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Staffing and Collaboration for Digital Archival Projects

Posted by Margot Note on 6/4/2018
Margot Note
Staffing and Collaboration for Digital Archival Projects

Staffing needs for digital projects depend on the project’s size and complexity. Training existing staff members to work on digitization projects is a critical component of change management within the institution because digital projects require new skills. The digital age is moving memory institutions into new paradigms of delivering both services and content, and this alteration brings with it a need for training in managing information in a hybrid environment.

New Opportunities for Growth

Unless staff working on the project have significant experience from prior projects, training is required. Some skills—such as the use of digitization technology—may be learned while performing digitization tasks, while others, such as handling of source materials, require training in advance. A small core of personnel is preferred to a larger group that may change its membership frequently. In my experience, a small team with a leader is the best combination for success. The team will quickly adapt to the project environment and will learn to work together to solve problems as they arise.

Potential Project Positions

Staffing for digitization initiatives includes many stakeholders with different areas of expertise working as a team. The following list describes some of the positions that a digital project may need; responsibilities can be reduced or expanded depending on the nature of the project and the size of the institution:

  • a project manager oversees daily operations and maintains the budget, timeline, and workflow.
  • a collections assessor selects originals, checks their condition and makes conservation recommendations, rehouses originals as necessary, and reshelves them once digitization and cataloging are complete.
  • a database manager creates and maintains databases for the project.
  • a scanning technician handles original objects, creates scans and surrogates, and produces backup files on the storage media.
  • a quality control technician checks the image files generated by the scanning technician against benchmarks.
  • a cataloger creates or edits records for digital images of originals included in the project.
  • a web manager designs and maintains the website housing the project.
Using Your Resources Wisely

In many projects, interns and volunteers may perform work. Their contributions to the project depend on their skill level and training. I’ve worked with high school students during a summer internship, college interns, graduate students completing coursework, and post-graduate fellows in many types of archival projects. Matching their interests and abilities to their responsibilities—along with clear communication and frequent check-ins—allowed for project success for me and positive experiences for them!

Advising Opportunities

In many institutions, a steering committee for the project functions as an executive board and includes curators, archivists, and subject specialists. An advisory committee provides counsel on the project’s focus and direction. Advisory members can consist of those on the steering committee with additional appointments from external organizations bringing areas of expertise to the initiative. Subcommittees may supply more focused technical, academic, or editorial support. In small projects, the steering committee may consist of only a few members of upper management, and the advisory board may include that group and members of the board of directors.

Developing Partnerships

Collaboration is increasingly a factor in all aspects of work in libraries, archives, and museums and is often a prerequisite for archival initiatives at local, national, and international levels. Such partnerships have the potential to:

  • broaden access to archival collections
  • maximize existing resources for content
  • serve as excellent public relations for both partners

However, such projects may cause tension between technologists and cultural heritage professionals. In many organizations, physical and cultural barriers exist between archival, library, or curatorial staff and IT professionals—despite the fact that memory organizations are increasingly dependent upon technological infrastructures to support everyday activities. Mutual respect, open communication, and careful project management can foster more harmonious partnerships.

Seeking Connections

Learning to work together at the local level provides valuable opportunities for making more substantial partnerships work. Taking advantage of the frameworks that can support cooperation and understanding the benefits of partnerships builds a foundation for successful entente. For instance, I’ve directed past projects with Google, Artstor, Smarthistory, and UNESCO. Each collaboration allowed archival materials to reach a global audience of users who were thrilled to access previously hidden collections. Partnerships should always foster the institutional missions, visions, and values of all parties; understanding such goals at the outset will avoid problems. Agreements should be steadfast in the provision of access to digital collections in perpetuity.

Consanguinity between institutions has many benefits. More experienced practitioners share technical standards and best practices, and collaboration can facilitate technology transfer by developing opportunities for resource building and development for smaller institutions with limited technology infrastructure or expertise. Additionally, opportunities for staff development are created by partnering with early adopters who can share their skills.

Funding and Money-Saving Possibilities

Collaborative initiatives may increase opportunities for funding, as many granting agencies and foundations encourage partnership projects, especially those that provide a basis for developing a shared information infrastructure. Integrating collections and resources builds virtual, reunified collections that have the potential to reach larger, diverse audiences and achieve a greater breadth of educational goals. Mutual metadata and delivery mechanisms result in improved resource discovery for users as well. Savings from sharing costs on conversion by volume may be realized, as more extensive projects are more cost effective on a per-image basis.

Colleagues and collaborations allow cultural heritage institutions to expand their reach to new audiences. The power of many provides fresh perspectives, improved workflows, better returns on investment, and more sustainable results for archival collections.

Topics: Digital Archives, Archives, Collections Management