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The NDSR Boston Residents Reflect on their “20% Projects”

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The following is a guest post by the entire group of NDSR-Boston residents as listed below. For their final posting, the residents present an overview of their individual professional development projects.

Rebecca Fraimow (WGBH)


One of the best things about this year’s NDSR in Boston  is the mandate to dedicate 20% of our time to projects outside of the specific bounds of our institution. Taking coursework, attending conferences, creating workshops — it’s all the kind of stuff that’s invaluable in the archival profession but is often hard to make time for on top of a full-time job, and I really appreciated that NDSR explicitly supported these efforts.

While I definitely took advantage of the time for my own personal professional development — investing time in Python and Ruby on Rails workshops and Harvard’s CopyrightX course, as well as presentations at AMIA, Code4Lib, Personal Digital Archives, NEA and NDSR-NE — the portion of my 20% that I’ve most appreciated is the opportunity to expand the impact of the program beyond the bounds of the immediate NDSR community. With the support of the rest of the Boston cohort, I partnered with my WGBH mentor, Casey Davis, to lead a series of workshops on handling audiovisual analog and digital material for students at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science. It was fantastic to get a chance to share the stuff I’ve learned with the next generation of archivists (and, who knows, maybe some of the next round of NDSR residents!).

As a cohort, we’ve also teamed up to design workflows and best practice documents for the History Project — a Boston-based, volunteer-run LGBT archive with a growing collection of digitized and born-digital items. This project is also, I think, a really great example of the ways that the program can make an impact outside of the relatively small number of institutions that host residents, and illustrates how valuable it is to keep expanding the circle of digital preservation knowledge.

Samantha Dewitt (Tufts University)


The NDSR residency has been a terrific experience for me, with the Tufts project proving to be a very good fit. Having been completely preoccupied with the subject of open science and Research Data Management in these past nine months, I am finding it hard to let go of the topic and I endeavor to continue working on this particular corner of the digital preservation puzzle. These days, data sharing and research data management frequently arise as topics of conversation in relation to research universities. Consequently, I had little trouble finding ways to add digital data preservation to my “20%” time. I looked forward to sharing the subject with my NDSR cohort whenever possible!

In November, our group attended a seminar on data curation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Several weeks later, I was able to meet with Dr. Micah Altman (MIT) to explore the subject of identifying and managing confidential information in research. Also in November, the Boston Library Consortium & Digital Science held a workshop at Tufts on Better Understanding the Research Information Management Landscape. Mark Hahnel, founder of Figshare, and Jonathan Breeze, CEO of Symplectic, spoke. This spring, Eleni Castro, research coordinator and data scientist at Harvard, met with our group to discuss the university’s new Dataverse 4.0 beta. Finally, in April, I was excited to be able to attend the Research Data Access and Preservation Summit in Minneapolis, MN. It has been a busy nine months!

Joey Heinen (Harvard Libraries)


The “20%” component of the National Digital Stewardship Residency is a great way for us to expand our interests, learn more about emerging trends and practices in the field and also to stay connected to any interests that might not align with our projects. My 20% involved a mixture of continuing education opportunities, organizing talks and tours and contributing to group projects which serve specific institutions or the field at large. For continuing education I learned some of the basics of Python programming through the Data Scientist Training for Librarians at Harvard.

For talks and tours, I organized a visit to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (largely to learn about the IRENE Audio Preservation System ) and with the Harvard Art Museum’s Registration and Digital Infrastructure and Emerging Technologies departments. I also co-organized an event entitled “Catching Waves: A Panel Discussion on Sustainable Digital Audio Delivery” (webex recording available soon on Harvard Library’s YouTube Channel). For developing resources I participated in the AMIA/DLF 2014 Hack Day in a group that developed a tool for comparing the output of three A/V characterization tools (see the related blog post) and also designed digital imaging and audio digitization workflows for the History Project.

Finally, I participated in NDSR-specific panels at the National Digital Stewardship Alliance – Northeast meeting (NDSA-NE) and the Spring New England Archivists conference as well as individually at the recent American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works conference. All in all I am pleased with the diversity of the projects and my level of engagement with both the local and national preservation communities. (As a project update, here is the most recent iteration of the Format Migration Framework (pdf)).

Tricia Patterson (MIT Libraries)


Two weeks left to go! And I ended up doing so much more than I initially anticipated during my residency. My project was largely focused on diagrammatically and textually documenting the low-level workflows of our digitization and managing digital preservation processes, some of the results of which can be seen on the Digital Preservation Management workshop site. But beyond the core of the project, so much else was accomplished. I helped organize both an MIT host event and a field trip to the JFK Library and Museum for my NDSR compadres. Joey Heinen and I co-organized a panel on sustainable digital audio delivery, replete with stellar panelists from both MIT and Harvard. I collaborated with my NDSR peers on a side assignment for the History Project. I also shared my work with colleagues at so many different venues, like presenting at the New England Music Library Association, giving a brown bag talk at MIT, writing on our group blog, being accepted to present with my MIT colleagues at the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual archives conference, and in the final days of my residency, presenting at the Association of Recorded Sound Collections conference.

All in all, a lot has been crammed into nine brief months: engaging in hands-on experience, enhancing my technological and organizational knowledge, forging connections in the digital preservation community and beyond. It really ended up being a vigorous and dynamic catapult into the professional arena of digital preservation. Pretty indispensable, I’d say!

Jen LaBarbera (Northeastern University)


Though my project focused specifically on creating workflows and roadmaps for various kinds of digital materials, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued by the conceptual challenges of digital preservation for the digital humanities. Working on this project as part of a residency meant that I had some flexibility and was given the time and encouragement to pursue topics of interest, even if they were only indirectly related to my project at Northeastern University.

As a requirement of the residency, each resident had to plan and execute an event at their host institution, and we were given significant latitude to define that event. Instead of doing the standard tour and in-person demonstration of my work at Northeastern, Giordana Mecagni and I chose to reach out to some folks in our library-based Digital Scholarship Group to host a conversation exploring the intersections between digital preservation and digital humanities. The response from the Boston digital humanities and library community was fantastic; people were eager to dive into this conversation and talk about the challenges and opportunities presented in preserving the scholarly products of the still fairly new world of digital humanities. We had a stellar turnout from digital humanities scholars and librarians from all over the Boston area, from institutions within the NDSR Boston cohort and beyond. We didn’t settle on any concrete answers in our conversation, but we were able to highlight the importance of digital preservation within the digital humanities world.

My experience with NDSR Boston will continue to be informative and influential as I move on to the next step in my career, as the lead archivist at Lambda Archives of San Diego in sunny southern California. From the actual work on my project at Northeastern to the people we met through our “20%” activities – e.g. touring NEDCC, attending Rebecca’s AV archiving workshops at Simmons, working with the History Project to develop digital preservation plans and practices – I feel much more prepared to responsibly preserve and make available the variety of formats of digital material that will inevitably come my way in my new position at this LGBTQ community archive.

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