2019 World Digital Preservation Day

By Dina Sokolova, Violeta Ilik, and Stephen Davis

Columbia University Libraries is joining the international community today in the annual celebration of World Digital Preservation Day. The theme this year is ‘At-Risk Digital Materials’ and the community again comes together to celebrate the collections preserved, the access maintained and the understanding fostered by preserving digital materials. The stated objective of this day is “to create greater awareness of digital preservation that will translate into a wider understanding which permeates all aspects of society – business, policy making, personal good practice.”

CUL now holds many millions of digital items in over 300 computer file formats, content that includes digitized reproductions of papyri and clay tablets, manuscripts, archival photographs, historical publications, artworks, sound recordings, film, video, and three-dimensional objects, as well as archival material from statesmen, politicians, and philanthropic organizations such as the Ford and Carnegie foundations. Our digital collections are now expanding even more rapidly as a result of new acquisitions of born-digital content from external individuals and organizations  and from the Columbia University community itself. Our ongoing digitization of unique cultural heritage materials from new and existing archival and specialized collections also continues at a fast pace. The Digital Collections page on the Libraries’ website provides a window into the portion of our preserved digital collections that we have been able to publish online for use by researchers, faculty and students at Columbia and world-wide.

Highlights from 2019:

  • This year, with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we completed a major project to digitize, preserve and provide access to more than 9,500 Carnegie-related archival print, image and media items, totaling more than 300,000 individual digital assets. The largest portion of these are now available publicly from Columbia’s new Carnegie Corporation of New York Digital Archive website and via the collection’s archival finding aid.
  • As part of Columbia’s continuing, multi-year initiative to preserve our rich archival audio-visual holdings, over the last year we preserved and made accessible over 7,500 items, totaling more than 25,000 individual digital assets. This effort is now being sustained and extended by a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that began October 1 of this year. Information for all items will be findable in our Digital Library Collections Portal and, where applicable, within the finding aids for their corresponding archival collections.

CUL is committed to preserving for the long-term:

  • All master files (the highest-quality available version of the resource in an open, uncompressed file format) created as part of CUL collection digitization projects or during external collection digitization projects that CUL assumes responsibility for
  • All digital content deposited into Academic Commons, Columbia’s institutional repository, regardless of the file format;
  • All born- and delivered-digital resources that are accessioned as part of archival collections, including University Archives, regardless of the file format.

Columbia University Libraries’ Digital Preservation Program emerged in 2012 in response to the recognition on the part of Library leadership that our growing body of digitized and born-digital scholarly and cultural content needed to be carefully managed, preserved, migrated and made accessible for the future to meet our responsibilities as a 21st Century research library.

The objectives of the CUL Digital Preservation Program include:

  • Carrying out preservation processing for digitized, born-digital and delivered-digital collections following recognized national and international standards and best practices. Our toolkit locally includes software and hardware tools such as Archivematica, FTK, and the FRED Forensics Workstation
  • Engaging in long-term preservation storage planning and management, in collaboration with CUL Library Information Technology
  • Participating locally, nationally, and internationally in development of a sustainable Trustworthy Digital Repository framework. More about our efforts working towards achieving this goal can be found in this document: Trustworthiness of CUL Digital Repository
  • Guiding conversations within the Library about overall CUL policies and objectives for long-term digital preservation.

It is important to note, too, that our preservation strategy currently includes relying on trusted external partners, such as Hathi Trust and the Internet Archive, for preserving and providing access to some types of digitized textual content as well as to the websites that we harvest as part of our Web Resources Collecting Program.

CUL’s Digital Collections and Preservation team — together with others in the Digital Libraries and Scholarly Technology group, the Library Information Technology group, and the wider CUL community — works conscientiously to preserve our important cultural heritage digital content in the face of file format and software obsolescence and digital impermanence.

For more information about Columbia Libraries’ digital preservation program, contact dcps@library.columbia.edu.

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