Handling Digital Assets in Time-Based Media Art

Erica Titkemeyer, a fellow of the National Digital Stewardship Residency program, recently presented at UMD’s MITH on her initiative at the Smithsonian Institution: preservation topics related to digital assets in time-based media art. Given the complexity of digital files associated with time-based artworks, how are we as archivists, digital humanists, librarians, &c. to go about ensuring the ongoing accessibility and integrity (from both archival and artistic perspectives) of these works?

In her time at the Smithsonian, Erica has worked to develop a framework for digital preservation of  time-based media, a task which — if her MITH presentation is any indication — is crazy complicated. However, she has worked to develop a preservation methodology that is conscious of traditional archival concerns as well as specific concerns regarding software/technological specifications, complex relationships between constituent elements of a work, and features of the work’s instantiation (i.e. resolution, dimensions, display format/hardware, &c.). As emerging library and info science pros, topics like this loom large on the horizon of our discipline.

Be sure to check out her work at:

And be sure to follow her on Twitter!

And, of course, be sure to check out the other NDSR fellows and the awesome things they are doing in the field and in the area.

National Digital Stewardship Residency 2014 Symposium: April 8th

Recently added to the calendar of upcoming events, please be sure to look into the upcoming National Digital Stewardship Residency symposium to be held in April at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda. The goal of the NDSR — according to the symposium blog — is to…

[…] build a dedicated community of professionals who will advance our nation’s capabilities in managing, preserving, and making accessible  the digital record of human achievement.

Be sure to check out the symposium blog at NDSR 2014.

And did I mention that registration is free?

Digitizing Toys

We’ve all revisited fond childhood memories of favorite toys: the life-size Barbie with hair you could style, the GI Joe that came with a real functioning parachute (!), or that one RC Car that could do flips. These memories are certainly accompanied by that nostalgic longing, that sense of long-gone fun that could never be appreciated in today’s modern world. Could you even explain the fun you had to someone so removed from your childhood memories? Now, try explaining your favorite childhood toys to someone 250 years later…

Oh, the memories of staying up late to play with my… bee hive smoker?
(Photo from Richard Balzer Collection; http://www.dickbalzer.com/Toy_Lanterns.254.0.html)

The Richard Balzer Collection — a self-declared Wunderkammern of visual entertainments — does just that. The collection hosts a plethora of toys, shadows, peep shows, phenakistascopes, zoetropes, and more, providing a rather interesting insight to the various modes of entertainment from a by-gone era.

But more than that, the collection website offers Flash animations of many of the moving entertainments, allowing modern day viewers to see just what audience members would have seen nearly 200 years ago.

Apparently, lions eating children was entertainment back then.
(Photo from Richard Balzer Collection blog; http://dickbalzer.blogspot.com/)

The animation element of the Balzer Collection site illustrates an interesting element of these antiquated novelties: accessibility and interoperability. Usually, these terms are used with regard to more modern media such as cassettes, film, and computer files and the ability to understand or use them once they have fallen from popular use or become obsolete. However, an important element of properly understanding these visual entertainments is not only comprehending the remaining physical artifacts. To really understand what was experienced, these objects have to be seen in the context in which they were intended to be seen, which is to say: in motion. And while we may be able to conceive of these objects as moving entertainments, if we cannot experience them as they were intended, a key part of the experiential knowledge of the objects is lost. And even though we may not have the complex spinning apparatuses or the rear-lighted peep show cases that are required, the Balzer Collection has employed GIF technology to ensure a proper migration into a format that is useable in our current tech environment.

Be sure to check out the Richard Balzer Collection. They also post a blog for updates to their collection and their ever-increasing collection of animations. A tip-of-the-hat to Huffington Post for bringing it to my attention.


2014 National Agenda for Digital Stewardship

Written by Joseph Koivisto


The National Digital Stewardship Alliance — along with support from DuraSpace — has released their 2014 National Agenda for Digital Stewardship. In this report, the NDSA aimed to…

highlight emerging technology trends, identify gaps in digital stewardship capacity, and provide funders and decision-makers with insight into the work needed to ensure that today’s valuable digital content remains accessible useful and comprehensible in the future, supporting a thriving economy, a robust democracy, and a rich cultural heritage.

Concurrent with the ongoing trends in digital information facilitation, curation, and preservation, the agenda details important elements in digital content areas, technical infrastructure development, and a variety of research priorities. By clearly articulating its priorities, the NDSA has created an outline for future development that will guide their work and provide external organizations with insight into the new horizons of digital stewardship research and implementation.

While much of the report covers ground that has been discussed before (the diversity of digital content areas, development topics for technical infrastructure), the discussion of research priorities presents a list of fascinating regions for new study. These include…

  • Applied Research for Cost Modeling and Audit Modeling
  • Information Equivalence and Significance
  • Policy Research on Trust Frameworks
  • Preservation at Scale
  • Strengthening the Evidence Base for Digital Preservation

These topics present fertile ground for future scholarly work and may be worth investigating for personal research (and maybe an article or conference presentation…).

Regardless of whether or not you intend to plunder NDSA’s agenda for personal research topics, it is an important bellwether for digital data professionals and all forms of digital scholarship.

Photo Albums, Digital Preservation, and Familial Sensemaking

Written by Joseph Koivisto


Who hasn’t had the experience of sitting down to thumb through old photo albums with your family, laughing at baby pictures, wondering at your parents’ microscopic first apartment, horrified at the realization that you look exactly like your father? This fairly universal occurrence is so familiar to many of us that we often don’t think about it. It is a socio-familial cliche, a roughly scripted interaction that is fodder for Romantic Comedies. And yet, the family photo album is a microcosm of larger cultural heritage institutions, recapitulating the intrinsic concepts and concerns of archives, museums, galleries, and libraries.

I recently found this article featured on NPR that discusses the transition from traditional physical photo albums to digital photo albums scattered across numerous applications (Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, &c.).  It raises several good points and — along with some helpful insights from Bill LeFurgy — makes a good case for practicing proactive digital preservation.

Old family photo collections tend to have a somewhat haphazard storage and preservation profile. While many of us have nicely bound binder full of acid-free photo sleeves, there is the counterpart: the shoebox stuffed with unorganized photos that’s crammed into a closet somewhere. Be your photos in an album or a shoebox, they are relatively safe. Except for disasters such as fires, floods, or accidental Spring Cleaning collateral damage, physical photos will persist and don’t require a great deal of attention. Considering that the album/shoebox model is the tradition from which we are coming, it is no wonder that the average individual’s attitudes towards active preservation is somewhere between disinterested to horrifically negligent.

Just like the issues posed to collecting institutions, the private citizen has begun to switch to a new model of photo collection: the digital album. And just like larger institutions, issues of digital preservation are upon us.  Just like we learned from our Digital Curation coursework, digital objects are not preserved by accident and we must therefore change our attitudes towards the storage and preservation of our photographic records. There is a huge array of available technologies to help us preserve our digital photos. Articles and essays abound on how to best curate and save your photos. Clearly, society is beginning the slow process of accepting a new proactive attitude towards saving photos.

But the issue of digital photo albums is not limited to approaches for storage and preservation. The implications of changing from an analog to a digital medium also impact the ways in which we conceive of our personal and familial identities insomuch as they are reflected in the collections that we keep. The family photo album is a special type of object that serves as a vehicle of sensemaking. Think of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s article “Whose Culture Is It?” that presents archives and museums as institutions that help to form cultural identities, their curatorial practices and object collections connecting us to ourselves as a people. In a similar fashion, the pictures we keep are imbued with a personal/cultural significance and indicate not only what we’ve done, but what we have chosen to remember.

The family — or the individual — is like a museum. We make curatorial decisions about what to ingest into our collections, deciding which record is worth keeping based on our idiosyncratic and subjective criteria. With the emergence of digital photo albums as the likely new standard for collecting and preserving our photographic records, we cannot ignore the influence that technology will play on our own curatorial behaviors. Do we save all of the pictures we take on vacation, a number that seems to quickly inch into the hundreds if not thousands? Do we save the best pictures and, if we do, do we run the risk of presenting an artificially rose-colored version of ourselves? Do we save the pictures of us that look ugly? Do we share our photos online? With whom do we share them?

Technology has very visibly changed the way we photograph ourselves. From taking a snapshot, to saving a picture, to preserving an album, the ways in which we interact with photos (and with ourselves through photos), has been irrevocably altered. By remaining conscious of these and future changes, we can actively engage with emerging trends and, hopefully, not wind up in a shoebox.

Publishing Ethics: Federal Mandates

Written by Joseph Koivisto


This past Monday (July 8), I attended the George Washington University’s Ethics & Publishing Conference. In attendance were representatives from the publishing industry (large and small presses), university librarians, and what I gathered were about twenty students from the GW Publishing program. While the main focus of the conference was the intricacies of ethics in the publishing industry, some of the presenters discussed some fascinating topics that I thought might be worth sharing. So, here’s my wrap up of a few of the presenters:

You have a federal mandate and no budget, now what?:  One of the first presentations of the day was from Geneva Henry, the new university librarian and vice provost for libraries at George Washington, entitled “Public Policy and Library Stewardship of Publications.” She discussed the Office of Science and Technology Policy federal mandate which, if you don’t already know, was issued on February 22nd of this year and indicates that any federal agency that has an R&D budget of $100 million or more must make any federally-funded research results publicly available.

The purpose of this mandate is to increase levels of transparency and accountability in terms of fund use, but also seeks to promote intellectual sharing and dissemination of research results to scholars and researchers the nation over. So, the mandate declares that data management plans must be made in order to facilitate the digital curatorial, archival, preservative, and dissemination activities at the research facilities that receive federal funding.

In order to meet the mandate, a couple DMPs have begun to emerge, namely SHARE and CHORUS.

SHared Access Research Ecosystem (SHARE) is being drafted by the Association for Research Libraries, Association of American Universities, and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and establishes a full-lifecycle model implements OSTP requirements by using such curatorial tools as FEDORA Commons, ORCID, MetaArchive, DSpace, LOCKSS, CLOCKSS, and more (flashbacks to Dr. Zhang’s Digital Curation, anyone?). There is a proposal draft that you might find interesting.

While SHARE is being created by library and university organizations, Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS) is being established with the support of the Association of American Publishers. Ms. Henry expressed a bit of concern on this matter because it seems that the CHORUS model would perpetuate negative elements of the current scholarly publishing environment. In CHORUS, the publishers would remain in control of the publication and dissemination of research information and would also retain control of embargo periods. Additionally, CHORUS does not promote a high level of data reuse (analysis, data mining, etc.)

The larger question that the competing models raise is the question of who should be the steward of research data: the universities and researchers that produce the information or the publishers that currently control the means of production? This is not an easy question to answer.

As institutions move towards compliance, we can expect that the digital curatorial needs of university libraries will only continue to rise. Keep an eye out for news of new DMP implementations at research institutions.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that the federal government will not provide any additional funding for this massive undertaking? But that’s a different conversation.


Stay tuned for additional posts:

  • Do you own what you own and just how do you own it?:
  • So, Just what is your carbon footprint?: