This year, the Folger is one of ten host institutions for the National Digital Stewardship Residencies, a nine-month grant-funded program created by the Library of Congress and the Institute of Museum and Library Studies. The NDSR program, in their own words, “offers recent master’s program graduates in specialized fields—library science, information science, museum studies, archival studies and related technology—the opportunity to gain valuable professional experience in digital preservation.” The Folger is delighted to host Jaime McCurry as our resident digital steward from September 2013 through May 2014. Jaime holds an MLIS and a BA in English Literature, both from Long Island University. While at the Folger, Jaime will be working with Central Library and Digital Media and Publications divisions in order to establish local routines and best practices for archiving and preserving born-digital content created and collected by the Folger. In future months, Jaime will be writing Collation posts giving us a closer look at what she’s doing, but this Q & A will give us a peek into her work.
What is the nature of your project as a resident at the Folger?
I will be examining the current state of born-digital content preservation and archival practices at the Folger. Born-digital content is created in digital form, as opposed to having been digitally reformatted from a previous analog version.
More specifically, I will be analyzing what types of digital media the Folger is creating, testing existing organization and preservation workflows, advising on areas in need of improvement, and suggesting opportunities for expansion wherever possible. All of this is with the ultimate goal of being able to organize and preserve these materials in a way that will increase access in a sustainable manner for the benefit of staff, researchers, and Folger audiences.
What are you hoping to accomplish during your residency?
I am working now to develop a comprehensive digital object inventory of materials created by the Folger Theatre and of other Folger video and audio productions with the intent to use this information to fuel research for a potential repository and digital asset management solution. Ultimately, I would like to strengthen current policies and documentation regarding digital asset management at the Folger, increase organizational and public awareness of our efforts, and create access solutions so our researchers can utilize and interact with the exciting digital assets we have on hand.
Is the Folger currently collecting digital assets and, if so, do readers have access to what we’ve collected?
Yes and yes! Since 2011, the Folger has been collecting and archiving select websites using Archive-It, a web archiving service. The Folger currently has two web archive collections: The Folger Shakespeare Library Websites and Social Media collection and the Shakespeare Festivals and Theatrical Companies collection.
A web archive collection consists of a group of URLs that are selected and organized around a central thematic topic or event. These URLs are then crawled and captured, their content harvested for archival purposes. Over time, with enough captures, users can look back at that website and review how the website has changed over time or even access content that is no longer available on the live web. Readers might be familiar with web archives already: the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is a popular example.
In the case of the Folger, we are compiling a humanities-based web archive around a thematic topic: William Shakespeare. We have limited the scope of our two current collections, because as you can imagine, there’s a whole wide world of Shakespeare on the web. The Folger Shakespeare Library Websites and Social Media collection contains all Folger web domains and social media profiles. The Shakespeare Festivals and Theatrical Companies collection consists of official websites for various drama festivals and performing groups who identify Shakespeare performance as their main area of focus.
Part of my project will involve expanding our web archiving activities, including the addition of at least one new collection and the improvement of search functionality within the current collections.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing special collections libraries and cultural heritage organizations interested in digital preservation?
I think that special collections libraries and cultural heritage organizations, like others, are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of digital preservation, but ultimately developments may be hindered due to certain factors. For example, as technology advances, the number of digital files being created within divisions and within institutions are growing exponentially. It can be difficult to monitor what’s being created, what’s being stored where, what metadata is associated with what files. Also, with such large amounts of assets, it can be hard to decide what to keep and what not to keep. Where do you draw the line? For these reasons and others, digital preservation should be considered a priority. If these decisions are made at an early stage in a digital object’s lifecycle, preservation practices are much more manageable (even affordable!) than if made down the line.
How did you get to be interested in libraries and digital preservation?
What got me interested in libraries, truthfully, was Beverly Cleary and Ramona the Pest! Because of my love for Ramona (and so many others), I always knew that I wanted to work with books, with words, and subsequently with information. That led me to the worlds of librarianship and publishing, and I combined those interests as best I could while working towards my MLIS by interning as a librarian and information specialist at literary institutions such as the Center for Fiction and Scholastic Inc., in Manhattan, NY. With a foot in both fields, it became obvious that a common factor between the two was the concept of digital assets and how they are influencing not just how we access and disseminate information today, but how we will do so in the future. Any time you are considering access to digital information in the future, you automatically need to be considering the preservation processes that need to be occurring today to ensure that access. And that’s where my light-bulb went off.