Digital cloud system to protect and store Rauner materials

by Anthony Robles | 10/2/18 2:30am

Materials at the Rauner Special Collections Library will now have a permanent home in the cloud. The Dartmouth College Library recently announced that it will be using Preservica, a cloud-based preservation system, to protect and store digital materials currently housed in Rauner.

“Some of the materials are important research materials that students at Dartmouth, faculty at Dartmouth or even researchers around the world might be interested in, so we’re stewards of that kind of material to make sure that the global scholarly community has the ability to do research,” said associate librarian for digital strategies Daniel Chamberlain. “In this particular context, we also want to make sure that we’re making it available to a broad audience, and the Preservica platform allows us to selectively do both of those things.”

Digital collections and oral history archivist Caitlin Birch said that the library has not had a great way to store these materials in a manner that would ensure their protection for an extended period of time. Furthermore, she added that the library has not had an efficient manner in which to provide these materials to researchers in “the same way that we would a box of paper.”

According to digital lifecycle librarian Jennifer Mullins, the main focus of the library staff has been to transfer material from Rauner to Preservica. However, she added that digital materials from other campus libraries will eventually be transferred and available for access through Preservica as well.

“Rauner Special Collections does a great job at making materials available for students doing research or for classes, but sometimes you want to go back and look at materials — for materials that are being presented publicly through the Preservica platform,” Chamberlain said. “People will be able to access that when and where they need to.”

Preservica was chosen after a two-year-long search conducted by Birch and a project team that first focused on identifying the needs of the library. Birch and her team created a “functional specification” –— a list of “every single thing that we could think of that we wanted the system to be able to accomplish.”

“Once we had that, we started thinking about what the options were to succeed on all of those needs,” Birch said.

While the project team considered having a team of programmers who work at the library build the preservation system in-house, it also researched outside vendor options because of the small size of the programming team, Birch said. After meeting with representatives of various preservation systems and comparing these systems to the functional specification, Birch and her project team eventually selected Preservica.

Birch noted that Preservica is used by governments because of its security features. She added that Preservica provides “redundant storage,” which means that copies of the digital files are kept in servers located in two different locations across the world. In the event that one of the servers is compromised, the digital file can still be accessed through the second server.

Birch added that Preservica will allow the library staff to monitor the digital files over time and thus “act on” any signs of deterioration. She said that the new software will both allow the library to better connect its digital materials to its physical materials and ensure that researchers have access to said materials no matter their location around the world.

According to Birch, Preservica also possesses “file migration” capabilities, which will allow files and documents saved on now-obsolete formats to be migrated to newer formats. Birch added that this aspect of Preservica would most likely be used in the future, as both technology and file formats continue to evolve.

“These are the only copies of this material that exists, and digital materials are pretty fragile,” Mullins said. “They have a lot of preservation challenges — file formats go out of style and become obsolete — so they need a lot of active management over time.”

Birch, who oversees all of the digital-borne manuscripts in the library’s possession, said that dealing with digital materials was a “relatively new area” in the field of archiving. The material that Birch works with is primarily stored on floppy disks and old hard drives, or even entire computers, which she said requires her work to be a bit more “hands-on” because she has to extract data from now-obsolete media formats.

“When you think about the kinds of things that archives tend to have, its old letters, diaries, journals — maybe drafts of things that people were working on during their lifetime,” Birch said. “All of that is no longer created on paper. It’s created on computers.”

While Birch stressed the importance of storing these digital materials in the first place, she acknowledged that it is impossible to store everything and that the archivists are “being selective” about what to store in Preservica. The materials chosen to be stored in Preservica have been evaluated under the selection policy used by the College archives, she said.

“This will be material that either documents some kind of historical aspect of the College, so it tells us what’s going on with teaching and learning and student life and the life of the College in general, or it’s documenting an area that is a particular focus of teaching and learning here,” Birch said.