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Preserving Carnegie Hall’s Born-Digital Assets: An NDSR Project Update

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The following is a guest post by Shira Peltzman, National Digital Stewardship Resident at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Inside the Isaac Stern Auditorium.
The author inside the Isaac Stern Auditorium. Photo by Gino Francesconi.

As the National Digital Stewardship Resident placed at Carnegie Hall, I have been tasked with creating and implementing policies, procedures and best practices for the preservation of our born-digital assets. Carnegie Hall produces a staggering quantity of born-digital content every year: live concert webcasts; videos of professional development and educator workshops; artist interviews; promotional videos for festivals and performances taking place at the Hall; workshops and masterclasses; and all print media produced for the Hall, including infographics, programs, and annual reports, to cite just a few examples. A sampling of this material can be found on Carnegie Hall’s blog, which averages 400 posts per year.

The first phase of my project–which I’m on track to wrap up by mid-December–has been largely focused on developing a detailed understanding of how the organization’s born-digital assets are created, stored and used. To do this, I have spent the past couple months conducting interviews with staff across a wide range of departments at Carnegie Hall that use or produce digital content.

The interview process is fundamentally important to my project because it lays the groundwork for all of my NDSR project deliverables. These include: establishing selection and acquisition criteria for the preservation of born-digital assets; developing and streamlining production workflows; and writing a digital preservation and sustainability policy document. Beyond helping me evaluate the current workflows and digital usage within the organization, I’ve found that conducting these interviews has also helped me settle into my new work environment.  Having the opportunity to talk to so many different people within the organization has allowed me to meet many more of my coworkers than I might otherwise cross paths with in the course of a normal work week, and it’s also helped me to better understand how each department fits into the ‘bigger picture’ at Carnegie Hall.

Each interview takes place in two halves: during the first half of the interview I ask questions that are designed to help me understand precisely how digital assets are created and used within each department. This usually involves asking the people I’m interviewing to walk me through the production process of the digital content they are responsible for creating. I do this so that I can take note of things like the hardware and software they use; whether or not a final version is likely to have many associated versions or drafts; and how likely it is that the audio, video or print media they create will eventually be re-purposed or re-used in the future. This information helps paint a detailed picture of how every department operates. It also allows me to recognize what assets matter most to each department, which in turn will help me establish selection and acquisition criteria further down the road.

During the interview I make it a point to not only understand the current workflows involved in creating and using digital assets, but also to gather information about how these workflows might be improved. This is important because as part of the Digital Archives Project, the Carnegie Hall Archives is in the process of configuring and implementing a new Digital Asset Management System, and the feedback I receive during the interview process will help us streamline the process of ingesting material into the DAMS.

The second half of the interview typically takes place after I’ve had a chance to write up a summary of the initial discussion, and is much more ‘hands-on.’ An important aspect of my project is to create a detailed inventory of Carnegie Hall’s born-digital assets, and so the purpose of this half of the interview is to gather all extant hard drives, thumb drives, optical media, etc. that contain digital assets and review their contents. This involves reviewing the contents of digital storage media from both internal departments and, occasionally, from external contractors of Carnegie Hall as well. My goal is to uncover unknown and overlooked digital assets that should ultimately end up in the DAMS.

A screenshot of Carnegie Hall's website featuring content created for the UBUNTU: Music and Arts of South Africa festival, which took place from Oct. 8 to Nov. 5 and celebrated twenty years of freedom in South Africa. The videos showcased on this website are exemplary of the born-digital content that Carnegie Hall creates.
A screenshot of Carnegie Hall’s website featuring content created for the UBUNTU: Music and Arts of South Africa festival, which took place from Oct. 8 to Nov. 5 and celebrated twenty years of freedom in South Africa. The videos showcased on this website are exemplary of the born-digital content that Carnegie Hall creates.

Right now the largest task I’m faced with completing before the end of the year is going to be the inventory of born-digital assets. This will be a complex process because not only will I have to account for the assets stored on extant media that I track down throughout the office, but I will also need to create a comprehensive inventory of the assets stored within every departmental file directory. So far, the Digital Record Object Identification (DROID), which is the UK National Archive’s file format profiling tool, has been helpful for this task.

During my downtime between interviews I work on any number of smaller projects that are also part of my NDSR project deliverables. These include creating a document that provides Carnegie Hall with recommendations on how to improve file naming, writing a disaster preparedness plan and revising the Archives’ mission statement so that it includes a remit specifically for digital preservation.

So far one of my biggest takeaways from the project has been the importance of engaging both media creators and Carnegie Hall staff at large in the preservation process. Having their input has been essential because not only do they have a much more intimate knowledge of the different ways that material within the organization is created, used and stored, but they also collectively possess a substantial institutional knowledge that has helped guide my project throughout. Another benefit of this collaboration has been that it has bolstered buy-in for the DAMS, and has helped create a greater level of awareness about preservation among staff.

The first several months of my project feel like they’ve flown by. There are days when I reflect on what I’ve accomplished in just under three months’ time and feel proud of my progress, and then there are other days when I’m humbled by how much there is still left to do. But overall, the project has been one of the greatest learning experiences I could have hoped for–and there’s still six months left to go.

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