11 Replies to “Thinking Small”

  1. Kerri,

    I really appreciate your post, as the institution I’m working with is facing many of these challenges, specifically when it comes to staff availability. My contact is the only full-time staff member working on the digital archives.

    One question that has come up in my discussions with my institution is the problem of who actually does the fixity checks and copying of the files. In the case of the institution I’m working with, IT oversees a great deal of the copying and storing of the materials, leaving the archivist a bit aloof to the finer details of the files’ status. All of the information we read about this week was extremely helpful, but I guess my question is, who should be in charge of this? Is it the archivists’ job? IT? Can the two collaborate on a solution, and if so, how can an archivist try to help IT perform digital preservation per NDSA levels?

    This is more of a management question, but still important to the policy discussion behind all of these wonderful programs.

  2. Margot,
    You make an excellent point. When other parties get involved in the digitization process, things can get a little hairy. From a management standpoint, I’d say if the institution can outsource their material to IT (or in the case at SCUA, outsourcing to DCMR – Digital Conversion and Media Reformatting), then they should utilize that valuable resource. But I do think they should create a direct line of communication in how things are being digitized and what the details of the file(s) should be. I believe it’s ultimately the archivist’s job to ensure that everything complies with NDSA standards when it comes to the digitization. In terms of making it accessible, that should be something the archivist again is responsible for. I think IT should be utilized just in terms of the physical digitization, basically as a source of manpower. But beyond that, it should be the responsibility of the archivist. What do you think?

    1. I definitely agree that IT is a valuable team member and source of expertise with the actual work of digitization and some preservation operations. However, in that case I would think that the archivist should stay in constant contact with IT to communicate the archives’ needs.

      However, how the archivist goes about communicating those needs to IT (and to other archive staff not familiar with digital preservation) is another issue entirely. Again, this is more of a management problem, but it is one I’ve run into while working with my institution. There seem to be some communication issues between departments, and not everyone in the institution is on the same page concerning digital preservation. Can the archivist use the NDSA levels to create a simple checklist for other departments to follow, and to keep IT on the same page as the archivist? Or is that too simple a solution?

      1. That idea for a checklist based on the NDSA levels is a pretty solid idea. I don’t think it’s necessarily too simple of a solution, as long as it’s not the only solution. The checklist sounds like a great starting point for IT, especially if they need to contact you about a specific issue they are experiencing. Having the checklist could possibly help them contextualize the problem in archival terms.
        Both you and Kerri are absolutely right in stressing how important communication has to be between archivists and IT. The checklist is great tangible device to link the two parties. Building a good working relationship with IT could also potentially be useful in advocacy for the archive, something POWRR touched on as well. IT is an important department in any institution and having them not only on your side but understand why you need additional resources or support is a valuable tool.

        1. It’s great that this is prompting folks to think through relationships with IT. I would note that I know some lone arrangers have gone ahead and used either the NDSA levels or the fixity checking guidance as a tool to facilitate conversations with their IT departments. In general, IT folks have a solid understanding of what it means to keep ongoing rolling back-up copies of information (which is great, but isn’t exactly the same as doing work to fully support digital preservation.) With that said, the IT team can be a huge resource, and there is a good chance that at many organizations it would not be too onerous for IT to set up some simple scripts to do rolling fixity checks and or to set up permissions and processes for establishing multiple copies of content. This is just to say that I think, in many cases, getting a handle on this guidance can be a great way for archivists and librarians to open up a dialog with IT to support digital preservation activities.

  3. I think it all depends on the institution and how the various departments work together. But you’re right, effective communication is a struggle for departments. I witness it all of the time too. I think bringing everyone up to speed with the NDSA levels could be a useful tool. Perhaps the archivist could reference the NDSA levels in creating their own system of guidelines/communication between the departments that would suit their specific needs.

  4. Hi Kerri,

    Thank you for your post! I think you hit a really important point when you mentioned the pressure on institutions, especially small ones, to “stay relevant” by providing and updating digital content. Many of these institutions have such a backlog of physical materials, and with limited resources are spending all of their time trying to get a hold on these without a second to think about digital content! This is why I agree that these articles were incredibly helpful in recommending baby steps for small institutions to get started, and to at least work on the minimum NDSA levels of digital preservation.

    Your and Margot’s conversation brings up an interesting and tricky issue! In my Arrangement, Description, and Access class this week, we talked about “Archival Intelligence” and the importance of teaching users/researchers the “language” or archives and archivists. This same concept and practice should definitely be implemented if another department becomes involved in archival processes! I agree with you Kerri that if an IT department is available as a resource to help with checking fixity and other technical digital preservation operations, then the archivists should absolutely take advantage, especially if they are struggling for resources. However, although those in IT may have quite a good grasp on the concept of fixity or at least the algorithms, they likely do not understand the bigger importance of checking fixity, or the frequency required, or really all of the things outlined in the NDSA report! Open communications would definitely be critical before, during, and after the processes are carried out. Aside from that, I’m sure there are multitudes of small cultural heritage institutions who would die to have access to an IT department’s resources!


  5. This is an interesting question, and I think you all brought up some important points. If smaller institutions are in need of help with their digital preservation efforts due to lack of money, staff, or knowledge, and their IT department is willing to help, I’m sure archives staff would be thrilled to accept assistance. And as Rosemary mentioned, an IT department that is familiar with archival terms of art is even more desirable.

    However, I do worry about depending too much on outside resources. I only say this because I know that, as an archivist hopelessly inept at most things overly technical, I would rely far too much on an IT expert, and I wouldn’t learn anything about what’s happening to preserve my own content. I’m not saying this would happen with everyone, but I think that smaller institutions that already have a lot on their plate would check off that digital preservation box on their to-do list and let IT handle it while they move on to other matters.

    This is kind of scary, especially because we are advancing so far into the digital realm. What will happen at these institutions when their “other matters” are finished and they don’t know how to manage their files anymore? How can they be an effective advocate for archives if they aren’t entrenched in every aspect of its management? I’m not saying we shouldn’t rely on outside departments for help, but I think archivists need to be wary about how much they depend on that help.


  6. Mallory,

    You make a great point as well. There is definite potential for the archivist, especially the not-so-tech-savvy one, to rely too heavily on IT to handle the digital preservation. I feel that this is a definitely problem in smaller institutions rather than larger ones. In my limited experience working in a university archive, I know that our archivists have to continue their education throughout their careers. Whether that’s through classes or conferences. So I feel that they would and should have a better grasp on how the digital preservation works.

    In terms of smaller institutions, even if they do rely on IT to do the leg work, I think it’s the responsibility of the archivist to educate themselves on the overall process. Perhaps IT could give them a crash course in how they do things, just so the archivist has some idea of what is happening to their material.

    1. Kerri,

      I think your solution makes a lot of sense, especially among the smaller institutions. It’s really up to archivist to educate themselves, and to take a vested interest in what’s happening with their content. Those institutions where the archivists pawn their preservation efforts on the IT department are probably destined to fail. We can only bury our heads in the sand for so long before we are overtaken by the next wave.

      I noticed that you’re working with the Laurel Historical Society for our consultation project, which I only mention because I used to live in Laurel and I did a small amount of volunteer work there a few years ago before I opted out. My “volunteering” was really just sitting in a chair a few hours a week to monitor visitors who entered the museum, and filling out crosswords in my spare time.

      But I am interested to know where they stand on this topic. Are they educating themselves on digital preservation? My contact at Viterbo University said he’s done a lot of research on fixity but hasn’t really done anything because he’s nervous about where to start. I imagine that might be the same case in Laurel.


  7. What I dins interesting is how many institutions never even get this far. I have had a number of conversations recently with organizations I once worked with, just trying to ascertain their levels of digital preservation.

    For many organizations I am finding that part of the problem is a lack of communication between the library division and the tech division. The librarian may have a concept of digital preservation (or not, many confuse digital preservation as a term with digitization) but the IT director has a different idea of how to preserve a file which has on at least one of the occassions I spoke with a friend about , resulted in the deletion of an entire publication which only existed digitally

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