Old Trail Museum: Next Steps Preservation Strategy

Introduction

This document outlines next step practices in digital preservation for the Old Trail Museum (OTM). The results are based on the survey completed in October 2018 on OTM’s digital content, preservation goals, and resources. The document moves through three levels: immediate actions, midterm actions, and long term actions with suggestions related to each of the five preservation categories in NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation. Each action includes a summary statement, an estimated resources expenditure in time, skills, and cost, an estimated impact value (low, medium, and high), and a list of steps and suggestions for completing each action. There is also a list of additional resources for further information on digital preservation.

Immediate Steps

Metadata: Creating some form of an inventory for OTM’s digital content is the most pressing preservation need for the institution. Having a working inventory will help maintain physical and intellectual control over the collection and it will aid in the collection of administrative and descriptive metadata. At this stage, I would focus on creating a preliminary inventory which would give you the bare necessities to manage your collection with the idea of leveraging it as a starting point as you work on your PastPerfect records.

Resources: High staff time, low technical skills, no cost

Impact: High value

  1. Create a basic inventory of digital content
    1. OTM has a lot of digital objects so determine a reasonable level to work at to collect information that will yield useful information without being too time-consuming (i.e. consider working at the folder-level rather than file)
    2. Consider how you might separate active and static files in your inventory. Since OTM has a significant amount of digital content related to its own history and activities, presumably some of these files are still in regular use.
    3. Think about any differences in access systems you intend for your digital content. Will all material be in PastPerfect or used as a corollary to that system? Will some material be presented online through the museum’s website? Keep these questions in mind as you do an initial sort through your digital records.
      1. Points B & C will be further developed in OTM’s Digital Preservation Policy Statement
    4. Leverage metadata in current file systems to make an initial inventory in Excel covering the following points: title (subject matter), amount of material, formats of objects (JPEG, MP3, etc.), storage location, access restrictions (copyright, privacy issues)
      1. Tip: Using the properties feature (right-click on PCs) to pull quick information on storage location and amount of materials
      2. Obtaining a file count can also work as a low-level tracker of file fixity
    5. Store in two, non-collocated places (on the desktop and in Carbonite would work)

Information Security: OTM has good basic measures in place for ensuring their collections’ security. A useful next step would be to create written documentation determining authorization and access to files. Doing so will help prevent accidental erasure or overwriting.

Resources: Low staff time, low technical skills, no cost

Impact: Medium Value

  1. Determine and document who has authorization to access and edit files
    1. Since OTM’s computer is password protected some level of restriction already exists. Think about who has passwords and how they are given out to help develop your access document.
    2. Think about the level of access you want to provide to onsite researchers and visitors as well as who will be working with the records within the institution
    3. Circulate the memo among staff and volunteers. Make sure researchers and visitors are aware of access limitations.
  2. You can leverage this document when you begin work on PastPerfect records. PastPerfect has a security feature that you can set up to limit access across ten user groups.
    1. Here is a link to a webinar describing how security features work in the software
    2. Here is a link to a worksheet outlining PastPerfect’s ten user groups. This may be helpful to work from when designing your own access document.

File Formats: Maintaining a set list of acceptable file formats for created and accessioned digital content aids in digital preservation by limiting the introduction of unusual or unstable file types that will require migration or the maintenance of certain types of hardware or software environments. While there are a number of factors to consider when determining what file formats to choose, a good rule of thumb is to consider how widely the format has been adopted before including it as an acceptable type. Currently, OTM is using Word Docx, PDFs, MP3s, JPEGs, and TIFFs. Decisions made in this step can also be folded into OTM’s preservation policy statement.

Resources: Medium staff time, medium technical skills (for evaluating file types), no cost

Impact: High value

  1. Explore and compile a set list of acceptable file formats for OTM to employ in their digital content
  2. Factors to consider:
    1. Disclosure: how available are the technical specifications and tools for understanding how the file operates?
    2. Adoption: how widely used is the file format?
    3. Transparency: how easy is it to find the structure of information inside a file?
    4. Self-Documenting: how easy is it to locate and pull metadata from the file format?
    5. External Dependencies: does the file format need a specific type of hardware or software to run?
    6. Patents: will licensing for the file format impact OTM’s ability to use it?
    7. Technical Protection Mechanisms: will things like encryption limit OTM’s ability to access the file?
  3. Resources:
    1. The Library of Congress has a great review of the sustainability of digital file formats: https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/formats/index.html. You can get more information about the sustainability factors here as well as an evaluation of different types of file formats by content (i.e. sound, textual, images, etc.)
  4. Review OTM’s current file formats against your list of acceptable file formats
    1. In my opinion, OTM is secure in sticking with PDFs, MP3s, JPEGs, and TIFFs as their core file formats. These formats are widely adopted, which means that support structures for accessing them are likely to remain available. Deciding between JPEGs and TIFFs for image formats is really dependent on what OTM would like to do with them. From what I understand, TIFF produces better quality digital images, but JPEG uses a smaller file size and is more widely supported than TIFF (This article has a useful comparison chart on the two types). OTM should weigh these factors when deciding which type of file format to employ.
    2. I would recommend that OTM export Word Docx to PDFs for long-term preservation since Word Docx is dependent on Microsoft Word software to open.

Midterm Steps

Information Security: A second layer step to improve information security at OTM is to document digital content access restrictions. This step has two parts. The first is similar to the inventory creation and can be folded into that process. Basically, it helps identify any issues to access, such as copyright status or privacy concerns, that may impact how freely the content should be displayed and to whom. The second part entails altering permissions for files at risk for tampering or with high value content.

Resources: Medium staff time, low technical skills, no cost

Impact: Medium value

  1. Review OTM’s digital objects inventory for content with access restrictions
  2. Compile a list of content with access restrictions
  3. Ensure that access-restricted digital content is suitably protected from public use
  4. Review digital content to identify files with high value content or that may be unintentionally edited
  5. Change file permissions accordingly using the security tab under properties
    1. This article has a good overview of what the different permission mean

Storage Systems: Document your storage system, media and what is needed to use them. What would happen to your digital content if your administrator and main staff members were not around to tend it? Would others be able to access and manage your storage system? This step ensures that basic information about OTM’s storage processes are intact for future use.   

Resources: Medium staff time, low technical skills, no cost

Impact: Medium value

  1. Think about your desktop environment. What is needed to access the files on your desktop? Document anything of import related to:
    1. Passwords needed to access the desktop
    2. Basic location of folders
      1. This information can be pulled from OTM’s inventory
    3. Any software needed to execute files
  2. Repeat the process for Carbonite. Include information about:
    1. Passwords for accessing Carbonite files
    2. What files are automatically synced for back-up/how often back-ups occur
    3. Any relevant information about Carbonite’s terms and conditions for use

Long Term Steps

File Fixity: Generating file fixity information helps to ensure data integrity across transfers and while in storage. Essentially, it is a way of proving that your digital objects are what you think they are. In cultural institutions, this is usually done through generating a checksum for a digital object and then checking the checksum string at fixed intervals to note any changes. This can be done in a number of ways but the easiest for OTM would be to use a third-party service. Through a bit more research, I learned that Carbonite does integrity checks on the objects in its storage. I’ve reached out to Carbonite to learn more about how the company runs fixity checks and if that information is available for customer review. They told me that Carbonite does generate hash values for files stored on their servers. These are compared to the files on the account’s linked computer and files that do not match the original ones are replaced in Carbonite. For privacy and security reasons, they were not able to provide me with any more details about how often these checks are run and if customers could access the results of these tests. However, I am confident that Carbonite’s services will serve as a suitable fixity check for OTM for the immediate future. I’ve included resources on how to conduct fixity checks if the Museum has the resources down the road to start to generate their own fixity information or if they decided to migrate away from Carbonite’s services.

Resources: High staff time (at least until you get used to the process), medium technical skills, no cost

Impact: High value

  1. Consider generating your own fixity information using a third-party tool. My suggestions for OTM are:
    1. QuickHash
      1. This is an open source fixity tool. It is compatible with a Windows operating system and is regularly updated. I found the user interface to be relatively intuitive and I like that you can generate fixity information at multiple levels (text, single files, multiple files, etc.) The drawback to this tool is that fixity information needs to be saved by the user in a separate text editor. There is a copy/paste feature that allows you to pull fixity information easily, but I don’t think the tool itself stores this information for future checks, which could make the comparison process tedious.
      2. Resources:
        1. Intro tutorial
        2. User Guide
    2. AVP Fixity
      1. Free software program that generates and monitors fixity information. It, too, is Windows compatible and has an intuitive user-interface. What I like about this program is that it has the option to email fixity reports to the user when errors have been detected and there is a lot of flexibility in deciding when and how often the fixity reports will be generated. It also stores the reports from fixity checks and these are readily available through the tool.
      2. Resources
        1. Fixity Tool Webinar
    3. Resources:
      1. NDSA: What is Fixity, and When Should I be Checking It? Great high-level overview about what fixity is and how it operates in cultural heritage institutions
    4. Create fixity information for digital objects upon accession
      1. Planning to bring digital content into your storage system from an outside source? Ask for fixity information from your donor or generate it yourself upon ingest.

Metadata: Long term, it will be useful to think about how OTM can use PastPerfect records to include information about digital content. PastPerfect has an oral histories category under its Archive database that will be useful for creating and storing information about these digital objects. Based on our previous conversations, I’m assuming that OTM is planning on purchasing the MultiMedia upgrade to support their PastPerfect Online portal. This feature allows for the inclusion of digital assets with catalog records and has multiple fields for collecting metadata on digital objects. As these records are created, OTM can use their initial inventory as a starting point for metadata on these records.

Resources: High staff time, medium technical skills, cost of PastPerfect subscription (already factored into OTM’s planned budget)

Impact: High value

  1. Plan ways to integrate digital content inventory into PastPerfect records
    1. Use the oral histories category under Archives database to create more robust documentation of the oral histories collection
    2. If using the MultiMedia upgrade, include robust metadata on digital photographs
    3. As you create these records, think about capturing additional metadata in these records such as transformative metadata (anything that was done to the object to change it) and technical metadata (how, when the object was created, what was used to create it). Even if you decide not to include this information in your PastPerfect records, this process is a good time to beef up your initial digital content inventory.
  2. Plan how OTM will use the museum’s digital textual records. Many of these questions can be addressed in the digital preservation policy but they are important for understanding the inventory needs for your records. Some questions and points to consider are:
    1. Will these be available through PastPerfect?
    2. Will content be uploaded onto OTM’s website?
    3. Think about how you might expand upon some of the initial planning you did in this first metadata step.
    4. Consider what inventory might be needed to maintain a current log of this type of digital content.

Storage Systems: Create a third copy of digital content for storage in a unique geographic area. Two copies are great but three are better. Issues can arise with any seemingly secure storage system so creating another set of copies for storage away from existing copies ensures that the digital content will remain unaffected by natural disasters or freak events.

Resources: High staff time (to plan and consider options), medium technical skills, possible cost depending on option chosen

Impact: Medium value

  1. Create a third copy of OTM’s digital content and identify a storage location in a unique geographic area. Some storage options to consider are:
    1. Placement with a different cultural institution. Consider a swap with another historical society where you give them a drive with your digital content and they give you one with theirs
    2. Employ another third-party vendor
      1. For OTM’s current digital holdings, OneDrive and Google Drive will easily store digital content under their free offerings with room for a bit more. These free services might not remain so as the museum continues to increase their content, but they are both good starting options.
      2. Once it’s running, PastPerfect Online can provide another storage source for OTM.
        1. It appears that PastPerfect Online does not host multimedia audio or video files (for OTM MP3 files) with its basic hosting service. OTM could purchase the PPO Links service for additional server space or PastPerfect Online has the option of embedding audio/visual links into the records from a third-party site like SoundCloud. This second option will be cheaper for OTM but the Museum will want to ensure there are no access issues for these files before publishing them to the site.

Conclusion

Digital preservation is best thought of as an iterative process. Do what you can, when you can, with the resources you have available but always be looking for how you can improve your preservation status, integrate redundancies, and plan for changes in technology. Moving through each of these suggested steps will at least bring OTM to a Level 2 status in NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation, give it a solid infrastructure to build from, and position it to be a sustainable system in the future.

Additional Resources

Digital Preservation Step by Step

Provides step by step suggestions for moving through the NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation along with possible resources and tools

Library of Congress Blog

Protect Your Data: Information Security and the Boundaries of your Storage System

Useful overview on information security for digital preservation and what makes up a storage system

“Exposing Ourselves: A Case Study in Collection Management Software Implementation”

This article may be a little dated, but it details a university special collection’s experience with PastPerfect, including some of the issues they ran into and a few useful features of the software they found. It’s only seven pages and may be useful to skim.

One Reply to “Old Trail Museum: Next Steps Preservation Strategy”

  1. This is a well-structured and rather comprehensive set of recommendations. Overall, great work! It is clear that you have a nuanced understanding of the organizations content and collections and you have nicely helped prioritize their most pressing concerns and broken down steps for addressing those. It’s really essential for them to start with that inventory work and then build off of it with the other suggestions you have provided.

    I’m looking forward to reading your proposed policy document.

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