Reflections from the Pratt Digital Preservation & Archives Fellow at NYPL: Part 1
This past fall, the New York Public Library began a partnership with Pratt Institute’s School of Information in the form of a two-semester practicum-internship which provides support to a Pratt Master of Science in Library and Information Science (MSLIS) student, to gain practical experience toward the archiving and long-term preservation of born-digital files.
As I enter my second semester as the Pratt Digital Preservation & Archives Fellow at NYPL, I’d like to take a moment to reflect upon my experience to date.
To promote a broad understanding of digital archival environments, the first iteration of this internship was divided across two departments at NYPL. Currently, I am working with Digital Archivist Susan Malsbury in the Archives Unit of Special Collections to tackle issues of software preservation.
Previously, during the fall of 2017, I worked closely with the Head of Digital Preservation, Nick Krabbenhoeft, to establish a more holistic view of issues of preservation and access raised by a transition from tape-based to born-digital performance recording at the Library for the Performing Arts.
Performance documentation is one area of archival practice that has continually drawn my attention as a graduate student, so it was a great privilege to contribute to a project centered around NYPL’s Original Documentation programs—three unique programs that represent the Library’s commitment to documenting live dance and theater performances in New York City.
My project during the fall semester included:
Conducting interviews with representatives from a variety of departments within the New York Public Library
Assessing commonalities across production, acquisition, storage, and access workflows for Original Documentation programs
Providing top-level recommendations based upon the information gathered
My typical day involved a lot of listening, typing, and traveling across Manhattan and Queens—from the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, to the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in Midtown, to the Library Services Center in Long Island City.
What became apparent to me over the course of this project was that recording—and preserving the record of—a live event requires an enormous amount of time, effort, and planning. Also, that at an institution the size of the New York Public Library, interdepartmental communication and expectation management is key.
In the final weeks of the semester, I presented my findings to William Stingone, Associate Director for Special Collections; in turn, those findings helped a team of individuals across several departments to formulate a new acquisitions workflow for born-digital Original Documentations.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of this experience has been interviewing stakeholders, from curators to cataloguers to audiovisual preservation specialists. I was fortunate to be presented with such an array of fresh perspectives and enthusiasm and, as an aspiring archivist, it was so valuable for me to be afforded a detailed view of the many archival and preservation processes surrounding born-digital performance documentation.
Looking forward, I am eager to approach issues of digital preservation at a more granular level, and explore possible solutions to the challenges posed by software obsolescence in the context of the performing arts.
In my next blog post, I’ll talk about software preservation resources and tools—from Wikidata and PRONOM to Archivematica FPR—and how I’ve implemented them toward the long-term preservation of a proprietary software.