Collaborating with Faculty and Staff to Archive Born Digital Art Theses

I’m Cristina and I’m the resident at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), located in Bolton Hill, Baltimore. My project here at Decker Library is focused on developing a new model for the acquisition preservation, and access to art and design thesis work at MICA. The library has been collecting born-digital thesis work since 2015 and there is a workflow in place that essentially consists of a student uploading their PDF thesis via our learning management system, back it up to two servers, and ingest to CONTENTdm for access via Digital Decker. The workflow itself is similar to what other libraries do, however, we’re looking to rethink it because this approach is based on the premise that the PDF that the students are submitting is their thesis when it’s actually just part of it. In other words, the art that the students produce as their culminating project is not preserved and what is archived is a textual explanation of it. When students do submit visual media, they do so in CDs. This media is labeled as supplemental.

So, in many ways, this project is about changing attitudes and this includes working closely with the graduate studies office and recent MFA grads (who also happen to work at MICA). For me to make recommendations on how we should collect, preserve and provide access to these materials, I’ll have to figure out what is valuable to students and faculty. For example, do they see the textual component of the thesis project as supplemental? Or do they see it as carrying the same weight as a video installation a student has produced?

I’ve been invited to several graduate studies faculty meetings where I’ll get a better sense of what students are expected to produce, what faculty believes to be a representation of this product, and how these ideas vary by program. Staff at the graduate studies office is very interested in this collaboration and has similar questions so we’re working on a survey together to send prior our meeting with program directors. We’ll need to ask questions about the integration of theses work into the curriculum and the value that they place on the written portion of the theses versus the value that they place on the visual aspect of theses work. I’m also interested to see what other components theses projects include (i.e. presentations, shows, artists books, videos, photographs, or a combination of some of these). So far it’s been very interesting to see the potential impact that this initiative may have on how students and faculty view the theses work and how eager the graduate studies office has been to create a working group for this project. Of course, I’m also looking forward to delving more into students’ work and seeing what kind of technologies they incorporate into their practice.