How are we preserving our digital reality?

Indiana State’s Cunningham Memorial Library is working to address the long-term storage and preservation of digital content in a cost-effective manner.

When you’re the keeper of the nearly 30,000 rare dictionaries, grammar and word books in the Cordell Collection at Indiana State University, you might wonder what the future holds for such collections as content shifts from print to digital.

“Dictionary publishers hold the copyrights to digital files and are constantly updating the content, but online dictionaries continually evolve. The Cordell Collection is known for its in-depth collecting of all editions, issues and states of a printed work, but this may be impossible when it comes to the digital world,” said Cinda May, associate librarian and chair of special collections at Cunningham Memorial Library.

May contacted about a half dozen dictionary publishers to learn about the possibility of collecting digital dictionaries, how publishers account for the different versions of the online files created through updates and what digital preservation plans or policies the publisher has in place to sustain access over time, but received few replies.

Maybe it was their first inquiry on the topic? Maybe companies didn’t want to release their plans? Or perhaps there are no plans?

Regardless, May stresses the importance of preservation for all digital content producers.

Cinda May

“The days of grandmother’s shoebox of family photographs donated to the local history room is rapidly vanishing,” she said. “That will make it difficult for researchers in the future to study our time in history, because the photographs, videos, emails and documents are not part of the public record if it’s on your social media or downloaded to your computer.”

A $51,000 grant received in 2015 from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Indiana State Library has helped Cunningham Memorial Library and the Indiana State Library establish Indiana Digital Preservation, or InDiPres, an organization with a mission to help Indiana’s small- to mid-sized and under-resourced cultural memory organizations address the long-term storage and preservation of digital content in a cost-effective manner.

Indiana State Library is the InDiPres liaison and fiscal agent to the MetaArchive Cooperative, a community-based distributed digital preservation network that uses Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe, or LOCKSS, software. Cunningham Memorial Library, which joined MetaArchive Cooperative in 2009 to ensure long-term preservation of electronic student theses and dissertations, houses and manages the InDiPres LOCKSS server.

Grant funds helped develop and distribute a digital-preservation readiness survey, outline an InDiPres governance structure and membership application, conduct eight statewide Digital Preservation Open Forums, secure a collaborative membership in the MetaArchive Cooperative Preservation Network and purchase the LOCKSS server required for participation in the network.

In 2016, a second special digitization project grant for $101,999 funded further development of InDiPres and the hiring of a metadata specialist to collect and ingest content into the MetaArchive network, create an Ingest Pathways Working Group to develop, document and implement workflows for replicating InDiPres content in the MetaArchive network and present a hands-on workshop to help cultural-memory organizations create local digital-preservation policies and plans to fully implement the InDiPres governance structure.

After eight years of conversation between Cunningham Memorial and Indiana State libraries, InDiPres got off the ground in 2016 with memberships from Knox County Public Library, Lebanon Public Library, Rockville Public Library, Sullivan County Public Library, Vigo County Public Library, Vigo County Historical Society, American Legion Auxiliary, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, DePauw University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Butler University and the Private Academic Libraries Network of Indiana. Indiana State and Indiana State Library serve as lead institutions.

“(InDiPres) is a community, not a service,” May said. “That means members assist in preparing content for preservation, participate in governance meetings and hold elected offices. It’s all to ensure that members are engaged, and that InDiPres continues on.”

Ingestion of content started in January, and an intern who is studying library science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis began last fall, assisting May with outreach to potential members and working with current members to preserve more content in the network.

An InDiPres membership is $325 per year with a 3-year commitment. Storage space is purchased based on each member’s needs for 59 cents per gigabyte. Members also share the cost of a collaborative membership in the MetaArchive Cooperative, as well as the expense of server refreshment on a triennial basis.

Files placed on the server have their information harvested by six other servers in the MetaArchive network. If one of the six files does not match, the item is repaired or replaced. Proper digital preservation requires at least three copies of each item to be saved in different locations, preferably on different media, and checked periodically to ensure the integrity.

“We all decide what our collections will be, and our digital collections deserve the same care and treatment as our print collections,” May said. “I’m excited that InDiPres can allow small organizations to participate in digital preservation, so they know where their digital collections are and that they’re safe.”

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