International Digital Preservation Day

November 28, 2017

Celebrate International Digital Preservation Day at Folsom Library’s staff room on Thursday November 30, 2017 between 2pm and 3pm! We will be sharing the details of our digital preservation pilot, spreading some digital preservation knowledge, and eating delicious digital preservation desserts!


The Rensselaer Libraries are joining organizations and individuals all over the world for a day of advocacy and awareness of digital preservation! Learn more about the day here:

Here's some more background on the Libraries' digital preservation initiative:

Taking a holistic approach: Creating a digital preservation program at Rensselaer Libraries

By Andrea K. Byrne, Technology and Metadata Librarian

This post is written in conjunction with International Digital Preservation Day

Here at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, we have a tremendous opportunity: the systems we are using to store and provide access to our digital collections are nearing end of life, and we have support (and funding!) to find replacements. We want to do more than just replace one system with another. While storing digital assets and providing access to them is a pretty big job, we can, and must do more. We want to ensure long term access to our digital collections for generations to come. This means more than just migrating to new systems. Rather, it means we are committing to a robust program, an ecosystem of digital stewardship and preservation. If you have ever lost any digital photos, or were unable to open a Microsoft Word document from a few years ago, you will understand the immediacy and care needed to ensure the preservation of RPI’s current and future collections.

Institute Archivists Jen Monger and Tammy Gobert joined me in spending the past ten months assessing our current inventory, frameworks, and functionalities and talking with colleagues from other institutions about their programs and systems. Looking at maturity models like the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, we determined where we were and where we wanted to go. Before looking at what software was available, we drafted a matrix of desired functionality. Then we used that functionality matrix to assess and test possible repository replacements. After all that, we proposed a pilot to further test our proof of concept to replace our exiting digital repository. During this pilot we will actually start creating our digital preservation program, by drafting policies, best practices and beginning to evaluate the life cycle of our born-digital content.

Creating a digital preservation program is a big job. You cannot buy digital preservation. You cannot hire a consultant to install digital preservation for you. It is not something that can be tackled in a single project or committee. Digital preservation takes a holistic, all of institute approach. It takes a wealth of knowledge and expertise and processes that cannot contained in single person or piece of software. Digital preservation is not cookie cutter, or cut and dry. It is context aware and evidence-based scalable and sustainable practices. There is not a single goal, rather a set of moving goalposts that a program never stops trying to meet. It is easy to get overwhelmed when you take a larger view, when you look at everything a program could do and everything your current program does not do.

Some guiding principles

With this in mind, and with the first phase of our project in the rearview mirror as we embark on phase two, I wanted to list a few principles we adopted that may be useful to other small-ish organizations also committed to taking the long view on caring for their digital collections.

Break up goals into clearly defined and easily digestible chunks

As stated above, it is easy to get stuck in the weeds with any big project. We broke up our program creation in phases with clearly defined missions. We spelled out what we were doing and why and defined what was in scope and out of scope, and came up with a timeline. What can you do with the time and resources you have now? The out of scope stuff does not mean you are not ever going to get to it, just that you are not going to get to it right now.

Be okay with failure

And make sure your institution is okay with failure too! Failure is good! It is how we learn and get better! Creating a program is an iterative process, with built in steps for assessing and learning and improvement. We are starting with a pilot, with the full acceptance and acknowledgment that our proof of concept may not work! And if it doesn’t work, that is okay. We will assess, adjust and try again.

Know your community

As we said above, no one person or one committee has all the knowledge and expertise required to have a truly robust digital preservation program. And that is okay! There is strength in community knowledge. We reached out to so many people in our first phase to talk about their programs, systems and lessons learned. There are community resources that are easily accessible and useful that made our work easier, like the Community Owned Digital Preservation Tool Registry (COPTR). Shout out also to the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Digital Preservation Handbook, which is proving invaluable as we create our frameworks. We also joined a local consortium and project for the repository software we are piloting, which has already increased our knowledgebase about the open source software we are using.

An ideal situation and solution does not, and will not exist

Ideally, we would have wanted to lay out a framework of what our digital preservation program looks like before selecting software solutions. But, with budget cycles as they are, we did not have that luxury. And that is okay. There is never going to be the perfect time, place, or tool. The ideal time is now. The ideal place is where you are. The ideal tools are the ones available to you.