Student Digital Preservation Consultants Looking for Small Cultural Heritage Organizations

WhatIsDP_DigitalPreservation
For many, this is where we find ourselves in organizations just starting to work on digital preservation.

I’m working on drafting up the syllabus for my digital preservation graduate seminar for the University of Maryland’s iSchool for this coming fall. I am a firm believer in learning-by-doing. I also think talking about digital preservation in the abstract, outside the very real resource and time constraints of organizations largely misses the point. As a result, I am planning to have each student work through a series of assignments where they serve as digital preservation consultants to small cultural heritage organizations.

My hope is that this will be a meaningful learning opportunity for the students, as well as a way for them to start building out a portfolio of work that will be relevant to potential future employers. I am also optimistic that this can be a way to provide some help to small cultural heritage organizations that could  benefit from having the additional manpower  think through and develop plans for helping to make the best use of resources to make their digital content more long-lived.

I wanted to share a draft of the series of assignments I am putting together for two reasons:

  • First, to get feedback and input on how to improve the assignment.  I’ve posted it as a Google Doc too, so if you have suggestions for it please feel free to write comments or suggestions directly into the doc.
  • Second, pairing students with individuals who are interested in participating in this work is going to be key. I wanted to circulate this document as a means to identify people and organizations interested in working with a student as a digital preservation consultant for their organization.

Requesting a Graduate Student Digital Preservation Consultant

I think the finish line for digital preservation is a little too close to the starting line here. But it get's at the idea :)
I think the finish line for digital preservation is a little too close to the starting line here. But it get’s at the idea 🙂

If you (and your organization) would be interested in having a University of Maryland graduate student in my digital preservation seminar focus their digital preservation consultant project on your organization please take a two minutes to fill in this 5 question form. I think this is a great opportunity for organizations for a few different reasons.

Here are some reasons to consider filling in the form for your organization. This project is a chance to:

  1. Solicit assistance thinking through digital preservation issues and planning for your organization.
  2. Provide a meaningful learning experience to someone just getting started in the field
  3. Learn t more about digital preservation as the student shares what they are learning through the class

Through the course of the assignments, students will;

  1. Document and review current practices with an organization’s digital content
  2. Draft suggestions for potential next steps to improve management of digital content grounded in the resources an organization has access too
  3. Draft a digital preservation policy for consideration for the organization

On the first day of class (September 1st), I will present the organizations that have filled out the survey my students. In the first few weeks of class I will help to pair each student with an organization for the semester.

If you are matched up with a student, the idea would be that you would commit to doing an interview or two with them about your organization’s collection and current practices for digital material and that you would review and provide input on several of their assignments (listed below).

I should underscore that it is completely fine for organizations to be literally at square one in terms of digital preservation practices and planning. So many cultural heritage organizations are just getting started with their digital preservation planning, and while it can be a bit intimidating to take some first steps in this space. There are many simple and inexpensive things organizations can be doing to mitigate risks of loss . The assignment will be most valuable for both students and organizations in cases where there is little current work  being done in digital preservation. As part of this project, students will be blogging about their work, so you and your organization will need to be OK with them sharing information about the project. This can be a bit intimidating, but by having students work on their public writing skills and inviting a broader audience into discussion about how to do this work in organizations it will help to ensure that the quality of that work is stronger and more useful. Through this public writing process, the results of the work will be more useful to both the student and to your organization.

What follows are details about the design of this assignment. This is also available in the google doc if you would like to suggest edits or make comments.

Digital Preservation Consultant Project

Here you can see a student, working synthesizing what they have found and drafting a plan.
Here you can see a student, working synthesizing what they have found and drafting a plan.

An academic understanding of the issues in digital preservation is necessary but not sufficient for  professional digital preservation work. Digital preservation is fundamentally about making the best use of what are always limited resources to best support the mission of an organization. As such, to really learn how to do digital preservation you need to apply these concepts in the practical realities of an organizational context.

Aside from participating in discussion of the course readings through the course blog, the other course assignments will require you to act as a digital preservation consultant for a cultural heritage organization. For a variety of reasons I suggest this be a small institution. Below are the five assignments you must complete over the course of the semester as part of this project.

  1. Identify Small Cultural Heritage Organization and Establish Partnership (by week 3): For most of the course assignments, you will need to find a small cultural heritage organization that you can work with as a digital preservation consultant. I have identified a list of organizations that are up for participating, but you are free to find other organizations as well. The key requirements here are that 1) they have consented to working with you 2) they have some set of digital content but 3)  their collections are not so complex that you couldn’t possibly do the project. Example institutions include an independent organization (like a house museum, a community archive or library), a small department or subset of an institution (say the archives of a student newspaper or radio station, the special collections department at a public library, or the archives in a museum).
    1. Deliverable: The output of this phase is to identify this organization and confirm that you have a commitment from them to participate. We will check in on this in class as we go, but by the date of this assignment you need to have confirmed participation of an organization that meets these requirements and have posted what organization you are working on in a list on the course website. On the site, post the name of the organization, your name (or handle) and two or three sentences about the organization and its digital content.
  2. Institutional Digital Preservation Survey (Draft by week 6 and send to your org, publish with their comments incorporated by week 8): For your organization, interview one or two staff members to get a handle on their digital collections and practices. Draw from the NSDA levels of preservation as an overall framework for conducting your survey. You will want to focus on gathering information about their practices in five key areas.
    1. First, what is the scope of their digital holdings?
    2. Second, how is that digital content currently being managed?
    3. Third, what are the staff at the organization’s perceptions of the state of their digital content (are they concerned about it, do they see it as mission critical or a nice to have, what do they see as their own self efficacy and their organization’s capacity for sustaining their content)?
    4. Forth, what kinds of digital content would the organization like to be collecting but currently isn’t?
    5. Fifth, what, if any resources, do they have that they could bring to bear on this problem (if they have some significant potential resources that’s great, but realize that there may well be very meaningful smaller resources that could be brought to bear. For example, could one staff member spend 2-4 hrs a week on digital preservation, could they bring in community volunteers, how much could they spend on things like extra hard drives etc.)  Throughout all of this, it will be important to understand what the organization’s collecting mission is. You want to begin to probe all the questions above, but you need to be able to map their answers to the NDSA levels.
    6. Deliverable: You will write and publish a post to the course blog (1200-3000 words) in which you present the findings of your survey. The post should first provide context, what is this organization what are its digital holdings what does it want to be collecting them. From there, work through presenting an accurate and coherent report of the themes and issues that came through in your interviews. At this point you are primarily interested in accurately representing the state of their work. Do not get into making recommendations. Simply do your best to succinctly and coherently explain what you found about the five areas of questioning discussed above. Before publishing this, you must present it to your org for their feedback to make sure you have their input on how you are describing the state of their work.
  3. Institutional Digital Preservation Next Steps Preservation Plan (Week 10): Now that you have the results of your survey, it is time to take out the NDSA levels of digital preservation and the rest of our course readings and figure out what a practical set of next steps would be for your organization.
    1. Deliverable: Post your next steps plan to the course blog (1200-3000 words). After a brief introduction providing context about the organization and its collections, you should work through reviewing  the organization’s current work on digital content using each of the areas of the NDSA levels of digital preservation. Complete by identifying three different levels (low, medium and high resource requirement) of next steps they could take to improve their rating on the NDSA levels of digital preservation. Be creative here, for example could they upload collection items to the Internet Archive or Wikimedia Commons? Or could they buy an extra hard drive and make copies and swap it with a backup buddy at another organization in a different region of the country, etc. The point here is to think about how to get them the furthest up some of the levels with the resources at hand.  Before publishing this, you should present it to your organization for them to review and provide input.
  4. Draft a Digital Preservation Policy for Your Org (Week 12): Now that you have put in place a set of recommendations, it is important to also draft up a set of digital preservation policies and practices for the organization. If this is to have any impact you are going to need to be able to articulate what the organization’s policies could be going forward.
    1. Deliverable: Drawing on the example digital preservation policies we read in class, draft up a short policy document for your institution tuned to what you have learned from working with them. Draw from the examples for models for aspects of this document. Share it with them for some input and feedback. Then Post it to the blog (800-1500 words).
  5. Reflecting on Lessons Learned (Week 13): After doing this work,presenting it, and getting feedback from your organization, you need think through what worked and didn’t work for the project. Taking time for reflection and teasing out the lessons you’ve learned about both digital preservation and working with a cultural heritage organization.
    1. Deliverable: Return to each of the documents you created thus far and synthesize 3-5 points about what did or didn’t work or what your take away lessons are from this process. Think through what you will do differently the next time you help an organization improve its digital preservation practices. Bring in references to what you’ve learned from readings in the course and from what you have learned from your classmates work on their projects (800-1400 words).

All images from Digitalbevaring.dk, published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Denmark license and created by Jørgen Stamp.

Build Some Rep for Digital Preservation

A quick update on the digital preservation stack exchange site proposal. As I mentioned before, there are a series of ways you can help make this proposal a reality, at this point the big task is to get 100 people to commit who have more than 200 reputation on another stack exchange site. We already have 32 people who have achieved this, so we are about a third of the way there.

This will likely be a bit of a long haul, but considering that we have managed to get this far in only about a month I think we are well on our way.

How you get reputation:

You get reputation by asking and answering questions on any of the stack exchange sites. I’ve pasted in a table from their guidelines on reputation below. You will notice that you really get reputation from having your answers or your questions voted up.

This can stack up very quickly,  for example, i’ve asked three questions on the Academia site and answered two, but those questions and answers were pretty good, so they got voted up multiple times and I ended up getting more than enough reputation to get over 200. You can see exactly what questions I asked and answered and what points I got for them here.

answer is voted up +10
question is voted up +5
answer is accepted +15 (+2 to acceptor)

Where to get stack exchange reputation

I built up my 200 reputation on the Academia site, but you can do it anywhere. The important thing is that you pick a site and get 200 rep on that site (you need 200 rep on a single site so getting a little bit on a bunch of different sites isn’t going to cut it.) The full list of sites can be a little bit intimidating, so I figured I would point folks to a few sites they could think about.

  • English Language and Usage Q&A for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts
  • GamingQ&A for passionate videogamers on all platforms
  • Board and Card Games Q&A for people who like playing board games, designing board games or modifying the rules of existing board games
  • Travel Q&A for road warriors and seasoned travelers
  • Photography Q&A for professional, enthusiast and amateur photographers
  • CookingQ&A for professional and amateur chefs

Take a few minutes and look over the unanswered questions on any of the sites you think you might be interested in. Take a minute to try responding to a few. Then think up some questions you might have, search to see if they are already there and if not post them. In all seriousness, you can get 200 rep on one of these sites in a very short period of time and in the process you end up getting a better understanding of how this system works.

How You Can Help Launch a Digital Preservation Q&A Site

Stack Exchange Q&A site proposal: Digital PreservationTL;DR- Please consider clicking the commit button for the proposed site. The biggest hurdle is getting people who already participate in stack exchange sites to commit, here are three ways you can help with that.

1) If you have over 200+ rep on any stack exchange site we really need you, please commit.

2) If you don’t, consider answering, asking and commenting on any one of the 80 some stack exchange sites that relate to your other interests.  It won’t take long to get 200 rep and you will learn about the system. After answering and asking two questions on the Academia site I had more than two-hundred rep.

3) Please send a link to the proposal out to others in your organization or email lists that you are on. In particular, please share this with groups of folks at your org likely to have participated in stack exchange sites, like software developers, system administrators, and folks in the sciences who you think might be interested

Now for some Background on this Idea

A few of my colleagues at a range of different national and international organizations working on digital preservation have put together a proposal for a new Stack Exchange question and answer site focused on Digital Preservation. You can see the initial definition for the site below.

At different conferences, and different projects I’m associated with I keep hearing a lot of the same kinds of questions. I feel like there should be a place where I can point folks to a solid Q&A knowledge base. While there is an abundance of good research on digital preservation, great standards documents, and a range of different levels of solid technical guidance there isn’t really a place to go where you can ask and find answers to the kinds of straightforward questions seen below.

Why Stack Exchange?

I’ve talked with folks about starting our own site, like what DH Answers did. However, in further discussion we thought it would be better to first try and see if we could get something started through the Stack Exchange process. Here are some reasons to do this thorough Stack Exchange.

  1. Built in network effects:  Many of the existing stack exchange sites, while very distinct from digital preservation, have people who overlap between them. Being on Stack Exchange means being in an integrated network of sites that others already participate in.
  2. Open Data Dumps and CC-BY Knowledge:  Importantly, all the content of Stack Exchange sites is open data in several levels. We can take it, move it, share it and build from it.
  3. Not having to support technical infrastructure is nice: Stack Exchange has a dedicated staff working on refining and enhancing their platform, so the folks who want to participate can focus on the Q&A.
  4. Outreach and Big Tent Digital Preservation:  Promoting the proposal is a chance to reach out to members of other professional and technical communities to raise awareness of digital preservation. Further, if the site is launched, being part of Stack Exchange’s network would help to generate more traffic to discussions and could help lead to a broader base of digital preservation professionals.
  5. The process of proposing the site helps conceptualize it: I already think of this as a win. Just the existing prioritized list of questions that folks have is a great resource in and of its self. Even if the proposal fails and we end up needing to think about standing up our own Q&A site the process we went through on Stack Exchange will be helpful.
  6. Getting some seasoned Stack Exchange folks involved will help digital preservationists cut their teeth on best practices for participating in Q&A sites: There is an art to composing good questions and a related art to composing good answers. Getting some seasoned Stack Exchange folks in the mix would be helpful in getting us to do this in the best and most useful way.

Background on Stack Exchange

For anyone unfamiliar with Stack Exchange their about page is a nice quick read. I’ve copied some of their info below to give a bit of context for how they describe themselves.

Stack Exchange is a growing network of individual communities, each dedicated to serving experts in a specific field. We build libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on each community’s area of expertise. From programmers sharing answers on parsing HTML, to researchers seeking solutions to combinatorial problems, to photographers exposing lighting techniques, our communities are built by and for those best able to define them: the experts and enthusiasts.

Other ideas? Places to Reach Out To?

If you have some other ideas for how to make this happen I want to hear them! Are there other groups to contact? I bet there are, share your ideas in the comments and I will follow up with them, or just take the lead and go contact some folks yourself.