Beginning Preservation

Hi, all. I’m in my last semester in the MLS program, unofficially focusing on Digital Curation and Special Collections. My interest in this course is due to studying art in undergrad and professionally creating visual effects for several years before I decided to study Library Science. I recently assisted in the creation of a digitization program at the library in which I work. The greatest challenge to that project was to explain the importance of following the current best practices, such as creating multiple file backups and fixity information. However, the program also needed to be manageable by individuals that are not very technology literate. The program was implemented with only minimal adherence to current preservation standards.

Throughout school, many of the articles that I’ve read about digital preservation start from the idea that the reader is already experienced with digital archiving practices and procedures and are only interested in what other institutions are doing or if the best practices have changed. Few are ever written with the aim of aiding an organization or individual begin their first digital project. Therefore, the reading that most interested me was the one that dealt with the NDSA Levels Chart, as it was most relevant to my current work.

In contrast, the Fino-Radin article only mentions the very technical steps that were followed and how they followed ‘the accepted best practices’, or why they went beyond those standard preservation practices. It also appeared that they were experienced managing similar data, so there was little research on how to achieve the goals of the project, which would have had value for someone with less experience archiving digital materials.

The NDSA article suggests that the different levels are things for the preservation efforts to strive for, instead of boxes that need to be checked off. The article also suggests that it is acceptable if the institution is only able to achieve the Level 1 standards, as not every institution is able to understand and meet the Level 4 standards, especially if they are starting their first digitization/preservation program or have little experience with digital media, in general.

It is refreshing to see that not every digital preservation effort needs to perfect right from the beginning, but that it can grow and expand over time to include the standards and practices that it was lacking.

Collaboration through reinterpretation

Hi all! I’m Eric, and I’m in my second and (knock on wood) final year in the MLS program, focusing primarily on archives and special collections. Like many of you, my background is not in libraries; I got my undergrad in English and then worked for several years in international education and development. I’m currently working on a metadata-focused project in the University Archives at UMBC, and a digitization project at UMD’s Special Collections in Performing Arts. My interests in this field are broad but I ideally hope to work with arts-related materials (in particular music or film), and am interested in the digital humanities in general, so I was excited to hear about this course.

Continue reading “Collaboration through reinterpretation”

Art & the Ephemeral

Hello! I’m Sarah Mackowski; I’m a part-time student, working on the Curation of Digital Assets track in the MLS program. I work full-time at a research library in DC, where I assist with both acquisitions and inter-library loan. When I’m not doing that, I’m often doing work in the theatre — my undergraduate degrees were in art history and theatre technology, and for the first six or so years after graduating, I made my way primarily in the theatre industry, with library work as a part-time job. I have some stage management experience, but the work I enjoy the most has always been lighting work.

I was very excited to take this course because, as Brittany said, it’s the only arts-specific course, and I’d really like to find a way to bring my theatre work and my library/archives work together. Of all the parts of theatre, lighting is one of the ones most closely tied with digital (also sound, projections, and automation), and one of the least studied in archival terms, as far as I have been able to determine. It’s very subjective, and relies heavily on proprietary technology that is not metadata-export-friendly, but does occasionally have some lovely emulators. And, of course, aside from the archiving questions, there are the restaging questions — restaging in a completely different theatre, with different equipment (possibly, if enough time has passed, different brands of different quality and different interfaces).

I was glad to see several references throughout Rinehart and Ippolito’s book to theatre, and the similarity of the issues involved, even if they painted theatre with a slightly wider brush. Much of what they were saying was extremely familiar to me, even with non-theatre examples. I was delighted when at one point my brain went straight to Dan Flavin, and not two pages later, there was a section focused on his work. I found it particularly ironic (and I’m sure the writers did too) that Flavin’s luminous colors were reprinted in a dark greyscale. There is really nothing like seeing a Flavin in person.

I was surprised, however, that for all their talk of copyright, they never directly addressed the concept of remixing as tranformative works, a case that is a specifically allowed exception to copyright law, and most definitely covers works such as The Grey Album. I volunteer with the Organization for Transformative Works, who puts out the journal Transformative Works and Cultures that we will be reading from later in the semester. I was very surprised to see the transformative aspect of remixing and sampling not addressed directly.

I can’t wait to really dig into this course. Everything about it seems to be right up my alley, and I’ve already been able to connect with a lot of what’s going on in it a lot better than some of the more theoretical courses I’ve been taking.

“Hello!” and Some Thoughts on Preserving Creative Context

Hello everyone! I’m Pedro, a MLS student in my last semester on the Curation of Digital Assets track. I currently work at UMD Special Collections in Performing Arts as a project archivist. Before entering the iSchool I received a MA in musicology from UMD, studying music and the moving image (primarily in film and video games), and technology in popular music. My interest in this class stems primarily from my desire to learn how to manage the new types of artistic works created by digital media (an obvious answer, I suppose!) and my interest in the confluence of technology and creativity. Digital works fascinate me because each piece can be a unique challenge to an archivist in regards to understanding how it should be “framed.”

Of course, these types of boutique preservation jobs start to look just a tad indulgent when the backlog gets growing, and even the most dedicated custom jobs can’t always get things perfect. Fino-Radin had to make sacrifices when using open-source tools to preserve Legendary Account, such as the use of PNG screenshots since the tool created unstable PDF/As. These “good enough” solutions can get under the skin of folks in this field, so thankfully there are some other strategies out there to help. I like Paul Messier’s idea of preservation systems that provide general guidelines to (hopefully) deal with most of the preservation issues, allowing you more time to spend on the things that don’t fit the mold; however, I have no experience working with these systems so I can’t vouch for their usefulness. All my preservation work thus far has been the relatively straightforward process of transferring analog audio materials to digital formats.

Embedded curators can also help make a difference by working with individual artists and creative communities, showing them how best to preserve their works while simultaneously gaining a deeper appreciation of the works and their cultural context. I believe wholeheartedly in the notion of “archivist as community facilitator” and find these preemptive preservation strategies very appealing. Last semester I got a bit of experience with this in LBSC731 Special Collections when I created a collection development policy for a (imaginary) chiptunes repository. An issue with my policy was that I placed too much attention on the realization of a chiptune work (aka the actual sound) and not the programming. This meant that I ignored the technocratic aspects of early chiptune culture, the workmanship and one-upmanship that went into coding. Thankfully a member of that community looked over my first draft and corrected my glaring oversight! This was my crash course on preserving a realization (the thing presented to the viewer) vs. preserving the instructions for realization (the code, types of software used, etc.).

Changing Authorities

My name is Setsuko Yokoyama, a first year PhD student at the Department of English. Prior to coming to Maryland, I completed a master’s program at the University of Michigan School of Information. (Yes, I seem to be chasing block Ms.) My research interest lies in American poetry, contemporary editorial theories and practices, and digital humanities. As a part of my dissertational project, I am planning on developing a digital platform for an American Modernist poet. The idea is to make primary resources readily available online for students and scholars in order for them to make their own judgment when navigating through the poet’s literary legacy. This is why I’ve decided to join the course, hoping to equip myself with the best practices for born-digital project and to be familiar with the debates in the field. I am also interested in getting to know my colleagues at iSchool, hoping we might be able to collaborate in the future.

I was particularly thrilled as I went through the somewhat idealistic description of “The Open Museum” chapter. Richard Rinehart writes: “Can we imagine museums whose authority is used to facilitate & engage a community rather than treat its members as passive cultural consumers?” (106) My marginalia reads: YES! Rinehart, of course, has in mind the new media art and that is different from my “digitized art”, i.e. digitized tape audio records. However, examples Rinehart provides concerning the generative nature of open source code make me realize that the metadata aspect of my work would be considered “digital art.” I seek relevance because, not surprisingly, Rinehart’s illustration of the historical shift among the cultural institutions’ role is also mirrored in the gradual change in Anglo-Saxon academia, concerning the notion of what scholarly edition of literature ought to be. It used to be the case that “authoritative” or “definitive” editions were considered desirable. This status quo of scholarly edition was further enhanced by the limitation of print media. Editors at times need to make scholarly judgment when met with variants, illegibility, and/or uncertainty of the manuscripts as they labor to transcribe the writer’s hand. The problem was that once transcription was presented in a manner divorced from the manuscript’s empirical evidence, those scholarly interventions became close to invisible to the readers’ eyes. Digital publication platform now allows editors to display the variants of manuscript and invite readers to the dialogue of what constitutes a literary text.

Though digital editions have challenged the authoritative notion, I think we have yet to leverage the power of the digital. That is to say, to the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a participatory edition that allows the readers to “play with” metadata scholars produce. As Rinehart describes, codes can be downloaded, studied, used, and remixed. Imagine what we can do with major digital editions such as The Walt Whitman Archive, Willa Cather Archive, and Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences should they allow users to download a big set of carefully prepared metadata? They are there, but their potential is yet to be fully appreciated, in my opinion. It seems like the book technology and/or archival and library exhibition model are deeply engrained in scholarly editors when designing the user experience—relevant to what Rinehart and Ippolito described concerning the “fixation on fixity” mentality of conventional cultural institutions.

I wonder how I can best address the need to reconsider the expansive possibility of literary metadata. Should editors be wary about the derivable projects? Rinehart and Ippolito provide examples about the weeding process of ArtBase. Granted we are forgoing the elitist and colonial approach, what do you think is the healthy relationship between professionals and amateurs concerning the Open Museum model? I ask because I think there will always be an agenda from the professionals’ side (including literary editors) in wanting to facilitate, say, reinterpretation of resources.

All the World’s a Stage

TroymcclureHi! I’m Joe Carrano, you may remember me from such courses as Digital Public History, Spring 2015. This is (hopefully) my last semester in grad school where I am pursuing an MLS with a concentration in archives, records, and information management as well as an MA in history with a focus in U.S. history. As I mentioned, I took Digital Public History last year and thought taking another course with Trevor would be a valuable experience. While that class was more in my wheelhouse, I’m hoping to challenge myself a little more with this course.

I do know the basics and principles of digital preservation but have very little background in art, let alone new media art. I don’t plan on becoming a digital art curator but I think having broad knowledge of the issues of multiple fields is essential. The networked world is fascinating to me and understanding its many facets and its interconnections are important to preserving any slice of it. As Rinehart and Ippolito discuss in Re-Collection, all of these fields are part of the process of preserving social memory.  

In particular, I hope this class can teach me some of the commonalities of digital art preservation and general digital archiving work and allow me to see where the two fields might learn from each other. With the advent of the internet and things like gifs, memes, and emojis, the way we convey information seems more visual than ever. Additionally, some of the complex issues with digital audio, video, and software are the same no matter the subject genre. Similarities in genre extend to legal and organizational issues as well. Still, digital art is unique and has complexities that merit their own attention and make other digital objects seems easier.

In Re-CollectionRinehart and Ippolito make clear that all the world’s a stage and the bits and bytes are merely players. What I mean is that, in a sense, every digital object rendered on a screen is a performance which we mentally separate from the physically encoded bits on a hard drive. Thus when we talk about digital art versus simply a digital document there are many similarities that I think are more available than when comparing analog collections. The question is how important are the aesthetic or performative aspects of these objects when preserving them into the future. At first thought this is very important to artworks. Preserving art means preserving aesthetics, right?

However, Rinehart and Ippolito raise the alternative option of preserving instructions or the “score” of an artwork so that it may be reconstructed in the future. This approach allows for certain variations as the work is reproduced each time. Furthermore, they bring up the option of emulation, where an object is severed from its original hardware and displayed using newer components. A document, conversely, is often kept for its informational value. But in the world of a multitude of hardware, software, and websites, when is the aesthetics and the functionality of the digital document necessary to preserve?

Overall, whose opinions matter in making these decisions? Is preserving the hardware a necessary part of preserving the context? The extent to preserve a digital object is something that continues to puzzle me. How feasible is it to emulate everything? Is that desirable? I think learning more about curating digital art will help to clarify my thinking on how to determine significant properties of digital material, the informational value to visual culture, and how to best preserve these elements.

Whether or not we can all agree on how much to preserve, it is important to act now to combat the ephemeral nature of the digital world. The Fino-Radin and Smithsonian piece both give more practical examples or steps forward, showing the trades-offs made when trying to do your best with the tools at hand instead of seeking perfection and being frozen by inaction. I’m looking forward to tackling these issues and meeting everyone in person!

Infinite possibilities, infinite complexities

Hi all, my name is Brittany and this is my second semester in the MLS program at UMD, on track for Archives and Digital Curation.  I really wanted to take this course because a) it’s the only course offered by the iSchool MLS program so far that deals specifically with the arts, and b) I was an Art History major as an undergrad and hope to one day work for an art museum in their library or archives, so I will most certainly be dealing with these issues at some point!

One of the main themes that stuck out to me in Re-collection was that the preservation of digital art has to become more dynamic because the materials and concepts of digital have become vastly complex and infinite in possibility.  There is an enormous variety of technologies available now for artists to use and mash together.  And because of the way technology developed to be user-friendly to non-programmers, the physical technology is separated from the logical presentation provided to the viewer.  That is to say, When I’m typing away words in a Word document and saving it to my hard drive, I’m not seeing the tiny magnet moving across the disc to store my document in binary form.  Instead I see my document as a “file” saved in a “folder,” which is a way of simulating the print environment we are familiar with, where papers would be filed away in folders.  When you have these layers upon layers of technologies interacting with each other, and then on top of that you have a conceptually and materially complex artwork, it’s no wonder that preservationists are having such a hard time.  The effort and thought processes necessary to preserve these digital artworks need to be multi-layered and dynamic.

One common thread between all of the readings was that the metadata stored with the artworks need to change for born-digital collections.  The metadata standards, whether using MANS or a customized variation, need to be able to capture the different layers of that digital artwork.  Not only the different technologies used, but the relationships between those technologies, the hardwares and the softwares, the cultural and aesthetic context, the blueprints for recreating the work, etc.  Incorporating as much information as possible about the artwork into the metadata from the start will enable a more secure preservation future.  However, I think it is important to note, as the NDSA points out, that most of this metadata should be computationally generated and not manually, because that would just be way too much work for our preservationists and catalogers, and the information overload would become a serious issue.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Hello to everyone, my name is Kerry Huller and I am in my second year of the Digital Curation and Archives program. I am getting close to finishing the degree and was excited to see a new class being offered in digital curation, which was also specific to the arts.

My undergraduate education was in photojournalism and over the years I have worked for various publications. Photography was strictly analog when I began, but digital tools slowly began to make an appearance. By the time I had my first permanent job as a newspaper photographer, everything about the process was digital. From these very early days in digital newspaper photography, circa 1998, it was clear that archiving the work was going to be a problem. The newspaper I worked for had made no plans for saving anything. Back then, only images that ran in the paper were being saved, and they were only getting backed up to the computer’s hard drive, until of course we began to run out of room. At that point, a disgruntled IT staff member elected to trash what little had been saved to eliminate the problem.

As the Smithsonian Interview Project points out, preserving photography and film, or any art that began as analog work, is much more stable today. But, the conservation of digital art beyond this typical analog-turned-digital variety is a very young field. Christine Frohnert estimates it is roughly 15 years old in the Smithsonian article. All of the readings seem to stress that preservation just needs to start somewhere, anywhere. We just need to work on it, experiment and realize it is an evolving process. As Catherine points out in her post, and my own experience tells me, we will lose things. But, if newspapers have learned to no longer store photographs on a computer hard drive and that they should not throw them away when that hard drive is full, then we have made progress.

It has been a messy path, but I do think collaboration is key to moving forward. Fino-Radin stresses communication with the artist, while the Smithsonian article and Rinehart and Ippolito’s book highlight working with a variety of stakeholders, including the artist, curators, conservators, archivists, programmers, etc. This leads me to a question that has constantly come up while pursuing my MLS – how tech savvy does an archivist need to be in today’s world? Yes, a large organization will have a lot of staff to fill these roles, but what about small institutions? What do you think is feasible for a staff that may only consist of a few people or is perhaps a one-man show?

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