I have always found digital preservation to be a fascinating subject. I think it is because of my background in the fields of cataloging, historic preservation and IT troubleshooting. It may also be that I realize what a labor intensive activity creating digital files and metadata to accompany digital resources is, and what an incredible loss corruption or accidental deletion of data would be.
It is my personal observation that data preservation is often an afterthought of digital librarians. This is very hard to understand. The cost involved with metadata and digital files is very high. Why are we so passive about protecting them? Perhaps we are just too accustomed to paper books which, if stored in relatively stable climate conditions, will sit unharmed on a shelf for hundreds of years and still be retain their usefulness. I recently participated in an email exchange with Wendy Robertson, Institutional Repository & Metadata Librarian for The University of Iowa Libraries. I am currently serving on a state consortium task force that is looking to offer consortium level access to digital library software for our approximately 50 libraries. We are considering the repository platform Digital Commons by Bepress, and are concerned about what type of data preservation options would be available to our client libraries. Ms. Robertson was contacted as a user of Digital Commons. According to Ms. Robertson, Digital Commons requires an extra fee for preservation. Her files are all stored both in Digital Commons and on an Amazon server. Keeping the back-up set of data is of course an important start, but she remains concerned about the lack of “any kind of proper preservation with bit sums etc.” She hopes Amazon is helping to keep an eye on the data’s stability, but is unsure if this is part of the services they are receiving form them (W. Robertson, personal communication, November 9, 2018).
All this really got me thinking about what could help libraries like Robertson’s and our consortium members get a handle on the thorny issue of data preservation, and I began to wonder if the answer could be collaboration.
In late 2014, librarians from Montana State University, University of Montana, Montana Tech, and the Montana Historical Society identified a common need to develop digital preservation workflows at their respective institutions (Mannheimer and Cote, 2017, p. 4). After surveying the needs of each library, they determined requirements that would fulfill their institutional needs for data preservation these included bit-level integrity checks, geographic distribution of storage servers, the ability to access content and associated metadata (not a dark archive), system usability, ability to accommodate multiple administrators and multiple logins (p. 7). Based on this criteria they found four commercial preservation services that they thought would be worthy of investigating. They were Preservica, Rosetta, DuraCloud, and MetaArchive (p. 8). The group’s experience in collaboration not only led to cost savings, but serves as a model for institutions searching for help to resolve their preservation challenges in that members benefited from “shared knowledge and expertise gained during the partnership” (p. 1).
In 2003-2004 the Indiana State Library hosted a digital library summit. At this summit five goals were established by representatives from libraries around the state. These goals included the development of a statewide portal for access to participating institutions’ digital projects; providing educational opportunities to demonstrate best practices in digitization; offer a revenue for all cultural heritage institutions within state boundaries to participate; promote the use of said collections by educational institutions; and provide a digital preservation solution for existing and future digital collections (May, 2017, p. 223). The Indiana State Library created the Indiana Memory Project site which served as the statewide portal to create access to digital collections, but individual participating libraries remained responsible for storage and maintenance of their own digital files. Several years later the State Library awarded a Library Services Technology Act grant for the development of “a statewide, community based, collaborative approach to digital preservation” (p. 225). Member organizations split the cost of a collaborative membership in the MetaArchive Cooperative Preservation Network. The Indiana State Library functioned as the fiscal agent, and the Cunningham Memorial Library at Indiana State University served as the technical supervisor of the LOCKSS server.
Digitization Preservation at the collaborative level maybe a fairly new concept, but there are examples that can be followed. Commercial preservation organizations have been willing to work with collaborative groups made up of small and medium sized institutions. Perhaps most encouraging, these commercial organizations have been willing to make such relationships cost effective for such libraries. I think if libraries and cultural institutions are going to continue to ensure their relevance for the long-term future, it is time they start guaranteeing their resources will survive long term. It would be nice if a federal institution would contribute to meeting these challenges, but I don’t see this becoming a priority in the current political environment. The next best thing may be the at the state consortium level.
Mannheimer, S., & Cote, C. (2017). Cultivate, access, advocate, implement, and sustain: a five-point plan for successful digital preservation collaborations. Digital Library Perspectives, 33 (2), 1-20. http://doi.org/10.1108/DLP-07-2016-0023
May, C.A. (2017). InDiPres: a statewide collaborative approach to digital preservation. Digital Library Perspectives, 33 (3), 221-230. http://doi.org/10.1108/DLP-08-2016-0035