Learning to Work in Digital Preservation

Our 2021 Lennox intern, Chris Lyons, worked in a fully remote environment for six months, while bagging Iowa State Library's digital surrogates for long-term management. During this time, Chris learned to build data packages that support long-term access to digital files. They worked with a micro-services architecture and learned to investigate source files, isolate preservation files, develop metadata, scrape data, bag, and securely transfer files to fixity-monitored storage. Mid-way through the program, the library secured a packaging server, which required adapting to new operating systems and command languages. The Digital Surrogate Bagging Project was supported by the Digital Preservation Librarian, Tammy Troup; Digital Collections Librarian, Laura Sullivan; Metadata Management Librarian, Heather Campbell; Metadata Librarian, Wesley Teal, Metadata and Cataloging Librarian, Chris Dieckman; and IT Support Techs, Chris Sweet and Kim Goodmanson.
Lennox Foundation intern Chris Lyons.

I’ve learned a great many things during the course of this fellowship, but perhaps the most valuable in the long term is not how to run specific programs, but rather how to learn and work effectively in a digital preservation environment. Tammy has been a supportive mentor who allows me to work independently but with the benefit of a safety net because she knows that when I am actually on the job I will be expected to learn things on the go. This means that not only am I able to learn new processes while working and with minimal instruction, but I have learned to use the wealth of resources at my disposal to troubleshoot and understand how to work to my advantage, leveraging what I know into the possibilities for the program. By learning this way I am much better prepared for the future, both in terms of my personal skill set but also my self confidence in my ability to problem solve independently.

This was especially important since we ended up needing to change the way the process was being run halfway through my fellowship, including a move to a Windows environment (which isn’t my strongest platform). This meant that I was able to test my abilities again, using my advanced knowledge of the programs to adapt them to a new environment.

I really appreciated that Tammy helped me understand the project in its entirety, then allowed me to run things as worked best for me. It really helped me feel ownership of the project and feel like I was a part of something. For example, tracking through Meistertask was much easier for me, so I created my own tracker and ran things through there. The level of independent work was much greater than I had anticipated and is ultimately much better for me in terms of my eventual career.

Screenshot of Chris's KanBan board in MeisterTask
Chris built a KanBan board in MeisterTask to organize work, track progress, stay on track, and celebrate their accomplishment!

This specific project has also taught me ways to work effectively when you’re running a variety of projects. Firstly, organization is key. You need to be able to track what you’re working on and your progress on each, especially when there are so many steps to each process. By using Meistertask I have been able to better track my progress over time, as well as feel a sense of accomplishment when something has worked its way across the board.

Screenshot of terminal and directory.
Chris’s organization skills allowed them to run and monitor multiple processes across Mac, Windows, and Linux systems.

The next thing that I have learned is that I am capable of running multiple processes simultaneously. It’s a matter of evaluating the time available, the time needed for the task, and the computing power I have at my disposal. This means that I am able to work more efficiently and make greater progress by seeing the project in the big picture, rather than as single tasks that need to be accomplished. This worked much better than I initially assumed I would be able to pull off. For example, when running a process that takes a while, such as the FITS procedure on a large collection, I know to get that started first then move on to other smaller tasks. I run FITS, then do everything else I need to do to set up the bag (such as assembling the PREMIS and MODS documents, and running the Islandora data scrape. By evaluating the time needed and organizing my work, I was able to make the best use of my time.

My newly acquired skillset allowed me to not only make significant headway in the Digital Surrogates project, but also be prepared for future projects down the line. I am infinitely grateful to Tammy and everyone else I worked with at Iowa State for this opportunity to grow and become more comfortable in a digital preservation environment.

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