A Starting Line for Digital Preservation

Image of the start/finish line of a track

START FINISH by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr
(CC BY 2.0)

First things first, thanks for your patience with our silence over the past couple of years as we struggled to find the bandwidth for things like maintaining this blog. We are glad to be back. 

Background: Recently, Library Leadership added building a preservation program as a high-level strategic objective. Even though our library has been “doing” digital preservation for a few decades now, new formats and commitments have put pressure on our resources and approaches. Adding digital preservation as a strategic objective prioritizes work to improve our ability to deliver on the preservation commitments that sit at the core of the library’s mission. 

Over the past two years, we have been working to take steps in redefining what a comprehensive digital preservation program looks like. For us, this had a particular focus on how to move our program beyond digitized text and images into preserving audio and moving image, web archiving, and natively digital content. One of the initial problems we encountered in this work is the lack of a shared understanding of what we actually mean by “digital preservation.” People collecting, implementing, and advising on preservation-related work all had different views on what we should be doing, and to what level we should be doing it. 

Badgers to the rescue: As part of the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA), staff from our library get to connect with staff from other member institutions who do similar work. For us, this means we are members of the BTAA Digital Preservation group. As we were wrestling with the best way to develop a shared understanding of preservation, we learned through our BTAA group that staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries were working to map their preservation activities to the NDSA Levels of Preservation. Part of their work was to identify the baseline activities needed for preservation. Their concept of using the Levels to identify baseline activities for their preservation program was the inspiration for us to create our own Digital Preservation Baseline document

What the Baseline is: We hope the Baseline will help us accomplish the following:

  • Create a shared understanding of what digital preservation means at the U-M Library 
  • Outline minimal activities that are required for proper digital preservation 
  • Allow staff to better evaluate capabilities and costs associated with preservation commitments 
  • Start a new, holistic conversation and approach to digital preservation 

What the Baseline is not: While we are tremendously proud of the Baseline and the work that it took to create it, the document itself is not a solution. In fact, it is filled with unfunded mandates that will require much more work to implement. It is important that we view this as the first step off the starting line, not the finish of the race. 

We would be very interested in hearing your comments about the Baseline. Please feel free to comment here or contact us at digitalpreservation@umich.edu. 

This post will be the first in a series sharing more experiences about working on the digital preservation strategic objective, so look for more to come.