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Last week I traveled to Washington, DC, to attend the National Digital Stewardship Residency Symposium at the Library of Congress on April 27-28. The two-day event featured discussions from current and emerging leaders of digital preservation, and attracted over 100 audience members. I was awarded a travel grant from NDSR back in January to attend this event.
NDSR was created by the Library of Congress in collaboration with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The program is designed to foster highly specialized experts in the field of digital preservation. It’s key component of this endeavor is its residency program, which recruits recent master’s and doctoral graduates to work on advanced projects at participating host sites, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Metropolitan New York Library Council, and the Library of Congress.
The keynote address was presented by Allison Druin, the Special Advisor for National Digital Strategy at the National Park Service. Her speech was entitled “Information @ the Extremes.” She said that people in the information profession already know the value of good information, and added that now even more people in the world are learning how important it is amid the current political climate.
She touched on information that has been removed from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, and the occurrence of “guerilla archivists” who have been scrambling to save government data. Druin added that not just science, but cultural heritage data could be in danger of being lost without steps in place to make sure it is preserved.
Druin also called for the information community to work with stakeholders outside of the academic community. She praised the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), but said that institutions now must not rely too heavily on funding from IMLS, and should also consider potential funding from outside the government. The comment seemed to stem from proposed budget cuts to IMLS. Representatives from IMLS were in attendance at NDSR, and received applause and a standing ovation during Druin’s address.
The remainder of the symposium consisted primarily of panel discussions based on the experiences of NDSR participants and their projects. The NDSR program promotes its residents to develop specific specialties within digital preservation, with the philosophy that one person cannot be a master of all disciplines of digital stewardship. The idea is to build a community of specialists to contribute their specific knowledge base to solve problems and advance the capabilities of digital preservation.
For example, John Caldwell worked with 26 digital preservation tools within five months as a resident at the U.S. Senate Historical Office. Nicole Contaxis developed a sustainability plan for software preservation at the U.S National Library of Medicine. And Charlotte Kostelic is currently an NDSR resident in the UK, where she is working with unpublished collections at the Royal Library and Archives in the UK. In part, Kostelic is gaining knowledge of metadata standards in Europe. Residents have also worked at Radio Stations, Television Stations, and even the World Bank.
Symposium participants noted useful training resources such as the Digital Preservation Coalition Knowledge Base, and communication tools like Slack, Basecamp and Trello. It was interesting to hear that the Twitter community has been a go-to tool for many of the NDSR residents when trying to figure out a problem.
Key takeaways from NDSR was seeing a pool of awesome digital stewards who are making great contributions to the profession, and hearing leaders in digital preservation stress the importance of a robust digital preservation community. Yet, organizers also noted that there is still a big need for hands-on experience for students outside of the NDSR program. The program is looking to expand NDSR residency sites in the south and western parts of the U.S.
Also, documentation is a critical component of effective digital stewardship, not only internally, but externally as well. One of the foremost needs in digital preservation is lack of good training and resources, said one of the speakers. A way this could be addressed, he said, is institutions being more transparent with their documentation. Many institutions keep their training guides and workflow documentation for internal access and use only. He credited some for doing this due to “hesitancy or fear of being wrong”, but “saying what we do out loud can help you have someone show you how to do it better.”