Born to Be 3D: Born-Digital Data Stewardship

Today’s post is from Jesse Johnston and Jon Sweitzer-Lamme. Jon is the Librarian in Residence at The Library of Congress’ Preservation Directorate. He is a 2017 graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s iSchool, receiving a MSLIS with a minor in Museum Studies and a certificate in Special Collections.

On November 2, the Library hosted a forum on born-digital, three-dimensional data stewardship. Born-digital 3D materials constitute important cultural documentation, facilitate scientific research, and such assets are entering cultural heritage collections. Yet, preservation approaches and stewardship requirements are not yet mainstream or standardized for born-digital 3D materials.

One of the goals of the forum was to spur discussion among the growing 3D stewardship community around the topic of born-digital 3D data. We were pleased to welcome more than 50 people from vastly different fields to the forum, ranging from archaeology to microbiology and from geography to book history, and from different digital curation roles, from researchers and creators to collection development librarians and digital preservationists, from Federal agencies and major research libraries.

Participants at the B2B3D forum at the Library of Congress Madison Building.

Since much work has been done by cultural heritage organizations in scanning and imaging objects for 3D, we focused the conversation on “born-digital 3D.” We used the term “intrinsic” to refer to this type of 3D data, to reference models or other 3D information that does not necessarily represent scanned items. These 3D objects may not map directly onto things in the physical world, such as with archaeological reconstructions and historical re-creations, imagined worlds, or they may represent an aggregated outcome of many data types, as may be the case with weather models and geospatial data that represent a combination of various data types and sources. The definitional issues around the nature of “born-digital” and “intrinsic” 3D were at the heart of many discussions throughout the day, and we are interested to hear more about how these are useful or problematic terms.

A wide-ranging discussion among presenters and participants touched on issues specific to born-3D digital materials as well as those issues that concern all born-digital materials. One common thread in the discussions was the theme of “paradata.” The Community Standards for 3D Data Preservation project lead, Jennifer Moore, defines paradata in this context as the data that help users understand the creation of an object or model, which can help to engage with the data. In other words, the processes and tools used to create the data, gather it, and aggregate it into a model or other output. Paradata, in additional to traditional descriptive information and technical metadata, can be paramount to the long-term usefulness and usability of born-digital 3D objects.

Many projects working with digital stewardship for 3D data are underway. We began the day with state-of-the-field reports from three perspectives. These talks brought everyone up to speed on current work and issues for digital stewardship of 3D data. We heard from two IMLS-funded projects: Jennifer Moore with the Community Standards for 3D Data Preservation (CS3DP), which is coordinating data curation efforts in this area across the nation; and Nathan Hall with Developing Library Strategy for 3D and Virtual Reality Collection Development and Reuse (LIB3DVR) Project, which reported on many aspects of using and accessing 3D materials. We closed the opening block with a talk by Nicholas Polys of Virginia Tech, who discussed the importance of standard, open formats like X3D for stewarding durable and accessible 3D digital objects.

A round of shorter talks focused on various current projects. Heather Richards-Rissetto from the University of Nebraska discussed her work creating historical environments of Maya sites in the MayaCityBuilder project. We heard from Meghan McCarthy about the 3DPrintExchange from the National Institutes of Health. Vince Rossi and Jon Blundell from the Digitization Program Office at the Smithsonian discussed their pathbreaking work in object scanning, including new work on metadata schema for 3D objects. Marcia McIntosh, representing the 3DHotbed (3D History of the Book for Education) project, explained how they use both modeling and scanning to create usable items for teaching about historic printing techniques and book history. Zack Lischer-Katz, postdoctoral scholar at the University of Oklahoma Libraries, gave an overview of various uses for 3D and virtual reality for research by scholars in Oklahoma. Rob Dollison, of the USGS, discussed the use of LIDAR scanning and mapping to create tools for visualizing and analyzing elevation data in the National Geospatial Programs National Map project. Finally, Veronica Ikeshoji-Orlati, at the National Gallery of Art, discussed the use of imaging and photogrammetry for studying and teaching about classical ceramics. The variety of talks enabled the conversation to expand to encompass many of the different sources of data as well as their uses and management strategies.

In sponsoring this event, the Library aimed to support its new Digital Strategy and act as a community hub to drive momentum and dialogue, promote awareness about digital-forward research and tools, and plan for the long-term stewardship of born-digital 3D data for the research and cultural heritage communities. Although many questions remain for the digital stewards in this area, we also discovered common issues cutting across many domains. In his wrap-up remarks, Will Rourk generated a wordcloud from the day’s social media stream, which illustrated that beyond the complexities of the world of big data, one primary concern of the forum was that of librarians everywhere: access.

Word cloud shown during the wrap, created from the forum social media feeds by Will Rourk.

We hope this event spurs more conversation! Although the forum was only one day and limited to the group that could join us in DC, we aimed to gather the discussion using the hashtag #B2B3D on social media. To foster continued dialogue, we have gathered all of the presenters’ materials on the event website, and we’ve made available the collaborative notes document by the participants. We encourage you to stay involved with the discussion through other conversations, online and offline. To access the presentations and notes, please visit the event website. We’re looking forward to a multidimensional future for this complex and important topic.


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