Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NDSA Philly Regional Meeting

In January, the Library Company hosted the Philadelphia regional meeting of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) featuring a slate of speakers representing some of the most influential thinking in digital preservation today. Storage of digital assets and their preservation is now a critical function of all GLAM institutions (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) and is a particularly pressing concern for small institutions trying to keep pace with increasing demands for digital content. 

The NDSA Philly Regional meeting convened mid-Atlantic institutions to encourage new collaborations to meet the shared demands. Members of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL), PhillyDH, and the Delaware Valley Archivists Group (DVAG) were in attendance. The event was attended by almost 150 people and, scheduled on the cusp of the American Library Association Mid-Winter Conference, also drew attendees from as far as North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, and Washington.

The event was kicked off with a brief welcome by Library Company Director John Van Horne and an introduction by Erin Engle, Digital Archivist with the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) at the Library of Congress.  Engle gave an overview of the NDSA’s structure and mission, emphasizing the organization’s advocacy on behalf of members and the resulting reports, guidance materials, meetings, events, and webinars. As an example, she cited the “2014 National Agenda for Digital Stewardship,” an insightful look into the current state of digital preservation, trends, and guidance for decision-makers and funders. 

This was followed by a compelling keynote by Emily Gore, DPLA Director for Content, entitled "Building the Digital Public Library of America: Successes, Challenges and Future Directions." The theme of sustainability emerged as she described the development of the DPLA and how it became clear that the hub model was the best strategy for the long-term success of the project. The establishment of hubs to aggregate content for DPLA will be more feasible than to attempt to manage the assets of innumerable individual institutions centrally. DPLA has tasked those repositories that wish to contribute content with the management of data aggregation, metadata consistency, continual repository services, promoting new digitization, encouraging community engagement, and self-evaluation for the improvement of existing and development of new DPLA hubs.

The keynote was followed by a series of lightning talks that focused on standards for preservation, digitization, and description. A comprehensive list of the issues that must be addressed in any collaborative digitization strategy emerged from these sessions; attendees agreed that consistency could ensure success where conformity was unattainable.

Meg Phillips, National Archives and Records Administration External Affairs Liaison, presented on NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, “a tiered set of recommendations for how organizations should begin to build or enhance their digital preservation activities.” She emphasized the importance of this document as a tool for self-assessment, program planning, and institutional advocacy, and as a way to open communication with content creators. The success of the document lies in a simple descriptive format that is content-agnostic. It includes four levels of preservation—protect your data, know your data, monitor your data, and repair your data—across five functions: storage and geographic location, file fixity and data integrity, information security, metadata, and file formats. 

Ian Bogus, MacDonald Curator of Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, gave a talk entitled “Why Create a Standard on Digitization?  An Experience Creating the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendation.” The goal of this project was to establish an acceptable minimum standard to ensure sustainability and viability into the future. The guiding principles of the project were to create a standard which was high enough to meet adequacy, in line with other recommendations and projects, basic enough for novices to use, and accurate enough for experts and did not duplicate existing work. 

The evening concluded with a fun discussion on metadata, which nonetheless had serious undertones. George Blood of George Blood Audio|Video|Film discussed how we as librarians are “describing ourselves to death” and what he saw as “the failures of metadata.” He began by affirming that he is a metadata pessimist because no one asks “What problem are we trying to solve?” or “What are we trying to provide metadata for?” Most metadata is collected “just because we can” and because of this we do not test our metadata. The variety of metadata standards across and within institutions is staggering. Sometimes metadata standardization costs more than digitization itself. Blood encouraged the audience to consider what a standard is, whether a standard needs to be perfect, the implications of local modifications, and whether there is a one-size-fits-all solution.

For the next day’s “unconference,” approximately 50 attendees convened to propose and vote on sessions.  The largest sessions included “Making the case for digital preservation,” “Let’s discuss a consortium data center,” and “How do we approach becoming a regional hub of DPLA?” The smaller breakout sessions included discussions on minimal standards for archival description, engaging leadership and encouraging organizational responsibility for digital projects, approaching rights and access issues, metrics for evaluation of digital archival resources, new technologies in digitization, and teaching digital preservation in library science and graduate archival programs. Notes from these sessions will be forthcoming on the event web page.

NDSA Regional meetings offer opportunities for local institutions to connect with one another and become informed on national trends in digital stewardship, moving beyond their community and regional concerns to consider and strategize the digital preservation of our nation’s cultural heritage.   

Nicole Scalessa, IT Manager
The Library Company of Philadelphia

1 comment:

  1. Digitalization is where the future lies and must be pursued with passion. I am an amateur historian researching and writing about Thomas Livezey (1723-1790), Germantown Quaker merchant flour miller. I cannot afford to do al the travel that PhD students can afford (since many study at UPENN, or have stipends for expenses. But most scholars teach and too busy to do enough research which is being filled by people like myself who have the time now that I'm retired. Please break down the old academic stuffiness that is so prevalent in your profession to make much more history available to the masses like Alfred Young wrote much about...thanks


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