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Fighting the evils of bit rot

This fun video from Digital Preservation Europe (DPE) was passed along this morning by our Preservation Librarian, Nancy Kraft. Who knew that the topic of digital preservation could be so entertaining? Enjoy!

–Nicole Saylor, Head
Digital Library Services


Mastering the meeting

Meeting in oval office, Gerald FordIn Digital Library Services, we are currently coordinating or consulting on more than 40 digital projects in various states of production. To ensure that these projects actually come to fruition during all parties’ lifetimes we must take a project-based approach to our work. This means insisting on project planning, setting target dates, and establishing checkpoints. This also means we must call or attend countless meetings.
To my mind, there is not greater work-related torture than sitting through a poorly-run meeting. I say that knowing that I still have plenty to learn about running a tight meeting myself. But during the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia earlier this month, I attended a one-day seminar by Pat Wagner called, “Mission Impossible: Practical Project Management,” that provided some great project meeting techniques. Here are just a few of my faves from Wagner, a consultant, trainer, and co-owner of Pattern Research, Inc.:



  • Meetings should start with plans–ground-rules pertaining to what will be accomplished, priorities, who is in charge of controlling the meeting, agreement that everyone speaks, no one dominates, and everyone listens respectfully, etc.
  •  Meetings should start on time.
  • Participants speak only to add new information.
  • Participants agree what will happen when projects miss deadlines or are not done correctly. (In other words, who can take a project away?)
  • Participants are “realistic and honest about what can be done with the people, time and resources we have. No martyrdom, no rescuing.”
  • “Age, credentials, tenure, education and other status do not give us privilege or protection from constructive criticism. Legitimate authority and universal respect is the key.”
  • “If the plan is in your head, there is no plan.”
  • No tangents/non-meeting business.
  • “Avoid the Victorian mindset. Instead, use technology, write in bullets, reduce useless ritual, speak concisely, avoid elitism, laugh lots.”

–Nicole Saylor, Head, Digital Library Services 



JPEG: The Next Generation

It’s early July, which in the library world means post-ALA.  I was one of over 21,000 attendees to descend on Washington D.C. and the American Library Association annual conference.  For a Digital Initiatives Librarian, the selection of sessions and meetings at the conference is not as broad as for public librarians, school librarians and other academic librarians, but one group I have enjoyed meeting with for the last two years is the JPEG2000 Interest Group.

  What is JPEG2000?  JPEG2000 (aka JP2 or J2K) is a digital image format developed to be the next generation image format.  Slow to be generally adopted, JP2 may not fully replace JPEG as the standard compressed image format or TIFF as the standard archival image format, but rather be a third option.  JP2′s strength is in its flexibility: it can be uncompressed like a TIFF or compressed like a JPEG, although when compressed, its quality is much higher than a JPEG due to the wavelet compression technology on which JP2 is based. 

OK, enough techno-speak.  The main topic of discussion at the interest group meeting was whether JPEG2000 should actually replace TIFF as the preferred archival image format for digital library initiatives.  Far from being a settled issue, some leading institutions such as the California Digital Library have made the switch completely, while the Digital Library Federation still recommends TIFF as the archival format.  Some attendees of the interest group such as Harvard weren’t even at liberty to discuss the decisions they’ve made due to their mass digitization program agreements with Google. 

A sub-issue was whether switching to JPEG2000 and its smaller file size would allow more full-color scanning of textual materials, which is central to the debate between the importance of the content vs. the artifact.  I.e., is it enough to scan a diary in grayscale to capture just the content, or should full-color scanning be employed to capture the color of the page, the color of the ink, and therefore a truer representation of the artifact.  There are those that feel strongly on both sides, but the adoption of JPEG2000 may allow content and artifact to live together in harmony.

An interesting side note to the discussion of digital images is that a motion JPEG2000 format has also been developed motion pictures, and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has already selected the format for direct transmission to cinemas. (No indication yet as to when we’ll say goodbye to film reels and hello to 1′s and 0′s).


Like many other digital libraries, here at Iowa, we have been using JPEG2000 primarily for map images, where we want to display a high resolution image at a smaller file size.  We may however be a long way off from adopting JPEG2000 as the archival format for all of our digitization activities and throwing away the TIFFs.

All in all, meeting with this small group of a dozen people and discussing how the slow adoption of JPEG2000 will impact our work was rewarding in ways that the huge lecture sessions at
ALA were not.  I hope future ALA conferences will include more of these interest groups for digital initiatives librarians, but I’ll always make room on my schedule for this one.

–Mark F. Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian


One. Million. Dollars.

We in the Digital Library Services Department are excited by the announcement that Professor Padmini Srinivasan has received a nearly $1 Million grant to recruit students in the area of digital librarianship to the School of Library and Information Science here at The University of Iowa.

With DLS Department Head Paul Soderdahl included as Co-Principal Investigator of the grant, our department will be afforded the opportunity to partner with these students and mentor them in areas of digitization, metadata application, digital preservation and project planning.

Students will receive formal training in librarianship through SLIS with special emphasis in digital librarianship through guided experiences in local digital projects, which will strongly benefit both the cohort of students and our DLS department as well. Several projects have already been targeted because they require the kind of leadership and experience that these students can provide, such as newspaper digitization, structured textual data and institutional repository planning.

Two of the three librarians of the DLS department (me included) have just recently begun their careers in digital librarianship, so from our perspective we especially look forward to help prepare some of the 24 students selected to participate in this program for careers of their own.

–Mark F. Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian


Uncovering (literally) digital information

Often, following a proposal to digitize a collection of materials, one of the first questions to be raised is “What is this going to cost?” If the digitization is to be outsourced to a corporation, what will be the cost per page (or image)? How much more will it cost for the OCR of text and cleanup of images? If the digitization is to be done in-house, what will this cost in terms of staff time and equipment? What will it cost to add value with robust metadata and broad searchabiltiy? What will it cost to backup this valuable information once it is digitized?

Undoubtedly, these are all valid questions and cost should be examined carefully, but nowhere is the importance of this last question more evident than in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Last week, the DLS staff returned from the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans where time was spent listening to and conversing with librarians from all over the nation.

One of the most interesting things that I heard was from John C. Kelly, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of New Orleans. He described that following Hurricane Katrina, when he returned to his library, materials were submerged in several feet of mud for weeks. Much of their digital library’s content had been archived on CDs, and when they began pulling discs out, washing them off, and testing them, only a few were ruined to the point that information was lost!

Certainly it is tragic that so many important books, documents and other paper items were lost to the aftermath of the hurricane, but in this case, digital information showed its resilience in the face of harsh environmental conditions. This is no reason to overlook the importance of offsite storage and backup, and should only be looked upon as an interesting anecdote, but it’s worth remembering that any kind of digitization and backup may in some cases be the only reason some information will survive a disaster.

–Mark Anderson
Digital Initiatives Librarian, Digital Library Services