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.