Digital Preservation in Art Museums

Digital preservation may sound like something that is second nature to archives, libraries, and museums these days. However, that’s not always the case. Preserving born-digital content is considered a must with the growing volume of digital records but it takes a lot of time, resources, and money. One article I read, “Better Together: A Holistic Approach to Creating a Digital Preservation Policy in an Art Museum” discusses how art museums lack the workflows when compared to libraries, archives, and other types of museums. Art museums often see digital artwork often but it is becoming more popular. When an art museum takes a digital record into their collection, they may not be prepared.

As the volume of digital art work increases, art museums have to discuss what digital preservation means to their institution. From preserving the file itself to the metadata and copyright restrictions it can be a lot to keep up with. It doesn’t help that most institutions don’t like to share their preservation workflows. In 2014, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) received a grant and chose to create a digital preservation policy that included all of the museum’s collections. The museum contains over 95,000 works of art ranging from 5th century mosaics to contemporary pieces. In order to start their initiative, they had to define digital preservation. They decided on a “combination of policies, strategies and actions to ensure access to and accurate rendering of authenticated reformatted and born digital content over time regardless of the challenges of media failure and technological change.”

When BMA got the grant, they decided to use the money to preserve the 5 most used collections that had already been digitized over the years. When beginning, the staff at the BMA reviewed the literature relating to digital preservation and then started to create their plans. Creating policies that fit their institution and piloting and perfecting workflows is the hardest part. I understand the challenge of digital preservation as its something we are trying to figure out in my current job. However, I do agree with the Baltimore Museum of Art’s take on it. Looking at your institution and fitting the program to your needs and budget is a must. Once you have your workflows down, it’ll be easy from there. However, there is something about digital preservation that worries me and that is the future of technology.

Technology has advanced more in the last 60 years than it has the entire time humans have walked the Earth, and that’s scary. While we are preserving photographs as TIFFs today, who is to say that won’t be the preferred method of storage in the future? Archiving paper is different from digital. You archive the physical records once and describe them once, maybe adding a few accruals here and there. Digital is a totally different beast. A good digital preservation plan will try and predict future trends as well as current standards.


O’Flaherty, E. (2018). Digital preservation for libraries, archives, and museums. ARCHIVES AND RECORDS-THE JOURNAL OF THE ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ASSOCIATION, 39(1), 94–97.

Rafferty, E., & Pad, B. (2017). Better Together: A Holistic Approach to Creating a Digital Preservation Policy in an Art Museum. Art Documentation: Bulletin of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 36(1), 149–162.


Using Metadata to Prove Authenticity

Digital is the way of the future. Many journal articles, photographs, and audio files never take on a physical form. All of these materials are considered digital objects and must be stored properly. Many people think that creating digital objects and storing them is easy. People have their own digital files on their personal computers and think it must be that easy for archives and museums to store their digital objects. They don’t realize that digital objects are at risk for loss, degradation and corruption and that there are standards for digital preservation (Hart, 24). One of the most important standards is a metadata standard.

For some background, metadata is “a set of data that provides information about other data” (Rouse, 1). There are a number of metadata fields that provide us with critical information about the record. A few example fields from the Dublin Core standard include creator, subject, date, description, format, and rights. When filled in, these fields provide us with the context and provenance in which the record was created (which is sometimes as important as the record itself). Hart discusses the importance of authenticity in his article Metadata Provenance and Vulnerability. He states that digital objects often go through multiple edits and it can be hard to determine which version is the “original.”

In a study, tests were performed to discover how vulnerable metadata can be in digital files that are subject to change. The tests were conducted on JPEG, PDF, and DOCX. The metadata was extracted from the records using ExifTool and revealed approximately 265 elements. Once the files were uploaded to social media and downloaded again, only 62 metadata elements remained. The missing metadata elements included date, camera date, and software history. Hart explains that this critical information can be used to determine if a file is authentic or not.

To ensure that the most authentic and complete digital record is kept, institutions need to revise their preservation workflows and procedures. To do this, archivists and digital libraries must test their workflows before they begin to process digital content. The records but also come from a credible source to make sure that the most original copy is being preserved. There is no point in spending money to preserve a second of third generation when it is being preserved elsewhere. Lastly, it is helpful to discuss the history of the record with the creator. This is not always possible but when it is, it can make a world of difference in terms of historical context.


“Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1: Reference Description.” DCMI: Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1: Reference Description,

Hart, Timothy. “Metadata Provenance and Vulnerability.” Information Technology and Libraries. (2017). 24-33.

Rouse, Margaret. “What Is Metadata? – Definition from”,

What is Your Top Priority When Digitizing: Access or Preservation?

So many people who are not in the Library/Archive/Information Science worlds believe it is easy to digitize. Running out of physical space? Digitize it! It’s old and gross? Digitize it! This also leads people to believe that once you digitize it you can throw it away. Unfortunately, digitizing is not easy (or free) and storing digital items takes a lot of work up front and in the long run. When we discussed digitizing in class it made me think about the experiences I have had at work.

In my current position the archive is fairly new. The institution I work at was founded in 1960 and didn’t have an archive until 2015. We have A LOT of legacy material to catch up on. As we began to shuffle through the back log we were trying to decide what to digitize and in what way we wanted to digitize it. Being strategic about it, we decided to digitize a collection that will likely be accessed often and helpful to our patron base. One thing that I thought about while we spent months setting up our camera, calibrating the lights, computer monitor, software, and storage is that there has to be an easier way to do this. And there is. However, it probably wouldn’t be a preservation quality image.

With digitization, most people say, “just digitize it!” and think preserving the image while providing access is quick and easy. This isn’t always the case. If you want something accessible as soon as possible you likely aren’t concerned that the color balance is just right, or each image is cropped to perfection, you just want your patron base to be able to see it. When it comes to preservation, you do care about the color balance, crop, and so much more. Getting a preservation quality image takes time and a project can take anywhere from 3 months to 5 years depending on how large the collection is. It should be said that everything about discusses textual or photographic digitization and does not cover Audio Visual material. Digitizing AV material is a whole other beast in and of itself. There are a variety of formats including wax cylinders, magnetic tape, film, and so much more.

It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to prepare any type of collection for preservation digitization. Hopefully, the collection is processed. Then you need to decide on a digitization plan, schedule, dedicate a work area to the project, assign a staff member to the project. Once you have done this, you can digitize, check for quality control, and publish. So before you digitize you need to decide: access or preservation?



Coyle, L. (2018). Right from the Start: The Digitization Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Public Historian, 40(3), 292. Retrieved from