This latest installment of the 1091 Project, a collaboration with Preservation Underground, the Duke University Libraries Conservation blog, addresses the relationship between digitization and conservation at our respective institutions.

Last year, I wrote a post about some of the philosophical issues surrounding the digitization and conservation of historical materials.  Today, I’ll address the practical issues of negotiating this relationship within our institution.

At Iowa State University Library, the Digital Initiatives unit is part of the Preservation Department, along with the Conservation unit, and the Preservation Services unit (Binding, Mass Deacidification, Reformatting, and Marking).  Having Digitial Initiatives and Conservation in one department under one supervisor makes it easy to foster a close working relationship.  When Digital Initiatives first started, it operated as its own independent unit in the Research & Access division of the Library.  Organizational restructuring in 2008 provided an opportunity to move the unit into the Preservation Department.

Locating Digital Initiatives in the Preservation Department has proved to be a strong stewardship decision for the Library.  I’m not suggesting this is the only organizational plan that promotes good stewardship, simply that this decision proved to be highly effective for our institution.  From a physical stewardship perspective, materials which travel to and from Special Collections & Archives for digitization never bypass preservation.  The materials are assessed (and sometimes treated) before digitization, and they are examined (and sometimes treated) after digitization.  From a digital stewardship perspective, Digital Initiative operates with a full understanding of digital preservation issues, and is able to stay current with best practices in this quickly-changing specialty.

The Digital workflow comes mainly from Special Collections & Archives.  Materials travel from Special Collections & Archives to the Conservation Lab, where they are quickly assessed for stability.  Stable materials are sent on to Digital Initiatives for digitization, and a streamer traveling with the materials indicates whether they will need to return to Conservation for post-digitization stabilization, treatment, and/or rehousing, or whether they can return directly to Special Collections.  Should any mishap occur during handling (an extremely rare occurrence), then Digital Initiatives staff know to send the materials back through Conservation post-digitization.

The Conservation workflow for materials to be digitized is often split between pre-digitization and post-digitization materials.  Treatments that are required for safe handling of the materials are prioritized in an effort to get them to Digital as expediently as possible.  Materials returning from digitization on their way back to Special Collections & Archives receive a secondary priority status, since researchers will have access to the digital surrogates as soon as the metadata is completed.  Conservation and Digital Initiatives communicate frequently and adjust their priorities in order to accommodate one another’s workflows.  Sharing a supervisor allows the two units to balance occasionally differing priorities with minimal difficulty.

Pre-digitization treatments include dry cleaning, humidification and flattening, and mending (when required for stabilization), and disbinding when necessary.  Post-digitization treatments include more complex mends, rebinding when necessary, and rehousings.  Of course, this is a generalization of our procedures, and more detailed treatment decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Staff from Digital Initiatives, Special Collections & Archives, and Conservation hold regular monthly meetings to discuss the current workflow, plan for upcoming projects, and troubleshoot.  Starting next month, our new Digital Repository Coordinator will be joining these monthly meetings.  He will be building and managing our digital institutional repository (its own unit in the Library’s Research & Access division), so it will be interesting to see how our intra- and interdepartmental relationships continue to evolve!

Duke University Libraries structure their digitization and conservation efforts differently; let’s head over to Preservation Underground and see how they make it work.