How Tools and Technology Dictate the Digital Collections Management Workflow

Why do workflows vary so much between institutions?

Every time I talk to someone within the field of digital collections, we find ourselves in awe of the many different ways that institutions go through the digital collections management workflow. Each institution goes about this process differently and at first, it may seem trivial, or maybe it may not sound like a big deal, but it is not only the diversity of the institution itself, but rather the tools and technology being used that make this workflow so unique from one place to another.

Digital collections management consists of many interconnected and collaborative processes all coming together with the end goal of access to users. Due to this, it can get quite overwhelming fast without the help of countless tools and technology. While these tools and technology are crucial in successfully making these collections accessible, they also present their own complexities that directly affect the manner in which each librarian and library navigate their digital collections workflow. Additionally, various dependencies and contextual considerations come into play across each institution, which further adds to the variation in managing digital collections. 

The Continuous Nature of Digital Materials

It would be impossible to start this discussion without mentioning the Digital Curation Lifecycle, which demonstrates the continuous nature of actively managing digital materials from creation to future reuse. (The Digital Curation Centre has a great model to visualize this.) For items that are not born digital, this involves the digitization process, post-production processing of the digitized materials, description, digital collections management, digital preservation, and sometimes other areas, depending on the established workflow. For born-digital objects, this workflow may be adjusted but still includes many moving parts. In my previous post, I speak about these many moving parts and dive deeper into the Digital Curation Lifecycle, so I urge readers who have not read my previous post, to check out “Digital Collections and Digital Preservation: One and the Same, Right?


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How Surrounding Circumstances Interact with Digital Collections Management

In both circumstances, this can even be further expanded to capture project management aspects, including contextual considerations and other dependencies. These contextual considerations could range from how an item is selected for digitization to the support staff, administrative procedures, collection development policies, and more, which all interact within this workflow. For instance, if the digitization process begins due to an increase in physical patron usage, then the librarians or archivists who note this usage are the catalysts for the birth of this digital representation. Additionally, if the physical materials are fragile, preservation and conservation may need to be consulted before considering digitization. The digitization process could also be initiated by on-demand patron requests, larger library initiatives, or grant-funded projects. These contextual considerations all factor into the workflow and management of digital collections, demonstrating the highly intertwined nature of this lifecycle. 

How Technology Controls the Workflow

As mentioned initially, not only do contextual considerations play a tremendous part in the workflow, but also the technology dictates the order and organization of digital collection management. For example, if a digital collections repository platform creates the derivative files upon ingestion, then it may not be necessary for this processing to happen through the digitization processing software or outside of the repository platform (and vice-versa). To further visualize this, if you were digitizing a still image and your repository system created a jpeg upon ingestion for display purposes or transfer purposes, then it would not be necessary to capture a jpeg when digitizing the image (unless on-demand patron requests required a different format or sub-workflow for individual file delivery). While a backlog is sometimes inevitable, there is no need to add more repetitive tasks or decrease the productivity of an already multifaceted and complex workflow. Additionally, if this were repeated multiple times over a large period of time, it could become an issue of storage, which could result in costly and time-consuming consequences. 

More Technology = More Workflow Considerations

This workflow is further complicated by surrounding processes and how they interact across systems. Some digital preservation tools can create Archival Information Packages (AIPs) as well as dissemination information packages (DIPs). These can actually then be delivered to some front-end patron-facing repositories through modules or an application programming interface (API). This would then affect the order in which the digitized materials get into the repository. 

For example, Archivematica and various digital preservation systems have an integration that has the digitized files uploaded into Archivematica for the creation of AIPs and DIPs, which are then moved to public-facing repository platforms, like ContentDM, for users to view. Archivematica also has other integrations, such as the Archidora module (Archivematica and Islandora), that also adjust the workflow of how digital collections are managed. This is only one example of the many combinations in which digital collections management and digital preservation tools can interact within a workflow across many different technologies. 

As we discussed, some repository platforms create derivatives that can be used for display and transfer for users during the ingestion process, but this is not the only overlapping process across systems. Some of these platforms can run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) during this process, so to avoid duplication or repetitive tasks, it would be important to know if the OCR will be conducted in the repository, during the digitization, or elsewhere. While knowing duplicative technological processes is important, it is also crucial to know which tools do not conduct these services. Some platforms have these features included while others may need the addition of an outside software, APIs, or modules. Depending on the platform, they may have a solution that can be added or purchased, so make sure you know the technology before you use it! Knowing the capabilities of the technology for your digital collections dictates the manner in which items go through the digital curation lifecycle, which is crucial for project planning, management, and processing. 

Examples:

  • Limb Gallery has their own processing software, Limb Processing, that can be used in addition to their repository platform. 

  • Islandora has some processing features incorporated into their repository platform to generate derivatives within the platform.

  • CONTENTdm has an OCR extension that can generate file transcripts. 

  • Archivematica can also conduct OCR, so this may affect the order in which digitized material goes through the digital collections management system and digital preservation system, making this planning even more crucial. 

  • Goobi is an open-source software that allows one to model, manage, process, and supervise digitization projects. Additionally, it has the capability to be integrated into an institution’s digital repository.  

Tools and Technology for Digital Collections Project Management

While these are only a few examples to capture the variation in order in which digital collections management can occur, it is also important to look into technology and tools that are geared toward project management and portfolio management. Some systems have built-in tools that can alert different teams and departments of the steps completed (or not completed) throughout the digitization process and beyond. This can be extremely helpful due to the collaborative nature of these processes. On the other hand, some repositories do not possess these features, requiring outside technology to assist in this workflow, such as Trello, Airtable, and more. Personally, I am a huge fan of both and use them for two different aspects. I have a Trello Board (see below), labeled “Digital Collections Lifecycle”  that is specifically only for my own tracking of the ingestion process. This helps me keep track of where I am in the ingest process, especially when I am working with multiple different collections simultaneously. This method of project tracking has helped me tremendously with long-term projects, due to the many features present within it, such as the ability to create multiple checklists, assign due dates, and leave reminders for myself. 

A Trello board example, showing an array of cards with different tasks outlined on them
A Trello board example

Additionally, AirTable is another great tool that my institution uses for tracking the complete digitization process: from when the request is put in until it is ingested into the digital collections repository and updated in the catalog. Airtable allows for customizable fields, similar to a spreadsheet, with so many useful features. While this tool looks at a much wider aspect within the larger workflow, both tools serve the same purpose, which is to keep track of multiple projects through time in an efficient, productive, and easy-to-use manner. Both Trello and AirTable also allow for communication within the platform, such as tagging others, sending a message tied to a specific item, and more, making asynchronous project management easier! These are only a few examples of tools that can assist in project and portfolio management, but there are so many more that can be seen in the DLF Project Managers Toolkit

There is No Right or Wrong Way to Manage Digital Collections!

Overall, there is no one specific or perfect way to order or organize these workflows. What works for one organization or institution may not work for another because of all the inevitable dependencies and contextual considerations. The inevitability of these aspects also factor into the project management and tracking of digital collections, demonstrating how this workflow is not a one-size-fits-all type of process. Further varied and complicated by the tools and technologies used to digitize, process, describe, access, manage, preserve, and reuse these digital objects, it is no wonder that this workflow looks so different everywhere you go! 


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