Next Steps for the Geneva Historical Society

Introduction

The digital holdings of the Geneva Historical Society, located in New York, are spread out over various websites and institutions. The Society has partnerships with the Hobart and William Smith Colleges, NewYorkHeritage.org, and the NYS Historic Newspapers website. The Society’s digital holdings can be found on these websites, their own Synology NAS storage system, and on Google Photos and Dropbox. These holdings include materials such as photographs, post cards, and microfilmed newspapers.

One of the largest problems the Society faces with their digital items stems from a lack of organization. When an employee digitizes an item, that item is saved and stored according to that employee’s own personal naming and filing system. Staff regularly do not know what other employees have scanned, leading to much duplication and difficulty in finding digitized materials.

Before writing a preservation policy for the Society, I will first review the Society’s current standing in the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation (LoDP) and then recommend next steps that the Society can take to improve their standing. The NDSA levels can be found here.

Metadata

Although Metadata is ranked as the fourth priority on the NDSA LoDP, it is a critical concern for the Society. To address their duplication and disorganization issues, it is pertinent for the Society to create an inventory of their digital holdings. This inventory can be created on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and should have headers for information such as directory location, file format, and file size. Resolution would also be a beneficial header so that, in the future, staff members can know if the digitized image fits the proper resolution that they are looking for. There should be a backup of this inventory in case the original file is accidentally deleted or corrupted. Simple ways to backup the inventory include using Dropbox or Google Sheets.

Other than just creating the inventory, the Society would also benefit from standardizing the documentation of digital materials. This standardization should include a file naming policy so that items are always named in predictable and understandable ways, increasing findability. While creating the inventory, files should be renamed in order to fit the standard. Another way to standardize the documentation of the digital materials is to restructure the directories so that everyone may know the locations of items, instead of them being restricted to a single employee’s desktop. One way to structure the directories can be to base them on the physical locations of the materials. This way, if an employee knows where to find the physical object, they can use that same process to find the digitized version. Thus, the inventorying process would also involve relocating digital objects to fit into the new directory structures.

So that every employee will know how to name and locate items, the Society should create a “file plan” document. The purpose of this document will be to explain the standards for naming and storing items and why the rules exist. For future digitization, staff members should record file information in the inventory right after scanning.

Creating the inventory will be a high resource requirement. Due to the amount of time that creating the inventory will take, the Society can use community volunteers and dedicate staff hours to the project. The Society can also have a “file clean-up” day or time every so often so that every staff member can devote time to inventorying and cleaning up the collection.

Storage and Geographic Location

The Society currently uses a Synology NAS storage system. To satisfy the storage requirements of the NDSA LoDP, an organization needs to have multiple copies of their collection in different geographic locations. To meet the level 1 requirement of LoDP, the Society needs to create a copy of their digital collection. The Society could use an application such as Preservica to store their digital materials. To reach the second level, the Society will need to document the storage systems they are using and what they need to use them (such as access information). The Society will also need to create and find a storage location for a third copy of their digital collection. This third copy can potentially be given to one of the Society’s partners.

Fulfilling these steps will demand a medium resource requirement from the Society. Improving the Society’s standing in this area could cost both time and money (should the Society decide to use an application like Preservica).

File Fixity and Data Integrity

File fixity refers to the digital object remaining as intended through time and transfer, meaning that details such as content and file size do not change. The purpose of fixity checks are to ensure the digital objects have not changed. There are no fixity checks currently being done at the Society. To reach level 1 of LoDP, the Society needs to create fixity information upon creating and acquiring a new digital object. To do this, I recommend that the Society record the file size and file count. This information can be recorded in the inventory. To reach level 2 of LoDP, the Society needs to check file fixity for all acquired digital materials. The Society can do this using AVP’s free application Fixity. I would also recommend that the Society practice annual fixity checks to make sure none of their content has corrupted.

For materials already in the Society’s collection, the Society can record their file size and count while creating the inventory for future reference. Working on file fixity will be a low resource requirement for the Society. Documenting fixity information for existing files can be done while working on the inventory and the procedure for adding fixity information for new digital objects can be added to the file plan. Checking file fixity can be done using free applications, so there does not need to be a financial cost to the Society.

Information Security

Some information security is implemented at the Society in the Photo Archive. Although the public may use the computer, they cannot access all the files that staff can. These access restrictions can be further implemented to protect the digital collection. To reach level 1 of LoDP’s information security section, the Society needs to identify who has read, write, move, and delete authorization to individual files. This should be done after the inventory has been created and existing materials have been renamed and relocated. The benefit of having these restrictions is that unauthorized people will not be able to tamper with or misplace files, maintaining the order and efficiency of the organization. The Society should also document who has the authorizations and access restrictions for the content.

Implementing this level of information security will be a medium resource requirement for the Society. The Society will have to decide and document who will be able to access, alter, move, and delete which collection materials, which may require a lot of time.

File Formats

Although the employees at the Society already know that they use formats such as pdf, tiff, and jpg, it is still important to document all of the file formats in use. This can be done once the inventory is created. After documenting the formats for each item in the collection, the Society will be able to see each the formats being used. The Society should limit their formats to “known open formats,” meaning formats that are widely used and non-propriety. This lessens the risk of the format becoming obsolete. To reach levels 3 and 4 of LoDP, the Society will need to monitor these file formats to see if they are becoming obsolete and migrate at-risk formats when needed.

Working on the file format section of LoDP will be a low resource requirement from the Society, as it should be relatively easy to do once the inventory has been created.

Conclusion

The most pressing need for the Society is the creation of an inventory. Once the inventory is created, the Society will be able to advance in the other areas of LoDP with lower resource requirements.

One Reply to “Next Steps for the Geneva Historical Society”

  1. Great write up. From what you’ve shared, I completely agree that getting an overall inventory of their digital content is an essential first step. Alongside that, working to get a second copy of the content that they want to ensure long term access to is essential. As you identified, there are rather straightforward ways they could even manually mange a high level inventory in a spreadsheet for starters. The rest of your suggestions for next steps present a solid plan for how the organization could make significant progress on addressing some of the most pressing threats to digital loss that they face.

    Overall, great work!

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