Next Steps for Wentzville Community Historical Society

Introduction

The Wentzville Community Historical Society, located in Wentzville, Missouri, seeks “to collect and preserve information pertaining to historical events of Wentzville and surrounding areas; to assume responsibility for proper recognition and preservation of various historical landmarks, relics, souvenirs, and Missouriana, to do suitable honor to those hardy pioneers of this area who laid the foundation of our present happiness by arranging celebrations and meetings in their memory; to engender rightful pride in our rich history; and to establish and maintain a museum, library, and archives.”  With collections scattered across the city, the Wentzville Community Historical Society has little physical space, other than a room at the senior center and a refurbished caboose to act as a museum. Despite their decentralized storage, they hold and preserve items such as uniforms and clothing, furniture, farm implements, bedding, an old sewing machine, and tobacco stencils. They also possess physical materials such as books and ledgers, old newspapers, newspaper clippings, photographs, old year books, and maps.

Within their digital holdings, the Wentzville Community Historical Society maintains 1000 to 2000 digital images, mostly scans from collections within the Society’s holdings or photographs that, once scanned, were returned to their donors.  Although their digital holdings currently only contain photographs, they would like to expand their collections to include digital images of their museum objects and collect oral histories from the senior members of their small, but growing community.  Once they have expanded and organized their digital collections, they would like to provide their members with easy access to the materials while also restricting non-member use.

In April 2013, the National Digital Stewardship Alliance created the Levels of Digital Preservation, “a set of recommendations for how organizations should begin to build or enhance their digital preservation activities” (https://ndsa.org//activities/levels-of-digital-preservation/). Within these levels, issues regarding Storage and Geographic Location, File Fixity and Data Integrity, Information Security, Metadata, and File Formats are addressed at four different levels subtitled: Protect your data, Know your data, Monitor your data, and Repair your data.  The NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation suggest simple and complex options on how to best preserve your digital holdings at each level. Presently, the Wentzville Community Historical Society is barely meeting level one for each of the areas, but can take some minimal, and cheap, steps to improve their digital preservation practices.

Storage and Geographic Location

Currently, the Wentzville Community Historical Society stores their digital materials on two laptops and a jump drive; however, not all of their materials have copies and some are only stored on a single laptop.  In April 2018, the Society began using Past Perfect to organize their digital holdings. Of the 1000-2000 photographs that have been scanned, about 400 have been entered into the system. Because there is a high risk of a laptop failing, it is important to create a centralized location for the digital objects and create multiple copies of all of the files.

At a minimum, the Society should congregate all of their digital materials into a central system, for example a local server, perhaps one of their current laptops, in addition to their Past Perfect system.  They should then make at least two copies of their items and store those copies on two external hard drives (each costing between $30.00 and $60.00). One of the hard drives may remain with the materials, but the other should be taken to a different location, i.e. a safe at the president’s house, the local library, or any other safe area not with the collections. These changes would satisfy level one of the NDSA’s levels of Digital Preservation.

Once those copies are secured, the Society could boost their storage security by uploading all of their files to an online server such as Google Drive. Google Drive offers 15 GB of free storage with a normal gmail account. If, or when there is need for more storage, Google can upgrade to 100 GB for $20.00 a year or 200 GB for $30.00 a year.  By placing a copy of their digital materials on Google Drive, they have diversified their disaster locations as addressed in level two of NDSA’s recommendations. Google Drive offers the Society to maintain intellectual and physical control over their materials. If they wish to share their content without cost to users, they could also explore Wikimedia Commons or the Internet archive, free online content management systems, however, the Society would no longer be able to charge patrons for use of their materials.

Lastly, if the Society has accomplished the previously mentioned suggestions, they could advance their geographic location and storage by sending a copy of their collections to a fellow historical society in another disaster area, such as the east or west coast, or they could enroll with the local Missouri DPLA hub, a state-based conglomerate of the Digital Public Library of America.  This organization would allow for safe storage, but may reduce the amount of intellectual control the Society has over the digital materials it shares with the hub. For more information on the Missouri DPLA hub visit, https://dp.la/search?partner%5B%5D=Missouri+Hub.

File Fixity and Data Integrity

File fixity refers to the stability of the digital object and maintaining non-corrupt forms.  To date, it is unclear if there has been any practice on checking file fixity because of the disarray of the digital collections and the changes in presidencies within the Wentzville Community Historical Society. Despite the intimidation of file fixity, small, normalized steps can improve this aspect of digital preservation.  

On the most basic level, the Society could ensure file fixity by scheduling quarterly quality checks for all of their materials. The checks would include recording the current amount of files then verifying that the number of files remains the same with every new check.  For example, if there were 4 files in folder X in December 2018, there are still 4 files in folder X in March 2019. Despite the use of Past Perfect, it is important to check the amount of files to ensure that something was not accidentally or maliciously deleted.

In addition to scheduling file size checks, the Society could also include the use of a fixity website such as www.weareavp.com to check cryptographic hashes in bulk.  For this process, files would need to be uploaded into the online software and their hashes (a long string of identifying numbers and letters) should be recorded. When checking the hashes at a future date, the same files should be uploaded and the “new” hashes should be verified to match the previously recorded identifier.

Lastly, to reach the highest level suggested by the NDSA, after completing the previous suggestions, they could use a virus scanning software to ensure that their files are not corrupted or carrying malicious malware.  Also, they can create and maintain a log to track all of their fixity checks, hashes, file numbers, and other information to maintain their data’s integrity.

Information Security

Similar to file fixity and data integrity, information security helps to prevent loss of information from both accidents, malicious attacks or bit rot.  It is also something that the Wentzville Community Historical Society is not particularly tracking. In order to reach level one on the NDSA’s Levels of Preservation, the Society should identify and create a precedent for who has access to files. By creating a hierarchy for who can read, write, move and delete digital objects, they can secure their materials and prevent an untrained volunteer from accidentally deleting something.  They should also identify who has the authority to enter the information into Past Perfect to protect the integrity of the image and the accompanying metadata to prevent misinterpretations and false labels. They could take this a step further, and reach level three by logging who makes changes and when those changes are made. Logged tasks should include movement of files, deletion of files, and any further preservation actions. Eventually, once the previous steps have been taken, the Society could reach level four by auditing those logs every quarter to track who has made changes to materials, what types of changes are regularly occurring, and to ensure that all materials are still available and accessible.

Metadata

According to the current President of the Society, collections metadata is severely lacking overall.  For the 400 items that have been entered into Past Perfect, there is little information on the who, what, when or where of the photographs. Donor records were minimally kept, if kept at all. However, any information that the Society does have on the records has been entered into Past Perfect.  

An important first step for this area is to create an inventory of all the digital objects that notes their digital location and includes any information, or links to information, on that object.  An Excel spreadsheet with various column heading such as image title, location, donor, who, where, date, and event could be helpful in creating this inventory. Although this is time consuming, it will help to organize the important contextual information that is necessary for identifying materials and what they represent. Using Past Perfect is also a good way to keep the known metadata with the object; however, until all items are entered into Past Perfect, it is helpful to know what the Society has and where it is located.

After an inventory is created, it would benefit current and future caretakers within the Society to log administrative and transformative metadata about the materials. Administrative metadata could include more detailed information on donors and who accepted the donation or made a purchase.  Transformative metadata would track where the information and objects were stored and any changes that were made to them. At this point, the Society could reach level two for NDSA’s recommendations for metadata.

To reach level three or four, the Society could include in their spreadsheet or Past Perfect entries the technical and preservation metadata.  Technical metadata would include file formats, and picture size and resolution. Preservation metadata would include any issues that may occur in maintaining a usable copy of the digital object.  Whatever level the Society chooses to reach, a backup of the metadata should be made and stored with the collections and on their various storage systems (hard drives/Google Drive).

File Formats
Because most of the digital materials the Society currently has are scans of photographs, there is already a limited amount of file formats used for collections.  However, to solidify the first level of NDSA’s recommendations, the Society should encourage their patrons to submit or volunteers to save images and other digital materials in specific and limited formats such as jpegs, tiffs, .doc, or mp3 and mp4. With the addition of oral histories, specifying and committing to a singular file format will help make maintenance of the files easier and manageable. To enforce this, the Society should consider creating a donation policy that volunteers and donors can reference.

In addition to formalizing their accepted formats, the Society could also create an inventory of the types of formats that they already have. This could simply be an extra column in their excel inventory or a required field in their Past Perfect record. Lastly, to reach level three and four, the Society should monitor their inventory for any formats that may have become obsolete and migrate those files to a better format.  Review of the formats should be done annually unless all of the formats are the same.

Conclusion

Overall, the Wentzville Community Historical Society has a lot of digital preservation issues that should be dealt with quickly. However, the most important steps to take are making copies of their collections and diversifying how they are stored (i.e. external hard drive, Google Drive).  An inventory of their digital holdings would also benefit the society as it would identify what they have, how much they have, and what can be accomplished quickly and efficiently. While many of the above recommendations will help maintain intellectual control over their collections and prevent further preservation issues, the Wentzville Community Historical Society should do what they think is best for their collections within their tight budget and small volunteer work force.

One Reply to “Next Steps for Wentzville Community Historical Society”

  1. Great work! As you suggest, it’s really critical for them to start by getting a centralized and organized copy of all of their content so that they can start to replicate and then check full copies of their content. Throughout the document you make suggestions that would both significantly reduce risks of loss and which aren’t particularly expensive. You make some nice and practical suggestions for how to address fixity. Given that their holdings are not particularly large, there is a good chance that they could manage copies of them in a small number of directories and run the AVP fixity tool against them on fixed intervals to confirm that they have what they think they have. With that noted, given the relatively small number of files they are working with, it would also likely be sufficient to go with your other recommendation of just keeping track of expected file size and file count.

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