Digital preservation planning in a library association chapter

The DC Chapter of the Special Libraries Association

As Archivist of the DC Chapter, I lead the Archives Committee in archival and digital preservation initiatives. After a period of limited-to-no activity, our primary goal is to plan strategy and set in place policies and procedures for present and future preservation and collection management.

Where we are now

This year, we developed several areas of work that we would like to accomplish, including drawing up a Collections Management Policy document with a Digital Preservation plan; contributing to the upcoming 75th Anniversary in ways that best suit an archive; and updating and adding to the somewhat skimpy physical collection.

This week, we will present some strategic questions to the Chapter Board, as well as some ideas about how the Archives can contribute to the Chapter’s 75th Anniversary celebrations.

Specifically, we want to focus on opening channels for donations of physical materials, and answering questions about appropriate access and materials for our digital preservation strategy, as well as finding out what digital preservation infrastructure/systems/storage/planning/capturing is already in place.

Digital preservation – part of archival preservation strategy

Starting out this year, my focus was on digital preservation, because it seemed we already had a good physical collection in place. Since then, I have discovered that our physical archives could, in fact, use more attention. Given the meagerness of it, and the lack of Committee documentation to tell us what has been done in the past to collect materials, we have expanded our scope to create a comprehensive Collections Management Policy that includes guidelines and procedures for digital preservation.

Not reinventing the wheel

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Reference librarianship in a collegiate environment

After quite a long hiatus, I have returned to Cultural Heritage and Information. I aim to get back to posting regularly, every Wednesday or Thursday.

Today’s subject is a personal one – what I’ve been learning in my newest position as a reference specialist at a small library in a large community college library network.


The library I work in has a very diverse population of users, with students and community patrons from around the globe. My evening shifts coincide with some of the busiest hours, since many students work during the day and attend school at night. The library is smallish, with a main collection of non-fiction, academic books, a designated computer room as well as computers on the main floor, access to several large and subject-oriented databases, a DVD section and a small section devoted to rotating fiction books. Continue reading

Archival assessment in theory and practice

What follows is a preliminary sketch of archival assessment, and a recounting of an initial practical survey of the archival collection of the DC Chapter of the Special Libraries Association.

What is archival collections assessment?

One definition is: “the systematic, purposeful gathering of information about archival collections.”*

What does it include?*

  • Collection surveys for appraisal
  • Setting priorities for processing and other tasks
  • Conservation decision-making
  • Collection management

Why conduct a collections assessment?

Many reasons – in my case, the following:

  • As a new archivist, I need to familiarize myself with the collections
  • The archives committee will soon begin planning a digital preservation strategy
  • The print collections should be digitized to further preserve the materials and so they can be used in digital exhibits
  • With the 75th anniversary of the DC Chapter of SLA approaching (in 2015), now is an excellent time to begin assessing, digitizing, and making accessible the chapter’s collections

So far, I’ve been twice to the archives – to review the accuracy of the finding aid (i.e. to assess the intellectual accessibility of the collection, to determine how easy it is to find information in the collection). Using the finding aid, I searched for the answer to a reference question: What information on milestone anniversary celebrations exists in the print collection? I tried to match the finding aid info to the contents of the collection, with varied success. Continue reading

Where book history & digital preservation meet: the importance of users in meaning making

Book history and digital preservation

Book historians and digital preservationists have certain things in common. Both seek to preserve cultural heritage and information; both work to provide access to objects and materials for the future; and both are concerned with authenticity, interpretation, context, provenance, and physicality (or intangibility) of the materials they work with and study. In this post, I examine the connection between book history and digital preservation that lies in meaning making and interpretations of information and objects. Scholars of book history have long debated the importance of individuals-not-the-author (such as readers) that influence the interpretation/reception of a text, and digital preservationists are still discussing the value for users of providing contextual metadata with digital objects.

On meaning making

The meanings of objects change over time and across distance, with cultural differences, age differences, and individual world views. As Edwina Taborsky (1990) states, the meaning of an object remains stable and communicable within a certain spatial and temporal area. This reliance on social context and the user’s reception of an object (digital or print) determines that the user’s meaning will not be the same as the original intended meaning. Robert Darnton (1982), a well-known historian of the book, agreed that texts work on the sensibilities of readers in different ways, using as examples a 17th century London burgher and a 20th century American professor. Similarly, digital content is used and reused in different ways in different contexts (Beaudoin 2012). The greater the temporal and spatial difference between the original context of the content and that of the user, the greater the difference in the interpretation or meaning of the content. Therefore, the digital preservationist (or museum exhibit curator, or rare book librarian) has a professional obligation to surround digital and historical objects with contextual information to recreate the original cultural meaning of the object as closely as possible.

For this reason, I believe in the importance of meaning making through metadata. Providing historical and cultural contextual metadata (as well as technical and other metadata) is key to improving the ability of future users to understand a digital object. If there are two separate research camps in the study of contextual metadata, as Faniel and Yakel (2011) state, then I’ll raise my tent with the reuse folks, who examine meaning making through metadata. The other camp, of digital curation, focuses its attention on technical metadata (Beaudoin 2012). Continue reading