Working with many of the techniques of Digital Forensics, Digital Preservationists are moving to the forefront in many institutions, bridging the gap between archivists, technologists and records managers.

Following the official Thursday, August 9, kick off of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) 2012 annual meeting in San Diego, I attended a marvelous session on digital preservation that relied heavily on digital forensics, a preconference workshop I attended earlier in the week.

In short: I had enough context to appreciate the war stories shared by the moderator and her panel:

  • Shannon Zachary, Session Chair (University of Michigan Library, Preservation and Conservation),
  • Kari Smith (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Library, Institute Archives and Special Collections),
  • Sam Meister (University of Montana, Missoula, Mansfield Library), and
  • Jennifer Hain Teper (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, University Library, Preservation and Conservation).

Ms. Zachary introduced her speakers, commenting, “I think preservation didn’t really have a home as late as ten years ago. Dramatic changes are occurring with the mix of born-digital media.” With that brief statement, Ms. Zachary introduced Ms. Smith.

Landscape and Context Setting/Ms. Kari Smith

At MIT, one of the main things we look at and think about is the DCC life cycle approach. It’s fun to hotly debate amongst ourselves, 'When do we need to think about preservation activities?' We don’t want to preserve records at the end of their life cycles when we accession; we want to preserve nearer the records’ creation moments. In addition, we’re engaging content producers, curators and archivists in our preservation activities. We find that partnership between curators and preservation is extremely beneficial -- after all, preservation is a value-add, depending on what you do with your material.”

The challenge, said Ms. Smith, is that the field hasn’t codified preservation skill sets. Job advertisements in preservation are all over the map, none are the same.

“If you could hire one new full-time preservation position, what would you ask for?” she questioned rhetorically. “A technologist with preservation and archival skills? An archivist with technical skills? Does your current content types influence your answers? Does your ability to form partnerships change your answer?”

She recommended preparing an advertisement the right way: study open job postings and position descriptions; review available training; perform a gap analysis to determine partnership development. But ask, are these functions and activities appropriate for this job?

Fold emerging preservation functions such as conservation, preservation, curation, archival processing and digital forensics into the advertisement. Hint: for inspiration, see the Matrix of Digital Curation Knowledge and Competencies. The matrix will help you create a preservation dream team of Records Management, Legal, Marketing; metadata and content specialists, repository managers, IT, and programmers; and the Digital Preservation Officer.

Ms. Smith transitioned her presentation to the kind of questions that keep her up at night. Does reformatting equal digital preservation? Conservation for digital material, whether performed via in-house solutions or outsourced, needs an organizational home. How does archival staff form a partnership between the archives and technology? How do archivists partner with colleagues within the organization so ways of working mirror each other?

“It helps to remember the essentials,” she advised. “Maintain representation information, fixity, provenance, reference context (including administrative, structural and description).”

Conversations about preservation metadata propel discussions forward. “I’m convinced this is a big area for growth. Certainly, within the team opinions on preservation management may vary; sure, good preservation partnerships mean a combination of skill and strategy; yes, concentrate on functions and outcomes rather than roles."

Ms. Smith illustrated three partnership examples at MIT that are driven by the type of record:

  • Administrative Records: IS&T, Library IT, Curation & Preservation Services, Institute Archives, Office of the President;
  • Special Collections (material digitized for conservation): CPS, LASC, Document Services, Media Transfer Vendor; and the
  • Noam Chomsky Papers: Professor Chomsky, Administrative Assistant, Linguistics Administration, CPS, the Project Archivist, the Digital Archivist, IS&T.

The Kitten Effect, or Why Archivists Should Lead the Digital Preservation Charge/Mr. Sam Meister

At the University of Montana, the Conservation & Preservation (C&P) section reports into Archives & Special Collections. Until recently, the C&P effort focused mostly on paper-based, circulating library collections. The Mansfield Library is looking for unique ways to build preservation foundations.

Activity One: Acquisition → Accession → Arrangement & Description → Discovery & Access

In the past year, Mr. Meister has built a policy framework and workflow guidelines that include the following considerations:

  • using tools and workflows from the digital forensics community to transfer records from donors to the archives (in order to maintain records authenticity and integrity and therefore eliminate the risk of loss),
  • preserving records while minimizing potential contextual loss during transfer to secure storage and
  • unquestioned authenticity thanks to sound arrangement and description practices.

Activity Two: Reviewing Digitization Workflows in the Library

When Mr. Meister arrived, the Digital Initiatives Librarian had already departed, creating a significant fissure in leadership and almost no digital preservation presence in important organizational committees. Strategy being the next step, Mr. Meister embedded preservation actions into library workflows. He took advantage of the opportunity to perform a gap analysis that would facilitate an integrated program from a digital preservation perspective. He had a huge list of recommendations of preservation activities, but here are a few examples:

  • collect technical, administrative and preservation metadata
  • ensure a team approach with cooperation from many departments to create a robust technical infrastructure
  • remember bibliographic reference services
  • look to administration for leadership.

The Mansfield Library is considered a smaller institution, which has a number of advantages. Layers of bureaucracy don’t impede progress. Mr. Meister creates relationships more quickly. He engages in digital preservation conversations regularly. Processes move forward.