Sustaining Public History Projects
On March 22, at the National Council of Public History meeting in Monterey, California, we will be presenting on “From Antiquarians to Deadheads. Lessons from ‘Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections’” with our colleagues James David Moran from the American Antiquarian Society and Robin Chandler of UC Santa Cruz (home of the Grateful Dead Archive Online). We’re looking forward to learning from our audience of public historians how they approach the creation and ongoing preservation of digital projects and to see how our work might inform their decision making.
This presentation draws from our recent “Searching for Sustainability” report, and follows the webinar we held in January with ARL and representatives from each of the cases (you can find the archived webinar here). We received many more questions than we could address during the webinar, so we are pleased to offer some responses now. Thanks to Kathy Bolduc Amoroso, Director of Digital Projects at the Maine Historical Society, and Katrina Harkness, Education Officer at the State Library and Archives of Florida who considered these questions in the context of the Maine Memory Network and the Florida Folklife Collection.
1. Many of these projects rely on contributions from people external to your organizations. What incentives do you use to encourage collaboration and how do you allay any concerns these contributors may have about working with you?
First we focus on the benefits and let them know that sharing collections and information about their town’s history through Maine Memory Network (MMN) will give their organization the opportunity to:
- Digitize collections
- Vastly expand access to collections (within your community and beyond) while reducing handling and protecting the originals
- Collaborate and develop deeper partnerships with local schools and libraries
- Expand its ability to reach and serve the community
- Develop skills and increase capacity
- Find new support and resources within your community
Mostly, contributors are afraid of someone stealing their images. So we do what we can—include a watermark on each image that’s larger than a thumbnail and we use a low resolution (72 dpi) that’s not suitable for high quality printing. We also prominently put the organization’s name on the page close to the image. And we are their advocate. If they find that someone has illegally used their image, we go to bat for them. We have been able to get some images off of Wikipedia that were used without permission.
2. Digital Preservation: What explicit steps do you see as most important to ensuring the long-term preservation of the digitized assets?
We duplicate the data and store it in multiple locations on multiple systems; refresh data by transfer; generate check sums and routinely verify the file integrity; and migrate data into the most current and relevant file formats. We choose standardized formats that will likely be supported in the future.
Most important steps to us at the moment is a file naming standards so we can find the files, saving as TIF and JPG formats, and saving on an internal server that gets backed up nightly to an offsite location. In 12 years we haven’t had to change formats of the files. We do not save for long term on disposable media (CD, DVD, flashdrives).
3. How do you preserve the social media—twitter, flickr, etc.—which add to your metadata of the individual objects to your digital collections?
We are looking into software that will collect all this data automatically. Currently we manually add to the catalog records when relevant. User comments are preserved digitally or, in some cases, by printing them out and keeping them in a folder.
We will continue to use this blog to answer questions from the community about “Searching for Sustainability” and the case studies, so please do use the comment feature to pose your questions.