Bostwick House: Digital Preservation Survey Report

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

The Organization

I am acting as a digital preservation consultant for the Bostwick House Project, run by the Historic Preservation Program (HISP) within the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. Bostwick House is an eighteenth-century site located in Bladensburg, Maryland, that consists of a main house, outbuildings, and 10 acres of landscaped grounds. The house was built in 1746 by a wealthy merchant in what was then an important commercial port town in Maryland. Bostwick is currently owned by the Town of Bladensburg. The University of Maryland and HISP signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Town of Bladensburg in 2008 to co-manage Bostwick House.

The mission of the Bostwick House Project is two-fold. First, the project seeks to use Bostwick as an educational field site, primarily for HISP students, to educate the next generation of preservationists and break down disciplinary “silos” to encourage interdisciplinary connections and opportunities. Second, the HISP program assists the Town of Bladensburg with the restoration, re-interpretation, and reuse of the house. This encompasses learning as much as possible about the house and its history and context, and making this information available to the public; making it a living resource rather than just “the old house on the corner.”[i]

To conduct this survey, I interviewed Dr. Donald Linebaugh, Director of HISP, and Melissa Butler, Graduate Assistant (GA) for HISP. Dr. Linebaugh has been working with the project since its beginning in 2006, and Melissa has been a GA for just over a year. Dr. Linebaugh and Melissa are the primary staff involved with the Bostwick Project from HISP and the University of Maryland. They also receive administrative support from HISP Administrative Assistant Ruth Davis-Rogers.[ii]

Digital Holdings

The Bostwick Project’s digital holdings amount to just over 8 GB of data; while quite a small figure, the materials cover a wide range of topics and have numerous uses both within and outside of the Project.

The vast majority of the digital holdings for the Project are stored on share drives on the University of Maryland server. They are stored on two different share drives: Dr. Linebaugh’s personal drive is accessed only by him, while the HISP share drive is accessed by Dr. Linebaugh, Admin Assistant Davis-Rogers, and Post-Doctoral Associate Dr. Kirsten Crase. Dr. Linebaugh’s personal drive contains 510 MB of Bostwick Project data, whereas the HISP drive contains 7.64 GB of Bostwick Project data. Some duplication exists between the folders, but the extent is unknown. There is no formal file-naming scheme, which contributes to difficulty in finding files, as well as assessing the unknown duplication between drives.

The digital holdings include files related to:

  • Preservation and restoration projects, such as images of work, contracts, scopes of work, and correspondence with contractors
  • Research on the property including maps, plan drawings, scanned photos, and work often done by students in various formats
  • Archaeology project files, such as field notes and data, photos, and admin files
  • Reports
  • Other management and legal files

The files are in various formats including .pdf, .jpeg, .doc, and .dwg files (AutoCAD drawings). The folders are organized by either content type (i.e., Reports), creator, or project. Within the folders, many, or most, of the files retain original order, although this means that the various file formats are mixed together. In many of the research folders, there are photos and scans of documents that are held at the Maryland State Archives, the Library of Congress, Prince George’s Historical Society, and other repositories; many of these documents are available online on the website of these repositories.

The Bostwick House Project also uses Box, a cloud-based storage and collaboration system hosted by Box and managed by UMD’s Division of IT. Box is limited to 50 GB of data; at the moment, the Bostwick folder, which Dr. Linebaugh and Melissa share access to, contains 245.2 MB of data. This folder contains images (.jpegs), articles (.docx), and an inventory (.xslx). Box is mainly used as a way for Dr. Linebaugh and Melissa to move large files between them. Melissa primarily uses Box as a location to store newly taken photographs of Bostwick. After she uploads her photos (taken on her cell phone), she deletes them from her personal storage.

The Weebly-based website, Bostwick’s point of access for the public, contains select digital materials including:

  • digitized historic photographs, mostly interiors of the house
  • reports and studies, both scanned in .pdf format and born-digital (format unknown)
  • scanned .pdf maps, plans, and drawings
  • articles in blog post format

Melissa is the primary editor of the Bostwick website with Dr. Linebaugh as Managing Editor. Most of these resources were already on the website when Melissa began her GAship. Everything on the website is taken from the share drives. Any files that Melissa adds are taken from the share drives by Dr. Linebaugh and emailed to Melissa. For the blog posts, Melissa writes a draft, and Melissa and Dr. Linebaugh will then edit it as a word document. Melissa keeps a final copy of word document on her personal laptop hard drive. However, the blog posts are often slightly different from these final word documents in both content and format.

Besides servers and Melissa’s hard drive, the only other physical location of digital holdings related to Bostwick is at the Bostwick classroom at the House, and consists of several (no exact number) CDs. Dr. Linebaugh believes these CDs contain scanned reports as well as all of the data created by former Graduate Assistant Kees DeMooy. Everything on these CDs has been copied into one of the share drives.

Neither Dr. Linebaugh nor Melissa could think of any digital content that they would like to be collecting but aren’t. Everything that they now do is digitized or already digital, and there are currently several ongoing digitization projects with the goal to digitize everything. Dr. Linebaugh answered this question by stating that everything is already being collected. Melissa would like to see all of the historical photos of Bostwick House digitized for public use (assuming necessary permissions, etc.), as well as anything written about Bostwick by organizations or individuals outside the University of Maryland. In terms of collecting digital content, new digital publications with information about Bostwick House would be included in this collection scope.

Is the content mission-critical?

When asked if they believed if their digital content was mission-critical, both Dr. Linebaugh and Melissa exclaimed “Absolutely!” Their reasons for this response were somewhat different, but together covered the breadth of the Bostwick Project mission in full.

For Dr. Linebaugh, the digital content is critical to keep the project moving forward. Having and maintaining access to the digital content allows for “ongoing management all in one place.” Their digital holding are documenting history (i.e., the scans of maps and photos), but are also, equally importantly, documenting their processes and progress (i.e., surveys, project plans, legal documents, etc.). An example that Dr. Linebaugh provided of the critical status of the digital holdings refers to a grant that they are obtaining from Prince George’s County for restoration of the south wall buttress. Research, photos, drawings, and previous legal documents that exist as part of the digital holdings are critical to putting this grant proposal together.

For Melissa, the digital content is mission-critical because it is the most accessible way to get information about Bostwick House out to the public; the website is “the most useful tool” to fulfill their outreach mission, as Bostwick is not open to the public most days. (Dr. Linebaugh completely agrees with this sentiment!) The website allows people to do research on a variety of topics related to Bostwick. All of the digital content on the website is available to the public and can be downloaded freely. All images that belong to other repositories have proper permissions and give proper credit. Both Dr. Linebaugh and Melissa believe that free use and access to these materials is critical to their mission.

Worries and Issues

Dr. Linebaugh’s biggest concern regarding their digital content is organization and accessibility. Files can be difficult to find in the current organizational structure due to their inconsistent labeling and being spread between two different server spaces. Dr. Linebaugh would like to see these better organized, and have a clearer idea of where files are located. Melissa also has concerns about the interior organization and accessibility of the digital content. In her role as GA, she does not have easy access to the digital documents, including research and articles, provided by the previous GAs.  She would like a plan and storage structure that will allow future GAs to access her digital contributions for the purpose of further research.

Aside from organizational concerns, Dr. Linebaugh is not worried about sustaining the content, as all files are backed up frequently. I contacted the director of IT for the School, Paul Brown, to find out how the two share drives are backed up, if they are backed up to the same place, and how often this happens. Mr. Brown confirmed that Dr. Linebaugh’s Personal Share Drive and the HISP Share Drive are both backed up to UMD Department of Information Technology’s backup solution and stored on tape drives located in building 224 on the College Park campus.  These backups occur nightly.

Available Resources

Graduate Assistant time is their most valuable and useable resource. Dr. Linebaugh  commits at least one Graduate Assistant per semester (10 hours/week) to the Bostwick Project. He assigns GA tasks based upon priorities; he and Melissa both believe that digital preservation should be a priority for the department, which would allow Dr. Linebaugh to dedicate up to 10 hours of work per week to the cause.

HISP receives some money from the Town of Bladensburg for the Bostwick Project, and Dr. Linebaugh estimates $2,000 could be allocated towards digital preservation initiatives. Dr. Linebaugh also has discretionary funds from the department, and estimates that they have $5,000 to invest from this UMD budget.  All other budget comes from grants from entities such as Prince George’s County and the Maryland Historical Trust, as well as Bond-bills from the state of Maryland. Dr. Linebaugh would consider applying for an IMLS grant for the purpose of organizing and preserving their digital holdings, if this seemed like a good opportunity, or necessary.

[i] Melissa Butler, informational interview, September 27, 2016.

[ii] Dr. Don Linebaugh, informational interview, September 29, 2016.

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