Digital preservation / Fellowship

Researching Digital Preservation Practices at Dumbarton Oaks

Written by Heidi Dowding, Resident, Library of Congress National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) 

It has been just under three months since I first arrived in my new post as National Digital Stewardship Resident at Dumbarton Oaks.  The program – administered by the Library of Congress and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) – began first with two weeks of intensive study at the Library with some of the top researchers in the field, like MIT’s Nancy McGovern.  After this period of work, residents were sent to their project sites to begin our individual projects.


The inaugural cohort involved ten residents, placed in institutions like the Folger Shakespeare Library and Smithsonian Institution. (I’m the second one from the left.)

My own work has revolved around finding a sustainable institution-wide solution for digital asset management here at Dumbarton Oaks.  The institution’s position as a GLAM (self-defined as gardens, library, archive, and museum) presents a pretty big challenge, as the concept of ‘digital asset’ is quite diversely defined across the institution.  Our holdings not only include digitized rare books and digital collections in the library and archive, but also range from GIS data used for tree care in the gardens to institutional email, not to mention the usual range of departmental documents created in the day-to-day management of any organization.  This broad range of digital objects is supported by a variety of workflows, further complicating the issue of institution-wide management.


The Byzantine Seals Collection is a great example of the unique holdings at Dumbarton Oaks; with over 17,000 seals, the institution is working to provide all of these images online as well as tools and information related to sigillography.

The first steps of my project have involved gathering data from individuals and departments about digital asset management and preservation practices.  In October, I sent a survey out to all staff and fellows at DO related to personal practices, and have since been using that basic information to overlay departmental information.  Gathering data on departmental practices has largely involved undertaking interviews and focus groups, and looking at workflows from the ground up.


The Image Collection and Fieldwork Archives include great images and films of scholars and practitioners working in the field, adding meta layers to Dumbarton Oaks’ publications and scholarly holdings.

As I work, I am realizing more and more the uniqueness of Dumbarton Oaks’ holdings, and I hope that my project can facilitate greater access to these amazing resources.  I would love to see more of DO’s image collections and scholarship shared through open access, more of the institution’s publications available online, and more digital humanities projects re-imagining DO’s data.  Some of the projects already happening around the web that have been mentioned and discussed here at Dumbarton Oaks are Pelagios and Pleiades, both of which use linked open data to connect documents and information to places in the ancient world.  Down the line, other potential projects could include things like a tree map of the gardens (Calvin College has a great example) or a geo-locative mobile application facilitating greater interactions with the institution’s myriad assets (I helped create something similar with Michigan State University a few years ago). 

There are a lot of great areas to explore, with the world-class scholars and staff here at Dumbarton Oaks.  However, the first step is streamlining inter- and intradepartmental sharing of digital assets, as well as facilitating better storage practices.  The next step of my project will be to undertake an in-depth analysis of departmental practices in order to provide targeted suggestions for better digital preservation practices before moving into a digital asset management system selection.

I’ll be sharing information and resources related to digital preservation as I work.  To get a better idea of what I’m working on and thinking about, you can follow me on Twitter @theglobal_lib and on my blog,


2 thoughts on “Researching Digital Preservation Practices at Dumbarton Oaks

  1. Pingback: A Digital Preservation Residency at Dumbarton Oaks Library | The Signal: Digital Preservation

  2. Pingback: Digital Preservation and the Cultural Heritage Institution | icfa

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