This plan document digital preservations challenges and plans for the Center on Contemporary Art’s Archives Project. Since the Archives Project was founded in 2013, the team of archival consultants and volunteers have taken great strides in organizing the physical archival holdings of CoCA, and digitizing a portion of those holdings.
The objectives of this policy are:
- To document the need for digital preservation at CoCA.
- Define the scope of digital collections at CoCA.
- Outline some of the principles behind preservation actions.
- Make priority recommendations for digital preservation actions CoCA can take in the near future, as well as for the long-term.
- Establish a regular schedule of review for this policy.
This policy plan has been crafted in December 2018 by digital preservation consultant Caitlin Christian-Lamb, with assistance from Anna H. and Staci C.
Mission and Mandate
The Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) is a small non-profit art gallery in Seattle, Washington, founded in 1980 with “the intention to foment and create contemporary art in Seattle.”
CoCA’s mission states that the center: “serves the Pacific Northwest as a catalyst and forum for the advancement, development, and understanding of Contemporary Art.” Further, according to their purpose statement, CoCA “is a space for creative expression, community and inclusivity in contemporary art.” CoCA’s Archives Project has an in-house, unofficial tagline of “preserve, catalog and share our unique collection of archival materials.”
The CoCA Archives Project was founded in 2013 by Anna H., who served as the project lead until 2018 and now serves in a volunteer advisory role. CoCA’s digital archives are the public-facing, digital side of the total archives project. Digital preservation is a key part of fulfilling CoCA’s mission of serving as a space and an organization that fosters contemporary art, and the digitized archival material that documents exhibitions particularly aids in this mission.
Preservation is not a one-time activity, but rather a series of maintenance actions over time. Using the Digital Curation Centre’s Curation Lifecycle model, we can identify several stages applicable to CoCA’s digital archival collections:
- Create or receive: As digital content is created, administrative, descriptive, structural and technical metadata about the objects should be captured or created. Rights information should be noted, as applicable.
- Appraisal or selection: Selecting objects for digitization, or born-digital objects for capture, will be done by archival consultants, volunteers, and interns.
- Ingest: Ingesting digital objects into the cataloging software (LibraryThing’s TinyCat system) will follow the pattern set by existing digital objects by hand-keying Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) terms (TinyCat automatically creates MARC records for each object).
- Preservation action: Several different types of maintenance might be needed, depending on the object and/or collection. The DCC notes that “Preservation actions should ensure that data remains authentic, reliable and usable while maintaining its integrity,” which can include data cleaning, validation, recording preservation metadata, and ensuring acceptable data structures or file formats.”
- Transform or migrate: As technology advances, some formats, software, hardware will change, become incompatible, or obsolete. In order to ensure long-term access to digital objects, CoCA archives consultants, volunteers, and interns will need evaluate when objects in their collection need to be migrated to new formats and check that programs and external hardware can still be read by machines in use at the CoCA.
- Access, use, and reuse: The primary reason for preservation is for future use, and with this in mind, CoCA staff need to ensure that digital objects in their remit are discoverable. The TinyCat catalog that is currently in use, as well as the archives collection finding aid, and pointers on the Archives Project website serve this purpose.
- Reappraisal and disposal: Digital objects in CoCA collections should be periodically reappraised to make sure the organization’s limited resources are in line with the existing Materials Donation Policy.
Scope and Content Types
Physical holdings of CoCA’s archives are comprised of records and images documenting the over 200 major exhibitions held at the gallery, as well documents related to the internal organization of CoCA (founding documents, bylaws etc.), 40-60 bankers boxes, 4000 slides, 125 posters, and approximately 500 articles and reviews.
In late 2018, digital collections comprise roughly 300 items, organized into 31 online exhibitions. CoCA’s VHS collection was recently digitized; there have been three separate digitization projects, resulting in 80% of the poster holdings, 100% of video holdings, and a small portion of newsletter holdings being digitized.
CoCA’s digital archival holdings are currently all digitized surrogates of analog material held in CoCA’s archives. Collecting born-digital objects will need to follow in the near future, as planning and documentation of exhibitions (as well as potential works of art) are being generated digitally first. Internal administrative files are similarly born-digital, and examination of which of these will be selected for inclusion in the archives will need to be a priority.
Formats in the digital collections currently include: PDF, DOC, PPT, CSV, TIFF, JPEG, PNG, GIF, MPEG, MOV, and MP3. CoCA’s Archives Project will continue to accept commonly used file formats.
Preservation Principles and Strategies
As CoCA is a small non-profit and the Archives Project does not have a regular budget, staff will focus on free or very low-cost subscription software and storage solutions. This needs to be balanced with reasonable-to-support-ness, as IT assistance is also extremely limited. CoCA’s use of TinyCat is one example of appropriate cost and ease-of-use; tools such as AVP’s Fixity is another.
Using the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA)’s Levels of Digital Preservation as a guide, CoCA’s Archives Project will aim for the following baselines:
While storage of digital objects is split between a local server maintained by the past board president, local computers, Google Drive, and external media, all digitized objects have copies stored on Google Drive and a hard drive backup. However, there are some floppy disks and other external media that may contain content that has not been transferred to computer/drive/HD backups as of late December 2018.
CoCA’s archives team will seek to identify external media that has not yet been looked at or digitized, and for the formats that can be read by CoCA owned machines, download content and add to stable, centralized storage. A list of any external media types that CoCA does not have a drive for will be generated, with an eye towards exploring how these can be read and converted at a later date.
File Fixity and Data Integrity
Fixity refers to the concept of checking that a file has not changed over time. Establishing data integrity will be an important step for CoCA to ensure that their digital files are unchanged. One of CoCA’s Archives Project’s advantages is that their archival consultant are very knowledgeable, and interns also come from the University of Washington’s iSchool. While time and money are challenges for CoCA, the archivist volunteers and interns are creative and often have knowledge of digital preservation.
Archives consultants, volunteers, and interns will seek to create an internal document or spreadsheet that lists a file inventory, current location, and file size. A first step towards fixity will include check file sizes by folder every few months or when moving location or storage system to monitor for any changes.
Access to files is not restricted at this point, and IT assistance is sometimes provided by friends or partners of volunteers and interns, which could lead to security concerns or accidental modification or deletion of files.
CoCA staff will determine who should have access to storage and software of digital collections, and restrict Google Drive, TinyCat, and Weebly logins to that list; however, given the nature of small arts organizations, IT assistance will still be sought were it can be found.
CoCA’s Archives Project has a detailed finding aid that covers the full archives collection of the organization, including exhibition-related materials and organizational files. Digitized materials, available through TinyCat, have well-formed MARC records and organized by related exhibition as well as through keyword search.
Future steps to improve metadata for digital objects will include adding information on which materials have been digitized (including file formats, when appropriate) to the finding aid for the archival collections, to aid in identifying existing digital materials, their place within the larger collection, and what materials will be prioritized for upcoming digitization projects.
Since CoCA’s digital archival holdings are primarily digitized from physical holdings, archival consultants and interns have been able to control file formats. An rough inventory of all file formats currently in the collections already exists. New incoming material documenting exhibitions is likely to be born-digital (photographs, documents), so establishing standardized list of acceptable formats is likely to be helpful on this front.
Roles and Responsibilities
CoCA has one full-time, salaried employee, the Executive and Artistic Director, Nicole DeMent. The organization also has a working board of directors, comprised of seven individuals, who aid in aspects of daily work in addition to fiscal and governance responsibilities. CoCA also has a dedicated team of volunteers.
CoCA’s Archives Project was conceived by and operated by volunteers and interns, some of whom received stipends through grant funding that has now ended. Consulting archivists and interns, both unpaid, are responsible for the stewardship of digital archival collections. In the future, ways of securing more sustainable stewardship, such as additional grant funding to again pay stipends, should be prioritized in order to ensure that archives consultants, volunteers, and interns are able to dedicate sufficient time to preservation activities.
Stakeholders for digital preservation at CoCA include all of the roles listed above: archives consultants, volunteers, and interns; the Executive and Artistic Director; the board of directors; and the other interns and volunteers working in other units of the organization.
Audiences for digital archival materials include: all stakeholders; artists whose work has been exhibited at CoCA; Seattle and the broader Pacific Northwest community; those interested in the local arts scene of Seattle; and contemporary artists and scholars of contemporary art.
CoCA’s Archives Project faces many challenges in attempting to preserve and share the history of this small arts organization. To begin with, regular staffing of the archives has been inconsistent – the establishment and maintenances of the Archives Project was driven by consultants, volunteers, and interns who are not regular employees of CoCA. This staffing model does not lend itself to sustainability, so CoCA’s board of directors may want to consider what the exit policy for the archival material would be, should a day come when CoCA cannot store or maintain these materials. One viable option is to form a partnership with area institutions like the University of Washington or Seattle Public Library, in order to provide a repository-of-last-resort relationship should CoCA no longer be able to steward their own archives.
The nature of small non-profit arts organization does not lend itself well to longevity of digital materials that need periodic maintenance, and the lack of permanent archival staff and the nature of the archives’ physical storage space also provides a challenge. However, despite lack of regular funding lines, permanent staff, and a less-than-ideal workspace, CoCA’s Archives Project team have made significant steps in organizing and making available the unique content they steward. Solutions can be found, and grant funding can again be sought to provide some stability.
Maintenance of Digital Preservation Policy
This plan will be revisited and updated or reaffirmed every three years. The next review date will be December 2021.