Announcing the AAPB National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) Project

 WGBH, on behalf of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), is pleased to announce that the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) will fund the AAPB National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) Project, creating eight 10-month digital stewardship residencies in public media organizations across the country. The AAPB NDSR Project will build upon and enhance the already existing NDSR program by 1) testing a geographically distributed virtual cohort model; 2) focusing the curriculum and residency program topically on audiovisual digital preservation; and 3) placing residents at public media entities participating in the AAPB. The AAPB began the project’s planning phase in June 2015, with residencies beginning in the summer of 2016.

The NDSR is a post-graduate digital stewardship residency program that was originally spearheaded by the Library of Congress in partnership with IMLS. In that program, residents were placed at institutions in Washington, D.C., to develop, apply, and enhance digital archive stewardship knowledge and skills in real world settings. Additional NDSR programs, also funded by IMLS, have recently begun in New York and in Boston, led by Harvard University and MIT (Boston), and Metropolitan New York Library Council in partnership with the Brooklyn Historical Society (New York). WGBH served as one of five host institutions for the NDSR Boston program.

The need for the AAPB NDSR project is threefold. First, there is an urgent need for more hands-on training in digital preservation. “[T]he demands for individuals skilled in the area of digital preservation greatly exceeds the supply…. Further, because digital preservation strategies continue to evolve, training of those responsible for the care of digital records needs to be an ongoing commitment.”[1] This is particularly true for digital audiovisual materials. Digital preservation of audiovisual materials presents unique challenges as compared with digital photographs, documents, and other static born digital materials. Audiovisual materials typically have large file sizes, making the transfer from one storage medium to another prone to error, and often are stored in proprietary file formats and contain multiple codecs, presenting additional immediate and long-term preservation challenges.

Few graduates of library and information science and archival graduate programs complete their degrees with any practical digital preservation experience, yet the amount of digital audiovisual materials created every day is enormous. Because many analog formats of audiovisual materials are becoming obsolete, content stored on these formats must be migrated to a digital format in order to be preserved. With the exception of UCLA’s Moving Image and Archives Program and New York University’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program, training for audiovisual materials is generally a minute piece of the classroom experience in library and information science degree programs.[2] Many students graduating from these programs have little knowledge of media carrier formats and are even less familiar with digital file formats and the complexities faced with digital media.

Advanced certificates in digital curation and stewardship are available at a few graduate programs (e.g., Simmons College and the University of Arizona), but these programs do not focus specifically on complex digital media. There is, however, a strong interest in audiovisual preservation among digitally-focused graduates of archival master’s degree programs. In fact, 41% of the applicants for the NDSR Boston program selected WGBH Media Library and Archives as their first choice for their residency out of the five institutions. Yet very few were qualified for the audiovisual-specific WGBH residency.

The second need for this project is to address the lack of staffing of professional archivists at public television and radio organizations across the country. For nearly 60 years, public media (television and radio) stations and independent producers have been creating educational and cultural content. Since the early 1950s, the American public has invested more than $10 billion in this programming, which after its initial broadcast often is never seen nor heard again. Program tapes have sat on shelves and in closets for years, deteriorating and inaccessible to scholars, researchers, producers, educators, and the general public. Without migration of these historical objects to digital formats, we may be in jeopardy of losing some of the most important programming that makes up our national audiovisual heritage.

The born digital video and audio files created on a daily basis at public media organizations nationwide also must be actively managed and preserved. Most of these organizations, however, do not have formal archives or professional archivists on staff. Most public television and radio personnel do not know how to start a digital preservation program or how to handle the overwhelming amount of media content created digitally at their stations every day.

Finally, the third need for this project is to test the feasibility of expanding the NDSR model to a national scale with residents distributed across the country who will communicate with each other virtually. The NDSR model has been shown to be beneficial at the local level (e.g., Washington D.C., Boston, and New York City) but has not yet been tested as a geographically dispersed model. This project will develop ways for residents to successfully use virtual networking to benefit individual projects and to support the cohort. It will challenge residents working in different geographic locations but with the same type of archival materials to communicate with each other in meaningful and beneficial ways. This project will provide the groundwork for a successful national virtual residency program. The results of this national virtual residency program will be especially informative for replicating the NDSR model in regions of the U.S. that have relatively low population densities or that do not have public transportation networks, making virtual interaction necessary.

Through the AAPB NDSR Project, residents will be immersed in digital audiovisual stewardship, establishing for each resident a path toward a successful career in audiovisual archives. Graduates of master’s programs who seek careers in audiovisual digital archives will have the opportunity to develop skills and gain experience working in this setting, combining intensive work in the field with focused curriculum, professional development, and mentorship. The residencies will further improve residents’ qualifications for future jobs in audiovisual and/or digital archives. As a result of the residencies, the number of qualified professionals with specific digital audiovisual archival experience will increase.

Public media organizations serving as host institutions each will be granted one archivist position funded for ten months, a position that most stations have never had. Many public media organizations are not aware of standard archival practices. Many must find ways to accommodate for limited resources, time, and effort. In the archival field, hands-on experience often is necessary for students to build skills and knowledge. Library and archival theory is difficult to implement to the fullest extent in real-life situations without prior practical training. Bringing together a graduate of a master’s program who has theoretical knowledge of best practices with a station having a need for those practices will mutually benefit the residents and the host institutions. Evaluation of the Washington, D.C., NDSR program revealed that cohorts appreciated having meetings among themselves and host institutions. Through this project, residents will gain great experience in learning how best to network virtually, a skill they will need in their future careers. Virtual meeting has become the norm in the working world. The residents at some point in their careers will be working at institutions and partnering with other organizations at great distances where extensive face-to-face networking will not always be possible. This residency program will give the residents hands-on experience with virtual networking and collaboration to accomplish their projects.

This project will build upon the mentor component of the Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York NDSR programs. Each resident will have two official mentors throughout their residency: a Station Mentor and an Advisory Board mentor. The WGBH Project Team also will seek to connect residents with an informal, third mentor — an Archivist Mentor — local to the town/city where the resident is stationed. The Station Mentor will immerse the resident in the world of public media and will provide guidance on production workflow and mentality. The Advisory Board mentor, an expert in digital preservation, will provide virtual guidance throughout the residency. The Archivist Mentor will help the resident become connected with the local archival community.

The AAPB Project Team at WGBH is looking forward to working with the residents, stations, and the Advisory Board to continue stewardship of this important program, cultivating digital stewards of audiovisual archival materials among residents and public media organizations. We’ll continue to provide updates as the project moves forward.

[1] Wendy M. Duff, Amy Marshall, Carrie Limkilde, and Marlene van Ballegooie, “Digital Preservation Education: Educating or Networking?” American Archivist 69 (2006), 188-89,http://www.jstor.org/stable/i40011850.

[2] UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, “Moving Image Archive Studies,” http://mias.gseis.ucla.edu/; NYU Tisch, “Moving Image Archiving & Preservation,” http://cinema.tisch.nyu.edu/page/miap.html.

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