The results of this overview were generated from a survey given to the Old Trails Museum’s director as well as follow-up e-mails clarifying specific points. Its purpose is to help establish the institution’s current digital collection practices, concerns, and goals in order to develop a digital preservation plan and set of policies tailored to the Museum’s unique needs.
Located in northeastern Arizona, the Winslow Historical Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting information and artifacts related to its community history and culture. The Historical Society was established as an independent organization in 1997. It owns and maintains the Old Trails Museum (from here out referred to as OTM), an educational institution meant to foster community engagement with and exploration of local history. Located near a historic transportation hub, the Museum is home to a series of diverse collections. These include histories related to U.S. Route 66, the Hopi, Laguna, and Navajo people, the Mormons’ Brigham City, and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The Museum also collects items and histories related to former residents, community businesses, and local institutions, making it a significant local source for genealogical research.
The Historical Society is governed by a Board of Directors and operates under the direction of a part-time director and part-time associate. One of the major challenges facing the institution is the lack of arrangement in their holdings. The Museum’s current priority is to develop and enact a collections management policy to better maintain intellectual and physical control over their collections. Within the next year, they hope to finish creating and implementing their Collections Management Plan. Working with a digital preservation consultant will hopefully provide them an opportunity to build best practice digital preservation policies into their larger collection management plan.
“The purpose of the OTM Collections is to stimulate interest in and understanding of Winslow’s economic, political, and social development, as well as its relationship to the region, state, and nation as a whole. OTM will accept materials from the time period immediately preceding Winslow’s founding through the present day, and from Winslow’s municipal boundaries and the surrounding areas. In addition, the OTM Archives include materials on the history of the museum itself and its activities and programs.” (Provided by Museum Director)
Institutional Goals for Digital Collections
Creating, managing, and enabling access for digital materials is a high-level priority for OTM. After their Collections Management Plan has been adopted, OTM will then work on creating metadata for upload into PastPerfect and PastPerfect Online. PastPerfect is a collections management software system popular among small and medium-sized cultural institutions. PastPerfect Online is the public facing component to this system that enables catalog sharing and searching.
The Museum has three specific goals for its digital content management practices:
- Maintain best practices for digital image scanning, preservation, and storage
- Maintain best practices for digital document scanning, preservation and storage (including converting and grouping multiple JPEGs into one PDF)
- Maintain best practices for digital audio creation, conversion (if needed), preservation and storage
These goals are largely format driven and reflect the OTM’s plan to continue collecting and preserving objects of these types.
Overview of Digital Collections and Management Strategies
Currently, OTM holds a significant amount of digital content in the form of documents, images, audio files, and webpages. The documents number approximately 5,000 and include Word documents (Office Suite 2007)., PDFs, and scanned JPEGs. The Museum also has an estimated 10,000 images scanned as JPEGs or TIFFs and around 300 oral history audio files saved as MP3s. The JPEGs and TIFFs were created using Adobe Photoshop CS2 9.0. OTM is currently archiving WordPress pages from the OTM website as PDFs, which number around 200. These files were recently converted to the latest version. There are two clear branches within the Museum’s digital content: items digitized to further accessibility and born-digital objects mostly related to the OTM’s history and activities (with the oral histories as a notable exception). Differentiating between the two types of content will help guide preservation decisions by determining the level of adherence needed to file formats to preserve contextual information embedded in the object. It will also be important for determining static files and active files, which may need different preservation policies.
Not all digitized or digital objects are owned by the Museum, which means that attention should be paid to potential conflicts related to intellectual property, copyright, or other ownership questions.
There are currently two copies of each digital object in OTM’s collection. One is housed on the Museum’s desktop and the other is protected in a cloud-based storage provided by Carbonite. The desktop is an HP running a Windows 7 operating system. The OTM desktop is stored in a locked building with an alarm system. It is password protected and access is limited to the director, associate, and collections volunteers. Once the digital catalog is online, the Museum will continue to limit access to the original copies on the desktop. Carbonite is a cybersecurity company specializing in data protection. It provides automated back-up services to a cloud storage system. Carbonite users have the option of allowing the software to automatically save which files it deems important or to manually input those settings. The platform seems well-suited to OTM’s needs as it will automatically save user-created files such as word documents, PDFs, music files, PowerPoints, and more. However, the software defined saving system only backs-up files in the C:\ drive and won’t save files over 4GBs in size. Thus, the Museum will need to ensure that all the files they want saved are located in the proper place if they use automatic back-up. Access to the Carbonite files are also password protected and encrypted using a 128 bit encryption.
OTM’s desktop is monitored by AVG antivirus but there is currently no system for documenting and checking file fixity for possible corruption. Similarly, because the Museum is in the process of arranging and creating metadata for its collections, there is no overarching inventory for its digital content, though some portions have been completed and are stored on the desktop and through Carbonite.
The Museum has a distinct advantage in that it generates most of its own digital content through digitization efforts and its own administrative records. This means that the staff can be proactive in the type of file formats they employ including limiting it to a select few.
Mapping the OTM’s current digital preservation strategies to the NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation helps to structure the survey results against standardized and certified best practices for digital preservation and provides a roadmap for future actions. This exercise revealed that the OTM is currently meeting one of the five platforms for sound digital preservation at the first level. Having two copies, non-collocated and getting digital materials off of mixed media is an essential first step to good preservation which the institution has already met. In addition, while the Museum doesn’t meet the exact definition for basic levels of information security and file formats, they do have basic security practices in place and have some flexibility as to determining what types of file formats will be used. Creating policies and documentation will be two of the most important next steps in these areas.
File fixity and metadata are the weakest categories for the Museum. Part of this will hopefully be strengthened as the institution creates PastPerfect records for its content. Checking fixity will most likely require the implementation of new tools as well as the creation of policies and processes for documentation.
OTM has a number of resources that can be brought to bear on their digital preservation efforts. As mentioned in the institutional overview, they have two paid staff members, a director (who works twenty-eight hours a week) and an associate (who works eight). Though their current digital work is aimed at the digitization of analog records and the creation of metadata, some of their time may be redirected towards digital preservation needs. In addition, the Museum has a volunteer network, some of whom have expressed interest in working with the oral histories collection.
The Museum has a dedicated budget of $500 for computer maintenance and $1,000 for archival equipment and supplies. There is also room in the budget for use of some discretionary funds.
Finally, OTM has access to the software platforms Carbonite and PastPerfect. Carbonite is already providing a layer of additional storage and security, but it could also be useful for maintaining data integrity. The software regularly runs data integrity checks and compares the files in cloud storage with the original files on the adjoining computer. In addition, the software’s restore file function provides basic information about file count and size that could prove useful as checks for restored files. While PastPerfect records are still in progress for the Museum, the software could aid in producing inventories of digital content as well as be a management platform for collecting descriptive metadata. Though the Museum is planning on creating one file for analog materials with digitized content, these records could provide a base-level inventory of digitized content that could be added to with more specific information such as storage location.
This survey has provided a basic overview of the Old Trail Museum’s current digital holdings, their preservation strategies, and their goals for the future. The Museum is off to a good start in their current storage strategies and in the level of information security they provide. Their major challenge moving forward will be to create better documentation of their content and preservation policies. Using the data generated by this report, the next step will be to identify immediate preservation actions the Museum can take to bolster their digital collections.