National Trust for Historic Preservation Digital Preservation Policy

Importance of Digital Preservation

The digital materials held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation have historical and legal value. This value means that those materials need to be preserved in their original digital format or through scans of the analog materials. Preserving these files will allow future NTHP employees or site managers to have access to documents that can provide context and documentation for practices and accessioning of materials within the sites’ collections. This will prevent questions from going unanswered due to a lack of information and will provide necessary documentation for the sites and the national organization.

Scope of Digital Preservation

The materials held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation that are subject to digital preservation practices by the collections staff at the national headquarters and the individual Stewardship and Co-Stewardship sites are documents and images are the related to the collections held by these entities. These materials are legal documents relating to ownership of materials, documentation of repair or purchase, and materials created by the collections staff in relation to the sites. Photographs taken of the sites or of materials in the collection are also covered under this scope. These materials are not meant to show the institutional history of the NTHP or of legal practices not covering the collections.

Purposes of Digital Preservation

The over-arching purpose of digital preservation is for NTHP to maintain and preserve digital copies of collections materials for legal and historical purpose. These materials also include photographs of the sites and the collections within. Simply preserving the documentation is not enough, however, for the materials need to also be centrally located within the shared network and cloud-based resources. This will allow collections staff at the national headquarters to access documents that they may need that are held by the individual sites or the reverse, as both parties are involved with the collections. Following prescribed digital preservation practices will provide the foundation to support these purposes.

Digital Preservation Practices

The guiding principles of this digital preservation initiative focus on centralizing access and creating more documentation around document types and locations. Documents are meant to be accessible by multiple parties, with the goal of having the most valuable documents contained within a cloud-based provider. Collections documents that become static will be integrated into the digital preservation workflow and continual monitoring of active file management will enable headquarters and site staff to easily identify materials that they need and anything that is no longer active. This is done through file inventories and documented file naming systems. Standardization of these practices will promote centralization and ease of use for the sites’ staff and the staff at the headquarters. Centralization and preservation will also aid in the description of the documents that are digitally available through inventories and file directories, making the files more accessible and useful to NTHP staff and site staff. Specific file types (.pdf and .png) will be used to prevent file obsolescence and make monitoring file types for potential obsolescence easier. These practices privilege ease of access and a standard across the organization.

Challenges of Digital Preservation

The challenges of preserving these materials for the national headquarters are in the unique relationships that the national headquarters has with the individual sites. The individual sites maintain their own collections and order their day-to-day operations with degrees of oversight by the staff at headquarters. This can result in an imperfect implementation of methods that could result in data being lost by some sites. Full implementation of minimal digital preservation strategies will result in a lower risk of data loss, but only if it implemented across the sites. Another challenge is maintaining a file management system to help with identifying files that need to be preserved, both at headquarters and at the sites. The full documentation of practices will help the whole organization move beyond these challenges to preserve their digital materials into the future.

Digital Preservation Participants

Given the unique structure of the NTHP, the work of digital preservation is shared among staff at the national headquarters and among the individual sites. The materials collected and maintained by these different groups overlap and are used by both parties in various ways. This necessitates clear and easily adopted digital preservation practices so that there are no holes in the practice of digitally preserving material. These participants are also tasked with the continual process of digital preservation, rather than simply considering it to be a singular act. This mindset accompanied by defined workflows for preservation will work together to preserve the materials of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The site staff and the headquarters staff work together on digital preservation, bringing all of the resources available to aid in the preserving of these files.

Resources:

Altman, M., Bailey, J., Cariani, K., Gallinger, M., Mandelbaum, J., & Owens, T. (2013). NDSA Storage Report: Reflections on National Digital Stewardship Alliance Member Approaches to Preservation Storage Technologies. D-Lib Magazine, 19(5/6).

Library of Congress Recommended File Formats: https://www.loc.gov/preservation/resources/rfs/

Phillips, M., Bailey, J., Goethals, A., & Owens, T. (2013). The NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation: An Explanation and Uses. IS&T Archiving, Washington, USA.

Schumacher, J., Thomas, L. M., VandeCreek, D., Erdman, S., Hancks, J., Haykal, A., Spalenka, D. (2014). From Theory to Action: Good Enough Digital Preservation for Under-Resourced Cultural Heritage Institutions (Working Paper).

3 Replies to “National Trust for Historic Preservation Digital Preservation Policy”

  1. Hi Margaret Rose,

    I like that your Practices section emphasizes changes that either optimize or work within the organization’s existing workflow rather than trying to dictate sweeping changes. I also liked your last section outlining the participants. It reminded me of a quote that Adam Kriesberg used in Ethics and Policy. It went something to the effect of: “there are no technical solutions to social problems.” At some point all of the players have to sit down and talk to each other. No tool is going to make decisions for them. I took a similar approach with my organization, suggesting that they form a Digital Preservation Committee that had a required representation from various groups. My hope is that naming the group and defining the structure might make them more likely to commit to a recurring series of meetings. A formal committee suggests accountability. Or at least I hope so!

  2. Hello Margaret Rose,

    I think your institution has some unique challenges that most of our classmates (myself included) didn’t have to deal with. It’s a good learning example to understand the different forms preservation strategies can take, particularly as you’ve had to navigate between a headquarters and satellite offices.

    You mentioned legal requirements as a prime motivator in your digital preservation strategy/policy. How did access figure into your work? Is preservation purely an internal function for the National Trust or is there some mechanism/consideration for making digital documents available to the public?

  3. Hi Margaret Rose,

    I agree with Gwen in that I think you had to deal with a unique challenge. Since your organization consists of separate offices, I think it was a great idea to start off with the importance of digital preservation. Stressing why digital preservation matters and why all parties should care is a smart way to get the different staff members on board and hopefully start working together.

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