Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oh, those digital assets

By day, I'm a paper archivist. By night, I teach online graduate students about digital preservation. Well do I know the pitfalls of going down the digital imaging road -- the unforeseen costs, the migration issues, the burden that metadata places on an institution, the permanent patient-on-life-support issues.

I am vigilant about keeping the Mount archives on paper as much as possible. To do otherwise would be fiscally risky behavior, since digital costs can go from zero to n times a factor of magnitude with the sky being the limit. (Note: that only applies to stuff we plan to actually keep for a long time, of course. If we don't care, zero remains a nice, round number.)

However, this Lone Arranger also knows that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of "archival quality" digital photographs of "enduring value" to the college parked on a mishmash of hard disks, servers, and portable media. (How about this photo of our statue of Mary getting boxed up by the crew of "Beverly Hills 90210: The Next Generation"?)

From a preservation standpoint, our digital photography assets are undeniably at risk. Physical media like CDs and DVDs are temporary solutions (< 7-10 years) at the most, so the alternative is a database. Can a Lone Arranger do a COTS (common, off-the-shelf) database? How much technical support do I need? How much time can I reasonably spend on any of it, let alone customizing the software? Who, besides me, will be able to do data entry? My digital asset management colleagues have opinions about Lone Arrangers in this arena, and at this point my own is one of doubt. However, I'm about to find out. We can't just leave those photos running around loose... gotta corral those puppies! I'm about to embark on a side-by-side evaluation of two packages (I hope) and will post my thoughts as I have them. Meanwhile, I have a pile of archival photos to scan.

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