Digital Humanities and Digital Preservation: a new series

Last weekend, I attended the very educational and inspiring, fun and interesting Data Driven: Digital Humanities in the Library conference at the College of Charleston. I have a lot of information to digest, and in the next few posts I will write a series of some of my notes, and some implications for my projects at the DC/SLA.

In this post, I begin with my notes from the pre-workshop readings for “From Theory to Action: A Pragmatic Approach to Digital Preservation Strategies and Tools” Workshop at the conference in Charleston, SC, June 20-22 2014.


Pre-workshop readings:

NDSA Levels of Preservation (an assessment tool for institutions and organizations)

You’ve Got To Walk Before You Can Run (high-level view of the basic requirements to make digital preservation operational)

Walk This Way (detailed steps for implementing DP – introductions to each section were recommended reading)

Library of Congres DPOE (optional)

POWRR website (optional – the group that taught the workshop is POWRR – Lots of good here)


NDSA Levels of Preservation – Where I see the DC/SLA Archives Committee:

  1. Storage and Geographic location
    1. Level 0 – still determining where things are, how they have been stored
  2. File fixity and Data integrity
    1. What is fixity? (I learned fixity is, for example, running checksums to determine if materials/digital objects have changed or been corrupted over time. Checksums are algorithm-produced unique identifiers that correspond to the contents of a file and are assigned to a specific version of a file or item).
  3. Information Security
    1. Level 0-1 – We have determined in policy documents who *should* have read authorization (the general public, in most cases, with some redactions/delays in dissemination for PII and financials)
    2. The Archives Committee will be the only ones, aside from possibly a Board liaison, to have other authorizations (edit, delete, etc.)
  4. Metadata
    1. Level 0 – We will soon be conducting an inventory of content, which will include an investigation into what metadata has been included
  5. File formats
    1. Level 0 – We will soon determine what formats have been and should be used

So, clearly, we still have a lot of work to do.

“You’ve got to walk before you can run: first steps for managing born-digital content received on physical media” (OCLC/Ricky Erway, 2012)

  • Audience: those who have or are currently acquiring such born-digital materials, but have not yet begun to manage them
  • identifying and stabilizing holdings
  • Four Essential Principles
    • Do no harm (to physical media or content)
    • Don’t do anything that unnecessarily precludes future action and use
    • Don’t let the first two principles be obstacles to action
    • Document what you do!!
  • Survey and Inventory Materials in your Current Holdings
    1. Locate existing holdings
      1. Gather info about digital media already in collections
      2. Do collections inventory to locate computer media in any physical form
    2. Count and describe all identified media (NOT mounting or viewing content on media)
      1. Gather info from donor files, acquisition records, collections, etc.
      2. Remove media but retain order by photographing digital media and storing printouts in physical collection
        1. Alternative: place separator sheets in physical collection
      3. Assign appropriate inventory # / barcode to each physical piece
      4. Record location, inventory #, type of physical medium, any identifying info found on labels /media, e.g., Creator, Title, etc.
      5. Record anything known about hardware, operating system, software; use consistent terms
      6. Count # of each media type, and indicate max capacity of each media type, max amount of data stored, then calculate overall total for the collection
      7. Return physical media to suitable storage
      8. Add summary description of digital media to any existing accession accession record, collection level record, or finding aid
    3. Prioritize collections for futher treatment, based on:
      1. value, importance, needs of collection as a whole and level of use (anticipated use) of collection
      2. whether there is danger of loss of content
      3. whether appears to be significant digital content not replicated among analog materials
      4. whether use of digital content that is replicated in analog form would add measurably to users’ ability to analyze or study content
      5. when just a few files can be represented on a page; whether printouts might suffice
    4. Repeat these steps every time you receive new media.


Walk This Way (OCLC/Julianna Barrera-Gomez, and Ricky Erway, 2013)

  • Draft a workflow before beginning? Revise during execution?
  • Existing digital preservation policies may include donor agreements (which can explain what info may be transferred from digital media) and policies on accessioning or  de-accessioning records or physical media
  • Consult policies (IT?) on software use or server backups
  • AIMS project 2012 report about digital collection stewardship provides objectives for informing policy and glossary for non-archivists
  • Documenting the project
    • What info about the process will be needed in future to understand scope, steps taken, and why?
    • provides context to ensure process; forms key part of evidence for provenance; indicates authenticity of material
    • manage associated metadata (auto-generated or manually created)
    • content management systems: Archon, Archivist’s Toolkit: use to create accession records to link from project’s documentation to other holdings
    • Create a physical project directory with folders
      • subfolders:
        • Master Folder (Preservation Copy, Archival Copy Folder)  – holds master copies of files
        • Working Folder – holds working copies of master files
        • Documentation Folder – to hold metadata and other information associated with the project
  • Preparing the Workstation (Mandatory) – this may be a problem, unless we find a way around having a physical workstation for preservation work.
    • dedicated workstation to connect to source media
    • start with a single type of media from a collection to aid efficiency and keeping track of materials, metadata.
    • What alternatives to this? Physical space and financial obstacles for DC/SLA
    • Use a computer that is regularly scanned for viruses
    • consider keeping it non-networked until a connection is needed (e.g., for file transfers, software/virus definition updates)
    • DO NOT open files on source media!
  • Connect the source media
    • Examine media for cracks/breaks/defects
    • Consider removing sticky notes or other ephemera (take digital photo first)
    • DO NOT attempt to open files yet!
  • Transfer Data
    • Copy files or create a disk image
      • Copy files individually or in groups – practical way for new archivists to get started
      • Disk image – more info is captured, easier to ensure authenticity. Makes exact, sector-by-sector bit stream copy of a disk’s contents, retaining original metadata. Make a single file containing an authentic copy of the files and file system structure on a disk.
        • Forensic images image everything, including deleted files and unallocated space. Logical copies omit deleted files and unallocated space. 
  • Check for viruses
  • Record the file directory
    • Make a copy of the directory tree
  • Run Checksums or Hashes
    • unique value, based on contents of a file and is generated by specific algorithms (different ones – consistency is important)
    • identify whether/when a file has changed
    • regularly hashing a file or image you have copied and checking those new hashes against the hashes made at the time of the transfer should be part of your digital curation workflow
  • Securing project files
    • consolidate documentation
  • Prepare for Storage
    • arrange for space on a backed-up network server that is secure
  • Transfer to a secure location
    • additional copies – preservation master copies that must be kept safe from unintentional alteration
  • Store or de-accession source media
    • if destruction, use a secure method in conjunction with donor agreement and policies
  • Validate file types
    • determine whether you can open and read the contents of digital files (from the working copies!)
    • use working copies
    • hex editors – show file properties (byte representation)
  • Assess Contet (optional)
    • use working copies
  • Reviewing files 
    • only working copies
  • Finding duplicate files
    • if you delete, you will need to delete from the Master Folder already moved to secure storage
  • Dealing with Personally Identifying or Sensitive information
    • sensitive information must be kept restricted and secure on workstations, file servers, backup or transfer copies
    • Redact or anonymize before making available to users 

In the News

Life happened the past few weeks, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things here on Cultural Heritage and Information. Today I thought I’d post some interesting stories from around the web that relate to topics here on the blog.

HathiTrust Digital Library Wins Latest Round in Battle With Authors

With new publishing technologies and research practices, the copyright debates will continue to evolve in legal and other settings. The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a summary (by Jennifer Howard) on June 10th about the latest developments in the HathiTrust Digital Library vs. Authors Guild case. Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (in New York) decided for the library. Its decision will allow a searchable, full-text database of the Library’s works under the “fair use” clause, and will also allow dissemination of works in different formats for vision-impaired users.

What happens When Preservation and Innovation Collide?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation reflects on two years of innovation strategy development with EmcArts’ Innovation Lab for Museums. In the post (by Estevan Rael-Galvez), they share their ideas, challenges, and successes. Most interesting, in my opinion, is their idea to transition traditional historic house museums (which I adore), from static contrived experiences to more integrated, immersive experiences that stimulate all the senses of visitors.

Bit Rot: The Limits of Conservation discussed (in a post by Martha Buskirk on June 9) how time affects access and preservation of electronic media. The article supports “lots of copies keep stuff safe” as a general strategy to work toward in preservation and conservation of cultural and art artifacts. It also describes common obstacles, such as getting artists’ input on migration to new technologies, obsolescence of older technologies, copyright issues, determining in what aspects of the works the value lies, and the consequences of benign neglect. Best practice? Awareness and vigilance about what we want to save, and what has value to us.

How difficult can your manuscripts be?

The National Conservation Service in the UK blogged about some challenges that crop up when digitizing manuscripts. Some issues they faced during the digitization process for Khojki manuscripts from the Institute of Ismaili Studies include illegible text located in awkward places (e.g., the gutters), curved and warped pages, and ink degradation.

World Cups

Just for fun, I’m sharing the Horniman Museum and Gardens‘ World Cup tie-in, about a digital exhibit they created on cups from around the world (“world cups”… get it?). Cups from locations such as Burma, China, Japan, Indonesia, and Colombia feature in the exhibit.

Deepening my knowledge of Dublin Core, part 2

One of the things that strikes me about Dublin Core is its flexibility. There are formatting rules, and guidelines, but there are often multiple ways to enter the same data. For this session, I’ve been using the Creating Metadata User Guide from the Dublin Core wiki (henceforth: “user guide”).

Firstly, each field is divided into a property and a value – the value describing the property of the resource (e.g., the value “A Christmas Carol” corresponds to the property “title”). Sometimes properties have what look like sub-properties to me, but are described as “creating a relationship between the described resource and a more detailed title description”. In effect (and using the example given in the user guide), “title” is the main property, and sub-properties (more detailed descriptions) are “in greek” and “in latin” for transliterations of a title. The values then correspond to the sub-titles, so “in greek” equals the title written out in Greek, and “in latin” equals the title written out in Latin, as you see below.

Property Detailed Property Value
in greek (title in Greek characters)
in latin Oidipous Tyrannous

If I understand the table above correctly, it formulates a relationship (of parent to child, perhaps) between the general “title” property and the more detailed properties that describe the transliterations.

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Emerging technologies, the top trend in academic libraries – surprised no one, ever

It will come as no surprise that many of the top trends in academic libraries relate to digital technologies.

According to the ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee’s “2012 Top Ten Trends in Academic Libraries,” Data Curation and Digital Preservation were two of the top ten trends in academic libraries in 2012. Some of the predictions are: cloud-based repositories will become more popular, and librarians and information professionals will play a critical role in designing and implementing strategies for data description, storage, management, and reuse. Digital preservation is becoming more important as research increasingly depends on digital technologies, but we still lack standardized policies. Continue reading

From the perspective of an archivist

From the perspective of an archivist

This week, I read an article titled: “The Archivist’s Perspective: Knowledge and Values.” The archival point of view interests me, since knowing it will help me understand the underlying intellectual foundations of my work as Archivist of the DC/SLA.

At once a comparison of the different perspectives of individuals involved in the life cycle of a record and a defense of the purpose and usefulness of archivists, the article describes very clearly what questions archivists considers in the course of their work. The overall theme in this explication is that archivists see (must see) the broader, wider picture. The context of record creation and use, the formats and regulations of documents, and their life cycle, are all considered by archivists in their work to preserve records and history for the future.

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