Space Showcase: Digital Collections

Students digitizing materials

Everyone’s favorite dinner party question for librarians usually goes something like “what are you going to do when everything is online?” or “what’s going to happen when there are no more papers?” Though that future won’t actually be happening anytime soon, we still definitely do have plenty of work to do with digital files.

Brian Dietz

Here in Special Collections, our digital program is comprised of three main functions: we ingest born digital files for preservation and researcher use, we digitize analog materials so that they can be accessed online, and we archive web pages (including university websites and social media sites). Brian Dietz is our Digital Program Librarian. He coordinates with students and staff to ensure that our researchers have access to as much information as possible, while also making sure that our digital files are preserved for future use.

Students digitize a lot of our materials, and they often create metadata, too. We use flatbed scanners to digitize most things, but sometimes they are too big for even that large screen. For oversized scanning, we use a set-up that includes a BetterLight digital scanning back. This allows us to produce a high-quality digital photograph of an item. 

BetterLight scanning set-up

After materials are digitized, we make them accessible on our Rare and Unique Digital Collections site. This site holds almost 110,000 resources, comprised of almost one million digital assets, categorized within 23 diverse topics. These include photographs, papers, and drawings as well as audio and video files. They are often digitized on a project by project basis. In fact, we’re launching a new project in June to digitize materials relating to animal protection and human-animal studies. For this project, "'The Animal Turn': Digitizing Animal Protection and Human-Animal Studies Collections,” we are partnering with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and have been awarded a Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).

Laura Abraham at her desk

Scanning out materials is just one step in our process though. Library Technician Laura Abraham maintains and improves metadata for our digital objects. She provides valuable quality control for our digital collections and ensures that all of our materials are accurately represented online.

However, our digitization work represents about one third of our digital projects. A few years ago, we hired Jason Evans Groth through the NCSU Libraries Fellows Program. He is now our Digital Media Librarian, but when he was a Fellow he helped to develop a more mature workflow and toolset for Special Collections to ingest born digital materials, or archival materials that have never existed beyond a computer disk. Similar to papers, digital files are prone to deterioration, but they do so at a much faster rate. Evans Groth worked with Special Collections and other library staff to determine the appropriate tools and workflows to ingest and process digital archival materials. Among those tools was the Kraken, our main workstation for processing born digital items, so named because it has so many wires and appendages that we think it resembles the mythical sea creature.

Kraken workstation

To ingest and process our born digital files, we use DAEV, the Digital Assets of Enduring Value tool. This guides processors throughout their work while also documenting valuable information about the processed digital package. Using BitCurator, a suite of digital forensics tools, we create preservation copies of a wide variety of digital formats, run reports about their contents, test them for viruses, and assess them to provide description within our finding aids.

This has been our method for processing born digital materials since Evans Groth’s fellowship, until just a few weeks ago when we unveiled the Dark Tower. With our new system, SCRC staff are processing born digital materials using a refined set of workflows that mostly utilize command line applications.

Student processing born digital materials using the Dark Tower

We can’t digitize everything, and we can’t ingest the entirety of our born digital materials, but our digital programming is an increasingly important part of what we do. We need people like Brian, Laura, and our students to ensure that our collections are properly described and preserved. It’s important for us to have this infrastructure now as we curate collections with fewer and fewer analog materials, though we definitely still have plenty of those too.

This post is part of a series of posts about SCRC spaces. Check out this previous post about the Libraries Satellite Shelving facility and this one about our Public Services Desk.