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Libraries Outsource Digitization, Get Access, Give Away IP: Preservation Is Not a One-Time Cost 2011/08/21

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property.
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One thing that still baffles me, is the idea (still taught in many library schools), that once done, digitization projects preserve materials forever.   Occasionally, there’s a few people who mention that “standards change” or “software becomes obsolete” or “media rot” or “links rot” or “bits rot” or ideas of “media refreshment” or “migration” or emulation or whatever, but mostly, the conventional wisdom is that when a collection is digitized it will remain accessible online and will be preserved “forever.”

So I was gratified to notice this important bit in the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access‘s Interim Report “Sustaining the Digital Investment:  Issues and Challenges of Economically Sustainable Digital Preservation” pdf (not the FINAL report):  “More than this, preservation is not a one-time cost; instead, it is a commitment to an ongoing series of costs, in some cases stretching over an indefinite time horizon.” (p. 18)  Since this is such an important point especially when so many digitization projects are funded using transient or “one-time” vehicles, I was a little disappointed that this point was ignored and was not included in the Final Report.

The closest their “Sustainable Economics for a Digital Planet: Ensuring Long-Term Access to Digital Information” Final Report comes to mentioning this is: “Decisions about longevity are made throughout the digital lifecycle. Bench scientists face a choice at the end of every research project about what to do with their data. . . . The curatorial team at a museum that is bringing down an exhibition for which many original images and design materials were created faces similar decisions about what to retain and whose responsibility it is to provide and fund long-term retention. Preservation decision makers run the gamut from university provosts, foundations, and philanthropic funders to anyone who has created a website that has potential value for reuse.” (p. 11)

So I saw this piece, “Step Easily into the Digital Future” on American Libraries Magazine which shows that this idea has taken hold among cash-starved libraries looking for an easy (and cheap!) way to digitize their collections once and for all.  Unfortunately, the trade-off seems to be that they are willing to pay for it AND let the digitizers keep the originals– while libraries can copy access copies. . . .  . Hmm.

“Libraries know the future is digital, but how do we get there in these times of shrinking budgets and staffs? In a tough economy, a collaborative approach makes digitization possible for many libraries. By joining a mass digitization collaborative, the historical society, museum, public library, or academic institution new to digitization can launch a small project and unlock the doors to their hidden collections for the first time; the larger university or cultural heritage institution can mount a large-scale project and quickly achieve a digitization goal at low cost.  The Lyrasis Mass Digitization Collaborative (MDC) is an example of a sustainable model that does not rely exclusively on grants or one-time funding; the collaborative works for libraries and cultural heritage institutions of all types and sizes.”

. . . “The MDC, administered by Lyrasis in partnership with the Internet Archive, is arguably the best deal going for libraries and similar institutions to get significant quantities of printed materials digitized and online-accessible very quickly and inexpensively,” said Gregory S. Sigman, acting librarian for the Music/Dance Library at Ohio University, in Lyrasis’s Solutions Magazine.

so how does it work?  It’s sounds so easy, as long as you don’t think too much about it?  (Wait, the MDC gets to own to Intellectual Property too?)  “Participating in the collaborative makes digitization easy for participants, whatever the size of their collection and budget, and whether or not they have experience and staff expertise in digitization. In the collaborative model, many steps along the way to digitization are already in place.

Participants do not need to purchase equipment, select a metadata schema or digitization standards, set up a technical infrastructure for digitization and delivery, or provide for hosting, storage, and preservation. They follow best practices and collection development guidelines established by the collaborative. The entire project workflow is already set up and streamlined. The process is extremely simple and conducive to very quick turnaround: Libraries place an order; select items for digitization; prepare metadata; and ship or deliver to the scanning center. The collaborative shares the new digital resources on the web through its partnership with the Internet Archive and the archive’s involvement in the Open Content Alliance. Participants may also download copies of the digital resources to add to their own digital collections.”

While cost-effective and efficient, passing off these responsibilities to third-parties will not necessarily help libraries for much longer.  As the Interim Report points out: “This preliminary finding (the authors note that their work is early and suggestive rather than exhaustive and definitive.) points to the importance of effective management
strategies early in the life cycle of information, confirming archivists long held belief, based on their experience, that preservation begins at creation. Not all material acquired may have been created with preservation in mind, however; the observation is most relevant for organizational settings where there is a requirement and a commitment to maintaining a record for the long-term. Further, acquisition and ingest tends to have a high setup cost, and particularly in the early days of digital preservation, every acquisition seems unique, requiring specialized lengthy analysis and processing strategies. Acquisition of at least partially processed material will become
more routine and, most likely, more standardized over time.”

Let’s hope so, but it might be helpful if the BRTF’s Final Report addressed many of the good ideas presented in the Interim Report, and libraries would begin to understand that the most cost-effective way to digitize collections (after initial start-up costs and equipment purchases) may be  DIY.

Oh, and meanwhile, Internet Archive Canada is laying off 75% of its staff!  “Though the office had initially experimented with automated scanning robots, the machines were unable to adapt to the wide variety of manuscripts and books. In 2005, the Internet Archive developed their own machines called Scribes, equipped with two high-resolution digital cameras poised above a v-shaped desk.  These machines require human operators to turn the pages, meaning that they are more expensive to run than automated robots, but can handle fragile texts. An experienced operator can turn and scan two pages every six seconds, but layoffs mean the number of operators will drop from 27 down to 11. Output is expected to drop significantly, from current levels of around 1,500 books a month to 250.”

dk

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