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.

‘At-risk Digital Materials’  

By Kate Foster Boyd

In Digital Collections, we scan and create digital files from analog materials every day.  It is exciting and fun to make these rare and special collections, such as old maps, diaries, books, and photographs available online for a wide audience.  The University of South Carolina Libraries has been digitizing special collections for fifteen years. Not long, but long enough to watch as archives have begun grappling with born digital materials, faculty have asked for the Libraries to preserve their digital projects, and donors have requested that their emails and social media be preserved. 

USC Libraries’ Special Collections are receiving digital at-risk materials more and more. Irvin Department of Rare Books now has a few collections from current or recently deceased authors that are on hard drives. One donor has requested that their social media be saved, and two collections have email preservation needs. South Carolina Political Collections receives a lot of their collections on hard drives. University Archives must manage digital photography, born digital reports, and web site preservation. The management of these new types of digital materials require new skills and processes by the curators and archivists. 

Some of our most at-risk materials are current newspapers in our state. About a year ago, several of us received phone calls and emails from vendors telling us they would no longer send microfilm copies of the newspaper titles we purchased, only the digital files. This has prompted many meetings and much discussion about next steps with managing modern newspaper access and preservation. We are currently working on new workflows for acquiring and making available these online, digital resources. 

The Libraries has made efforts to preserve digital information and materials for years. Initial backups were on CD-ROMS and then a RAID server. Policies and procedures have been formed through attending conferences and joining appropriate consortia, like LOCKSS, MetaArchive, the POWRR Workshop, and the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, and following the Library of Congress and the Digital Preservation Coalition’s web sites. We are now following the North East Document Conservation Center’s latest handbook, working on updating our policy and workflows, ensuring people know their roles and the administration supports our efforts. A colleague is investigating Archivematica, an open-source application for processing archival materials, and better cloud storage solutions. Digital preservation is not done once, but constantly. As Trevor Owen’s says in his book, Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, it is a vocation.  

My hope is that starting in 2020, we will have a solid plan for preserving this digital material into the future. Software, web sites, email, research data, digital collections, date sets, born digital documents, and more are all a concern and academic libraries must have a plan for taking care of these formats. To me, if the collections are made accessible by librarians and used by patrons, there is a chance that they will be maintained into the future. When people stop studying and learning from these materials, then they will disappear.