With a major new grant of $502,400 to NYU from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the NYU Division of Libraries and its project partners will deepen their exploration and analysis of digital preservation methods and the extent to which they can preserve complex scholarly publications. The goal is to support publishers in making design choices that result in publications, including very complex ones, that can be preserved at scale without sacrificing functionality.
The three-year project, Embedding Preservability, will be conducted by the NYU Libraries’ Digital Library Technology Services (DLTS) unit and led by Assistant Dean and DLTS Director David Millman. The work follows a recently completed, two-year project, also funded by the Mellon Foundation, in which DLTS, working with digital preservation practitioners and academic presses, developed an extensive set of digital-publishing guidelines for ensuring effective preservability. The Embedding Preservability project will refine, expand, and operationalize these guidelines.
Millman explains, “The advance in technologies for publishing digital scholarship has outpaced the development of technologies for reliably preserving it. Authors and publishers are creating increasingly sophisticated products without realizing that some of their enhancement choices might put preservability—and valuable scholarship—at risk.”
For example, today’s digital publications are likely to include dynamic features including embedded audio and video, map navigation, embedded software, and annotating—all of which are at the more challenging end of the preservability spectrum.
“We are thrilled that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been so supportive of our collaborative effort to ensure that groundbreaking digital scholarship can survive,” says H. Austin Booth, Dean of the NYU Division of Libraries. “Authors, publishers, and preservation technologists all have a stake in this critical work. The Mellon Foundation is ensuring that we can bring them together to achieve a common goal: the sustainability of work that must not be lost to future researchers or the scholarly record.”
The Embedding Preservability project is designed to embed four preservation experts with various publishers and their publishing-software developers. This team will directly observe and participate in the technology-decision process and learn the editorial and production workflow at each publisher. The embedders’ involvement will begin at the earliest stage of publication when proposals are being finalized.
By intervening so early in the publication lifecycle, Millman says, “We can increase the probability that digital materials will survive. Early decisions about file formats, location of media assets, or degree of interactivity, for example, critically impact the outlook for sustainable, long-term access.”
Three of the four-person embedding team have been selected: a digital preservation specialist from the University of Michigan Library and a technical lead each from preservation service providers Portico and LOCKSS. NYU is preparing to hire a project manager who will double as the fourth member of the embedding team.
A slightly larger project team will include all four embedders as well as additional library, publishing, and preservation service participants. The project team will engage with technicians from the publishing platforms used in the project: Manifold, PubPub, Fulcrum, and RavenSpace. As the embedded preservation specialists analyze publications, they will provide feedback to the platform developers for adjustments that improve preservability.
Publishing partners in the project will include Michigan Publishing, University of Minnesota Press, University of British Columbia Press, and the Knowledge Futures Group, among others.
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