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Digital Audio Preservation at MIT: an NDSR Project Update

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The following is a guest post by Tricia Patterson, National Digital Stewardship Resident at MIT Libraries


This month marks the mid-way point of my National Digital Stewardship Residency at MIT Libraries, a temporal vantage point that allows me to reflect triumphantly on what has been achieved so far and peer fearlessly ahead at all that must be accomplished before I am finished.

As mentioned in our previous introductory group post, I was primarily tasked with completing a gap analysis of the digital preservation workflows currently in place, developing lower-level diagrammatic and narrative workflows, and calling out a digital audio use case from the Lewis Music Library materials we are using to build the workflows. My work is part of a larger preservation planning effort underway at MIT, and it has enabled me to make higher-level, organizational contributions while also familiarizing me with the nitty-gritty procedural details across the departments. This project really has relied on strong, interdepartmental collaboration with input from: Peter Munstedt and Cate Gallivan from the Lewis Music Library; Tom Rosko, Mikki Macdonald, Liz Andrews and Kari Smith from the Institute Archives and Special Collections; Ann Marie Willer from Curation and Preservation Services; Helen Bailey from IT; and finally my host supervisor, Nancy McGovern, who heads Digital Curation and Preservation. Others have consulted throughout the project so far as well.

I will shamefully admit that during graduate school, I really hadn’t designated much consideration to workflow documentation. Aside from the OAIS reference model, my thinking about digital preservation was relegated to isolated, technical steps such as format migration or appropriate preservation metadata. Since beginning this project however, I’ve realized that workflow documentation is receiving increased acknowledgement and appreciation. Without a tested, repeatable road map, it is difficult to process larger projects with efficiency and security. A detailed, documented workflow elucidates processes across departments, giving us insight into redundancies and deficiencies. It allows for transparency, clarification of roles, and accountability within the chain of custody.DCM-Pipeline_9Dec2014

Above is the high-level content management workflow that the digital audio workflow subgroup developed prior to my arrival. My work so far has been on the second (digitization) and third (managing digital content) sequences of the workflow, fleshing out optimized, lower-level documentation for the steps within each bubble (or stage). Below is an example of the lower-level workflow diagram that I designed for stage A2: Define Digitization Requirements based on the information gathered from archives and preservation staff. Not pictured is the accompanying narrative documentation for the stage. I actually just wrapped up drafting the six stages of the “Transform Physical/Analog to Digital” sequence at the end of December, and while I am drafting the documentation for the next sequence – “Managing Digital” – we are simultaneously moving through the review process for the initial set.A2 level_v06

Other benefits that have emerged so far include getting a better idea of what digitization project documentation is generated and what of that documentation needs to be preserved as well. It has also helped us to identify steps that would benefit from automation. For example, as the physical materials are handed off on their way to a vendor to be digitized, we must maintain a chain of custody for the content, so our metadata archivist created a database to more accurately track the items in real-time as they transition through the workflow. We have also gained better perspective on which tools we need that will have the biggest impact on streamlining the work using this workflow. It is becoming clear how much easier it will be to initiate digitization projects, now knowing exactly which avenues need to be traveled and what documentation is necessary. And developing a strong, tested infrastructure can be leveraged for increased funding for projects and acquisitions.

Beyond the workflow development, I am contributing to other projects such as evaluating a streaming audio access platform for the Lewis Music Library and compiling a PREMIS profile for MIT Libraries that can be used for digital audio. The evaluation, an activity of our new Digital Sustainability Lab, has been especially fascinating, as our team is a combined effort between the technological and organizational wings of the libraries, working together to define requirements and measure options against them.

We began by itemizing 50-60 delivery requirements, including relevant TRAC requirements (PDF), covering display and interface, search and discovery, accessibility, ingest and export, metadata, content management, permissions, documentation and other considerations. From there, our group prioritized the requirements on a scale from zero to four: “might be nice” to “showstopper/must-have.” We also kept in mind that while we are only focusing on audio streaming currently, the system should be extensible to audiovisual materials. Next, we will be measuring the platform options against our prioritized requirements to determine which one will be best suited to meet the needs of the Libraries now. For me, this has been one of the most important parts of the position, to facilitate meaningful access to these audio treasures.

The residencies expand beyond the work at our institutions, however. All of the residents have been organizing tours, demonstrations and classes for one another. In December, I arranged for some of the NDSR-Boston crew to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, home to a renowned digitization program. This spring, another resident (Joey Heinen) and I are partnering to host a digital audio panel with speakers from some of the host institutions that will hopefully be beneficial to external audiences in the area grappling with common preservation concerns.

The residency will be over before I know it. In the upcoming months, I will wrap up the workflow documentation on the digital sequence, continue work on peripheral extant projects that are ongoing, and attend a couple of conferences to talk about our work. Building these models has been fun and intensely educational – and sharing it with the community will be truly rewarding.

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