Behind the Scenes: Workflows Development Bit by Bit

Born-digital accessioning, processing, and ingest work has been handled in a variety of ways at Wilson Special Collections Library since about 2010. This post is about our most recent development in the evergreen quest to optimize and improve archival workflows. Over the past two years, improving workflows for born-digital materials at Wilson Library has often meant centralizing and standardizing.  

Image shows a 3.5" floppy disk, yellow zip disk, 5.25" floppy disk, CD, USB thumb drive, and external hard drive.
These are some of the most common types of born-digital storage media that we process.

If you are an archivist, you might wonder, why centralize? Over the past couple of years there have been calls for moving away from the lone digital archivist model in our institutions. This can be a beneficial staffing move, but I also think it depends a lot on institutional context. At Wilson Library, we are not necessarily trying to centralize the work to one person, but are striving to use a consistent workflow across units and make a portion of the workflow (the really technical bits) centralized with a smaller number of people. The idea is that it will be easier to implement the workflows with a smaller number of staff who have capacity to become experts in the technical workflow. Other bits of the workflow like acquisition or description still happen elsewhere in our building wide workflows.  

So, what have we done so far to work toward this goal? 

One thing was the creation of more detailed workflow documentation and training resources that could be easily available to all staff. This included filling in some workflow gaps between acquisition and ingest, creating more documentation of the software and hardware available that addressed why and when to use various tools, creating a metadata template for archival folders in the repository, training resources, and more. The documentation was then compiled into a website for easier navigation and use. The review and creation of documentation also presented an opportunity to think more about our goals in technical processing of born-digital materials. In an effort to reduce focus on specific tools, I drafted some digital preservation statements the underpin our workflow goals and development. Hopefully these statements can guide us no matter what tools we use in the future. 

Image shows a cubicle space with two computer workstations, whiteboard, and a small round table
The Digital Preservation Lab is currently located in this fun cubicle space.

Another important development was making the hardware and software acquired over the years by the University Archives more available to all Wilson collecting units. This process evolved into the development of our Digital Preservation Lab and centralized service. Instead of each Wilson Library department developing their own born-digital workflows, staff can now bring born-digital accessions to the Lab where one of three dedicated staff (myself and two graduate students) will prepare the materials for appraisal and ingest to preservation storage. This has greatly reduced the number of people who need to learn the entirety of the pre-ingest and ingest workflows. It is also helping to highlight non-technical aspect of the born-digital workflow that need further assessment and development. 

We still have more to do to integrate born-digital workflows into other accessioning and processing workflows—and of course there is always the on-going process of planning and managing the big picture of digital preservation over time—but we are well on our way!

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