People Behind the Progress in Digital Preservation

By Kate Boyd

World Digital Preservation Day logo“Digital Preservation Is People” – Trevor Owens, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, 2018

UofSC Libraries has made much progress from last year’s blog post. A few areas of celebration stand out on World Digital Preservation Day.  First, the Digital Preservation Team has a final draft of the Libraries’ new Digital Preservation Framework to preserve selected digital, born digital, and digital-only materials for future generations. The team came together in summer 2019 for a brainstorming meeting and from there, a smaller group began work on policies and procedures for the Framework. With guidance and support from administration, we have begun to act on these procedures, thanks to this great team of people:

Beth Bilderback, Kate Boyd, Matt Darby, Ana Dubnjakovic, Lance Dupre, Amie Freeman, Heather Heckman, Mēgan Oliver, Bill Sudduth, Alex Trim, Dorothy Walker, Michael Weisenburg, Greg Wilsbacher, Stacy Winchester, Jennifer Wochner

Second is the work that has gone into setting up Archivematica and AWS services by Lance Dupre, Digital Repository Librarian, and Matt Darby, Systems Administrator. They set up Archivematica, connected it to AWS, and trained us to move digital collections to Deep Archive. Our Research Data Librarian, Stacy Winchester, is actively moving 15 years’ worth of digital collections, creating metadata, processing, and moving the files. Kate Boyd is beginning this method with about four years of digitized microfilmed newspapers.

Finally, the digital preservation work that Moving Image Research Collections (MIRC) staff do to preserve the unique and difficult to manage film collections must also be noted. Unlike photographs and manuscripts, film needs to be digitized to remain accessible at all. There is currently not a solid set of digital preservation standards for motion picture film. Nevertheless, Greg Wilsbacher, curator for the United States Marine Corps Film Repository and Amy Meaney, curator for local TV news, including WIS, care about preserving these materials and are constantly learning and finding new ways to ensure their viability for years to come. Even though the digital access files they create for films do not retain enough resolution to effectively ‘preserve’ the film, Greg and Amy labor day-in and day-out to move these large access files into the Deep Archive.

Image 1 Land Mine Warfare School at Camp Faulkner, Vietnam , United States Marine Corps Film Repository, University of South Carolina Libraries
Land Mine Warfare School at Camp Faulkner, Vietnam , United States Marine Corps Film Repository, University of South Carolina Libraries

Greg and Matt worked together to develop a set of scripts for automatically processing up to 20 Marine Corp films at a time. As films are manually digitized during the day, the scripts transcode or create a streaming access copy and a pro-res mezzanine copy while also checking for errors and uploading to Deep Archive at night. Although this sounds like backup, they are adding fixity checks and other details along the way as well. The process is not perfect because the file created is more for access than preservation but saving that access file still allows for future researchers to learn from the content. Greg can bag, check, and push to the cloud 40 to 50 films a week using these automated protocols. 400 terabytes or over 3,000 films of Marine Corps data have been transferred to AWS.

In 2018, Amy won a CLIR Recordings at Risk grant to digitize and preserve 16mm film outtakes from WIS-TV, shot between 1966 and the early 1970s. 208 rolls totaling approximately 169,000 feet of film were transferred. This selection was prioritized because the films from this period often contain magnetic soundtracks, many of them beginning to deteriorate.   Today, while the digitized files are safely deposited in Deep Archive, she continues to make these materials available online for researchers, manually adding them to the repository.

Awareness promos--outtakes. (WIS-TV Awareness Story 237.) WIS-TV: Awareness. Moving Image Research Collections. University of South Carolina
Awareness promos–outtakes. (WIS-TV Awareness Story 237.) WIS-TV: Awareness. Moving Image Research Collections. University of South Carolina

In writing the Digital Preservation Framework, we initially focused on digital collections and born digital materials. However, Heather Heckman, our AD for Technology, and former Head of MIRC, pointed out that analog materials are gradually degrading; in some cases, therefore the scanned item becomes the only copy of the content. This is a particular problem for magnetic media, including the soundtracks on the WIS film.  As a result, we created another category, digital-only, to signify those materials where there was analog, but now there is only digital. People like Greg and Amy are managing to move the file to digital just in time. It may not be perfect, but in the spirit of the POWRR group, it is what we can do now.

Let us take this day to celebrate the people responsible for keeping vast amounts of unique and varied materials accessible for researchers in the future.