Digital Treasures: Here today, here tomorrow.

The Digital Preservation Coalition cites November 7th as World Digital Preservation Day. It is just another day here at The Wittliff Collections, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to share with you some of our ongoing digital preservation work.

You may be familiar with some of The Wittliff materials that are available online. For example, the Online Exhibitions page contains images of postcards from the entire state of Texas, music posters from the Austin music scene in the 1970s, and photographs by Graciela Iturbide, to name just a few. The Wittliff YouTube channel hosts videos of Wittliff events as well as the recent memorial to Bill Wittliff held at the Paramount Theater. If you are not familiar with these materials, you owe it to yourself to take a moment to peruse and enjoy them.

How do we ensure that these digital works are findable, viewable, and remain authentic into the future? What if a link breaks or a file is corrupted, or a server goes down?


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And what about “at-risk” original materials—such as U-Matic videotapes, cassette tapes, and optical discs—that may not be readable due to deterioration or lack of available players? In a word, we’ve got it covered, but let me expand just a bit.

For the time being, materials are stored safely on a server, but current best practice for digital preservation storage is three full copies that are disparate geographically, administratively, and technologically. In a collaboration with University Libraries and Texas State IT, The Wittliff is currently working to meet this standard.

As for “at-risk” materials, my first task when I arrived at The Wittliff was to create an inventory of fragile materials in the collections. Generally, “at-risk” or “fragile” in this context means machine-dependent. These formats not only depend upon outdated machines, but they can be easily damaged. Wittliff curators then prioritized the inventory for preservation. Several large vendor projects and constant student work have safely gotten much of this content off of fragile media, into a digital format, and under the care of the digital preservation system.

If you’ve read this far, thank you, and congratulations! You now know a few things about digital preservation and how The Wittliff ensures future access to materials in its care.

Please continue to enjoy songwriters performing, photographs of honky-tonks, and interviews about popular film. You can even relive the Austin Film Festival via The Wittliff online archive. Those of us at The Wittliff and the Texas State University Libraries will endeavor to keep our expertise up to date in the field of digital preservation and continue this good work.