Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) Next Steps

Organization

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 Archives Project “About” page) As I wrote in the survey, CoCA’s main preservation issues stem from the fact that they have no regular, paid archives staff, which poses challenges when it comes to what the organization has the time and budget to implement. On the positive side, the digital collections are relatively small, and well-cataloged.

This next steps evaluation will establish danger areas for CoCA’s digital collections and provide suggestions at varying levels of sophistication and resources needed. I measured resources needed mainly by time estimated to complete, as time to do digital preservation is the most precious resource in CoCA’s situation.

A digital preservation policy for CoCA will need to be flexible enough to be practical for a small organization with very limited staff, but provide enough information and sources to aid archival consultants and interns as they try to effectively steward the CoCA Archives Project.

Storage and Geographic Location

NDSA Level: 1

Description: 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 yet.

Low resource recommendation: Identify external media that has not yet been looked at or digitized; for the formats that can be read by CoCA owned machines, download content and add to stable, centralized storage. Make a list (including any information written on the exterior of the floppy disk etc.) of external media types that CoCA does not have a drive for, with an eye towards exploring how these can be read and converted at a later date (potentially as a grant-funded project).

Medium resource recommendation: Explore options of converting external media not able to be read/accessed by CoCA computers. Compile documentation about storage systems, mediums, and locations of all digital objects. Verify that each digital object has a minimum of two copies stored in different locations, and explore possibilities for third copy of objects.

High resource recommendation: Explore another cloud storage option that is not Google Drive, potentially something with version control (especially for the born-digital administrative files and current documentation of exhibitions), such as Dropbox or Box. Potentially create third copy of each digital object to be stored in a different location/medium. Look into establishing a partnership with another organization to store backup files.

File Fixity and Data Integrity

NDSA Level: Below 1

Description: Fixity has not yet been actively addressed. 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.

Low resource recommendation: Create an internal document/spreadsheet that lists file inventory, current location, and file size. Check file sizes by folder every few months or when moving location or storage system to monitor for any changes, which would indicate problems.

Medium and high resource recommendation: Begin to generate MD-5, SHA-1, or SHA-256 cryptographic hashes to generate fixity information for existing and newly created digital objects in the archives. AVP’s Fixity tool is an excellent choice for this, as it is a free service that will email a report on file changes.

Information Security

NDSA Level: Below 1

Description: 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.

Low resource recommendation: Determine who should have access to storage and software of digital collections, and restrict Google Drive, TinyCat, and Weebly logins to that list.

Medium and high resource recommendation: Evaluate computers used by CoCA staff, consultants, and volunteers. What machines are owned by CoCA, and what information is stored on personal computers? Given the nature of the organization, limiting volunteers using personal computers may not be practical, but having a list of who is doing what work on what machine or platform can provide more information to evaluate security risks.

Metadata

NDSA Level: 2-ish

Description: 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.

Low resource recommendation: Add 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.

Medium resource recommendation: Establish documentation on digitization and descriptive metadata in order to aid in standardization. Store transformative metadata on digitization within TinyCat records.

High resource recommendation: CoCA may want to look into a more robust content management system, which could aid in uniformity of metadata and allow for growth of collections in the future. However, TinyCat seems perfectly adequate for CoCA’s current and near future activity, so I would not recommend considering a CMS change and migration unless the organization significantly expands.

File Formats

NDSA Level: 2

Description: CoCA’s digital archival holdings are primarily digitized from physical holdings, so 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 policy on acceptable formats is likely to be helpful on this front.

Low resource recommendation: Place inventory lists of existing file formats into documentation for future archival staff, volunteers, and interns.

Medium resource recommendation: Establish preferred formats list with a particular eye to born-digital material and share this list with CoCA’s executive director, board, and other departments’ volunteers to aid in documenting and transferring that future documentation of exhibitions to the archives. Identify file formats in the archives that are in danger of obsolesce.

High resource recommendation: Begin format migration for materials on the danger-of-obsolesce list.

Conclusion

CoCA’s Archive Project benefits from knowledgeable and passionate consultants and volunteers, but the lack of regular funding makes it difficult to plan for a sustainable future. However, there are several low resource baseline steps that archival consultants and interns can take on to help secure digital collections and plan for their continued preservation.

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