Not Changing, But Expanding: Managing Digital Archives at Firestone Library

The following post introduces an upcoming series about managing digital archives at Firestone Library. In the next few months, the processing archivists of RBSC’s Manuscripts Division will be posting about:

– updating donor and purchase agreements to reflect language inclusive of managing digital content;
– gaining intellectual control over legacy born-digital materials;
– tools and programs we will use to capture, process, and preserve materials;
– access models for making this content publicly accessible;
– storage options for long-term preservation; and
– description of born-digital and digitized content.  

We plan to post case studies on how we process various types of digital media including audio, email, documents, and images. We will also share any relevant publications, presentations, webinars, etc., that helped inform our process.

Why now?

Simply put, archival processing of digital materials should not only fall on the responsibility of digital archivists. Princeton University Library currently employs one Digital Archivist whose primary responsibilities are to develop, implement, and execute workflows specific to the management of University Archives. And while the Digital Archivist and other colleagues at the Seeley G. Mudd Library have encountered a steady flow of born-digital materials in University Archives over the past several years, the Manuscripts Division has only recently received an increasing amount of ‘hybrid’ collections that include analog and born-digital materials on floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, USBs, hard drives, and other removable storage media.  We are also taking steps to digitally migrate some of our audiovisual content. Acknowledging these concurrent realities, we see that our roles as traditional processing archivists are not changing but are expanding to include the management of digitized and born-digital content; and we’re ready to assume this responsibility. In looking to the foreseeable future, traditional processing archivists will eventually become digital archivists as backlogs shift from dusty, unprocessed boxes to terabytes of unprocessed data.

Institutionally, the timing is right for us to begin tackling this growing issue with the hopes that we get a handle of our digital content before we let terabytes of unprocessed data sit on the shelf to “collect dust.” We hope that our efforts to begin managing digital materials now prevent this new form of backlog from becoming a reality.