Digital Preservation and the Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic Project

Happy World Digital Preservation Day!

“Organised by the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) and supported by digital preservation networks across the globe, World Digital Preservation Day is open to participation from anyone interested in securing our digital legacy” (DPC). Each year, we celebrate World Digital Preservation day on the first Thursday of November. This year, following the “Digits for Good” theme, we think about the ways in which digital preservation can have a lasting, positive impact.  For a brief primer on digital preservation, see our blog post, Preserving Your Digital Archives.

Here at the Walter Havighurst Special Collections and Archives, we are using the principles of digital preservation to support the Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic Project. We welcome new journal submissions documenting your COVID-19 experience, so please consider volunteering!

COVID-19 Journals and file formats

A journal can come in many different forms; we are accepting photographs, video, and audio, in addition to both handwritten and born-digital text. If you do choose to volunteer for the journal project, the submission form will walk you through the process of making your final contribution, including a question about the format of your submission.

The material format checklist question from the journal submission form.

You’ll notice from the form that we list specific file formats we would prefer. That’s because even before we started receiving submissions, we started thinking ahead. To assist us in preserving these files for the future, we knew it would be best to restrict the acceptable file formats for entries:

  1. To ensure that we weren’t getting anything that was going to be really difficult for us to either preserve or even potentially access (for example, proprietary formats require specific software). 
  2. To limit the amount of work required in the future to maintain the files (by limiting the number of types of files to consider). 

Standard, widely adopted file formats are best for long-term preservation. If you use a file format that is not very popular, there is a greater risk that it will be abandoned by the people who are maintaining it. This applies whether the maintainers are a company (for a proprietary format) or a user community (for an open source format). Popular file types also tend to have more documentation and resources available for consultation in case of future issues.

Preferred file formats

For this project, we balanced the need for long-term preservation with the need to avoid being overly challenging for volunteers to submit. We never wanted the request that we made for a file format to deter someone from submitting.

Handwritten text

We are happy to receive handwritten text or art. However, if your submission is typed, we would prefer it in a born-digital format.

Photographs

(Highest resolution available; TFF or JPEG2K preferred)

TIFF has been the standard and is both robust and popular, so we hope this is easy for most volunteers to provide using common software. However, JPEG2K is open source and is gaining in popularity as a digital preservation format.

Video

(AVI, MOV, QT, or motion JPEG2K format preferred)

We offered more options for video because depending on how that video was recorded, it might be more of a challenge for submitters to provide a different file format. Motion JPEG2K would be nice to have, but as this is a relatively new format and not yet as common, we aren’t requiring it.

Audio

(WAV format preferred)

WAV is the long-time preservation standard for uncompressed audio and is widely adopted.

Text in a born-digital format

(.pdf, .docx, etc; PDF preferred)

PDF is our true preference, although .docx is widely available and listed for convenience. PDF embeds things like graphics and other elements directly into the document, making it highly suitable for long-term preservation. It is also very widely adopted, despite being a proprietary format.

Looking ahead: Lifecycle of a journal submission

For this project, we gave volunteers the option of keeping their submission closed, or private, for up to 50 years. That’s a really long time for a born-digital file! We don’t have anything currently that has been preserved digitally for 50 years. In spite of our best efforts, it’s hard to predict what the future will hold for these files. In this context, it’s more important than ever that we select file formats that are suitable for long term preservation, migrate them to new formats as necessary, and continue to stay informed about and follow digital preservation best practices. With good management, we plan for these submissions to be accessible and in good condition for the next 50 years, at which point we can make them accessible to the public.

Resources

When we developed our formatting guidelines for this project, we relied on the many excellent resources available for learning about preservation-appropriate file formats, including but not limited to those listed below. We highly recommend these sources if you’d like to learn more about digital preservation and file formats. 

Have you thought about your personal digital files lately? If not, today is a great day to plan for the future!

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Preserving Your Digital Archives

Most of us have accumulated many gigabytes of digital files over the years. Whether they are decades-old word processor documents or the hundreds of photographs you took on your last vacation, you know they’re saved… somewhere. You expect them to be accessible anytime you need them in the future, just like a printed report or photo album. Unfortunately, accessing your older files might not be so easy. It takes a little work to be sure that your digital archives are available for long as you want to keep them–but a few simple steps can go a long way.

In honor of Preservation Week, keep reading to learn how you can get started preserving your digital archives!

Why do we need to preserve digital files?

You might be surprised to learn that digital files are extremely vulnerable, even more so than physical papers or photographs. There is an entire discipline devoted to maintaining our digital information for the future. Digital preservation “refers to the series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary” (Digital Preservation Coalition).

While the dangers facing your physical files are less familiar than those facing your physical archives, they are no less real. Some of the risks include physical damage to the device storing the data; degradation of the data itself (also known as “bit rot”); and archaic digital or physical formatting (“digital obsolescence”). 

Format matters

Remember ClarisWorks? You might be familiar with this early word processor if you were a Mac user in the 1990s. Whether you’ve heard of it or not, if you found an old .cwk file, you would likely have a hard time opening it with modern software. In fact, since that file was probably saved on a floppy disk, you might have trouble accessing it at all. 

To avoid losing access to your data, make sure your technology keeps up with the times. Choose standard, widely adopted file formats when possible, such as PDFs for documents. Make sure you can still access your files even as you update your technology: for example, floppy disks won’t help you without a floppy drive to read them!

Backing up your files

Today is a great day to back up your digital files! For extra credit, remember the 3-2-1 rule: keep 3 copies of important files, 2 on different storage devices, and 1 of those in a different location.

3 copies of important files

Backing up your files, or keeping multiple copies, provides an extra layer of security against loss or damage. Because digital files are so easily damaged, but also so easily duplicated, making multiple copies is like an insurance policy for your information. 

2 of these copies on different storage devices

A storage device refers to the computer, server, hard drive, or other physical artifact that houses your digital files. A secure storage device is critically important for preserving your files. (Remember the last time your computer died in the middle of a project?)

Even storage devices that appear to be in perfectly good condition can accumulate invisible damage over time. This damage can result in minor failures or errors that gradually corrupt the files on the device. In some cases, the files may eventually become inaccessible. This damage can be random, or it can be due to an inherent fault in the device itself. 

The safest way to avoid device failure is to keep your data on more than one type of device. For example, if one of your copies is on your primary computer, keep another backup on an external hard drive.

1 of those copies is in a different location

Storage devices can be physically damaged or destroyed by unforeseen events: for example, if a pipe bursts in the ceiling over your computer. Spreading out your backups prevents them all from being destroyed in the same disaster. Do the best you can: even keeping your backup device in a different room is a good start. A different building, such as your office or your home, is even better. 

One approach for this type of backup is to use a cloud-based commercial storage solution, such as Dropbox. Depending on your needs, this type of service might also be a good option, but know that you are relinquishing some control over the way your data is stored. Read the terms of service carefully to understand what the company is promising and how your data will be handled. 

Preservation is a journey, not a destination

It would be great if you could back up your files and walk away, knowing they are safe forever. Unfortunately, if you did that, you’d soon be at square one. Preservation is a hands-on process. Check on your files occasionally to make sure you can still access them. Think about the technology you’re using and whether it is likely to become obsolete soon. A little attention on occasion can save you from future disaster!

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Celebrating Women’s History Month – Dr. Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins Lecture

March 12, Noon, Rm 320 King Library

The Power of Our Story

In Memoriam: Rick Ludwin

We regret to say that today we learned of the passing of Miami University alumnus, Rick Ludwin. A longtime figure at NBC Television, Ludwin began his career here at Miami. During his time as an undergraduate student, Ludwin hosted “Studio 14,” a variety-comedy show that aired on Miami’s WMUB-TV station. Then, after earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1970, Ludwin went on to graduate school at Northwestern University, and soon after he began working in broadcasting for stations WXYZ-TV Detroit and WLS-TV Chicago. Eventually, he became a producer on both Bob Kennedy and Mike Douglas’ television talk shows. 

It was during his time working in Chicago television that Ludwin met and impressed Brandon Tartikoff, who soon after was appointed President of NBC Entertainment. Tartikoff then offered Ludwin the position of Director of Variety Programs at NBC in 1980. By 1983 Ludwin had been promoted to Vice President for Specials and Variety Programs. Later, in 1989, he was named the Senior Vice President for Specials, Variety Programs and Late Night, and then in 2005 Ludwin was promoted to Executive Vice President for Late Night and Primetime Series. 

Looking back on his early years with the network Ludwin admits, “I thought I’d be here a year and be fired or would leave out of frustration, and here I am all these years later. It worked out pretty well.”

Things did indeed work out well. As a result of his 32-year career with NBC, Ludwin is credited for the success of series such as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Unsolved Mysteries” and, most notably, “Seinfeld.” Furthermore, in addition to serving as an executive on numerous successful NBC programs since the 1980s, Ludwin also made cameo appearances on “Seinfeld,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and alongside comedian Bob Hope. Ludwin also supervised numerous landmark primetime specials, including the EMMY Awards, Golden Globe Awards and “Saturday Night Live” primetime specials. Plus, he worked on NBC’s 60th and 75th Anniversary telecasts, and helped to oversee the television special “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.”  

Throughout his career, Ludwin maintained strong connections with Miami University. He regularly visited campus to give talks to students and recently, on March 19, 2019, the Williams Hall TV studio located on campus, the place where Ludwin began his career by hosting “Studio 14,” was named the “Rick Ludwin Studio” in his honor. Furthermore, Ludwin was a great friend to the Walter Havighurst Special Collections and University Archives. He participated in several special lectures here, and he generously donated many interesting items related to his career in broadcasting to us, all of which can be viewed by anyone who wishes to visit us here in King Library. This includes a small display that is currently up in our reading room, which features items from Ludwin’s career, including several “Seinfeld” scripts, one of which is signed by members of the cast. 

Rick Ludwin passed away after a short illness on Sunday, November 10, 2019 at his home in Los Angeles. He will be missed by many. 

For more about Rick Ludwin: 

Rick Ludwin Collection: http://archivesspace.lib.miamioh.edu/repositories/7/resources/535

“And Now, Live From Miami…” Exhibit opening reception, featuring Rick Ludwin: https://spec.lib.miamioh.edu/home/opening-reception-and-now-live-from-miami/

Special Collections Lecture Series – “Studio 14,” featuring Rick Ludwin: https://spec.lib.miamioh.edu/home/annual-lecture-2013-studio-14/

“The Seinfeld Connection” Exhibit: https://spec.lib.miamioh.edu/home/the-seinfeld-connection/

WMUB Archives: https://digital.lib.miamioh.edu/digital/collection/wmub-merged


In Memoriam Justin C. Bridges

September 12, 1972 – August 2, 2019

Endeared Colleague, Beloved Friend

O15319 Justin Bridges

Exhibition Closing Reception

Friday May 10 5:00-6:30p King Library Rm 320

Art book
a SYMBIOTIC affair

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