As part of our WebWise14 session yesterday, Trevor Owens of Library of Congress presented on the NDSA Levels of Preservation list.  While I saw this a lot during our two-week immersion workshop back in September (maybe too much), Trevor’s presentation was a great reminder to revisit this list.  I’m thinking of including it in my beast-of-an-institutional-findings-report.

So how does your institution measure up?

Thoughts on Digital Stewardship & NDSA

Most people’s first reaction when I tell them that I’m one of the Library of Congress’ National Digital Stewardship Residents (NDSR) is: what is digital stewardship? The phrase “digital stewardship” can cause a lot of confusion, even within the library, archives, and museum worlds.

Having recently completed the Library of Congress’ Digital Preservation Outreach and Education (DPOE) training as part of the Residency’s Orientation and Immersion Workshop, I now have a foundational understanding of what digital stewardship is and why the digital preservation community has moved toward this naming strategy. In order to ensure the preservation of digital materials in any kind of feasible, sustainable, and successful way, preservation must be a key factor in every stage of a digital record’s lifecycle (which DPOE breaks down into select, identify, store, protect, manage, and provide) and studied more broadly in context with the latest trends in digital repositories and data curation. This holistic approach to preservation in the digital world, in which preservation is automated and embedded in every aspect of the lifecycle of digital information, is a necessary and dramatic shift from preservation in the analog world, in which preservation could be confined to one step in the process of acquiring, organizing, and providing access to information. This process can be aptly described as “stewardship.” It even works in the way it conjures to mind an unruly flock of data bits that the digital preservationist must herd through crosswalks like a cash-poor English gentleman does sheep (at least the word stewardship makes me think of sheep and landed gentry - anyone else?).

It was from this perspective that I recently read the National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s (NDSA) 2014 National Agenda. The strength of the NDSA is that it unites representatives from all sectors, including universities, consortia, professional associations, commercial enterprises, and government agencies at the federal, states, and local level into one consortium that is committed to the long-term preservation of digital information. The inaugural 2014 National Agenda, published on July 23, 2013, focuses heavily on the importance of taking a coordinated, cooperative, and holistic approach to the challenges that preserving digital information presents.

In response to roadblocks that institutions might face in conducting digital preservation, such as lack of funding, specialized areas of expertise, staff, or service providers, the 2014 National Agenda recommends a collaborative approach as the most feasible and sustainable solution:

“We need to dramatically increase cross‐organizational cooperation and division of labor to multiply the breadth of impact and investments made within individual institutions. It remains impractical for every institution to develop expertise in every aspect of the digital preservation challenge; different institutions could specialize in different aspects and rely on each other for some functions.”

The 2014 National Agenda facilitates this collaboration by identifying the overarching challenges that should be addressed organizational roles, policies, and practices, the specific digital content areas that need attention, opportunities for digital preservation infrastructure development, and research priorities that are critical to the understanding and practice of digital preservation.

In the words of Andrea Goethals, the Digital Preservation and Repository Services Manager at the Harvard University Library and one of the Agenda’s authors, “The Agenda identifies our most pressing digital preservation challenges as a nation and gives us the direction to deal with them collaboratively.”

During the NDSR Orientation and Immersion Workshop, I personally experienced the transformation from thinking of digital preservation as an isolated function to thinking of preservation as an omnipresent process in maintaining and providing access to digital information. When I realized that our Immersion Workshop would mainly involve going through the DPOE training, I was wary. My NDSR project at the Association of Research Libraries is designing a suite of tools, resources, and best practices that will help the research library community make their digital assets and services more usable and accessible to everyone, including people with print disabilities. I have a background in user experience and I generally label myself firmly in the “Access” category of information professionals. What do I really know about digital preservation and how would digital preservation training help me with my project?

That’s when Nancy McGovern, a digital preservation pioneer and one of our Immersion Workshop guest instructors, completely revolutionized my thinking. She acknowledged that most information professionals generally come at issues from either the “preservation” or “access” camp, but the two are inextricably intertwined. As she pointed out, you can’t talk about long-term access without talking about preservation. Just as the use of information justifies its preservation, the preservation of information enables its use. This mindset is clear in NDSA’s mission, which is “to establish, maintain, and advance the capacity to preserve our nation’s digital resources for the benefit of present and future generations.” At that moment, as I sat listening to Nancy McGovern expertly discourse on the philosophical and technical fine points of digital information, I truly realized and appreciated what my role is within the digital stewardship field and why my NDSR project is important.

For more information about the inaugural NDSA Agenda, follow the activity on Twitter (hashtag: #nationalagenda or @NDSA2) and read more about the NDSA and the Agenda on the Signal blog.

This global librarian is finally officially domestic for a while: moving to Washington, DC for the NDSR residency program!  It’s an academic-year-long stint, with some studying at the Library of Congress and then a big project at another institution.

Exciting changes!  Now comes the not-so-exciting part about weird-cat-friendly apartment hunting and developing a budget. 

But DC!  I can’t wait to meet some local librarians.  My first official networking will be attending the Hack Library School DC meetup on Saturday!  Info about the location and time can be found here.  Hope to meet some of you local tumblarians there!

Building An Accessible Future for the Humanities

Plain language definitions of accessibility and universal design? A pre-packaged suite of Wordpress accessibility plugins? Resources for website accessibility testing, video captioning, generating transcripts, creating accessible digital documents and more? A room full of accessibility experts and enthusiasts from diverse institutions around the country? Yes please! For any of you familiar with my NDSR project and the Accessible Future workshop, you understand why I was so excited to be a participant. For the rest of you, let me explain.

Last weekend I participated in the first ever Building an Accessible Future for the Humanities Project two-day workshop at Northeastern University’s Center for Digital Humanities in Boston, MA. Funded by an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities and facilitated by the Maryland Institute for Technology and the Humanities (MITH), the Accessible Future workshop brought together librarians, information scientists, humanists, and cultural heritage professionals to learn about technologies, design standards, and accessibility issues associated with the use of digital technologies.

I found the workshop focused, productive, fun, and immensely helpful. The session instructors were very knowledgeable. The atmosphere was open and friendly. The workshop agenda included an appropriate balance of lectures and hands-on activities. All the attendees took collaborative notes throughout the conference on a public Google document that I’ve since referred back to multiple times because it contains such a wealth of resources. I’ve summarized a list of all the helpful readings and resources below.

For anyone interested in attending there will be three more workshops on the same topics at the following locations on the following dates:

  • Workshop 2: March 28-29, 2014 at the University of Texas, Austin, TX
  • Workshop 3: Fall of 2014 at University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
  • Workshop 4: Late 2014 / early 2015 at Emory University, Atlanta, GA

I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to find out more information on the Accessible Future website and apply for one of upcoming workshops. If you are accepted, your workshop attendance is fully paid for by the NEH-ODH award. Northeastern University was a wonderful host and I very much enjoyed my weekend in Boston. The free late-night tickets to the Museum of Fine Arts, where they are currently displaying an amazing John Singer Sargent watercolors exhibit, was an added bonus!

Above is a photograph of Molly viewing her blog with goggles meant to simulate a print disability.

List of helpful resources:

Disability Studies:

Accessible Web Design:

Web styling and design:

HTML5 Accessibility: 

Wordpress Accessibility:

Software tools to evaluate accessibility of digital resources:

Video Captioning:

Generating transcriptions:

Above is a side-by-side comparison of the same website with different accessibility features implemented.

Digital Asset Management in Cultural Heritage Institutions: Baltimore

This wet, chilly Monday morning has me dreaming of tropical locales and beach getaways.  After the long, harsh winter we’ve had in DC, I’ve been dying for a vacation, and even a nice daytrip somewhere south would suit me.

My trip to Baltimore on Friday, while by no means tropical or a vacation, was a great change of pace in terms of how much I’ve been sitting at my desk and writing lately.  Being able to get out and see what other institutions are doing was a great help as I move into the recommendations phase of my project.  It was also just a great realization that there’s such a community out there, and we’re all working against the same challenges.  Part of the focus of the NDSR program is to build bridges and develop a digital preservation community, and so it was great to get out and meet some practitioners.

My first institutional visit was to the Baltimore Museum of Art, where I met with Claire O'Brien in the Image Services and Rights office.  

Ms. O'Brien generously showed me around, and explained the museum’s current workflow.  The institution currently uses TMS, and is able to maintain lists of available images within that, so it acts as a sort of digital asset management system.

She also showed me the slide binders - really exciting for a former slide library assistant nerd!

My next stop in Baltimore was an unexpected tour of The Walters’ digitization space.  I’d met the lovely staff at lunch in a local Indian restaurant, and we all meandered back to the museum together.  The serendipitous tour was great - I got to see a highly optimized workflow (and beautiful manuscript scanner) in action.

The machine uses suction to turn the pages.  The staff carefully align the book and provide as much padding as needed before the scan.  While they said it varies widely on any given day, staff estimated that their production speed is about 100 pages per day.

The project, initiated by a grant, involves developing various types of images (archival TIFF, access JPGs, and web images) and providing them, along with all metadata, freely on The Walters’ website.  The project speaks volumes about what a small institution can do in terms of providing access to high-quality information, and is a great example for similar institutions.

After these visits, I hiked it over to the Baltimore Collection Managers Group meeting with The Walters’ librarian and my colleague Anne-Marie.  The meeting, around the topic of digital asset management, included three speakers giving an idea of how varied the state of digital preservation is within the field.  Notably, Linda Tompkins-Baldwin, Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage coordinator, spoke about collaborative efforts within the state.

While I’m still daydreaming about my visit to somewhere a bit warmer, my Friday trip to Baltimore was really illuminating in terms of my project.  It’s great to see that we’re all dealing with such similar challenges in diverse ways, and it was fantastic to see such an exemplary digitization plan at The Walters.

ALAMW14 Recap

After sliding back into the groove of things, I feel like I finally have a minute to reflect on my first-ever ALA Midwinter.

First off, Philadelphia is BEAUTIFUL!  Look at this.

Second, Midwinter is happily less intense than the annual conference that’s held in the summer.  While there are still a lot of concurrent sessions, vendors vying to give away free totes, and general conference mayhem, Midwinter was a lot easier than the million-librarian event in Chicago in June.

While I didn’t catch as many sessions as I would have liked, I was really happy to participate in the first-ever Libhack, sponsored by OCLC, DPLA, and LITA.  This was an all-day preconference event that took place in the gorgeous 6th floor special collections section of the UPenn library.  I learned some PHP, met some great people, and got a sweet t-shirt!  All in all, a great start to ALAMW.

Jeff Koons makes a guest appearance as my browser wallpaper.

On Sunday, the National Digital Stewardship Residency program had two presentations: first, as part of the Digital Preservation Interest Group meeting (at 8:30am, whew! there was a lot of pre-pres coffee happening) and second at the Library of Congress booth on the exhibits floor.  

The presentations were great, it was awesome to hear my nine colleagues talk about their institutions, projects, and the progress they’ve made so far.  I am forever in awe of all of these people that I work with.

We also got some great audience questions after the presentation.  Howard Besser was first to the microphone.

In between presentations, I was able to catch the Top Tech Trends panel discussion across the hall before heading out to lunch with a bunch of the other residents at Reading Terminal Market.

I also got to check out Google Glass!  The FUTURE.

On our way out of the hostel, @preselectlee and I added a little librarian swag to the world map in the kitchen.

A throwback to my last gig, in Kazakhstan.

It was a great trip to Philly, but I am SO glad to be home!  There’s so much to do in my project, and we have another presentation at Webwise in less than two weeks.  Whew!

For more on what NDSR did in Philly, check out:

A story in tweets: http://storify.com/theglobal_lib/ndsr-at-alamw14

Emily Reynolds’ recap: http://blog.emilyreynolds.com/2014/01/28/ala-midwinter-ndsr-goes-to-philly/

Lauren Work’s recap: http://workindigital.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/ala-midwinter-2014/

And stay tuned for more info on Webwise in Baltimore!

Accessible Technology Tour

This past Monday, October 7th, was an accessible technology immersion excursion! In one action-packed day in Baltimore I visited the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) and the Maryland Technology Assistance Program (MDTAP) demonstration and loan library with my mentors, Prue and Judy, and Ed Van Gemert, Vice Provost at the University of Wisconsin - Madison Libraries

(Above is a photo of Molly trying a machine that makes Kindles easier to hold and manipulate.)

Filled with $2.5 million worth of assistive technology for the blind or low vision, from magnification software to Braille displays to digital bookreaders, the NFB’s lab gave me a concrete sense for the technical reasons behind web accessibility standards. Watching the assistive technology in use helped me understand why it is important to make website navigable with keyboard or to make text machine-readable so that it can be read aloud with a text-to-speech reader. It was also fascinating to see the innovative ways that the lab is using tactile graphics equipment and 3-D printers to convey the concept of images to people with print disabilities at a young age. Talking to the assistive technology experts who work in IBTC, many of whom are blind or low vision themselves, gave me a more comprehensive and personal understanding for the legal and commercial complexity surrounding accessible technologies and how difficult it can be to pursue studies in higher education without having access to your e-textbooks, library web services, or student web portals. I was struck by the deep knowledge of our hosts, their willingness to work with me on usability testing of my toolkit, and their excitement to accommodate us for the day.

(Above are two photos of the advanced technology in the NFB’s lab.)

The MDTAP is committed to helping every individual find the specialized technology he or she needs, be it for people with any kind of disability, elderly individuals, their professional workplace, and their personal support systems. I loved the creative uses and appropriations of tools and technologies, such as the tiny computer mouse created for online poker players that is also useful for people with limited physical mobility, or the tool that helps people with cognitive disabilities develop language skills but is also used as audio directional signage for those with print disabilities at conferences. As my colleagues and I gasped over the simple genius of how many of these tools make everyday life easier and repeatedly said, “I want one of those!,” my firm belief in the power of universal design was reinforced.

(Above is a photo of Denise Schuler demonstrating a special keyboard at the MDTAP demo and loan library.)

When we design products that are more accessible for people with disabilities, they are frequently easier and more pleasant for everyone to use. It’s about putting the user of the product at the core of product design. We do this through user research, usability testing, user experience testing, and accessibility testing. It makes me hopeful that by designing a toolkit that is successful in making digital information at research libraries more accessible for people with print disabilities, it will make information more open and easier to use for all.