Standards | Presbyterian Historical Society

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February 13, 2014

On January 23, 2014, PHS helped to coordinate the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Philadelphia Regional Meeting at the Library Company.  Launched in 2010, the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) is a collaborative effort among more than 100 government agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and businesses to establish, maintain, and advance the capacity to preserve our nation's digital resources for the benefit of present and future generations. The NDSA supports activities that advance digital stewardship in all its forms. The regional meeting focused on standards. Here at PHS we have a lot of different standards we use to describe our collections: one for books (MARC 21), one for Archival Collections (DACS), another for our images based on the Library of Congress's image metadata scheme. We also follow industry standards on how we handle patron information and how we store records. Standards help us make decisions that are backed by our professional community. They also make it easier to share content with other institutions using compatible standards.

Emily Gore of the DPLA spoke to the group about how standards help to make the DPLA possible. The DPLA is fairly new, having launched in April of 2013, yet it has over 5.5 million searchable items. The DPLA pulls content (images, video, audio, etc.) from over 1,100 institutions and relies on common metadata to create one interface for searching,  browsing, via a timeline, and a map, or through one of the various apps built on top of this data. DPLA's impressive growth has only been possible because of the culture within libraries and archives of adhering to industry standards.

Digital Preservation Standards

Meg Philips, from NARA, came to speak about her work on the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation chart, a "tiered set of recommendations for how organizations should begin to build or enhance their digital preservation activities. A work in progress by the NDSA, it is intended to be a relatively easy-to-use set of guidelines useful not only for those just beginning to think about preserving their digital assets, but also for institutions planning the next steps in enhancing their existing digital preservation systems and workflows." The chart is helpful to organizations looking to do a minimum amount of digital preservation to ensure that their files will be safe and persistent.

Digitization Standards

Ian Bogus of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries spoke about the ALCTS's "Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendations," a great resource for anyone digitizing content. A team spent one year drafting the recommendations and another having them vetted by professional groups. The resulting ALCTS tool speaks to the novice and expert. Though the recommendations may seem extensive enough for people looking to make the best quality image possible, Ian stressed that they were designed as minimum benchmarks--enough so that successor archivists or librarians will not need to re-digitize items.

Metadata Standards

Last to speak was George Blood of George Blood Audio|Video|Film. George manages the digitization and metadata creation of large scale projects for various big-name institutions around the country. His clients ask him to adhere to detailed custom metadata schemes that they have developed to suit their individual project. Year after year of creating monstrous metadata files for audio and video has turned him into a "metadata pessimist." Metadata is not always the best choice, he went on to explain. Persons working in this field need to find a way to create smarter metadata.

"The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from." --Andrew S. Tanenbaum

Standards is something you hear about a lot in the libraries and archives world, and rightly so; they help us to share information and participate in a larger ecosystem of content. One aspect of the standards discussion much talked about at the NDSA meetings was minimums. Though it is hugely impressive to read about Emory preserving Salmon Rushdie's electronic files, or to browse the Smithsonian's 3-D Collection, the standards used by those institutions cannot realistically be adhered to by smaller ones. For this reason, we are fortunate the NDSA and other organizations are advancing a national dialogue about realistic minimums for all institutions.