Greenbelt Museum and its digital content
The Greenbelt Museum is a community museum that focuses on the “New Deal history and living legacy of Greenbelt, Maryland” (“Greenbelt,” n.d.). The Museum provides tours of an original Greenbelt home, walking tours of the community, rotating exhibits, and educational programming. Their collection scope includes items that were made and/or used in the town; associated with a resident, location, or event in Greenbelt; and that originated or were used from 1936-1952 (“Collections,” n.d.). In total there are approximately 2,000 artifacts in the Museum’s collection, with an estimated 50% already digitized. This total does not include the Museum’s archives, comprised of textual records, maps, and photos.
Their digital holdings consist primarily of image files in TIFF format, but also include recordings and transcriptions of oral histories. More recent oral histories are in MP3 format; however older recordings are stored on cassette tapes and have not been digitized. The Museum’s primary collection of oral histories, taken in 1987, were transcribed and scanned into PDF format. These scans were done a decade ago, and the Museum’s Director/Curator, Megan Searing Young, has indicated that they likely need to be rescanned. Finally, there are not corresponding analog copies of every digital object in the Museum’s possession.
Next steps for digital preservation
The following recommendations were crafted using the National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s (NDSA) Levels of Digital Preservation as a guideline. These levels cover five areas crucial to digital preservation practices: storage and geographic location, file fixity and data integrity, information security, metadata, and file formats (Bailey, J. et al., n.d.).
Storage and geographic location
As described in the survey report about Greenbelt Museum, there are two copies of the Museum’s files in two different locations: one on Searing Young’s work computer; the second with Greenbelt city’s IT department. Increased communication between IT employees and the Museum is necessary so Searing Young and her staff will know where the second copy is kept and how it is stored. Greenbelt’s IT likely already has a data management plan in place that the Museum could benefit from.
Eventually the Museum should transfer their files to a cloud storage service in case something was to happen to the hard storage. Luckily, there are a variety of affordable options available. Cloud services like Box start at $15 per month for Business accounts, and G Suite through Google starts at $5 per month for their Basic accounts. For content that is not protected by copyright and that the Museum is willing to share freely, Wikimedia Commons allows anyone to upload and store files.
As a more secure measure, the Museum could consider swapping a backup copy of their collection with another community museum or historical society in a different geographic region. This would ensure that one copy of their files is kept in a location at risk of disaster threats than Greenbelt, MD.
While digitization is not a primary focus of digital preservation practices, the Museum would benefit from converting their oral histories stored on cassette tapes to .MP3 format. Since they already have a community page on the StoryCorps Archive website, newly digitized stories could be added to this collection. If the Museum does not have the resources available to digitize the cassettes in-house, there are a myriad of companies that provide this service at reasonable prices.
File fixity and data integrity
Fixity is a somewhat jargon-y term for stability. When an organization checks for “file fixity,” they are making sure that their files have not changed over a period of time or during a transfer (De Stefano, P. et al., 2014). There are different ways to do this, and the following steps will start small.
The Museum should first make sure that the two already existing copies are exact. This includes not just exact file count but that the types of files (.TIFF, .PDF, etc.) and the number of each file format on both copies are the same (more about this in the Metadata section). This should be checked on a regular basis and, ideally, whenever the Museum acquires new digital content. At a minimum, fixity should be monitored on an annual basis by Searing Young in cooperation with Greenbelt IT staff. The same would need to be done for cloud storage if the Museum adopted that practice. A spreadsheet could be used to keep track of file counts, with one copy kept on each backup.
There is also Exactly, a free and open source fixity tool produced by AVP, a software development firm. It allows for the secure transfer of digital content from sender to recipient so organizations can authenticate the integrity of their files. The AVP website also offers user guides for those new to using Exactly. This tool could be quite useful for the Museum, especially when receiving born digital content from donors or volunteers, like oral histories.
Since metadata is not consistent across file folders, the Museum should first decide on a metadata standard that will be applied evenly to each file. Inventory will need to be done of both the copy on Searing Young’s computer and the copy held by Greenbelt IT. Metadata can either be documented in the file names (which the Museum currently does) or on spreadsheets for each folder.
Greenbelt Museum does not use PastPerfect to manage their digital archival files, but the organization would benefit from a management system for this collection. Not only would it be easier to apply metadata consistently, but it would allow for more secure data storage and workflow. This could be done either by incorporating the archival files into the PastPerfect catalog, or using different software, such as Preservica or Arkivum.
Information security and file formats
Currently, Searing Young is the only employee with access to the Museum’s digital archival files, so she is presumably the only person who is authorized to edit, move, or delete records. If digital preservation becomes a more central focus of the Museum’s work however, they will need to identify who has permission to access these files and maintain a log of all changes done to the repository.
Additionally, the Museum should provide guidance to staff, volunteers, and donors on what file formats they prefer (i.e., .TIFF instead of .JPG images) when accepting digital content. An inventory should also be kept of the kind of file formats used so the organization can easily assess if they are using an outdated format.
Finally, the Museum has a Collections Policy that has not been updated since 2006, before Searing Young joined the organization. While the policy is quite comprehensive and could provide guidance, it should be revised to meet the current collection goals of the Museum and to ensure that day to day activities align with policy.
Much can be done to improve the digital preservation strategies of Greenbelt Museum, and it will be best achieved in small, incremental steps. Once inventory is done of the organization’s digital holdings, staff can determine where they should direct their focus; what areas might need more attention than others; and which files they value most.
Bailey, J. et al. (n.d.). Levels of digital preservation. Retrieved from https://ndsa.org/activities/levels-of-digital-preservation/
“Collections management policy and manual.” (n.d.). Unpublished internal document, Greenbelt Museum.
De Stefano, P. et al. (2014). Checking your digital content. Retrieved from http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gdc/lcpub.2013655117.1
“Greenbelt Museum mission statement.” (n.d.). Unpublished internal document, Greenbelt Museum.