Tag Archives: digital archives

You’re a What? Digital Archivist Edition

Archives Month is when we shout from the rooftops about archives; what are they, what do they have and why you should care. Here at FSU Special Collections & Archives, we participate in #AskAnArchivist day and put together other activities as we are able each year. However, we deal with the most obvious question people could ask 365 days a year…what does an archivist do?

For me, that question is usually a double head scratcher because not only am I an archivist, I am a digital archivist. In my daily work, that is really broken down into three main areas of work: digital project management, digital library management and born-digital material management and preservation. All of which are still probably Greek to you so let me explain.

Digital Project Management

A screenshot of how we organize and track a project
A screenshot of how we organize and track a project

No one told me when I went to get my MSI that I should have probably worked on becoming a certified Project Manager too. Instead, I’ve had to learn by making lots of mistakes as digital projects come through the Digital Library Center. Unfortunately, we have not come up with a magic way to digitize materials and get them into the FSU Digital Library so a lot of planning and then work goes into any set of materials you may find online. I enjoy this part of my work (it’s the organizer in me) but it wasn’t exactly what I thought I was signing up for when I became a digital archivist.

Digital Library Management

Screenshot of the FSU Digital Library
The FSU Digital Library has grown fast since we moved into our new platform in February 2013.

The FSU Digital Library grows in leaps and bounds each year and a team of us work on making sure it grows within our standards and in a way that keeps it useful and relevant for our users. Once a digital project is started, a lot of my work goes into figuring out a user’s needs when interacting with said material. What collection does it belong in? How does it need to be searched? What display would best suit the materials?

Born-Digital Material Management and Preservation

Screenshot of a possible born-digital processing workflow
A look at the digital processing workflow we’re working on to start working on born digital collections we already have in-house

This is the part of the job I am still growing into and learning more about all the time. It’s the part of archives a lot of us don’t know what to think about yet. But, take this fact and stew on it: The Word document you created today is a let less stable than the letter someone wrote 100 years ago. We know how to preserve and protect the paper. The Word document? We’re still figuring that out. As FSU Libraries moves into deciding how we’ll process, provide access and preserve digital records (including web content), I’ll be sure to share more about that aspect of my work on the blog!

So, at the end of the day, I usually tell people that a digital archivist is someone who gets to live in the best of both worlds; I get to handle and work with the cool old “stuff” but also work with all the cool 21st century gadgets which help archives to make these items more accessible while also dealing with any other 21st century document problems the archives wants to throw at me. Bring it on!

Protecting digital material: Strategies for digital preservation

In the first post in this digital preservation series, I shared some of the unique challenges digital material brings to the preservation game. In this one we will look at some of the technologies and tools digital stewards employ to protect our digital assets.

How can you tell when a computer file has been corrupted? If you try to open it funny, glitchy things might happen. How can you test whether a digital file is uncorrupted? This requires a bit more thought. Digital files are at their base-level a long string of 1’s and 0’s. This is called the file’s bitstream. Preservationists could compare one bitstream to an earlier copy of it, but this requires a lot of processing power for large files, with no guarantee that your comparison copy isn’t also corrupted.

This is where checksums can help us out. Checksums are character strings generated by a class of algorithms called hash functions or cryptographic hashes. You can try one out here: http://md5checksum.com/. Hash functions are used to encrypt lots of things. Passwords submitted to websites are hashed in your browser. Kind of like this:miguezBlog003encryption.png

Hash functions can also be applied to the bitstream of a file. Due to the nature of the various algorithms used even a single change in a one or zero will produce a drastically different checksum. If at the beginning of the preservation process a digital steward produces a checksum for the bitstream, she can now test for data integrity by rerunning the hash and comparing that output to the original checksum.

Now that we can test for unwanted changes in computer files, how can we ensure we always have a valid copy of it? A system called LOCKSS can help with this. LOCKSS stamiguezBlog003LOCKSS.pngnds for Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. Similar to the idea of backing up personal files, LOCKSS will duplicate the files given to it and then distribute copies of files across several servers. The idea is to spread the system out over many servers in diverse geographic areas to minimize the risk of a single disaster (natural or otherwise) compromising the entire system. These distributed copies are then regularly hashed, and the checksums compared to test the validity of the files. If a checksum comparision fails, that server can delete it’s failing copy of the file, and ask the other servers for a new one.

Digital preservation is a rapidly developing field. New challenges requiring new solutions arise every day. In the third and final post in this digital preservation series, I’ll discuss activities you can undertake to protect your personal digital heritage.

The Days of Our Lives: FSU Archives Edition

What do archivists do all day, anyway?  Look at old photos?  Dust yearbooks? Take papers from one file folder and put them in another?

Those are all true to some extent, but university archivists play more roles in their community than one might think.  Take a look at some of the extraordinary events during an average week in FSU Special Collections and Archives:

Thursday, October 15:

Students from the ART5928 workshop “Creating Experiences” visit the Claude Pepper Museum.  Their project this semester involves creating a public event that could be held in in a museum space.  The students have designed a Claude Pepper Pajama Party event and social media campaign, and today they’re walking through their ideas with Pepper Library Manager Rob Rubero.

Rob Rubero with ART5928 Students. (c) Justyn D. Thomas Photography. Used with permission.
Rob Rubero with ART5928 students in the Claude Pepper Museum. (c) 2015 Justyn D. Thomas Photography. Used with permission.

FSU Special Collections has always considered local history one of its collecting strengths. In an effort to deepen community connections and learn more about the Tallahassee music industry, Rory Grennan and Katie McCormick attend a public appearance by influential songwriter and producer George Clinton.  Aside from smiles and photo opportunities, our archivists enjoy many conversations with Clinton’s family and associates about his work and his legacy.

Rory Grennan and Katie McCormick enjoy photo opportunities with songwriter and producer George Clinton.
Rory Grennan and Katie McCormick enjoy photo opportunities with songwriter and producer George Clinton.

Friday, October 16:

Today, the Special Collections Research Center reading room has the privilege of hosting the members of the Florida State University History Club.  A dozen history undergraduates attend an informational presentation by Manuscript Archivist Rory Grennan and Rare Books Librarian Kat Hoarn.  Presentations and instructional sessions for students, faculty, and the public are a core part of the Special Collections mission, and occur frequently at the beginning of the school year.  History Club members are excited to see 4000 years of human history laid out in documents from our collections including cuneiform tablets, a page from a Bible printed by Gutenberg, and artist books from the 21st century.

Rory Grennan looks on as Kat Hoarn closely examines a rare book with the FSU History Club.
Rory Grennan looks on as Kat Hoarn closely examines an illustration by Theodore de Bry with members of the FSU History Club.

Monday, October 19:

Monday morning, archivists Sandra Varry and Krystal Thomas visit the University Registrar’s office to consult on the preservation of student transcripts on microfilm.  The filmed student records see heavy use, and unfortunately enough of the film has been worn down that some records are losing information.  The group discusses modern strategies such as digitization to preserve these essential historical records that document a century of higher education.

Later, Sandra Varry and division staff prepare for a new exhibit opening today in the Special Collections Exhibit Room on the first floor of Strozier Library.  “Mittan: A Retrospective” celebrates the work of photographer Barry Mittan, and documents student life at FSU in the 1960s and 1970s.  The exhibit was curated by graduate assistant Britt Boler and runs through January 2016.

Exhibit title card at gallery entrance; Sandra Varry adjusts a framed print in the exhibit room.
Exhibit title card at gallery entrance; Sandra Varry adjusts a framed print in the exhibit room.

In the afternoon, Krystal Thomas carefully reviews and uploads recently-digitized cookbooks and herbals to the FSU Digital Library.  The Digital Library features digitized versions of the highlights of our collections, as chosen by Special Collections staff and our users, and new content is added regularly by archives staff.

Tuesday, October 20:

Things They Don’t Teach You In Grad School #47:  Water and vinegar makes an effective, non-abrasive cleaner for a headstone.

Former FSU faculty member Paul Dirac was a giant in the fields of mathematics and quantum mechanics, and his papers are a frequently-consulted resource by researchers at FSU Libraries.  Since no members of the Dirac family remain in Tallahassee, it has become the unofficial duty of our library and archives staff to visit Dirac’s grave once a year and see that it is kept clean.  October 20th is the anniversary of Dirac’s death, and seems an appropriate time to visit the site.  Archivists Katie McCormick, Rory Grennan, and Krystal Thomas, accompanied by library Director of Development Susan Contente and a handful of Physics Department students, scrub the headstone and plant fresh flowers this afternoon.

Top: Krystal Thomas, Katie McCormick, and Susan Contente remove grime from the Dirac headstone. Below: A clean headstone with fresh flowers planted on either side.
Before: Krystal Thomas, Katie McCormick, and Susan Contente remove grime from the headstone of Paul and Margit Dirac.
After: A clean headstone with fresh flowers planted on either side.

Wednesday, October 21:

Early this morning, archives staff notice an uncharacteristic rise in temperature in the stacks.  After confirming initial impressions with a few temperature readings, contact is quickly made with library facilities staff to take steps to correct an issue with the building’s HVAC systems.  Constant environmental monitoring is an important part of preserving our collections, as paper, film, and other substrates are vulnerable to fluctuations in temperature and humidity.  There’s no point to collecting items that can’t be made to last!  You never know what someone might need next week…

Oversized book being digitized in the production studio

Digital Library Center 101

Greetings from the Digital Library Center!

Want to get a head start on your upcoming research papers? Looking to learn more about the history of the university and life on campus? Maybe you just want to view some of Special Collections and Archives‘ notable rare books and historical collections from the comfort of your own room. Check out FSU’s Digital Library (FSUDL) to view digital reproductions of the fascinating items held right here on campus. Visitors to the site can access primary and secondary source material or just go to see some really cool images without having to pay a visit to Strozier Library.

The Digital Library Center (DLC) staff is diligently working behind the scenes to digitize and share their fascinating collections with the FSU community and the rest of the world. Their expert staff consists of the Production Studio team, Metadata Librarian and Digital Archivist. Together they work closely with library staff as well as with faculty to create high quality digital collections. By regularly uploading quality content to the FSUDL, the DLC is helping connect users to material needed for their research.

Rare and fragile New York Herald newspaper detailing President Lincoln's assassination, April 15, 1865.
Rare and fragile New York Herald newspaper detailing President Lincoln’s assassination, April 15, 1865.

While the DLC mainly focuses on uploading content to the FSUDL, their work serves several purposes, including preservation. By digitizing rare, fragile collections and uploading the images, they are safeguarding items from over-handling while making them accessible to more users. The DLC also provides community members with expertise in the digitization of materials, digital project management and metadata creation.

Our Metadata Librarian, Matthew Miguez provides expertise on the description of materials for long-term access and preservation. Without his meticulous organization of information backstage, finding content in the Digital Library would be frustrating and nearly impossible.

Krystal Thomas, our Digital Archivist provides essential project management expertise to the DLC and ultimately decides which materials are chosen to be digitized and uploaded to the FSUDL. From each project’s initiation to completion, her comprehensive work helps ensure that relevant, quality content is consistently being added to our growing digital collection.

Oversized book of hymnals from the 1600s, Breviarium Romanum, being digitized in the Digital Production Studio
Oversized book of hymnals from the 1600s, Breviarium Romanum, being digitized in the Digital Production Studio

Stuart Rochford, Giesele Towels, and Willa Patterson make up the DLC’s production studio team. They are tasked with photographing and scanning Special Collections material for their images to be uploaded to the Digital Library. Their extensive knowledge of state-of-the-art photographic equipment and imaging standards allows for high quality, high resolution images to be shared.

This week the DLC is starting production on its next exciting project: Cookbooks and Herbals dating all the way back to the 1400s. New collections are always being added to the FSUDL and are often promoted right here on our blog, so check back for more updates on our digital collections!

Our new Digital Library is Live!

FSU Libraries announce the launch of the new Florida State University Digital Library. The FSU Digital Library provides online access to Florida State University’s rich and unique historical collections of photos, pamphlets, maps, manuscripts, and rare books.

Currently, the FSUDL highlights collections from Special Collections & Archives, Heritage Protocol, and the Claude Pepper Library, including yearbooks from 1900 to 1997, historical photos of campus, and selections from the Paul A.M. Dirac Papers.  Over time it will connect students and researchers with digital collections from all over the University.  The technology platform supporting the FSUDL allows for future growth in both content and services.

“I’m very excited about the potential to show FSU’s special collections, which include hundreds of thousands of rare items, to a wide audience through FL-Islandora,” said Dean of FSU Libraries Julia Zimmerman.

The Florida State University Digital Library is run on the FL-Islandora platform, managed by the Florida Virtual Campus (FLVC). Florida State University Libraries has been a development partner with FLVC on the state’s common digital platform project.

“FSU’s implementation marks a significant milestone in the growth of Islandora as a common digital platform that can serve all of Florida’s public universities and colleges,” commented Florida Virtual Campus Executive Director Don Muccino. “As a development partner, FSU provided tremendous insight into the unique needs and challenges that university libraries have in managing their large digital collections and making those resources easily available to their students, faculty and staff.”

These partnerships enabled the project to succeed. “Our collaborative relationships with FLVC as well as with LYRASIS have made this development possible,” said Dean Zimmerman. “Our combined efforts will provide Islandora capabilities to many other libraries in Florida and nationally.”

The mission of the University Libraries is to Advance academic excellence and success for FSU and the broader scholarly community through intellectual discovery and dynamic engagement. For more information about the FSU Libraries, please visit http://www.lib.fsu.edu/.

Challenges to a new Digital Archivist

I’m Krystal Thomas, digital archivist with Special Collections at Florida State University. I am new in my position, just starting this past summer. I am not new to the world of digital collections, but as I have learned quickly in my new position, each institution has its own processes and procedures for handling its digital collections over time. As my days are still finding their rhythm, I thought it would be more useful on this the Day of Digital Archives to share some of my lessons learned on starting a new position and learning a new institution’s ups and downs with digital projects.

Florida State University has had active digital collections for a decade and more at this point. During that time, many people and departments have influenced and been involved in the development, publication, and preservation of digital items, which is wonderful and I am happy to see the support these programs have received over time. However, coming in as the new kid on the block, I had a lot of questions about how work had been done, how decisions had been made, and where all of this work was now. As I found during my explorations, these answers weren’t always easy to find. Sometimes, it was simply there was no documentation to look over, while other times it was that the people who could give me the answers had left Florida State long before I was hired. From my research gathering, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned in inheriting a digital collections legacy and what you should be doing and/or thinking about to properly help the people who come after you in the digital archivist role.

Document everything

Why did you choose this collection? Why did you choose only three boxes of that collection? Why did you name the files that way? Why didn’t you use the source field? Where are the TIFF images now? I have a million questions about how digital items were created and cataloged in the past but can’t find the answers anywhere. Document every decision you make for a digital project for your benefit, as well as the benefit of the people you are working with and the people who will come after you. This also helps in understanding partnerships you may establish with other entities. FSU participates in several digital preservation programs, but we currently are working to re-establish our relationships with them as there is little to no documentation about how FSU used them before.

Your decisions might not be as obvious as you think

This advice goes back to the “document everything” mantra but deserves its own line: no one is a mind reader, and no one coming after you will be faced with the same set of challenges, resources, and expectations again. There were probably very good, logical reasons why you made the decisions you did when it comes to a digital collection you are working on, but if you don’t record those somewhere, no one–not your supervisor, intern, or even you ten years down the road–will know that and be able to explain that to others moving forward.

Hindsight is 20/20

As an institution moves forward with digital collections, it will learn a little more with each project undertaken. It will gain expertise, and its last project should be better organized and better presented than its first. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20, but if there isn’t an active plan to be recording and sharing the information learned on each project with those involved, how will we learn? Project Management literature says once a project is completed, whether it was a success or not, a team should look back over it and see what they learned and then record that information. Digital projects should be handled the same way. Whether you completed all 2,000 items or ran into a glitch halfway through so the project was never completed, you still learned something of value and that hindsight should be put to good use.

Some times what everyone else is doing won’t work as well for you

When digital projects were started, everyone was looking at everyone else for how to do things which was great and is one of the best ways to learn, but there still has to be a thought process involved. Just because one institution does their digital projects one way does not mean that way will work for us. Each institution has its own set of factors determining how its digital projects are going to work; it is not a one size fits all, and that’s OK. Look around and borrow one process here or one standard there until you’ve developed the right digital process for your institution’s goals and culture.

Don’t make the same mistakes all over again

All of the above leads up to the fact you don’t have to make all the mistakes all over again. A lot of those challenges wouldn’t exist if more of the people and departments involved in the digitization process had communicated more effectively with each other as they worked on projects. A better communication structure would have meant a lot more of what had been done before would have been recorded, creating a self-sustaining institutional memory for this type of work at FSU.

Think outside the box

Keep in mind that you don’t have to do it the same way as before and if you want to help improve the systems and create new ones, get creative and think about how to solve the problems in ways people haven’t before. One of the best things about working in the digital world is creative solutions are always there if you just take the time to think through how they will work and fit into the long-term strategy.

Moving forward in my position, I want to make sure we are documenting our work and learning from our mistakes to create a strong digital collections program moving forward. It will be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it!