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ASU Library awarded digital preservation grant

Stacey Erdman
The Arizona State University Library and its partner organizations were selected by the Institute of Museum and Library Services as the recipient of a 2021 Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program award, totaling $249,974, with the aim of advancing digital preservation practices among under-resourced organizations.

ASU Library’s partner organizations include the Sustainable Heritage Network, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, the Association of Hawai’i Archivists, Northwest Archivists, Inc., and Amigos Library Services. 

The three-year grant, led by Stacey Erdman, Digital Preservation and Curation Officer and Acting Digital Repository Manager for the ASU Library, who will serve as the Principal Investigator and Project Manager of the multi-organizational project, will deliver an innovative digital preservation training program to practicing librarians and archivists struggling to provide ongoing care for their digital collections.

Erdman, here to discuss the award – its significance and functionality – says the project stemmed from her involvement with the Digital POWRR Project. (POWRR stands for “Preserving [digital] Objects with Restricted Resources.”)

Question: How did this grant proposal come about?

Erdman: I’ve had the good fortune to be involved with the Digital POWRR Project since its inception in 2011, which has provided research, outreach and advocacy in the digital preservation field, specifically focusing on under-resourced cultural heritage institutions. POWRR’s work over the past decade has included the highly regarded POWRR Tool Grid, a white paper detailing the testing of various digital preservation tools and systems, a one-day workshop and a two-day professional institute (one of which was graciously hosted at ASU Library in summer 2018). I served as the Technical Coordinator on the first research grant and provided curriculum design, community coordination and instruction services for the education-focused grants. 

The professional institute grant focused on practical hands-on technical training and cohort-based learning, and provided a gentle introduction to assessment procedures through the use of a tool we developed called the POWRR Plan. Attendee feedback demonstrated that practitioners in the field have an interest in working collaboratively with peers to assess organizational capabilities, stages of growth and maturity, and measures they can take to properly care for their unique digital collections.

During the time I served as a POWRR Instructor, I also was awarded a scholarship to attend the NEDCC’s Digital Preservation Assessment Training program, where I learned how to employ the framework that they had recently developed. As part of my training, I performed a digital collections assessment at Ripon College. This training really demonstrated the power of formal assessment processes to me, and made me think critically about how it could be operationalized as a supportive training program that could benefit organizations who were struggling to care for their digital collections.

Q: Did you develop this proposal with members from the partner organizations?

Erdman: Digital POWRR has built relationships with many wonderful partner organizations around the country during the course of the past decade. Partners help us publicize events and connect us to the professionals who would benefit the most from the training. For this grant, six partner organizations will sponsor a small cohort of six individuals drawn from their membership to participate in this training program. Project staff will work with the partners to screen participant applications, and will help with the final selection of participants. By locating training within cohorts drawn from existing communities of practice, it is hoped that participants will feel a greater sense of familiarity and comfort. Additionally, partner organizations may ask their participants to later work on using their new expertise to help operationalize a peer assessment program/relationship system within their own membership.

Q: Can you share any further details about the grant or the training program you’ll be developing at this time?

Erdman: The grant is a three-year award that serves dual purposes. It is primarily a training program, but it also serves as a research project. I am serving as the Principal Investigator for this grant and will also be the project manager. In the process of creating the proposal, I have already assembled a small team of expert collaborators, drawn across the digital preservation landscape, who will serve as advisors or peer mentors to the cohorts that we select for the training opportunity. We will collaborate on the creation and delivery of educational resources for the participants (all through remote technologies), and will provide ongoing support to participants as they complete their three different (self and peer) assessments. I will also be responsible for overseeing the project’s final deliverables, including compiling the participant’s case studies and assessments into an ebook, and writing a white paper that summarizes mentor and participant feedback regarding the assessment process and frameworks utilized, including suggestions for ways peer assessment programs can be successfully operationalized within existing communities of practice. 

One exciting feature of the program is that participants will be compensated for their time and participation in this project with a stipend of $3,000. We will also provide their home institutions with a small “tech startup” subaward of around $900, so that they can make small technology-related purchases to jump-start their preservation initiatives.

Q: Why is this grant award significant to libraries, in general, and to the ASU Library, specifically?

Erdman: Providing training on assessment procedures and practices is beneficial for practitioners, their collections, their organizations and the profession overall. In the words of Susan Swartzburg, “it is the responsibility of every institution that holds unique collections, regardless of its size and resources, to properly care for its collection.” Most libraries and archives either create or acquire digital materials, and don’t always have specialized staff able to care for these materials. Organizations serving BIPOC populations, or who are resource-constrained, often have the most unique collections that are most at risk of loss. I feel a deep sense of duty to do everything I can to help equalize the playing field in the digital preservation community, so that preservation does not become the province of the elite. Additionally, by immersing myself in the world of assessment procedures and practices, I expect my own body of knowledge and skills to grow in this area, which will undoubtedly prove to be helpful for my position here at ASU, especially as we start to think about working towards CoreTrust Seal and Trusted Digital Repository certifications down the road.