The Putnam County Museum, located in Greencastle, Indiana, was founded in 2003 with the mission to “collect, preserve, and interpret the natural, historical and cultural heritage of the county” (putnamcountymuseum.org). The museum was developed out of the need for the local historical society to have a safe steward for the artifacts they had collected. After a debate over the likely permanent location of the building, it is currently housed in a converted box store on the main highway through town. Today, the museum is run by an executive team of four officers, a board of seven members, an executive director, and an executive assistant. As it is a non-profit entity with few staff, the museum relies on a steady stream of volunteers from the surrounding communities, including the local liberal arts college. (Full disclosure: I was a routine volunteer working with collections and outreach for the museum for a year and a half, from early 2016-mid 2017.) Collections of note for digital preservation include extensive digital scans, oral histories, and A/V materials.
The next steps for this organization are in two parts, because there are two parts to the problem: solutions moving forward, and corrections of existing materials.
Mentions of “level #” refer to the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation.
Questions of Transcripts and Audio Files
Staff is encouraged to view transcripts as additives to the object. They add value to the audio recordings. This thought process will allow focus on oral histories and other AV materials to be on maintaining the original materials. Staff should work on “getting their ducks in a row” with the physical materials. Materials that are in readable formats (such as disks or thumb drives) should be checked for usability and transferred as soon as possible to a new medium.
Process for migration would begin with documenting and cataloging thoroughly every A/V material. This can be a PastPerfect report. Information must include a title, format, and physical location in the museum. This report would fulfill a level 2 requirement. Next, staff should identify those formats which may be obsolete or no longer usable for accessibility. This list can be organized in a high, medium, and low necessity based on content. This list would fulfill level 3. Finally (and working on level 4), staff should use that list to begin file migrations. I recommend that they begin with those deemed of highest importance, while also factoring in questions of equipment availability and financial costs. Assuming there is a way to listen to the recordings, there are several ways to migrate these files. If files can be saved to a electronic drive, they should be. Staff is encouraged to utilize StoryCorps in the future. StoryCorps has a phone app that can record audio and will archive the recording at the Library of Congress’s American Folk Life Center. If audio can be played, but not saved to an electronic drive, staff may look into playing the recording while using StoryCorps (note: this has not been tested, and staff should play back the StoryCorps recording as soon as possible to check viability).
Because there can be information (both content and context) on the physical material, photo documentation should always occur prior to migrating the content.
Staff is encouraged to focus first on systems they can put in place moving forward before correcting and changing past practices. This is especially true with the current systems for saving and accessing scans. Before working to fix any existing problems with scans, staff is encouraged to enact a new set of practices. From this point forward, upon scanning, all files should be renamed by the scanner. I suggest the name represent the image content to make it easier to locate in the future. On the drives, these files should be easily findable. I suggest a directory hierarchy that mimics the structure of the physical collections. For example, if there is a scanned newspaper article, there would be a folder for newspaper scans, and then a breakdown by year ranges, newspaper titles, content, etc. The titles should be easily understood by everyone (no scanner names or dates) for maximum efficiency.
Next, scans should be preserved. To maximize the level-meeting, staff is encouraged to store their scans on a remote server. There are several options for this. The first two options, Internet Archive or Wikimedia Commons, are free to use and access. They would also open the image to become open access files. (Note: audio files can also be uploaded to both Wikimedia Commons and Internet Archive.) Another free option is to access the Indiana hub for the Digital Public Library of America. All three options offer a free alternative to hosting your digital files in one location with similar disaster risks. If money is not a question, staff may look into Omeka.net. The $35 per year hosting service should be sufficient for the museum’s needs. Omeka would allow for staff/volunteers to create online exhibits for their collections that can be referenced on the website and on social media.
Once this is a practice, staff should work to rename, organize, and save externally the scans done prior to this practice. Would staff be able to train a volunteer or intern to do this for a few hours a week? Implementing this practice to already existing files will make future research questions, exhibits, and social media promotions of the collections easier to implement and fulfill.
File Integrity Checks
Staff is encouraged to utilize fixity check systems. AV Preserve has a free system that will email an administrator the results. Fixity checks ensure that when directories and files are altered, there is some check on what that was. As files degrade, or as more people have access to the same system, the likelihood that something will alter is increased. A fixity check will run a program to check that files and directories are the same from check to check. For an institution of Putnam County Museum’s size, a fixity check would likely only need to be done about every 6-12 months. This helps ensure that digital preservation efforts last beyond these implementations.