Using consistent file naming conventions for digital preservation projects
Oct 21st, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

Some of our best digital preservation projects have been the direct result of collaboration; working with dozens of separate entities that all have valuable materials that they want to share with the online world.  That collaboration brings some challenges though, and one of biggest problems we’ve run into has been how people name files after they’ve created or digitized them.

For experienced computer users who store lots of valuable informartion digitally, it goes without saying that clearly naming files is extremely important.  Often, the filename is the first thing a user sees that identifies what’s in a file; the information it contains. Without any other cataloging system in place, file names become the way to figure out what’s inside the hundreds of thousands of individual files that can sit on the average persons’ desktop computer, and having countless “untitled” or ambiguously-named files can make finding the information you want nearly impossible.

Fortunately, modern computer operating systems give people a wide latitude in how they can name files.  Most people have a file naming method that works best for them, and for the most part, individual systems can work well, so long as they stay consistent and aren’t too hard for most people to easily comprehend.  However, things can get a bit more tricky when such files are destined for a digital library, online repository, or other type of internet-based storage and delivery medium.  When these types of architectures come into play, some of that wide latitude that modern computers give us in naming files can cause some complications.  Web-based content management systems aren’t always as flexible or forgiving with filenames, and can sometimes reject or even mangle files that are more liberally-named.

For this reason, it’s helpful to establish and follow a few simple ground rules when working on a digital preservation project that requires file handling.

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A home for our digitization standards
Aug 10th, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

Large Format Digitization

Although Rutgers University Libraries has had digitization standards in place since 2006  for the RUcore object types we currently handle, the documents were often hidden deep in places where they weren’t easily found.  This made it hard for members of the public, and other people interested in finding a resource for how best to digitize to find out what we’re doing.

Additionally, the documentation was getting a bit long in the tooth; some of the proposals hadn’t been looked over in years, some still had “Draft” markings even though committees have reviewed them and we’ve already been carrying these procedures out, and in a couple of cases the documentation has been superseded by technology advances, and doesn’t match current practice at all.

For this reason, we’ve been engaged in a review of these standards and are revising where needed to make them reflect current best practices within RUcore and the Digital Curation Research Center. Additionally, I’ve created a “home” for the complete set of documents here:

The link to these standards are also available on the upper-left corner of this blog, in the navigation bar.

We hope that keeping these standards in one place will greatly benefit other curators and those who need a place to get started digitizing and preserving works.

New Anticircumvention Rulemaking: Major Shifts in the DMCA thanks to Library of Congress
Jul 26th, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

Some major policy shifts came out of the Library of Congress today that fundamentally changes how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is applied and enforced.  This decision making is part of a three-year cycle in which the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights hear from the public and review policies regarding enforcement of the DMCA.  According to the Librarian of Congress’ statement:

Section 1201(a)(1) of the copyright law requires that every three years I am to determine whether there are any classes of works that will be subject to exemptions from the statute’s prohibition against circumvention of technology that effectively controls access to a copyrighted work.  I make that determination at the conclusion of a rulemaking proceeding conducted by the Register of Copyrights, who makes a recommendation to me.  Based on that proceeding and the Register’s recommendation, I am to determine whether the prohibition on circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works is causing or is likely to cause adverse effects on the ability of users of any particular classes of copyrighted works to make noninfringing uses of those works.

For this cycle, some rather significant rulings were made that are decidedly consumer-friendly and archivist-friendly.  In particular, the Register touched on:

  • Decryption of DVDs for fair use. Commercial and other video DVDs that are protected by the Content Scramble System (CSS) may now be lawfully decrypted, and the copy protection circumvented, for Fair Use purposes.  This includes extraction of short pieces for comment or criticism, educational uses in college and university settings, documentary filmmaking, and noncommercial videos.
  • Video games and computer programs. Recognizing that preservation of old, obsolete software packages like applications and video games can require some circumvention of anti-pirating schemes, it now appears that the LoC is giving some leeway here.  It is now legal to crack DRM on legally-obtained  games and software “when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities.”  It is also legal now to bypass protection measures where security dongles are required if the security measures “prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.”
  • eBooks. With some formats heavily protected by DRM measures, potential eBook buyers are often frustrated by an inability to transfer their legally-purchased content across platforms, and the blind are often thwarted in their attempts to use software that will allow this content to be read to them.  Today’s decision partially relieves this angst.  In cases where no other alternative exists, the LoC has deemed it legal to bypass Digital Rights management for eBooks for the purpose of enabling text-to-speech.
  • Mobile Devices and Wireless Phones. This part of today’s decision deals specifically with a smartphone user’s right to load “unauthorized” or modified operating systems on their mobile devices, in particular, the practice of jailbreaking on Apple iPhones.  The LoC has ruled that this activity does fall under Fair Use.

This decision has been over a year in the making, and the next review cycle is less than two years away, at which point these decision may be revisited, or possibly even more DMCA exemptions will be laid out.

The official announcement and accompanying documentation can be found on the US Copyright Office Website here.

The Economics of Digital Preservation, Analyzed and Digested
Mar 26th, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

If there is one thing that every organization, institution, and individual curator learns as they delve into digitally preserving their collections, it’s that digital preservation isn’t cheap.  While there are very compelling reasons for digitizing, sometimes including it being cost-effective, there are still significant startup costs and an ongoing financial commitment required to sustain and keep your digital preservation projects viable.  Planning out the initial capital outlay and budgeting the ongoing maintenance costs requires a very different funding model from traditional, physical and analog collections.

In light of this, An NSF and Mellon Foundation-sponsored Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access was convened in 2007, to explore the problem of economic sustainability of digital preservation platforms.  Their goal is to issue “specific recommendations that are economically viable and of use to a broad audience, from individuals to institutions and corporations to cultural heritage centers.”

Their final report has been issued. and is publicly available on their site.  I highly recommend reading through the report for any curator, business, library, or educational or heritage institution that is considering a long term preservation project and needs to get a grasp on the economic realities of such an endeavor:

They also have a complete listing of their publications, including preliminary and interim reports.  And, on April 1, a Symposium to celebrate the report’s release and open discussion is being held in Washington, DC.

The MetaArchive Cooperative’s “Guide to Distributed Digital Preservation”
Mar 18th, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

A really good resource for those just getting acquainted with digital preservation is MetaArchive‘s recently-released “A Guide to Distributed Digital Preservation,” availble in PDF format, or orderable in paper form through their site.  Per MetaArchive’s announcement:

This volume is devoted to the broad topic of distributed digital preservation, a still-emerging field of practice for the cultural memory arena. Replication and distribution hold out the promise of indefinite preservation of materials without degradation, but establishing effective organizational and technical processes to enable this form of digital preservation is daunting. Institutions need practical examples of how this task can be accomplished in manageable, low-cost ways.

Definitely something that I think every digital archivist and technophile should have in their virtual library.

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