With the digital age rushing full-speed ahead, archivists and other information professionals are called upon to create collections for a vast array of digital content. In the face of tight budgets and small staff, building that collection can be a challenge.
Patrice-Andre Prud’homme, head of Digital Collections at Milner Library, is part of a statewide team working to provide a guide for those tasked with stewarding digital content. Known as POWRR (Preserving digital Objects With Restricted Resources), the team is comprised of archivists, curators, librarians and digital humanists who are working to put digital archives within reach for smaller institutions.
“In the face of years of state budget cuts, it can be very overwhelming for libraries with few staff and fewer resources not only to build and maintain a digital preservation program, but also to decide what items to include in a collection,” said Prud’homme. “We wanted to create a collaborative system within Illinois that would work with the unique infrastructure of small and mid-sized libraries.”
Digital archives can be items that are already digital – from messages on Gmail and Facebook to digital photos – or items that are being converted to a digital format. There is a wealth of programs or tools to assist librarians and archivists, yet finding the time to understand what resources are available is a challenge for small staffs.
POWRR, with representatives from Illinois State, Illinois Wesleyan, Chicago State, Northern Illinois and Western Illinois universities, analyzed more than 70 tools librarians and archivists might use for digital preservation. “We investigated tools that demonstrate a variety of functionality from receiving digital information to storage and maintenance,” said Prud’homme, who noted the aim of the resource is to help professionals build a digital preservation system that will work for any budget or staff.
“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to digital preservation,” said Prud’homme. “The question becomes, ‘Where are you and what do you need to make this work?’ We want all libraries to move a step up from where they are in digital preservation.”
The team created the POWRR resources with the help of a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The POWRR model of information is being adopted across the country and abroad. Prud’homme and the team have given workshops across the United States educating colleagues on the POWRR resources.
“We want people to know there is a practical approach to digital preservation,” said Prud’homme. “Sometimes when people see the amount of information they need to catalog and collect, there is a feeling that this is so overwhelming, it is easier to do nothing. Our thought is that it is better to do something, so find the level of something that works for you.”