and create documentation.
  3. Archivematica pilot project: Finally, we plan on collaborating with the Five College Archivists committee to pilot Archivematica. The emphasis here is less on the software and more on working as a team to plan all aspects of the project including deciding on goals, scope, workflows, configuration of the software and management. By working together on a small, focused aspect of the process of digital preservation, we hope to create a hands-on opportunity to use the education and activate the standardization from the first two “prongs” but to also create a microcosm of a real Five College collaboration.

Mike: Bradley, can you please describe -– in general terms — the differences of opinion regarding technology decisions that the Academic Preservation Trust faced?

Bradley: APTrust is about collaboration. As such that can be a bane and a boon. Consensus can sometimes slow down any initiative but achieving partner buy-in can yield dramatic results. I feel strongly that the ability to tap a broad group of experienced and smart library practitioners will significantly assist us in reducing the risk to preserving our content as well as accelerate developing solutions as new technologies emerge. Preservation is complex and expensive. Creating new methodologies that contribute to improving economies of scale, reducing unnecessary redundancy and demonstrating the role of libraries in the preservation of the historical record is essential. No one technology will provide an ongoing solution. APTrust partners understand that preservation is iterative and that what we develop today may not suit tomorrow’s needs. Therefore we devote a significant amount of our time and resources to making flexible, adaptable results.

Mike: If any institution is considering a potential collaboration, what do you think they could learn from the experiences of the Academic Preservation Trust or the Five College Digital Preservation Task Force?

Aaron: The big lesson for us is that there is no simple, turn-key solution to digital preservation. Also, that software is about 15% of actual digital preservation work. There is a lot of thought that must go into a digital preservation program before it’s possible to make decisions about tools and infrastructure. In the end, we feel like we’ve hit on something important: digital preservation requires a lot of planning and hard work. This work doesn’t need large budgets and seasoned experts. It needs people who are willing to become experts and sit down and make hard decisions about what they want to preserve and how. Most importantly, however, it helps to have a place to start and a sensible way to move forward, and that’s what we hope to give our institutions.

Bradly: Dialogue is key. Maintaining the ability to create an overall plan and sticking to it is a must. However, not all solutions can be achieved by the entire group. Therefore, establishing a model where select individuals can deeply focus on a given issue and then bring the salient points back to the larger collective is a good way to utilize people’s limited time and resources. We are broken out into three main bodies: governance, technology and content. However, within those groups we often spawn subgroups to take on specific tasks (e.g. business models, functional requirements, certification, etc.). Providing a means for members to thoughtfully engage in all the issues surrounding preservation while keeping the initiative on track is an ongoing effort. Figuring out how to manage effectively the group’s time and energy is the key to success.

[Also see Trevor Owens’ interview with Bradley Daigle and Kelcy Shepherd’s presentation from Digital Preservation 2012 titled “Digital Preservation at the Five Colleges.”]

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