The National Trust for Historic Preservation Digital Preservation Report

Background on the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a non-profit organization that works to protect and advocate for historic buildings across the United States. There is a central headquarters for the operations in Washington, D.C., both on the business side and on the collections side, as well as the individual historic sites in multiple states. The collections staff works with the institutional documents for collections and with the staff at the sites that are found across the country. These sites fall into 3 categories: Stewardship sites, Co-Stewardship Sites, and Affiliated Sites. Stewardship Sites are owned and operated by the National Trust, while Co-Stewardship Sites are owned by the National Trust but are operated by a separate non-profit. Affiliated Sites are neither owned nor operated by the National Trust, but are affiliated with the organization for tech support and marketing. The National Trust has no involvement with the collections of Affiliated Sites. Of the 27 sites, 7 are Stewardship Sites, 14 are Co-Stewardship Sites and 6 are Affiliated sites. The national office has a role in overseeing the collections at the Stewardship and Co-Stewardship sites, but the collections are maintained and organized by the staff at the individual sites. This has lead to a lack of standardization in the past when including collection documentation in the collections management system and when naming files.

Scope of the Digital Collections of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The majority of the digital materials held by the National Trust and their sites are photographs of 3-dimensional collection objects, photographs of paper materials in the collections and scanned documents containing information about the collections. These photographs and scanned documents (as .pdf documents) are found in the National Trust’s Re:Discovery Proficio Collections Management System. The version of Re:Discovery that the National Trust bought is a cloud-based version that can be viewed by anyone with login information. A large portion of institutional documents, not necessarily related to the collections, was scanned in 2013. These scanned documents are in a folder on the scanned drive. The file names are indicative of what is in the file, for the most part. It is usually an overview and therefore the collections staff is not sure what is exactly in the set of scanned documents. The collections documents, like deeds of gift, are held by the site or by the national office. Some of this information is included in their Re:Discovery Proficio system, either through the attachment of documents or through the entry of the information into the system fields. Most of this information is held in an analog form, rather than a digital one. Modern photographs of the sites are found in a separate digital asset management system housed in the National Trust’s intranet. The day-to-day operations of the sites and the main officeare now electronic and are stored either on the individual employee’s hard drive or in a shared drive in a folder for the site. The scanned documents are also found on this shared drive. The sites and the central office have not scanned any visual materials or do not have any audio files in the collections at this time.

There is standardization among file formats because they only have certain types of files (.jpeg and .pdf files for the collections materials).

Current Organization of Digital Materials

The National Trust currently has three locations for their digital materials (collection photographs and documents): Re:Discovery Proficio, individual drives and a shared drive.

The materials in Re:Discovery can be accessed by the staff and volunteers at the sites, and by the staff at headquarters. Their Re:Discovery is divided between the Collections module and the Libraries and Archives Module. The Collections module contains the records for the 3 dimensional collections objects held and displayed in the sites. The Libraries and Archives Module contains the records for the paper collections. There is some overlap between the two modules with books, as those are either in the Collections Module or in the Libraries and Archives module. Each type of module allows for the attaching of photographs and documents.

The materials in the individual drives and on the shared drive are documents referring to the collections as well as the normal running of each site and sometimes photographs. The individual drives are employee- or site-specific. The sites each have their own drives which aren’t shared in addition to the drive that is shared. These are organized into folders, usually by site, but there are folders that are more subject-specific. Within the site folders there may also be folders labeled by the year and the name of a current or former staff member with photos of a site. There appears to not be a larger organizational structure governing where certain types of files are kept and where backup copies are kept.

There is no inventory that provides an overview of all of the materials, what they are, and where they are located. A central problem, then, of maintaining these files over a long period of time is not knowing if there is anything missing. Due to having files spread over multiple locations, there is no standardized way of ensuring data security through file fixity or through editing permissions. There are different levels of access within Re:Discovery, which does provide security and back-up of the materials. There is also a log of when the last edits were made to the digital records within the system. There is also not a document that details who has which editing and removing permissions for digital materials or set way of determining where files are stored and which site-specific files are put in the shared drive.

Staff Response to Digital Preservation

The staff at the national headquarters are committed to find a way to centralize their digital resources but there are issues with implementation at the sites, especially the smaller sites. Their hope is to create a preservation plan that can be followed by a collections staff member (if there is one) at an individual site, but especially by interns and volunteers at the sites. Few of the sites have dedicated collections staff, so a primary goal and function of the preservation plan is that it can be implemented by interns and volunteers. To be effective, it should not require specialized technical knowledge, either with computers or with collections management. There have been large-scale standardization workshops with the site staff in the past (a previous focus was on the standardization of the finding aids created at the different sites) and the organization/centralization of digital materials could be the focus of a future workshop. There also is not a smaller organizational structure among the sites, except for the distinction between the Stewardship, Co-Stewardship, and Affiliated Sites mentioned above. The primary goal for the staff at the headquarters is to have everything in a centralized location, rather than trying to find something by looking in multiple places.

Future Collections Impacting Digital Preservation

The collections staff do not anticipate getting more materials in differing file formats in the future, other than if the site staff begin to create videos of events at their site. There is the expectation that as more materials are added to the collections at the sites, there will be more .pdf documents and .jpegs of collection items. These new materials would be integrated into the existing file structure and uploaded to Re:Discovery Proficio.

Human Resources and Technological Possibilities

The national headquarters has collections staff, include a collections director and a fellow, as well as interns on a fairly regular basis. The sites have different staffing structures due to the differences in the size and budget of the sites. Not every site has a collections manager, so anyone who would be working on digital preservation at these sites would be a volunteer or intern. This necessitates an easily followed and clear digital preservation plan that would integrate smoothly into day-to-day operations. On the technical side, there is a precedence of the national organization helping smaller sites by buying a scanner for the site. This sort of support could be used to buy external hard drives or cloud-based storage.

Conclusion

Overall, the National Trust is in an interesting position: they are both a large organization and a small one. Their digital materials therefore have to be accessible in multiple virtual places so that the sites and the headquarters can share information. The National Trust has a substantial amount of information that is available, but it isn’t standardized. With both of these things in mind, the most important pieces moving forward are to make the system simple enough to be followed by small organizations and centralize where materials are held so they are accessible.

One Reply to “The National Trust for Historic Preservation Digital Preservation Report”

  1. Great survey. I think you have solid information you can use for your next steps report. As you note, the situation of being both a large organization and a small one at the same time presents some complexities for how to make recommendations. So when you go to write up your recommendations it will be important to work out how to frame things that the central office needs/wants to do for itself and the kinds of services they are hoping to develop and offer to their member sites. This is a really interesting case!

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