There are over 1 billion gigabytes worth of digital material across Yale’s library system, and the team of preservationists keeping it secure will see a major software upgrade in the spring.
Preservica, a United Kingdom-based digital preservation company, will help library staff keep an eye on all of Yale’s digital files, preventing them from becoming corrupt and keeping the digital material organized through a specialized classification system. Until now, Yale University Library — the group of professional school libraries and smaller collections at Yale — did not have a centralized way to protect and organize digital material in its library system. At a lecture in Sterling Memorial Library Wednesday, Yale’s Digital Preservation Manager Euan Cochrane told a crowd of library staff how Preservica will change the way Yale cares for its digital files.
“The idea that [Preservica] is trustworthy is not trivial. Having this in place will allow us to be securer,” Cochrane said, scrolling through some of Yale’s digital files now on Preservica to demonstrate how the program works. “It’s just like a folder on a computer in many ways.”
Yale’s digital holdings span several libraries, including the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Yale Center for British Art, and come in two forms: “born digital” files that were created in a digital format, and material that was reformatted into a digital file. Using the new software, library staff will be able to access both kinds of files in one place, whereas the current system is more scattered across the University. Digital files, like physical documents, are in danger of being damaged over time, Cochrane said.
According to Gabriela Redwine, the digital archivist at the Beinecke, digital preservation began at Yale in 1989. Since then, Yale’s libraries have acquired the laptops, CDs and floppy disks of famous authors. Yale’s digital libraries include everything from video games to 700 terabytes of video footage from Holocaust survivors’ testimonies. Since 2013, when Cochrane’s position was created, Yale has been looking for a better way to preserve its digital files, he said.
Preservica was selected because it is secure and can be changed to accommodate the particular needs of a curator. But if Yale University Library finds problems with the software, it can return the program within three months and not face any penalty.
Redwine said Preservica will help Yale’s libraries be better caretakers of digital material that is given into Yale’s trust.
“One of the most important things in my line of work … is stewardship, taking good care of the digital files that we’re responsible for,” Redwine said. “Preservica is going to allow us to be good stewards.”
Cochrane said that preserving digital information relies on having accurate data, functioning software and intact hardware. To ensure any digital item is completely safe from corruption or destruction, Cochrane recommended that it be stored on a hard drive, on tape and in a cloud-storage site like Amazon Cloud. Natural disasters have been known to destroy the only existent copies of digital items, he added.
Cochrane gave one example of how a corrupted file can completely change its makeup. Projecting a photo of the Mona Lisa during his presentation, Cochrane showed how altering a single digit of the image’s code distorted the painting to an unrecognizable degree.
The new Preservica software will also automate much of the work currently done manually by library staff, Redwine said. The many steps involved in verifying a file will also be collapsed into a single step, she added. Implementation of Preservica began in late September 2015, and Cochrane said he expects to have the entire system in place by May 2016.
Preservica is not an online access system to view material, Redwine said. Instead, library preservation staff across the University will use Preservica.
“It’s more a system that’s working behind the scenes … connected to storage,” she said. “It’s not something the public will be using.”
While some collections in Yale University Library already have systems in place for digital preservation, other collections like those at the YCBA would be getting their first preservation systems with Preservica. Although YCBA has not confirmed that it will use Preservica, the Center is interested in using it, said Rachel Chatalbash, senior archivist at YCBA.
The first Yale library, formed in Saybrook, contained approximately 40 volumes.