By Amanda Jones
Digital preservation of special collections is gaining momentum and, in many cases, now commonplace for archives, libraries, museums and businesses. If you work for a heritage institution or corporate entity, you could find yourself involved in a project or part of a team that is tasked with digitizing a special collection of historical materials. You may not be a trained archivist or librarian; instead, you might be a volunteer, intern, or work in an IT or general administrative role.
Here are three basic tips which will help you to offer value and wisdom in your role and responsibilities as a digital heritage preservation team member, even if you are new to the cultural heritage sector, or yet to gain full-on experience or expertise in the many concepts, standards and issues surrounding digital preservation.
Be mindful of the value and the purpose of the materials you are preserving
A special collection of historical materials can consist of documents such as personal letters, manuscripts, journals, business correspondence, wills, or photographs. They are valuable because they often reflect the rich nature of history. They can also provide unique or previously untold perspectives of social or historical events. Business companies can use them to tell their corporate stories. Creatives use them to make books, documentaries, movies, artistic and cultural objects. Teachers use them to create coursework and resources. Scholars use them to research, inform and offer critical insights into our past and present.
Read up on resources that explain best standards and guidelines in archival practices
Your tasks on the digitization project may include creating the appropriate metadata for easy search and retrieval, or transcribing, annotating, and tagging letters so that they can be displayed publicly online. Be aware of any potential copyright or ethical issues that may surround placing personal letters or other documents on a public website.
Transcribe the materials accurately and thoughtfully. Reach out to your organization about possible education or training initiatives on archival best practices or connect with organizations such as The Association for Documentary Editing (ADE). They provide standards on accuracy for transcription, editing, and indexing historical documents. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) is a US statutory body that provides advice and guidance on digital preservation activities. You can also consult other useful online resources such as the UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of Digital Heritage, the International Council of the Archives, the Digital Library Federation and the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiatives (FADGI).
Advocate for plain policy language
The more senior members of the digitization team will most likely write a Digital Preservation Policy or Strategy. Ask if you can read the document and let them know if any of the language sounds antiquated, ambiguous, heavy-handed, or difficult to understand. A digital preservation policy should act as a beacon; guiding your organization’s goals and objectives for digitizing historical materials so that they are accessible for current and future generations. It should be a clear, jargon-free and inspirational document that is easy to understand by the general public. Other heritage institutions and businesses may also wish to eventually use it as a template for their own preservation policies and initiatives.
About Amanda Jones
Amanda Jones worked in records management for over 20 years. She is interested in archival theory and the ways in which today’s global issues are impacting the information and cultural heritage sectors.