The Archeology Program Office of the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation was established in 1988 to excavate, preserve and protect archeological sites in county parks. It is part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. As part of its mission, the program curates millions of artifacts, and over the years, related documentation has been created in various formats and on disparate media. The office has been located in a house in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, since around 1999/2000 where all artifacts and documentation are kept. It is currently staffed by three archeologists who are the primary users of the documentation.
The goal is to have all digital content centralized on one shared network which is currently in development. Ideally physical copies would be digitized. This content would likely have variable levels of access; some files could be made available to the public through a research portal while some would remain for internal use only.
Scope of Holdings
Documentation is primarily in the form of digital and/or physical copies of reports, catalogs, slides, print photographs, negatives, drawings, maps, and videos. The following includes a description of digital content and some of the physical holdings since there is interest in digitizing them.
Digital storage media
Digital content currently resides on five desktop computers, two laptops, and a back-up drive of files from former staff. The three current staff people also keep back-up drives at their desks. Content is primarily kept and backed up locally, but the staff are just beginning to test a shared network.
Additionally, files are also stored on approximately 300 compact disks and 700 3.5”floppy disks. This may be an underestimate as some disks are kept with hard copy reports. The disks are labeled but not necessarily enough to discern the contents. Approximately 600 of the 3.5” floppy disks are kept in boxes with a consistent labeling format. Staff have an external floppy drive provided by an offsite IT department to read the 3.5” disks but the drivers have yet not been installed.
Reports and catalogs
While the exact contents of the storage media are not known, staff anticipate that many reports and catalogs were originally written with WordPerfect. More recent reports are written using Word. Versions will vary. Catalog data was originally kept using Paradox relational database software and staff currently have no means of reading these files. Current catalog information is kept on both Excel and Access. There are approximately ten shelves of archeological site reports (25 linear feet) and four filing cabinets of site-related files.
Photographs, contact sheets, negatives, and slides
Digital images are saved as jpegs.These are both born-digital and digitized from a portion of the photograph and slide collection. There are two shelves (approximately 5 linear feet) of binders containing photographs, contact sheets, negatives and slides. Descriptive information is written on the dividers and on the backs of some photographs. There is also a flat file drawer of matted photographs.
Maps and drawings
Mapping files have been created using CAD (computerized aided drafting), and more recently, GIS (geographic information systems) technologies. In addition, there are fourteen flat file drawers of maps and drawings.
There are approximately twenty VHS tapes the contents of which are unknown.
Current Management of Digital Holdings
Digital content on floppy disks is inaccessible at the moment. Current staff are relying on institutional memory and lengthy searches to find files from former staff stored on a back-up drive. This is based on an understanding on what the person’s role might have been and when they worked there. At times, searching based on file extension can provide a hint at the content.
Most digital content is still stored and backed up locally, but staff are testing a new shared drive with directories allowing different levels of access for onsite staff and the rest of the department. Within the directory for onsite staff, subdirectories currently relate to specific archeological sites, but the exact organization has not yet been determined since content can be classified in more than one way. Implementing this shared network offers an opportunity to integrate disparate digital holdings and would facilitate creating a back-up copy in a different location.
Perception of the State of Digital Content
The perception from the archeology staff is that there is digital content that will add either known or potential value to their mission. This content is currently hard to find, on inaccessible media, or in unusable formats. Identifying and moving these files to one drive would: save staff time by making the files easier to find, save space currently taken up by heterogeneous storage media, eliminate duplicates, offer an opportunity to keep all information about specific sites or artifacts under one subdirectory, and prevent irreversible loss.
The Archeology Program Office will be able to benefit from the technical expertise of the Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation IT department, which provides and maintains the staff’s equipment. In addition to the equipment mentioned above and the shared network, the staff have two scanners that have been used to digitize slides, files and print photographs in the past.
The IT department also regulates information security, one of the key preservation activities that will be addressed in the coming preservation plan. This does, however, limit the types of software staff can download themselves – the drivers for the external floppy drive mentioned above, for example. Additionally, they may serve as a resource in implementing another of the key activities – data integrity checks.
The program also benefits from a small but dedicated staff who are vested in maintaining the integrity of this digital content. The effort is being spearheaded by the Assistant Archaeology Program Manager. The level of effort will likely be limited to a couple of hours per week until a student intern or volunteer can be hired and trained to do the work.
One Reply to “Survey of the Archeology Program Office for Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation”
Great report. It sounds like the department is facing some significant challenges with all this legacy content, but it also sounds like your work is helping to draw some attention to that. I think you are right to identify IT has a potential key partner in support of this work. It would be really great if your work on making recommendations could help support the department in making the case to get the resources necessary to work over this backlog and also establish some solid practices for the work going forward.