By Lea DeForest, Texas Digital Library Communication Strategist
August 28, 2018
For a digital archivist like Kristen Weischedel, being a perfectionist is an internal struggle. Tasked with developing a digital preservation program for her library was a daunting project for Kristen, and finding a starting point was one of the hardest parts.
Kristen is the digital archivist at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley Library. Before attending Texas Digital Library’s Digital Preservation Management Workshop last month, Kristen felt overwhelmed by digital preservation, and part of that feeling was due to her innate perfectionism. But the workshop taught her that digital preservation is not an exact science with exact steps at exactly the perfect time. “The main thing I got from the workshop,” said Kristen, “is the idea of ‘perfect’ preservation vs. ‘good enough’ preservation.”
About the Digital Preservation Management Workshop
Comprehensive digital preservation programs require collaboration within library departments and among external partners; no one-size-fits-all solution exists.
Nor should it. Colleges and universities steward unique collections that require flexibility and a customized approach to digital preservation, and a digital preservation policy sufficient for a regional college might not work for a top-tier research institution. For example, a digital collection housed at a private liberal arts college, such as the Claude and ZerNona Black Collection at Trinity University, that is comprised of a variety of file formats, file sizes, and provenances will require a different approach to preservation than a collection of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) preserved by a state flagship ARL institution such as Texas Tech University.
In addition to providing hosted technology services for academic libraries and their users, Texas Digital Library (TDL) provides discounted trainings for our members that they would not receive anywhere else. Since 2005, the Digital Preservation Management Workshop has been led by internationally recognized digital preservation experts Nancy McGovern, Director of Digital Preservation at MIT Libraries, and Kari Smith, Institute Archivist and Program Head, Digital Archives, at MIT Institute Archives. Texas Digital Library brought the much-needed workshop to Texas and co-hosted with our member, the Coates Library at Trinity University, in San Antonio last month.
Using The Five Organizational Stages of Digital Preservation as a roadmap, workshop participants learned an approach to digital preservation that can be adapted and scaled to their institution. From individual institutions acknowledging the need for digital preservation programs (step 1) to inter-institutional collaborations (step 5) that pool resources and expertise as well as share responsibility for infrastructure upkeep, the Digital Preservation Management Workshop taught TDL members like Kristen how to translate vague policies into actionable steps. Participants like Kristen are better able to develop digital preservation programs at their institutions as well as begin preserving their valuable collections.
TDL’s goal for the workshop was help Texas librarians and archivists learn a holistic and adaptable approach to digital preservation that could translate to actionable preservation initiatives that offer “a staircase rather than an unassailable wall” toward developing institutional programs and policies. Another goal was to foster a common understanding of the phases of digital preservation so that our members can engage in a productive discussion and meaningful collaboration around digital preservation.
The librarians and archivists who attended the workshop represent academic libraries from institutions of varying size, scope, and capacity. From major research institutions such as the University of Houston to small, private liberal arts colleges like Baylor University to the Houston Public Library, a wide range of institutional needs with a variety of digital collections were addressed at the workshop.
What’s Next for Kristen and UT Rio Grande Valley
As members subscribed to Texas Digital Library’s Digital Preservation Services, UT Rio Grande Valley receives non-commercial digital preservation storage options and librarians like Kristen are connected to a network of practitioners with access to training, workflow support, and knowledge sharing through a Digital Preservation User Group. Consortium-wide, Texas Digital Library’s 22 members share expertise, via trainings like the DPWM, making sure that no one has to tackle digital preservation alone.
For Kristen, the workshop helped her develop skills that will assist her in her current role as digital archivist at UTRGV as well as delivered professional development that will boost the rest of her career. From the workshop to her workspace, Kristen has learned better workflows and will put into practice strategic, long term planning. She is excited about diving into project management, or as Kristen puts it, “taking the giant, never-ending project and breaking it down into manageable chunks.” Kristen was even able to turn her fear of beginning into an important step in her career, stating, “There is something great about being the first one!” She now feels empowered by building something where there was nothing for her institution.
When asked how her DPMW experience will impact her institution, Kristen said that she felt supported because UT Rio Grande Valley is fortunate to have dedicated funding for digital preservation through Texas Digital Library and our distributed digital preservation storage options with Chronopolis. She also said that UTRGV’s digital preservation plan and strategies for moving forward will be much stronger thanks to lessons she learned at the workshop. “It forced me to think about things that I hadn’t confronted yet,” Kristen said. “I knew that I had to do it, but hadn’t thought about it in the way I needed to.”
Kristen says that she has a “better grasp of what to do and how to do it,” and returned to her library with a plan for which collections she and her team will prioritize for preservation. For example, UTRGV is eager to preserve their Rio Grande Valley Oral History Collection, a complicated collection which spans decades of interviews, different eras of catalogers, and files that were originally in different formats. Because the collection is so large and complicated, it would not be a good fit for a first digital preservation undertaking.
Instead, Kristen will initiate her first digital preservation project with a less complicated – but no less important – collection so she can, in her words, “learn how to fix any bugs that might come up along the way.” The Leonard Greenwalt Collection is a digital collection of photos of the concentration camp in Dachau April 1945, taken by an American G.I. and donated to UTRGV by Leonard Greenwalt. [Warning: images in the collection contain disturbing images of people who were victims of concentration camps.] Kristen’s team is no less eager to preserve these photographs because they are so rare and are of unique global significance. This small collection is comprised of just 12 images, all taken in same place and by the same person, in the same timeframe, and with similar scenery. Preparing the metadata for preservation will be much less complicated with such a small collection, and a great way for Kristen to learn while doing and begin the process of digital preservation.
For Those About to Begin
No library has unlimited resources. The DPMW taught participants how to maximize their institutions’ resources for ‘good enough’ preservation in a meaningful way. One of our digital preservation mantras here at Texas Digital Library is “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” which serves as reminder to all librarians and archivists embarking on their first digital preservation projects. As Kristen said, “There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ preservation,” so remember that ‘good enough’ is a great place to start.
If your institution is interested in Texas Digital Library’s digital preservation services, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how best we can meet your digital preservation needs.