WheatonArts and Cultural Center’s Digital Preservation Project: Policy

Introduction

WheatonArts and Cultural Center (WACC) doesn’t have a digital preservation policy apart from its general collections policy. Collecting, creating and preserving digital objects is intrinsic to the Center’s mission to “engage artists and audiences in an evolving exploration of creativity.” Patrons’ rising expectations of institutions’ digital presence mean that even well-established, and beloved, institutions must take digital collections and preservation seriously, in order to maintain, much less expand their reputations. Here’s a policy option for how WheatonArts might translate staff enthusiasm and commitment into consistent preservation action.

1) Responsibilities

The curatorial staff have expressed their commitment to and knowledge of digital preservation. This should be written into the formal job description of the Curatorial Assistant who has been digitizing the WACC archives. This change should include a time commitment of at least 4 hours per week, with flexibility to account for the current arrearage. Furthermore, the Curatorial Assistant should be entrusted with training and supervising interns and volunteers in digitization.

Administration should also guarantee technical support to the curatorial team. Information Technology staff (IT) should be responsible for reporting on backup schedules and details from the WheatonArts server to the NAS and cloud. Furthermore, IT must establish and maintain fixity information for all stored data on the server and the cloud and determine that all data is backed up and what files can subsequently be safely deleted from the server, while assuring that PastPerfect remains fully functional.* Curatorial staff should assist IT by regularly exporting and spot-checking files from the server, NAS, and if possible, cloud storage, for integrity.

*There is approximately 250 GB of potentially redundant data on the server at present. This must be addressed if digitization efforts are to continue in the near term.

2) Storage

The curatorial staff will be responsible for saving one copy of all preservation and access files to a portable hard drive and partnering with another institution (in a different geographic area with different disaster risks) for a data “swap,” wherein each institution agrees to secure the other’s hard drive against catastrophe at home. This would ideally be a reciprocal arrangement, but it needn’t be. Drives should be replaced, and files transferred to new drives, at least every two years.

If this is accomplished, along with maintaining copies on the server (for PastPerfect), the NAS and cloud backup, WheatonArts will have a minimum of four copies; not all collocated and not all in the same geographic area. If the registrar continues to maintain copies on her office desktop hard drive and on a portable hard drive that she takes home, that’s six copies and more than enough. Two sets of copies could safely be eliminated; perhaps the NAS copies and the registrar’s portable drive.

3) Integrity

IT will be responsible for running checksums and reporting on file fixity (or ensuring that this is done) on a schedule, on the server and in the cloud (see Responsibilities above). This information will be available to curatorial staff who will be responsible for establishing and maintaining file fixity information for the copies in their care (e.g., the registrar’s desktop hard drive and the portable drive to be swapped). In order to do this, staff will download and run AVP’s Fixity Utility.

4) Security

Curatorial staff and IT will limit personnel with edit/delete access to files as much as possible. Actions on files will be tracked and logged from creation (or ingest).

5) Metadata

Staff will continue to maintain inventories of digital objects and storage locations along with metadata not captured in PastPerfect. This will include fixity information and actions on files (see Integrity and Security above). These inventories should be backed up like the files they describe, with one copy included on the swapped hard drive.

6) Digitization and Formats

While WheatonArts cannot dictate file formats to artists, staff will stay educated about best practices and obsolescence risks. Object inventories will include file formats.

Currently, staff creates scans of archival materials at 300 PPI. Preservation and access files are TIFFs and JPEGs, respectively, sustainable practice for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

A policy like the one outlined here could be implemented rather quickly without expanded resources. In fact, it calls for some contraction (at least in the case of backup copies). Efforts are well under way at WheatonArts to collect and preserve digital objects. What is required of any institution is a paradigm shift from viewing organized digital preservation as a wishlist item to viewing it as a necessity. This policy draft, beginning with Responsibilities, suggests a way to codify that shift.

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