Little Compton Historical Society: Digital Preservation Policy
Defined by the American Library Association, digital preservation “combines policies, strategies and actions that ensure access to digital content over time.” In prioritizing digital preservation, the Little Compton Historical Society (LCHS) is taking steps to ensure continued access to its digital collections; not only for the present, but for future users as well. Digital preservation is an ongoing process, one that both custodians and users of collections must strive to maintain.
Incorporating language from the institution’s mission statement, this Digital Preservation Policy reinforces its institutional mission in the following ways:
- Conserving digital objects of historical significance for the Little Compton community
- Providing digital content for educational purposes and outreach programs
- Promoting greater access by sharing information and stimulating interest in area history
Incorporating a digital preservation policy into the core mission of the LCHS ensures that preservation will continue beyond any one individual’s scope or time at the institution. The LCHS Digital Preservation Policy is meant to guide future handling of digital holdings, aiding the staff and community in determining the how, what, when, and why of institution-wide digital preservation efforts.
The LCHS digital holdings include both digitized versions of physical holdings and born-digital materials, such as items donated by members of the public and institutional records. Also affected are files currently stored in third party systems, like the PastPerfect Collections Management System.
Selection and Acquisition
The LCHS will continue to accept donated digital materials from the public. Such donations enrich the institutional collections by incorporating the experiences, personal histories, and perspectives of the greater Little Compton community and are invaluable to future users. In-house and contracted digitization of collections will also continue as needed. In accepting and creating new digital materials, the LCHS encourages the use of common, supported formats. Formats that are widely considered to be a low-risk for long term preservation are prioritized.
Digital preservation efforts at the LCHS take form through the following initiatives:
- Thorough and cohesive archival organization of digital materials
- Creating and maintaining an inventory of all digital materials
- Implementation of a set naming system and accessioning procedure for new materials
- Timely and thorough backups and protection of institute-wide assets
- Monitoring and controlling access to digital materials, both online and in-house
- Providing widespread access to digital materials through a public interface
The LCHS will make efforts to provide access to as many of the digital holdings as possible through its public interface on PastPerfect. Online materials are maintained in widely-used formats and are of an acceptable quality for online viewing, with a watermark protecting LCHS ownership of the materials. Permission for personal or professional use of digital materials is granted at the discretion of the LCHS staff. Requests for high-quality images may be subject to a fee.
The LCHS faces several challenges in establishing digital preservation practices that will stand the test of time. This policy seeks to combat these challenges by codifying digital preservation into the organization’s workflow.
- Sustainability: All digital preservation policies and efforts must be recorded and appropriately communicated to ensure the continuity of preservation through staff and volunteer turnover.
- Prioritization: Much of digital preservation involves planning for future use and users and can be neglected for other, more pressing matters. Preservation must be considered a priority if its effects are to be reflected in the long term.
- Monitoring Materials: Responsibility for overseeing the incorporation and maintenance of digital materials must be continual as they are created, added, or donated. Designated staff, docents, or volunteers should be trained in following this procedure.
- Changes in Digital Preservation Practices: Digital tools change and fall out of use quickly. Ensuring that standards are continually met, and practices kept up-to-date, is vital to combating the obsolescence of digital formats and tools.
Much can be gained by incorporating digital preservation into LCHS policy. The risks that come with neglecting digital preservation are far outweighed by the benefits to collection safety, resource growth and support, and ensured future access.
- Research: Ease of access to digital materials facilitates the response to research and use requests from users. Spending less time searching for materials opens up time and resources to other tasks and enables the user to discover previously obscured connections and historical significance.
- Fewer At-Risk Holdings: When digital materials are unorganized and unmonitored, they are at higher risk for loss. Developing an arrangement system and process for accessing files ensures the future availability of materials that may otherwise become unusable due to neglect or oversight.
- Resources: Creating and maintaining an up-to-date list of digital holdings is an important resource for applying for grants and other assistance for ongoing collections projects. Demonstrable evidence of what is currently held, what actions are pressing, and what could be done in the future is a valuable tool for cultural institutions seeking community and outside support.