Emerging Trends in Digital Stewardship

Sharing new projects and experiences in digital stewardship was the theme of a recent National Digital Stewardship Resident (NDSR) symposium “Emerging Trends in Digital Stewardship,” held in NLM’s Lister Hill Auditorium. Throughout the day-long event the residents moderated panel presentations and guided lively discussions on a wide range of topics in digital preservation and digital stewardship, all of which, in one way or another, relate to collecting at NLM. NLM welcomed the opportunity to host the symposium here and was very pleased by the response. Attendees filled the auditorium, and many more followed on Twitter. The following post is written by National Digital Stewardship Resident Maureen Harlow, who is at NLM working on a project to develop a thematic Web archive collection.

For the last eight months, I have been embedded at the National Library of Medicine in its History of Medicine Division. I am part of the inaugural cohort of residents in the National Digital Stewardship Residency program, an initiative of the Library of Congress and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The program places ten residents at libraries, archives, and cultural institutions across the Washington, DC area, and I was lucky enough to be posted at NLM.

Nine young professionals pose at the Lister Hill Center at the National Library of Medicine.

The 2013-2014 cohort of National Digital Stewardship Residents.

On April 8, the National Library of Medicine hosted a symposium called “Emerging Trends in Digital Stewardship.” The symposium was planned by the NDSR residents as a way to bring together digital stewardship practitioners to spark a conversation about ongoing digital stewardship projects and programs, as well as the importance of digital stewardship itself.

The response to the symposium was overwhelming. It was clear from the registrations that the community was eager for an event like this, and we were thrilled to be able to provide this platform. There were approximately 150 attendees, from as far away as California, and representing a myriad of government, non-profit, and academic institutions across the region.

After a warm welcome to NLM from Deputy Director Betsy Humphreys and an overview of the NDSR program from the Library of Congress’ George Coulbourne, presentations kicked off with Cal Lee, professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, giving a demonstration of BitCurator, a joint initiative of UNC and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). BitCurator is a self-contained suite of Linux-based digital forensics tools that creates a workflow for digital forensics in libraries and archives that is accessible to librarians and archivists.

A speaker at the podium, behind her the twitter hastag for the conference, #ndsr14, is projected on a screen.The rest of the symposium consisted of three panels: on Social Media and Collaborative Spaces, Open Government and Open Data, and Digital Strategies for Cultural and Non-Profit Institutions.

The social media panel focused on preserving social media and collaborative spaces, as well as innovative uses of social media for libraries and archives. Laura Wrubel from George Washington University spoke about Social Feed Manager, a tool developed by GW Libraries to aggregate and preserve specific Twitter and other social media feeds for research. Next, Leslie Johnston from the Library of Congress talked about the Twitter archive there, and some of the challenges and opportunities that have come along with that. She emphasized the importance of preserving social media, and noted that “These are our channels of communication. These are our records. We should be archiving them.” Finally, Janel Kinlaw, a librarian at National Public Radio, spoke about the NPRchives project, an innovative use of social media to promote and expand the NPR archives. The NPRchives project has allowed her team to do some ad hoc digitization and re-processing of at-risk collections.

After lunch, the Open Government and Open Data panel took the stage. Panelists were Daniel Schuman, policy director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Jennifer Serventi, senior program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Nick Shockey, an open access advocate at SPARC. Each talked about the importance of open data and the societal benefits that stem from it.

The final panel consisted of Matt Kirschenbaum from MITH, Eric Johnson from the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Carl Fleischhauer and Kate Murray from the Library of Congress. With the exception of MITH, each of these institutions deals primarily with traditional library and manuscript materials, and as Eric Johnson noted, the challenge is not finding an audience: “We already have communities; we just want to draw them in to the digital realm.” Matt Kirschenbaum talked extensively about what digital curation and stewardship looks like at MITH, which has been dealing with born-digital materials from every era. It often looks a bit like this:

An old Readers Digest magazine with a post it note one it on top of an old Macintosh Classic II computer tagged with another post it reading "not working" in front of an old card catalog.

Dealing with Born-Digital Materials.
Courtesy Matt Kirschenbaum

…incorporating many generations of computers, physical materials, and even a good old fashioned card catalog.

Jeff Reznick, Chief of NLM’s History of Medicine Division, was kind enough to provide closing remarks, reflecting on the value of digital stewardship and how historians of the late 20th and 21st centuries will look to the digital records of today to investigate society, economy, and culture; medicine and science; politics and policy.  With that, the symposium was over, but conversations continue about the range of challenges and opportunities we addressed. The residents were very glad to be able to organize this symposium and are very grateful to NLM leadership for hosting the event. We look forward to continuing all of the important conversations we started on April 8th, 2014, far into the future.

For additional reflections on this event, please visit the NDSR “Emerging Trends in Digital Stewardship” symposium web site, the blogs of NDSR Residents Emily Reynolds and Julia Blase, and the Library of Congress’ The Signal.