Next Steps for Putnam County Museum

The Putnam County Museum, located in Greencastle, Indiana, was founded in 2003 with the mission to “collect, preserve, and interpret the natural, historical and cultural heritage of the county” (putnamcountymuseum.org). The museum was developed out of the need for the local historical society to have a safe steward for the artifacts they had collected. After a debate over the likely permanent location of the building, it is currently housed in a converted box store on the main highway through town. Today, the museum is run by an executive team of four officers, a board of seven members, an executive director, and an executive assistant. As it is a non-profit entity with few staff, the museum relies on a steady stream of volunteers from the surrounding communities, including the local liberal arts college. (Full disclosure: I was a routine volunteer working with collections and outreach for the museum for a year and a half, from early 2016-mid 2017.) Collections of note for digital preservation include extensive digital scans, oral histories, and A/V materials.

 

The next steps for this organization are in two parts, because there are two parts to the problem: solutions moving forward, and corrections of existing materials.

Mentions of “level #” refer to the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation.

 

Questions of Transcripts and Audio Files

Staff is encouraged to view transcripts as additives to the object. They add value to the audio recordings. This thought process will allow focus on oral histories and other AV materials to be on maintaining the original materials. Staff should work on “getting their ducks in a row” with the physical materials. Materials that are in readable formats (such as disks or thumb drives)  should be checked for usability and transferred as soon as possible to a new medium.

 

Process for migration would begin with documenting and cataloging thoroughly every A/V material. This can be a PastPerfect report. Information must include a title, format, and physical location in the museum. This report would fulfill a level 2 requirement. Next, staff should identify those formats which may be obsolete or no longer usable for accessibility. This list can be organized in a high, medium, and low necessity based on content. This list would fulfill level 3. Finally (and working on level 4), staff should use that list to begin file migrations. I recommend that they begin with those deemed of highest importance, while also factoring in questions of equipment availability and financial costs. Assuming there is a way to listen to the recordings, there are several ways to migrate these files. If files can be saved to a electronic drive, they should be. Staff is encouraged to utilize StoryCorps in the future. StoryCorps has a phone app that can record audio and will archive the recording at the Library of Congress’s American Folk Life Center. If audio can be played, but not saved to an electronic drive, staff may look into playing the recording while using StoryCorps (note: this has not been tested, and staff should play back the StoryCorps recording as soon as possible to check viability).

 

Because there can be information (both content and context) on the physical material, photo documentation should always occur prior to migrating the content.

 

Digital Scans

Staff is encouraged to focus first on systems they can put in place moving forward before correcting and changing past practices. This is especially true with the current systems for saving and accessing scans. Before working to fix any existing problems with scans, staff is encouraged to enact a new set of practices. From this point forward, upon scanning, all files should be renamed by the scanner. I suggest the name represent the image content to make it easier to locate in the future. On the drives, these files should be easily findable. I suggest a directory hierarchy that mimics the structure of the physical collections. For example, if there is a scanned newspaper article, there would be a folder for newspaper scans, and then a breakdown by year ranges, newspaper titles, content, etc. The titles should be easily understood by everyone (no scanner names or dates) for maximum efficiency.

 

Next, scans should be preserved. To maximize the level-meeting, staff is encouraged to store their scans on a remote server. There are several options for this. The first two options, Internet Archive or Wikimedia Commons, are free to use and access. They would also open the image to become open access files. (Note: audio files can also be uploaded to both Wikimedia Commons and Internet Archive.) Another free option is to access the Indiana hub for the Digital Public Library of America. All three options offer a free alternative to hosting your digital files in one location with similar disaster risks. If money is not a question, staff may look into Omeka.net. The $35 per year hosting service should be sufficient for the museum’s needs. Omeka would allow for staff/volunteers to create online exhibits for their collections that can be referenced on the website and on social media.

 

Once this is a practice, staff should work to rename, organize, and save externally the scans done prior to this practice. Would staff be able to train a volunteer or intern to do this for a few hours a week? Implementing this practice to already existing files will make future research questions, exhibits, and social media promotions of the collections easier to implement and fulfill.

 

File Integrity Checks

Staff is encouraged to utilize fixity check systems. AV Preserve has a free system that will email an administrator the results. Fixity checks ensure that when directories and files are altered, there is some check on what that was. As files degrade, or as more people have access to the same system, the likelihood that something will alter is increased. A fixity check will run a program to check that files and directories are the same from check to check. For an institution of Putnam County Museum’s size, a fixity check would likely only need to be done about every 6-12 months. This helps ensure that digital preservation efforts last beyond these implementations.

WheatonArts and Cultural Center’s Digital Preservation Project: Next Steps

WheatonArts and Cultural Center’s (WACC) digital collection is wide-ranging in terms of content and origin. Digital photographs of over 15,000 3D artifacts in the permanent collection of the Museum of American Glass have been taken by volunteers and interns on their own equipment. Born-digital artworks are being accessioned now as well. There is 165 GB of digitized video in the collection already and artist fellows are encouraged to provide documentation (often video) of their creative process, which can be born-digital or analog, according to the artist’s preference. Meanwhile, the staff has been digitizing photographs, negatives and other papers in the WheatonArts archives. What appears at first glance to be a wild and wooly collection is in fact quite organized, thanks to the hard work of a curatorial team who appreciate WACC’s digital materials as worthy of collection status.

With an administration that is keen to realize the benefits of a well-managed and preserved digital collection and an enthusiastic staff, WheatonArts is poised to move forward. Here’s how they could proceed….

The five general categories of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation are 1) Storage and Geographic Location, 2) File Fixity and Data Integrity, 3) Information Security, 4) Metadata and 5) File Formats. For each category, institutions can improve their preservation program by advancing through Levels 1 to 4. The levels are 1) Protect your data, 2) Know your data, 3) Monitor your data and 4) Repair your data. It is inevitable that organizations will find themselves at differing levels for each category. How is WheatonArts doing so far?

Well, on the first and most urgent category, storage and geographic location, WheatonArts is approaching Level 2. WACC currently stores at least four copies of preservation and access files and that’s really going above and beyond what’s required of even the highest level. So actually, there’s some redundancy that could be eliminated. But, while one copy is not always collocated, by virtue of being taken home by a member of staff on a regular basis, none is in a different geographic region with different disaster threats. A clear next step is to correct that, and a simple solution is to swap hard drives with a buddy institution. Staff have suggested the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. The relationship doesn’t have to be reciprocal for it to work just as well for WheatonArts but ideally, arrangements like these provide further occasion for dialogue between two institutions with overlapping missions. As for the cost, beyond the hard drive and secure shipping, it’s non-existent for either organization. An aggressive replacement schedule of every two years or so would safeguard against bit rot.

Cloud storage options, like Amazon’s, have been discussed, but after further discussion with WheatonArts IT, it turns out that cloud backups of data on the server are already happening. Assuming that orderly and regular backups to a cloud are occurring, and that the curatorial staff will have more control over that process in the future, geographic concerns might be settled without the buddy system. In the short term, however, and for the opportunity for intermural dialogue on digital preservation, I’d still recommend the swap.

Artist requirements and rights considerations (in addition to demands on resources) create obstacles to transferring all WACC’s digital material to one storage system, but within limits, they intend to do so. Furthermore, this project is an occasion to better understand and document that system. WheatonArts can achieve Level 2 on storage and geographic Location.

The staff has made a start on the second category, file fixity and data integrity, by habitually counting files for agreement across multiple storage locations. An easy (and free) tool for checking this more deeply and systematically is AVP’s Fixity Utility. WheatonArts can download the software for their operating system and run it against any hard drive in their possession. Until server/cloud backups are better understood by staff, establishing fixity on local storage should be a good enough next step. It might also be a good idea to try exporting some files from the server to see how straightforward that is and to do some spot checks against fixity information for the same file backed up elsewhere. WACC can start working toward Level 2 by checking fixity on ingest (or creation) for all digital files once they’ve downloaded the AVP utility.

There is no reason, with the cooperation of technical staff, why WheatonArts can’t eventually achieve Level 4 for the third NDSA category, information security. Access is limited to the curatorial and IT staff and the latter should be able to advise on how to restrict unauthorized access and to efficiently track and log who performed what actions and when. The next step on information security is probably to make that an item on the agenda for the next meeting with technical support.

With “a breadcrumb trail of our digital image and multimedia files through all the various storage places since we started having digital image and multimedia files to store,” WheatonArts has worked hard to inventory and connect files to their metadata in PastPerfect, the collections database since 2014. Since much of the metadata required for the higher levels in the NDSA model is generated automatically with digital objects and we’ve discussed adding fixity information to that array already, the biggest challenge for WACC will be logging any metadata not captured by PastPerfect. The very next step, however, will be to make sure that the inventory of objects and storage locations is up-to-date and that the inventory itself is backed up like the data it describes. One backup should be to that buddy’s hard drive. This will assure that WACC can have the requirements of the first level satisfied.

The staff has already reached level 2 on file formats. While they can’t dictate formats to artists, they have a limited set of formats they actively preserve, TIFFs and JPEGs for digital photos, for example, and they have a current inventory of files and their formats. The next step here is for staff to stay educated about obsolescence risks for the formats they’re preserving. That would place the program at level 3 and while unlikely with the formats in question, migration en masse to newer or more sustainable formats, could then be performed if necessary.

WheatonArts does not have a digital collections policy. The curatorial staff recognize their responsibility to care for and interpret this new type of collection for their patrons. They have made significant progress on digital preservation. There’s plenty room to grow, but the relatively simple recommendations outlined here, in accordance with NDSA guidance, should stabilize the program, help staff secure broader support for their efforts within their organization and provide focus and credibility for grant applications.

Next Steps in Digital Preservation for the College Park Aviation Museum

In a previous post, I gave an overview of the contents of the College Park Aviation Museum‘s (CPAM) digital collections and the staff’s current practices for managing and maintaining those collections. Based on the information gathered from my interview with the Curator of Collections, Laura Baker, this blog post will offer recommendations for the next steps the museum might take to improve their digital preservation strategies. These recommendations are based on the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation, which provides succinct, clearly stated guidelines across five areas of concern for digital collections–storage and geographic location, file fixity and data integrity, information security, metadata, and file formats.

For each category, the NDSA Levels provide four levels of progressively more advanced suggestions for digital preservation. This is helpful for an institution like CPAM, which is in the early stages of developing a digital preservation plan, because it allows for incremental change and takes into account the fact that many institutions have only limited staff and resources with which to begin addressing the needs of their digital collections. Dr. Owens, our professor and one of the authors of the NDSA Levels, emphasized that just getting an institution to level one is a significant accomplishment, and so we shouldn’t think of an institution as only succeeding in digital preservation if they are at level three or four. With this in mind, I am recommending that the CPAM try to achieve level one in all five categories, while also offering suggestions for moving farther along the levels should they decide now or at some point in the future to adopt a more ambitious plan.

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Storage and Geographic Location

One of the basic principles of digital curation is to keep multiple copies of all digital files to protect against bit rot, system failures, or regional threats (like natural or man made disasters). Anyone who has ever lost files after a computer or hard drive has failed will understand why this step is so important. CPAM relies on their common drive to store a large portion of their digital files.  As a first step, CPAM should consult with their parent organization, the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission’s (MNCPPC) Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to determine what measures are already in place to back up the contents of their common drive and how often these backups are performed.  To satisfy level one of the NDSA levels, CPAM should ensure that there are at least two complete copies of the contents of the common drive and that these copies are not located in the same place.

CPAM should also aim to get the images, videos, or other data that now exists in various formats into their common drive. This is a crucial step because  formats like CDs, DVDs, USB drives, and VHS tapes are not made to last forever and can become damaged or lost. Migrating the media on these formats to a storage system will enable them to be stored and backed up in a way that will improve their longevity. It will also help to unify the collection in one place to simplify its care and management. Laura expressed concerns during our interview about running out of space on the common drive, so it may be necessary to ask MNCPPC for more space. If necessary, the museum could continue to use the common drive for administrative files but use another storage system like Dropbox (which starts at $12.50 a month) for media files like photographs, videos, or scans.

The two steps listed above would meet the minimum threshold for NDSA level one, but by putting more of its collections online, which is already a stated goal of CPAM, the institution could reach level two or three. The most economical way to do this is through a partnership with Digital Maryland, which will collect materials from the museum, digitize them if they are not already digital, and host the scanned images on their site. CPAM should ensure that they get copies of all digital files so that Digital Maryland and CPAM can serve as safeguards for one another in case a back-up of a file is needed. The partnership with Digital Maryland can thus serve as a digital preservation strategy while also producing more online content.

If the museum wants to explore other options, it might also look into uploading some of its digital content to the Internet Archive or Wikimedia Commons, both of which would host the material for free. There would be more labor involved with uploading the files (and digitizing them if they are not already digitized), but these sites have the advantage of reaching a wider audience. CPAM might look to the Internet Archive’s American libraries collections or Wikimedia Commons collections to see options of how their material might be presented on these sites. The caveat to uploading more content online is that these files need to be in the public domain or the museum needs to clear any potential copyright issues.

Additional steps needed to complete level two and three would be to document storage system(s) and media formats and what is needed to use them (level two), and establishing a process for monitoring the obsolescence of the storage system(s) and media formats (level three).

File Fixity and Data Integrity

The concepts of “file fixity” and “data integrity” are not particularly well-known outside of the IT sector,  but what they mean in layman’s terms is making sure that a digital file has not been altered or corrupted. In other words, is the institution preserving the file they intended to preserve? For a small institution like CPAM, which does not have a digital preservation specialist, it may initially seem challenging to know how to get started, especially when jargony terms like “check sums,” “cryptographic hash function values,” or “digital signatures,” are bandied about. Fortunately, there are free tools that exist for automated monitoring and reporting on data integrity.

One service that Dr. Owens recommended is AVP’s Fixity.  According to the website, “Fixity scans a folder or directory and creates a manifest of the files, including their paths and their checksums, against which a regular comparative analysis can be run. Fixity monitors file integrity through the generation and validation of check sums, and file attendance through monitoring and reporting on new, missing moved, and renamed files.” The user can use the tool as needed or chose to schedule these tasks daily, weekly, or monthly, setting the specific day and time that they automatically occur.

Since CPAM is new to this type of preservation work, I would recommend downloading Fixity, exploring the settings and experimenting with how it works, and then adopting a plan that seems realistic given their goals and priorities. To reach level one, CPAM would need to check file fixity when new content is added to their storage system if that information is available, and it should create the file fixity information if it doesn’t already exist. To reach level two, CPAM would need to check fixity on all ingests, use write-blockers on original media, and virus-check high risk content. Level three requires fixity checks at regular intervals, maintaining logs of fixity information, detecting corrupt data, and virus-checking all content. If these steps sound too demanding, Dr. Owens has said that doing a fixity check once a year is better than doing nothing at all.

Information Security

To reach level one on information security, CPAM should identify who has the ability to read, write, move, and delete individual files, and restrict those authorizations when appropriate.  To illustrate why these steps are necessary, consider what might happen if an employee resized an image file to make it fit on the website or in an email newsletter but accidentally overrides the original file. Or maybe a volunteer saves a file with a file with a generic name like “Oral History,” and accidentally erases an older file that was on the common drive with the same name. Limiting the number of people who can perform these types of tasks with the digital collections will mitigate the possibility of accidents like these occurring. From my interview with Laura, I know that there is some hesitation to adopt file restrictions because there were past incidences in which files were restricted and were no longer accessible when an employee left the museum. These potential problems could be largely avoided, however, by documenting access restrictions (level two) and speaking with the MNCPPC’s OCIO to discuss how to override access restrictions associated with former employees.

A more rigorous approach would involve maintaining logs of who performed what actions on files (level three) and performing audits of these logs (level four).

Metadata

One of the challenges encountered in my partnership with CPAM is that there is no master inventory of CPAM’s digital collections. The museum has inventories of material digitized on a project-by-project basis, but because they are not unified in one place, finding the inventories may involve asking the person(s) in charge of the project to locate them, and it seems like some materials may have “fallen through the cracks” and may not be inventoried at all. My recommended first step is to track down as many inventories as can be located and put them into one folder on the common drive. Then create a list of material that still needs to be inventoried and put that task on a to-do list. The next step would be to see if these multiple inventories could become one master list, either through copying and pasting data into an excel workbook or logging material into past perfect. If this is not practicable, then maybe a “Guide to Digital Collections” could be created that would explain where to find each inventory and a summary of what each inventory contains.

Going to NDSA level two would require creating administrative metadata for digital files (such as when and how it was created, and who can access it) and transformative metadata (logging any changes to the file). Level three requires storing standard technical and descriptive metadata about the digital files.

File Formats

When creating new digital files, it seems that the museum is inclined to use standard, popular formats which increases the likelihood that the museum will still have access to these files even if the formats becomes obsolete. If a popular format like PDFs become obsolete in the future, for example, IT specialists will have to invent tools for accessing and migrating these files because they are so common.

NDSA level one requires that the museum give input whenever possible into the creation of digital files to encourage the use of preferred formats. The Smithsonian has a policy on digital formats that includes a useful table that the museum might want to use as a model. To achieve level two, CPAM should inventory the file formats currently in the musuem’s collections, and to reach level three, it should monitor file format obsolescence issues.

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To conclude, I’d like to acknowledge that these suggestions may initially seem overwhelming for a museum with limited staff and resources, but that the museum should keep in mind that they are not expected to implement all these steps at once. While it would be ideal for the museum to reach level one in all five categories, even moving to level one in a few of the five categories would be better than doing nothing at all, and steps corresponding to levels two or three can be viewed as “stretch goals” for the future. Overall, these suggestions should be seen as flexible guidelines, and perhaps also as ideas for future internships or grant applications so that the museum’s current resources do not get overtaxed.

 

 

 

 

No One Size Fits All, But Some Guiding Principles

Apologies for my late blogging!

The four policies I chose to review are the Dartmouth College Library’s Digital Preservation Policy, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)’s Digital Preservation StrategyIllinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship (IDEALS)’s Digital Preservation Policy, and Rhizome at the New Museum’s Digital Preservation Practices and the Rhizome Artbase. Although these policies come from a range of archives/institutional repositories, libraries, and museums, there were definitely a lot of commonalities.

Digital preservation policies should align with institutional collection policies and mission – identify the types of items most important to the institution. These policies need to establish what types of material the institution will collect and preserve, but also be flexible enough to for appropriate on-the-ground decision-making between policy review periods. Stanford’s web archiving policy focuses on at-risk content while also making sure that the policy supports other collection policies and strengths, and prioritizes what is likely to be useful to Stanford’s researcher base.

So, a good digital preservation policy would establish what the institution’s mission or responsibility for digital collections is (such as in PRONI’s policy, which reads an original remit about paper-based collections to also apply to born-digital and digitized material); explain challenges to preservation and/or risks (such as Dartmouth and Rhizome’s policies); define audiences/users for digital materials being selected and preserved; establish collecting and preserving priorities (all five policies I looked at do this); delineate principles behind preservation (Dartmouth’s policy explains life cycle management and lists several resources they have access to, like Portico, LOCKSS, and HathiTrust); and sets a regular schedule or deadline for the policy to be reviewed.

There were some interesting differences I noted in these policy documents as well: IDEALS’s policy does not list specific formats, PRONI’s mentions that they have a list of accepted file formats but that is not included in the policy, and Dartmouth’s lists their preferred formats within the policy itself. Rhizome’s policy reads more like a whitepaper than a policy document, and goes into more depth on the multiple different directions future actions could take.

Discussion Questions

    1. Stanford’s web archiving policy is for an institution with high staffing levels and adequate funding. While all of the major points still apply to smaller institutions, how do you scale this type of robust, well-defined collections policy to understaffed or all volunteer-run organizations, such as the ones many of us in class are working with?
    2. Rimkus, Padilla, Popp, & Martin’s analysis of file format policies across ARL institutions brought up that repository managers place more trust in file formats that originate from library reformatting programs. Is some of this built-in trust because many librarians come from humanities backgrounds? Could increasing diversity in library staff’s backgrounds (i.e. more people with media production, art, design, or programming backgrounds) change the level of confidence repository managers and policy creators have in other formats?

Next Steps for the Little Compton Historical Society

The Little Compton Historical Society is a small organization dedicated to preserving the history and cultural heritage of Little Compton, Rhode Island. Although they face the common problem of limited resources that many organizations of their size do, the LCHS currently has several systems in place that will help them to reach greater success in preserving their digital holdings. Expanding on those established resources, this report will provide guidance on how LCHS staff can improve and ensure the prolonged safety of their digital collections. The recommendations are based on the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation, a set of easy-to-use guidelines used to assess an institution’s current preservation status based on 5 areas: storage and geographic location, file fixity and data integrity, information security, metadata, and file formats.

First Steps (Minimum)

1. Copy any digital files held on external media to a stable location.

The first and most important task that the LCHS must address is the storage of digital materials on external media such as laptops, CD-Rs, and USB flash drives. Whether currently in use or not, these files should be copied to a stable storage system as soon as possible to avoid the possibility of data loss. As these types of media age, the files held within them become more difficult to access and preserve. Unused laptops become slow as the programs on them are not updated and – if the files on them are not fully backed up – they are at considerable risk. USB flash sticks and drives are easily corrupted and nearly impossible to repair, making them best suited for short-term storage. While commercially produced CD-ROMS have been known to have a lifespan of 30 years, CD-Rs that have had material recorded or “burned” onto them have a drastically different longevity, with some experts estimating that they last only 5 years. Further, as technologies rapidly develop there is a chance that CDs will require specialized equipment to access in the future, as we see with floppy disk drives today.

All of the files that are currently stored on these types of media should be transferred to a stable location on the main server. Even files that are not currently being used, such as the oral history collection, must be copied to ensure their long-term preservation. When copying files from external media, be sure to record any important information that is stored along with it so that nothing vital is lost in the transfer.

2. Create a full backup of all digital files on a physical hard drive.

Once all digital files have been moved to a stable location, it is highly recommended to do a complete backup of all digital holdings. By consolidating all files that are currently held on external media into a centralized, stable location, the LCHS will be assured that current and future backups are protecting everything. One way to ensure that vital information is kept safe is to create a backup on an external hard drive, then store it in a secure location either within or outside of the organization. This could mean Marjory storing it in a locked cabinet at the LCHS, or Fred taking it home with him. The external drive should then be updated monthly or quarterly, as resources allow.

3. Create a complete inventory of all digital holdings.

Now that all relevant digital files have been compiled and backed up, the LCHS would benefit greatly from a comprehensive inventory of all digital holdings. Since many of the holdings are already stored in PastPerfect, a great start is to use the tools provided by them. PastPerfect has an optional Inventory Manager upgrade that allows users to “create inventory lists, print barcode labels, track collections electronically, and ensure accurate records.”

The digital files not currently held in PastPerfect also need to be included in the inventory. A simple excel sheet can get the job done – and it is often useful to mirror the digital file names and organization on how the physical items are already organized. Compiling all of the digital holdings into one master inventory will help to combat the problem of duplicate files that currently appear in multiple locations. In the future, care should be taken to follow set standards for adding new digital files to the inventory.

An added benefit of an inventory is that have all of the information on digital holdings in one secure place will allow the LCHS to take a hard look at its holdings, reassessing which files are the most vital and whose loss would be the most detrimental to the organization. As historical societies are often stretched for time and resources, the preservation of those files can then be prioritized above others to ensure their continued safety.

Further Steps: Moderate to Aggressive

At this point, the LCHS should have at least 1 full, complete copy of its digital holdings stored on a physical hard drive. To meet the highest NDSA standards for storage, the LCHS could create additional physical copies of backups and do a “buddy swap” with organizations in other states. This can also be accomplished with an offsite backup service, like the one currently used – Backblaze. DropBox can also be used for a 2nd cloud backup, although this would require additional funding.

4. Run a full backup with Backblaze.

The LCHS currently uses Backblaze to routinely back up all files. There are several benefits to their service, most notably that backups are conducted automatically and don’t require constant oversight, and storage space is unlimited. Since this backup stores everything offsite, using Backblaze also boosts the LCHS to Level 2 on the NDSA levels: having at least one copy in a different geographic location. While not much more oversight is needed, Backblaze recommends checking in once a week to ensure that backups are running as scheduled.

5. Establish the fixity of digital files.

Fixity is “the property of a digital file or object being fixed or unchanged.” In other words, checking fixity means making sure that your files haven’t changed without you meaning them to. While there are technologies and programs that exist to maintain fixity at a higher level (see AVP’s fixity tool for an example), given the limited resources at the LCHS, this can be accomplished much more simply. Once all digital files have been consolidated and organized, have a volunteer record how many files are in each folder and the folder sizes. Once every quarter, delegate someone to do a quick check to make sure that all of the folder sizes and file counts are the same as they were originally. If there are any changes, it is clear that something has been added, deleted, or altered. If this was unintentional, the files can be restored using one of the backups. This is a simple way to quickly check that your digital files have not been tampered with, whether intentionally or not.

6. Create set standards for file and folder names.

It is vital to the continued organization and maintenance of digital files that the LCHS maintain set language and standards for file and folder names. The LCHS receives many donations of materials that often end up residing where they are originally downloaded, rather than fully incorporated into the collections. Developing a set process for these donated materials – and the particular aspects of what that process will look like – largely depends on the time available to Marjory or whomever is available to make sure the process is completed. When a new donation of files is received, resist the urge to leave them on the desktop. This can be as simple as having a folder titled “Donated Materials” on the network drive, with files labeled by donor name and the date of the donation. The most important thing is to establish consistency, a system that is easy to maintain but with a structure that is easily understood within the context of the larger collections. Once it is established and written down, the task of actually moving those materials to a permanent location can be delegated to a volunteer or docent.

For files stored in PastPerfect, there are tools available to maintain this naming consistency. If authority files have not yet been set, this is a good place to start. Double-check that the authority files in PastPerfect accurately reflect how the files will be organized and entered in the future. This should also extend to the files that are not currently in PastPerfect but stored on the LCHS server; continuity between systems is key. Separating the core files containing the digital collections from current, ongoing projects will help to ensure that nothing vital is altered and can be further protected in the next step.

7. Further restrict access to computers and digital files.

Discussion of naming standards and collections organization also speaks to the NDSA category regarding Information Security. Since many different people collaborate on projects at the LCHS, it is difficult to fully oversee the access levels of every single file. The LCHS has already begun to address the problem of information security by restricting docents’ access to the servers where important information is stored. LCHS staff is encouraged to continue this trend by putting restrictions on individual folders that do not need to be accessed by volunteers, restricting their ability to accidentally delete or alter files they do not need to work with. As a next step, documenting these distinct levels of access granted to each user will bring the LCHS up to Level 2 on the NDSA chart.

Summary

In measuring the current digital holdings of the LCHS against the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, the LCHS is below the threshold for minimum preservation standards in several areas, most notably storage, file fixity, and metadata. However, with a commitment to instituting changes and some time, the status of the digital holdings can be greatly improved. Taking these actions sooner, rather than later, will decrease the risk of catastrophic data loss and help make the digital collections more user-friendly and widely accessible. Below is a quick before-and-after glance at each of the NDSA fields as related to the LCHS:

Storage and Geographic Location

Digital files are currently dispersed throughout various locations, some of which are backed up and others which are not. Materials that are currently stored on external media such as laptops, CD-Rs, and USB flash drives should immediately be moved to the network. Safely housed on the network, they will be properly backed up and no longer subject to data loss caused by environmental factors, physical degradation of media, and data corruption. The multiple levels of backups that are already in place will thus be more complete and can be expanded to include the recommendations listed in the steps above regarding physical hard drives, Backblaze, and DropBox.

Volunteer Collection Manager Fred Bridge has a solid system in place for integrating digital files into PastPerfect that can serve as a model for how other digital files are accessioned. The key to continuity of the current systems (and any new ones that are put into place) is to document these processes. Any staff or volunteer who currently handles digital files is encouraged to record their personal organization methods – even just by writing them out in a Word document – to prevent future confusion when and if they are not present to access files. Doing so will, at the very least, shed light on where and how items are currently stored, even if resources and time don’t allow for a full-scale reorganization and standardization of all collections.

File Fixity and Data Integrity

There are no current systems in place to monitor the fixity of digital files, but this is easily corrected. As explained in Step 5 above, fixity means making sure that files have not changed without the organization meaning them to. Creating a document that keeps track of how many files are supposed to be in each folder and the size of them is a simple first step towards advancing in the NDSA levels. With limited staff and resources, it is not expected that the LCHS will be able to invest in highly technical fixity tools or immediately advance to a high NDSA level in this regard but making it a priority to monitor file and folder counts on a quarterly basis is a big move in the right direction.

Information Security

Recent changes to access made at the LCHS have greatly improved their status in this area. As a next step, the LCHS should further restrict individual files and folders from non-staff or project leads. As new volunteers or docents are granted computer access, make sure that they are only granted access to the materials they need; it is always better to grant access to smaller sets of files than to give widespread access to files that can be accidentally altered or erased. Creating and maintaining a Word document that lists who has been granted access to certain files will bring the LCHS up to Level 2 in this area.

Metadata

There are many reasons that a complete inventory of digital files will benefit the LCHS. For collections management purposes, an inventory gives staff a better handle on what they have, where there are gaps, and what they would like to collect in the future. The problem of duplicate files existing in several locations is much easier to tackle when there is a master inventory – users will know where to find certain files without having to re-download and save them in a separate location. This inventory can be started using PastPerfect’s built-in tools and expanded as needed to include all of the digital files held by the LCHS. Once the master inventory is completed, make sure that it is safely stored in multiple locations, both physically and digitally. As mentioned above, it may be helpful to separate permanent collections from current projects so that there is no conflation between the two.

File Formats

The LCHS is currently on the right track towards basic preservation when it comes to file formats. Nearly all of the digital files are in commonly used formats such as JPEG, TIFF, and PDF, making the work of preserving them all the easier. If the opportunity arrives to accept files in other formats, the LCHS should strongly encourage donors and partner organizations to continue to use only commonly-used formats that run little risk of obsolescence. If the resources arise to delegate the task to a volunteer or docent, it is also helpful to create a list of all file formats currently in the collections. This will help to identify and monitor the lifespan of the digital files since certain formats require updates, while others fade from use. Maintaining an inventory will raise the LCHS to Level 2 of the NDSA levels on file formats.

CONCLUSION

The ultimate goal of digital preservation is to ensure the long-term access of materials for users, both now and in the future. The current tools that the LCHS uses, like PastPerfect, include options for expanding access that should be fully utilized when resources allow. For example, PastPerfect includes the option to make your records appear in Google searches, if desired. While it is understandable that the LCHS would not want all of its materials to be freely accessible to the public on the internet, one way to increase traffic and use of digital collections is to make some of the materials available on a wider platform, like Wikimedia Commons or Flickr. Staff can choose which images to share, while also keeping some of them available for sale or use only with permission.

All of the steps detailed in this report are informed suggestions based on the current state of the LCHS collections and its goals for the future. While this is by no means a comprehensive preservation plan, following these guidelines will allow for greater information security and less risk for their valuable digital holdings, whether currently in use or not. The ultimate goal is to maintain these collections for the foreseeable future to the best of our knowledge and capability.