Monthly Archives: December 2017

Call for Proposals – Is This Permanence: Preservation of Born-digital Artists’ Archives

CFP ‘Is This Permanence?’ Symposium 2018

Will the art of the digital age last even one lifetime? If cloud computing fails, where will our documentation be? As the internet pioneer Vint Cerf recently asserted in conversation with Rhizome’s preservation director, Dragan Espenschied, “Preservation by accident is not a plan,” begging the questions, What is the plan? and Do we have one? If we do not develop solutions now, we risk losing not only born-digital artwork but artists’ archives as well, effectively erasing the work and memory of this generation and subsequent generations’ art history.

Today, an artist’s closetful of cardboard boxes is likely stuffed with old laptops and iPhones along with analog ephemera, handwritten letters, snapshots, and postcards. Artists’ archives are increasingly hybrid collections, requiring new, adaptable preservation methods. Even artists working in traditional media like painting and sculpture rely on born-digital methods to help create their art, manage records, and promote their work, while other artists create solely with born-digital materials. What does this mean for artists and their archives—both presently and in the future? Will these integral records that constitute the history of an artist’s practice and oeuvre be available at the end of this decade, let alone to scholars of later generations?

Hosted by the Yale Center for British Art, this National Digital Stewardship Residency for Art Information (NDSR Art) symposium will be held on May 11, 2018. It will explore topics engaging the theme of born-digital preservation and artists’ archives, including the following: artists’ use of born-digital methods within their practice as means of creation as well as documentation; the state of the field for artists and those who steward their collections and archives; what is being done by artists, museums, archivists, and librarians to steward and preserve the born-digital components of artists’ records?; how are born-digital tools changing artists’ studio practice, and what have we already lost?; and how are museum archives handling hybrid and born-digital artists’ archives—where among these bits and bytes is the artist’s hand?

NDSR Art would like to hear about case studies from artists, librarians, and archivists working with born-digital records, their challenges, and possible preservation solutions; what tools are being used, adapted, and developed for the digital preservation of artists’ archives?

This event is co-sponsored by: the Yale Center for British Art, the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University Library Digital Preservation Services, Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/ NA), and the National Digital Stewardship Residency for Art Information (NDSR Art).

Please submit a proposal of three hundred words maximum for consideration no later than February 15, 2018 to Cate Peebles, NDSR Art, Postgraduate Research Associate:

Laying the NDSR Art Groundwork at The Fisher Fine Arts Library

The semester is winding down here at Penn and students are gathered at Fisher studying for their finals. Even though my desk is in the basement, I like to sit among the students and do my research from the alcoves in the first floor.

During the past 4.5 months, I’ve been busy adjusting to life in Philadelphia and setting the groundwork for my NDSR Art project, where I tackle issues pertaining to the preservation of digital artwork and art information. My project has three components:

  • Creating guidelines for a web archiving program focused on the arts.
  • Providing repository recommendations for born-digital artworks and art resources produced at Penn.
  • Writing a white paper on the acquisition and preservation of content published on apps, YouTube, podcasts, and other fugitive digital platforms.

Getting Started: Project Management Tools and Processes

The trickiest part of these past few months has been juggling the demands of the project’s different components.

I started using Trello as my project management tool, but it wasn’t a right fit. I ultimately settled on MeisterTask. I find it a lot more user-friendly than Trello and the dashboard is slicker. Another huge plus is that it allows me to track how much time I spend on each task. This feature is very useful. Sometimes when I’m writing or reading, I might meander and wonder where the day went. By tracking how much time I spend on each task, I can assess whether I’ve made good use of my day.

I use Mendeley as my bibliography and citations tool. It allows easy organization and lets me share documents with the rest of the cohort. I’ve also been using Excel spreadsheets to create inventory lists and keep track of who I interact with here at Penn.

Finding and setting up these tools has taken a little bit of time. However, to balance the three components effectively, it’s been really important to set a functional workflow. I might have to re-evaluate the use of these tools as time goes on, but for now I am happy with the set-up.

My Day-to-Day: Listening is Key

My typical day involves a lot of listening and typing.

I’ve been interviewing professors in the fine arts department, curators, museum library directors, artists, and others to discover what the digital preservation needs are at Penn. I’ve also been talking with fellow librarians and digital archivists at Penn Libraries to avoid cloistering my work. Colleagues at other institutions have generously offered advice and discussed best practices in relation to my project.

Interviewing stakeholders has been one of my favorite parts of the residency. Everyone has brought a little bit of their personalities and outlook into the project. Digital art and art resource creators at Penn are for the most part curious and eager to learn about what preservation of their content might look like. Furthermore, content creators really want the library to archive their websites, so it’s great to have this type of buy-in from the get-go.

While conducting interviews, I found it interesting that the definition of the word “archive” has defused. Like “curation” and “archeology”, words adopted into popular parlance because they lend an air of expertise and romance, “archive” has become an amorphous word with different meanings to different people. I found it really important to understand what each interviewee meant when speaking about his or her archive.

In regards to digital content, there is an assumption among some of the stakeholders that uploading content on the web is a preservation strategy. These conversations were a good way of introducing concepts like web archiving and gaining allies for a robust fine arts web archiving program.

Regardless of the multiple meanings the interviewees might have for the word “archive,” it is commendable that they have been tackling digital challenges on their own. Professors, gallery directors, and other stakeholders all explained the different ways they’ve taken charge of safeguarding the cultural output they manage. There is a sense of urgency and eagerness in regards to preservation, and that has been a great energy to harness while beginning this project.

Next Steps

I am currently finishing the environmental scan on digital repository needs. In the next couple of months, I’m looking forward to laying out the groundwork for the web archiving program and reaching out to publishers to see if/how they would make app-based publications available to libraries.

The digital era is forcing all of us to interrogate archival traditions, but I am looking forward to helping Fisher safeguard this material. As a cultural artifact, art makes a strong statement of our humanity and as this content becomes increasingly digital, libraries play a strategic role as stewards for today’s communities and future generations.