Category Archives: Higher Education

Reflections from World Digital Preservation Day: Introduction

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In honor of World Digital Preservation Day, members of the University of Texas Libraries’ Digital Preservation team have written a series of blog posts to highlight preservation activities at UT Austin, and to explain why the stakes are so high in our ever-changing digital and technological landscape. This post is part one in a series of five.

Introduction to Digital Preservation

BY DAVID BLISS, Digital Processing Archivist, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections; ASHLEY ADAIR, Head of Preservation and Digital Stewardship University of Texas Libraries

In recent decades, the archival field has been transformed by the rise of digital historical records. As computers of all kinds have worked their way into many areas of our professional and personal lives, collections of documents donated to archives in order to preserve individual and institutional histories have come to comprise both traditional paper records and those created using these computers. Digital records can be scans of paper or other objects, born-digital files comparable to paper records, such as Word or text documents, or entirely new kinds of objects, such as video games. Archivists are committed to preserving digital records, just like physical ones, for future generations to use and study. Digital preservation refers to the full range of work involved in ensuring digital files remain accessible and readable in the face of changing hardware and software.

A box of floppy disks, part of an archival collection held by UT Libraries

Unlike traditional physical media like paper, which can typically be kept readable for decades or centuries with proper housing and ambient conditions, digital files can be lost without periodic, active intervention on the part of archivists: legacy file formats can become unreadable on modern computers; hard drives and optical media can break or degrade over time; and power outages can cause network storage to fail. Digital archivists take steps to prevent and prepare for these contingencies.

There is no one perfect or even correct solution to the challenge of preserving digital files, so each institution may use different tools, standards, and hardware to carry out the work. Typically, however, digital preservation involves choosing suitable file formats, maintaining storage media and infrastructure, and organizing and describing digital objects in a standardized way that ensures future archivists and users can understand and access what has been preserved.

Cassette tapes to be digitized, containing recordings relevant to indigenous languages

Digital preservation represents a significant effort that cannot be carried out by a single person or group. At the University of Texas Libraries, dissemination of digital preservation knowledge and skills is a crucial part of digital preservation practice. Training and pedagogy spread digital preservation expertise within the organization and out to researchers and partners, allowing the Libraries to preserve an ever-growing amount of valuable data.

Introducción a la preservación digital

Para el Día Mundial de la Preservación Digital, los miembros del equipo de Preservación Digital de las Bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas han escrito una serie de entradas de blog que hacen destacar las actividades de preservación en la universidad, y para enfatizar la importancia de la preservación en un presente de cambio tecnológico constante. Este texto es el primero en una serie de cinco.

Traducido por Jennifer Isasi, Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation in Latin American and Latina/o Studies

En décadas recientes, el ámbito de los archivo se ha visto transformado con el aumento de los registros históricos digitales. A medida que las computadoras de todo tipo han pasado a formar parte de muchas áreas de nuestra vida profesional y personal, las colecciones de documentos donados a los archivos para preservar historias individuales e institucionales ahora presentan tanto los registros en papel tradicionales como los creados con computadoras. Los registros digitales pueden ser copias escaneadas de papel u otros objetos, archivos digitales nativos similares a los registros en papel, como documentos de Word o texto, o tipos de objetos completamente nuevos, como los videojuegos. Los archivistas están comprometidos a preservar los registros digitales, al igual que los físicos, para que las generaciones futuras los utilicen y estudien. Así, la preservación digital se refiere a la gama completa de trabajo involucrado en garantizar que los archivos digitales permanezcan accesibles y legibles ante el cambio de hardware y software.


Una caja de disquetes, parte de una colección de archivos de las bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas

A diferencia de los medios físicos tradicionales como el papel, que por lo general pueden ser preservados por décadas o siglos en condiciones de guardado adecuadas, los archivos digitales pueden perderse sin la intervención periódica y activa por parte de los archivistas: las computadoras modernas no pueden leer algunos de los formatos de archivo más antiguos, los discos duros o los medios ópticos se pueden romper o degradar con el tiempo y los cortes de luz pueden causar fallos en el almacenamiento en la red. Los archivistas digitales toman medidas para prevenir o prepararse para este tipo de imprevistos.

No hay una solución perfecta ni correcta para el desafío de preservar archivos digitales, por lo que cada institución puede utilizar diferentes herramientas, estándares y equipos para este trabajo. Por lo general, no obstante, la preservación digital implica elegir formatos de archivo adecuados, mantener medios de almacenaje y su infraestructura así como asegurar la organización y la descripción de los objetos digitales de una manera estandarizada que garantice que los futuros archivistas y usuarios puedan comprender y acceder al material preservado.

Fitas cassette que contienen grabaciones relacionadas con los lenguajes indígenas, y que serán digitalizadas

El trabajo y esfuerzo necesarios para la preservación digital no puede ser realizado por una sola persona o grupo. En el conjunto de bibliotecas de la Universidad de Texas, la difusión del conocimiento sobre preservación digital es una parte crucial de la práctica de preservación. Mediante esfuerzos de capacitación y pedagógicos tanto dentro de la organización como entre investigadores y colaboradores, estas bibliotecas están logrando preservar una cantidad cada vez mayor de datos relevantes.

Introdução à preservação digital

Traduzido por Tereza Braga

Para o Dia Mundial da Preservação Digital, os membros do equipe de Preservação Digital das Bibliotecas da Universidade de Texas escreveram uma serie de entradas de blog que enfatizam as atividades de preservação na nossa universidad, para explicar a importancia da preservação no contexto de um presente de tecnología em fluxo constante. Este texto é o primeiro numa série de cinco.

O advento dos registros históricos digitais causou uma completa transformação do setor arquivístico nas últimas décadas. Computadores de todos os tipos estão cada vez mais presentes em cada vez mais aspectos da vida profissional e pessoal. Essa mudança também afeta as coleções de documentos que são doadas a instituições arquivísticas com o intuito de preservar histórias individuais e institucionais. Hoje em dia, uma coleção pode reunir tanto registros tradicionais em papel quanto registros criados por esses diversos computadores. O que chamamos de registro digital pode ser uma simples página ou objeto que tenha sido escaneado ou qualquer arquivo que já tenha nascido em forma digital e que seja comparável com um registro em papel como, por exemplo, um texto regidido em Word. Registro digital pode também significar uma coisa inteiramente nova como um videogame, por exemplo. Arquivistas são profissionais que se dedicam a preservar registros digitais para utilização e estudo por futuras gerações, como já é feito com os registros físicos. A preservação digital pode incluir  uma ampla variedade de tarefas, todas com o objetivo comum de fazer com que um arquivo digital se mantenha acessível e legível mesmo com as frequentes mudanças na área de hardware e software.


Uma caixa de disquetes, parte de uma coleção de arquivos mantida pelas bibliotecas da Universidade de Texas

Um arquivo digital é diferente do arquivo em papel ou outros meios físicos tradicionais, que geralmente pode ser mantido legível por muitas décadas ou mesmo séculos, se armazenado em invólucro adequado e sob as devidas condições ambientais. Um arquivo digital pode se perder para sempre se não houver uma intervenção periódica e ativa por parte de um arquivista. Certos arquivos em formatos mais antigos podem se tornar ilegíveis em computadores modernos. Discos rígidos e mídia ótica podem quebrar ou estragar com o tempo. Cortes de energia podem causar panes em sistemas de armazenagem em rede. O arquivista digital é o profissional que sabe tomar medidas tanto de prevenção quanto de preparação para essas e outras contingências.

Não existe solução perfeita, ou sequer correta, para o desafio que é preservar um arquivo digital. Diferentes instituições utilizam diferentes ferramentas, normas e hardware. De maneira geral, no entanto, as seguintes tarefas devem ser realizadas: escolher o formato de arquivo adequado; providenciar e manter uma mídia e infra-estrutura de armazenagem; e organizar e descrever os objetos digitais de uma maneira que seja padronizada e que permita a futuros arquivistas e usuários entender e acessar o que foi preservado.

Fitas cassette com conteúdo relacionado às idiomas indígenas, que serão digitalizadas

A preservação digital é um empreendimento importante que não pode ser executado por apenas um indivíduo ou grupo. Na UT Libraries, a disseminação de conhecimentos e competências de preservação digital é uma parte essencial dessa prática. Temos cursos de capacitação e pedagogia para disseminar essa especialização em preservação digital para toda a organização e também para pesquisadores e parceiros externos. É esse trabalho que capacita a Libraries a preservar um grande volume de dados valiosos que não pára de crescer.

Building The Foundry

Texas Library Journal.
Texas Library Journal.

This article first appeared in Texas Library Journal, Volume 93, Number 2, Summer 2017.

Libraries have long been “third places” for community groups, students (both young and old), immigrants, national and international visitors, and members of the local the community. At their best, libraries provide patrons with safe spaces to engage with the written word, new technologies, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. Libraries expand the horizon of possibility in ways that are both emerging, and traditional. Library spaces are being transformed to include tinkering labs, community kitchens, makerspaces, and virtual reality rooms, all of which exist alongside books, newspapers, computers, and reference desks. These new ecosystems are ripe with the potential to connect people and create new communities.

As library administrators and staff consider what the new horizon will look like for patrons, it is important that we make that horizon accessible. When considering what an accessible horizon looks like in the context of emerging technologies, we should be mindful of our role as intermediaries and translators. Much like learning a new language, engaging with emerging technologies can be daunting. Without a framework for how to utilize or engage with new technologies in productive and enriching ways, our patrons could easily be discouraged, or worse, feel isolated in their learning endeavors. We can encourage and support patrons in their exploration by providing thoughtful programming, workshops and tours of our spaces, and by emphasizing jargon-free explanations of new technologies and their application in the real world. By providing an accessible framework for how to think about oneself in the context of emerging, technology-rich environments, we can empower patrons to move toward new horizons with confidence.

Lulzbot 3-D printer creating a Tower model.
Lulzbot 3-D printer creating a Tower model.

Libraries are the go-to place for knowledge-seekers looking to sharpen their intellectual capacity and understanding of everything from boolean logic to gardening in Texas soil. They provide books on the arts, and on creative practices like knitting, cooking, and photography, so why not provide a larger technical infrastructure that will enable patrons to integrate traditional creative practices with technology? Why not provide patrons with the tools and skills they need to move into new realms of possibility via the practice of making, and making alongside others? While creativity may come naturally for a large portion of the population, it isn’t necessarily a skill that is mastered overnight. Like many skills, creativity takes patience, practice, and a good support community. With many communities losing access to arts funding it is an opportune time for libraries to consider playing a role in the creative lives of citizens, and makerspaces are just one example of how libraries are rethinking their role.

A Brief History of The Foundry

The University of Texas Libraries’ exploration of makerspaces began in 2013 under the oversight of the former head of the Fine Arts Library, Laura Schwartz. During this time, a Special Interest Group (SIG) was charged with researching makerspace technologies within the scope of academic libraries.  The group’s findings provided insight into what services are typically made available through these spaces. Following this period of exploration, the Libraries began to pursue funding from outside sources in order to renovate existing library spaces to accommodate new technologies.

In 2014, the Libraries applied for a Longhorn Innovation Fund for Technology (LIFT) Grant  and an Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) grant. Neither of these applications was successful.

However, even before funding was secured for the makerspace, the Libraries decided to move forward with a project to build a recording studio in the Fine Arts Library. In spring of 2015, the Libraries participated in the second round of the university’s project fundraising tool Hornraiser — a new crowdfunding operation launched by the university development office — which netted over $15,000 for the studio, and served as a kind of proof of intention to create a larger creative space.

Artist Tim Kerr and Jerry Hagins session in the new Recording Studio.
Artist Tim Kerr and Jerry Hagins session in the new Recording Studio.

In 2015, the university’s College of Fine Arts (COFA) launched a new program,  the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies (CAET) which  provided additional purpose and created a partnership for the development of the space.  The Libraries coordinated fundraising efforts with COFA and the Provost’s office with the expressed purpose of collaborating with CAET to build tools and services in support of the program. A proposal to the Hearst Foundations was rewarded with $200,000 in grant monies to create a makerspace that would be available to anyone on campus, regardless of major or departmental affiliation.

To supplement the Hearst Foundations grant award, COFA and the provost provided additional funding to support the Fine Arts Library renovation, the purchase of makerspace technologies, and staffing for the new space. Two key positions were established to support the program and new functionality in the library. The Arts & Creative Technologies Librarian is responsible for day to day operations and provides support to faculty across campus in order to integrate The Foundry into the curriculum, and the Media Support Technician provides support for the equipment and facilities.

With staffing and funding largely secured, the Libraries worked with designer Harmony Edwards (Edwards + Mulhausen) to seek input from campus stakeholders; faculty, staff and students were invited to provide feedback during design charrettes and focus groups. These discussions allowed the Libraries to better understand how faculty and students envisioned a makerspace, how they might engage with the technology in that space, and if they were currently using makerspace technology in their personal or professional work.

By early 2016, Libraries staff purchased multiple 3D printers, technology for a video wall, top-of-the-line Mac Pros, Bernina sewing machines, a 3D scanner, a large format printer/cutter, two mills, a laser cutter, and an array of additional tools based on feedback from earlier stakeholder conversations. This technology, combined with the high-end audio equipment that would reside in the recording studio, formed the foundation of what was to be known as “The Foundry.”

Construction took place at a fevered pace over the summer of 2016. In early September, The Foundry’s impressive grand opening was celebrated with overflow crowds from the campus community and beyond in attendance.

Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe, Provost Maurie McInnis and Dean Douglas Dempster cut the ribbon on The Foundry.
Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe, Provost Maurie McInnis and Dean Douglas Dempster cut the ribbon on The Foundry.

After the initial success of the launch and praise for the exceptional results had subsided, the difficult work of developing processes and a structure for use of The Foundry began in earnest. The following months were considered a rollout period and involved developing an assessment plan, workflows for equipment certification and use, bringing equipment online, and developing learning materials that would support student and faculty engagement with the space.

As of May 2017, The Foundry is almost fully operational.

Lessons Learned

There is always a learning process involved in doing something for the first time, and it was no different building a creative space full of machines in the middle of a library originally designed for quiet reflection and housing books. Here are a few bits of practical advice to keep in mind.

When bringing a makerspace online, it is important to develop effective and productive working relationships with campus departments. At The University of Texas at Austin, the Office of Environmental Health & Safety is responsible for oversight of campus facilities. This group is charged with developing safety training procedures for labs and shops across campus. New technology-rich spaces like The Foundry present a challenge when developing safety protocols. Makerspaces aren’t necessarily as dangerous as a wood shop with a large table saw, but the spaces do present safety challenges, and therefore need to have sufficient safety training procedures in place. Negotiating the terms of these procedures with institutional partners is a key component of a successful launch, and the time involved in this should not be underestimated. When considering a makerspace for a school, college, or university, relevant campus safety services should participate in planning conversations from the project’s initiation. Experts can advise on compliance requirements, and may even work directly with principals to develop safety procedures that are customized to the proposed space.

Aside from ensuring that patrons are safe, administrative procedures and workflows need to be addressed.  Depending upon campus size, seemingly small workflows could potentially take longer than expected to develop. Will patrons be paying for their 3D prints? Which pieces of equipment warrant safety certification, and which can be made freely available without training? Who should be teaching the certification classes? How long should a patron be able to use a piece of equipment? All of these questions help inform the workflow development, and will help inform the character and value of the makerspace.

Prioritizing the development of an assessment plan, or, at a minimum, a mission statement, will present the vision for a makerspace, and allow progress towards that vision to be monitored in measurable increments.  Makerspace technology can be intimidating to many students and faculty. Foundry staff are addressing this concern through the assessment plan, and by closely monitoring how welcome patrons feel in the space. Surveys are a great tool to better understand how patrons are engaging with spaces, services, and technical resources, and, in the case of The Foundry, assist in monitoring progress towards creating a welcoming space. Survey data can and should inform planning discussions, and can assist administrators in demonstrating an operational commitment to the mission.

Students get hands on with 3-D printing.
Students get hands on with 3-D printing.

Looking ahead to the next year, The Foundry will cross-reference data from multiple sources in order to refine existing workflows, and accommodate growing interest from faculty across campus. Increasing the number of strategic partnerships will hopefully open the door to interdisciplinary use of the space, with faculty from multiple departments partnering to teach workshops or courses that use Foundry resources. Additional funding and staffing will inevitably need to be pursued in order to accommodate these demands.

Even though The Foundry is in its infancy, it has generated enormous excitement across campus. Potential partners are continuously connecting with Foundry staff to discuss their ideas for collaborative use of the space. Faculty, staff, and students are demonstrating a vested interest in the space by submitting requests for new technology and services, and by sending positive words of encouragement, along with articles about makerspace projects that are inspiring to them. This type of excitement and willingness to stay engaged with a space can be difficult to find on large research university campuses, where competition for internal and external funding can be fierce. If the excitement, enthusiasm, and generosity of the campus community aren’t evidence of the value of a makerspace, then what is? When thinking about creating new communities, the final product may be less important than the process used to get there. Breaking down departmental and organizational barriers is not for the faint of heart, but with a willingness to collaborate and tackle challenges alongside one another, it can be done.

Amber Welch is Head of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Texas Libraries.

Fisher Gets Call for U.S. News “Best Colleges” Feature

utlibs_usnewsAs most parents of college-bound kids know, U.S. News and World Report‘s “America’s Best Colleges” issue is a standard read and good general tool for assessing colleges based on rankings in a range of categories. So when First-year Experience Librarian Cindy Fisher was called by one of the magazine’s reporters earlier this week to answer some questions about considering libraries in the process of choosing a college, she jumped at the opportunity to represent the University – and to show her chops, to boot.

The full article – “4 Reasons Why the Library Should Affect Your College Choice” – is available online.