On Aug. 17, 2017, the Library of Congress’ (LC) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) grant-funded National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) program showcased the digital preservation projects undertaken by this year’s residents at institutions located in the Washington, D.C., area. The projects were meant to advance not only the institutions at which they were conceived, but also the digital preservationist community.
The NDSR 2017 Symposium, Blending Collaborations and Bridging Gaps: Digital Preservation Communities of Practice, reinforced the importance of collaborating during the digital preservation process. As Judy Ruttenberg, one of the project mentors at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), observed, the residents’ commitment to collaboration was evident even in the manner in which the symposium was organized and managed throughout the day. (A recording of the symposium is available here.)
The residents stressed 1) the value in having mentors to help them shape their projects and make them successful and 2) their eagerness to leave something behind at their institutions, but more broadly, to the community of archivists and others involved in digital preservation, through toolkits, guidance documents, and a network of expertise on which they can rely.
Looking to the Future
One of the welcome addresses was given by George Coulbourne, chief of internship and fellowship programs and national and international outreach at the LC, who was there at the start (in 2013) and has shepherded NDSR to become a residency model for digital stewards of our national heritage. Coulbourne intends to double down with a train-the-trainer approach to teaching the six modules for the digital preservation lifecycle to underfunded state and rural libraries through a Digital Preservation Corps.
Trevor Owens, IMLS’ acting associate deputy director for library services (now the head of digital content management in library services at the LC), spoke about how IMLS’ Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program is helping to address the need to cultivate a digital libraries workforce. Compared to 30 years ago, students completing library and information science programs today possess a different set of skills, and this generation of workers may not be eager to wait years to move up the organization’s hierarchy before taking on responsibilities. Owens urged libraries to rethink how they can take advantage of the skill sets that recent graduates have to offer, giving them opportunities to tackle some of the big initiatives and digitization projects that in the past had been set aside.
The timing of the symposium led several speakers to begin their talks by referencing Charlottesville, giving great purpose and meaning to the work of the digital archivist. Keynoter T-Kay Sangwand, UCLA Library’s librarian for digital collections development, began by stressing, “Preservation is political, never neutral.” She described how digital preservation practices need to be “de-colonialized,” recommending that we address the inequities perpetuated in our archival practices and that we can do so using “contributive justice” to guide collaborations.
Contributive justice practices create truly equal partnerships, in which everyone has a responsibility and opportunity to contribute labor and participate in decision making (for appraisals, descriptive practices, access decisions, language, and shaping of collective histories). This is particularly important given the history of transnational partnerships for archival projects among institutions in developing countries.
By George, It’s George
The afternoon featured lightning talks by the residents. First up was Charlotte Kostelic, whose project, Connecting 18th-Century Data for the 21st Century: George III and George Washington in the Digital Age, was a collaborative effort of institutions—the LC, the Royal Collection Trust, and King’s College London—holding the correspondence between the U.K.’s King George III (and other Hanoverian monarchs) and George Washington.
Kostelic spent her residency exploring metadata interoperability of the papers of George III and Washington. She conducted a comparative analysis of metadata standards and platforms in preparation for the technical development required to search across all of the papers in different collections, creating use cases that highlighted the gaps between needs and offerings. While her recommendation for next steps applies specifically to the institutions that hold the papers, this project has broader application as a model for digitally reuniting both sides of any series of correspondence, papers, and related documents digitally housed in multiple institutional repositories. The exploration of interoperability will enable cross-repository searches, allowing scholars to reach insights not previously possible.
Learning What to Save
Elizabeth England spent her residency at Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries working on Large-Scale Digital Stewardship: Preserving Johns Hopkins University’s Born-Digital Visual History, which involved photographs taken of the university campus. Her job was to automate as much of the workflow as possible, including uniform scripts, ArchivesSpace linking, writing descriptions for thousands of archival projects, and making this all available via GitHub. She ended her presentation by emphasizing the importance of appraisal in the archival process: “the responsibility of digital stewards not to save it all.”
Joe Carrano spent his time at Georgetown University Library on a project titled Bringing It All Home: Building Digital Preservation Processes for Digital Preservation Platforms. He implemented digital Academic Preservation Trust tools for managing and ingesting content and handling workflows. Noting that there may be little documentation to let the archivist know what the institution has where, Carrano admitted, “Sometimes you just have to go with what you have.” He was pleased that the archivists he worked with were willing to be trained on the tools and learn the skills they will need, as new materials to be ingested into the archives are likely to be born digital. His takeaway: “Digital preservation is a distributed responsibility.”
Megan Potterbusch spent her residency working with ARL, George Washington University’s GW Libraries, and the Center for Open Science to complete Bringing Life to Research Objects: Managing the Digital Lifecycle of Research From Creation to Stewardship Through the Open Science Framework (OSF) and SHARE. She stressed the importance of outreach and credited her success to meeting researchers’ needs within their workflow. With the help of tools such as OSF and SHARE, Potterbusch was able to integrate herself with the research flow in a way that was seen as an improvement. Jeff Spies, co-founder and CTO of the Center for Open Science, later told me, “This model can be expanded to other service providers on campuses to increase the efficacy of the services they provide. The problems that scholars are trying to solve are incredibly complex, and we need to integrate more people with diverse expertise and backgrounds in order to solve them quickly and efficiently.”
Amy Gay spent her residency working at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Enabling Open Science Through the Center for Devices & Radiological Health (CDRH) Science Data. The FDA’s Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories had no institutional repository and no current tracking method. Gay developed the Science Data Catalog as a one-stop shop for datasets and publications. She created a data curation toolkit for cross-agency collaboration to avoid overlap of data collected for multiple projects. Her “lesson learned”: Look more broadly at the outset of the project so the opportunities for collaboration don’t spring up toward the end.
Impact at the LC
The NDSR symposium was not the only digital preservation event in Washington this summer. On July 25, the LC live-streamed Collections as Data: IMPACT. The event featured “case-studies and impact stories of applying digital methods to analyzing and sharing collections.” View the recording here.