Cultivating a Culture of Digital Preservation Inside Academic Libraries and Out


Teaching: 5 min
Exercises: 0 min
  • What can I bring back to my institution?

  • Understand the current culture of digital preservation.

  • Understand the difference between digital collections and institutional repositories.

Kelsey George

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Cataloging and Metadata Strategies Librarian

(as of February 2018)

Image of first power point slide. Text on slide reads Cultivating a culture of digital preservation inside academic libraries and out, a presentation given by Kelsey George, Cataloging and Metadata Strategies Librarian. URL to github DOT com slash geokels included. On left side of slide there is a comic of a woman at a computer talking to a man holding a coffee cup. The text of the comic says I liked it before big data and metadata when we just had good old regular data.Introduction Slide

Image of second power point slide. Text on slide reads: Digitization does not equal access. Digitization does not equal preservation. Digitization without a long term storage and preservation plan is a waste of time and resources. One left side of slide there is an image of a page from a Book of Hours with shepherds gazing up at an angel. There is text overlaying the picture that says Hark! The herald angels sing, no, we can't digitize everything! Happy Holidays from Derangement and Description.Slide Two

Digitization is not always equivalent to access. Many obstacles exist when trying to make digitized materials accessible.

Digital file formats are susceptible to bit rot, file degradation, file corruption, and generation loss over time.

The Getty published a post in The Iris in 2014 describing how they act to prevent digital decay.

In order for digital objects to be preserved long-term, digital object storage and access to the objects cannot remain static as technologies change.

Image of third power point slide. Image in center of the slide is the distracted boyfriend meme, where a woman is walking and a man, holding another woman's hand, is checking her out while the other woman (presumed to be his girlfirend) stares up at him in disgust. The caption on the walking woman reads "digitization", on the man reads "funders", and on the disgusted girlfriend reads "digital perservation".Slide Three” (

In library-land, particularly in American academic libraries, budgets for libraries have been reduced or have stayed the same for years while the newer expense of providing electronic access to journals and other materials has increased. The desire to innovate and stay on top of digital trends is part of the backbone of modern librarianship, but many times the funding does not match the motivation. Often, donors will donate collections or donate funding on the condition that materials be digitized, but donors may not always have an understanding of or desire to fund the infrastructure required to make their collections available online long-term.

In addition to digitization costs, other factors to consider include:

Libraries without digital preservation policies and infrastructure have the option of accepting donations and then seeking out additional donors/university support, or they have to turn away collections due to a lack of resources. Ideally, libraries should already be connecting with internal (campus) and external (community) stakeholders to get support to preserve collections held in the library, but this isn’t always the case.

Image of fourth power point slide. Image in center of the slide is a relief panel of the great Ludovisi sarcophagus, depicting a carved battle scene. Text at the top of the slide reads "Battle over the institutional repository"Slide Four

An institutional repository can sometimes be confused for a digital repository.

An institutional repository is an *archive for collecting, preserving, and disseminating digital copies of the intellectual output of an institution, particularly a research institution.

Digital repositories or libraries are collections stored in digital formats (as opposed to print, microform, or other media) and accessible by computers. The digital content may be stored locally, or accessed remotely via computer networks. A digital library is a type of information retrieval system.

Digital repositories are not equivalent to integrated library systems, which are used to index and manage the library’s holdings of physical objects for bibliographic titles and usually also index access points for e-resources and journals. These days, most institutions have some form of digital repository—whether it is for internal use only or is accessible online for external use. Not nearly as many have institutional repositories.

Yet research institutions generate lots of and many different types of data, and that data need to be housed somewhere. At some institutions, research data live in departmental silos, with storage and preservation supported by campus IT. At other institutions, data management is being handled by the library. Even more often, no campus or deparment-wide data storage systems exist and researchers push for the library to house their data and the library may have to refuse the donation, due to a lack of resources/personnel and the complexity of housing and preserving said data described in the previous slide. This leaves labs and grant-funded projects with no campus support when it comes to meeting data management and publishing requirements for their resources.

Libraries are becoming more and more aware of the need for long-term digital preservation and data management infrastructures to be put in place and policies to be established. Some libraries are trying to meet this need by hiring a Digital Preservation Librarian to work on these issues and collaborate across campus. There were only approximately ten librarian jobs with this title posted in the last two years. Other libraries are hiring Digital Collections Librarians or Data Curators, which may perform overlapping functions with regard to digital preservation, but focus more on digital repository needs and campus research data management respectively. If academic libraries do have a digital preservation policy in place, it may be outdated.

So what can you do as researchers, students, and faculty to cultivate a culture of digital preservation at your institution?

Image of fifth power point slide. Slide text reads "join or create a committee". Image above text depicts a bunch of cartoon creatures, including Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog, holding hands and perfoming some sort of Satanic ritual on top of a pentagram that has been painted on the floor.Slide Five

Be part of the conversation

Questions to ask the library:

Gather your colleagues, go to the head of digital collections, form a plan, and bring it up the channel. Propose something. Make it campus wide. The library may be unaware, or just may not have the support or funding to make it happen on its own.

Adding student, faculty, and researcher voices to the issue and bringing a unified plan to the administration makes a significant difference.

WARNING: You may have to join/create a campus-wide committee or taskforce. I’m sorry. That’s just how it is going to get done.

Image of sixth power point slide. Slide text reads "some organizations addressing digital preservation standards and tools". Image above text has logos for the Library of Congress, Digital Preservation Coalition, the Digital Preservation Network, Internet Archive, POWRR, Academic Preservation Trust, Chronopolis, Samvera, and Preservica.Slide Six

What else can you do?

I won’t talk too much about this in this presentation but create metadata. Embed your datasets with preservation metadata (see PREMIS for a guide), version control your research, provide as much context to your work as possible through documentation. Data without context or provenance is as decipherable as the Etruscan language. There are many organizations that are currently working to solve the problems presented by digital preservation who have developed standards and tools. I highly recommend looking at the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Handbook, the OAIS Community, the Digital Preservation Tool Grid developed by POWRR, and the National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s Levels of Digital Preservation.

Links to the organizations (national and international) with logos depicted on the slide (list is not exhaustive):

Additional resources can be found in the Resources tab of this site.

A .pdf version of this presentation can be downloaded here.

Key Points

  • Faculty, students, and researchers are a key component of the users that academic libraries serve and have power to influence the University administration’s decision to support library services.