How one Canadian museum is using Digital Preservation to protect immigrant voices
The digital transformation of museum collections
“Museums are no longer stewards of just physical materials,” explains Luke Stempien, Collections Manager at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. “In the age of digital transformation, museums must now support digital collections as well. We have mastered the long-term care of art and artifacts, but we must expand our purview to become good stewards of digital content — both digitized materials and items that are born digital – as well.”
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is one of many organizations considering the role of Digital Preservation in ensuring the long-term sustainability and care of their prized collections. The Museum’s mission – to share the ongoing story of immigration to Canada – positions them as a caretaker of individual voices that, woven together, reveal Canada’s ongoing story of identity and belonging. They document these voices through their digital collections which include oral histories, written stories, photographs, and more. Together these collections represent nearly 100 TB of data and a variety of file formats that must be protected.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21: Kosovar refugees boarding an airplane bound for Canada in 1999. [D2017.827.51]
The proactive approach to Digital Preservation
The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 has taken a proactive approach to caring for its rapidly growing digital collections to ensure that changes in technology do not erase the stories of Canada’s immigrant communities. In 2020, Museum staff championed an investigation into Digital Preservation to find a viable and sustainable solution.
“The Museum has a small IT and Collections team.” shared Luke Stempien. “Managing digital preservation on our own would have required a significant investment in staff time and resources that we don’t have. We quickly realized that to truly protect our digital collections, a cloud-based software solution would be necessary.”
Through a competitive process, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 selected Preservica, a leading provider of Digital Preservation technology and Preservica’s partner, the IQ Business Group, to ensure that Preservica’s software integrates seamlessly with the Museum’s entire digital landscape. The Museum’s collections are stored in Amazon Web Services’ S3 buckets.
In addition to investing in Digital Preservation software, the Museum also hired a Digital Preservation librarian, Heather Walker, to manage the implementation of Preservica. Among Heather’s many important contributions, one of her aims is to raise awareness of what Digital Preservation is and why it is important across the organization and among the communities’ whose stories the Museum collects.
“There is a misconception that digital preservation is back-up” shared Heather. It’s really an approach to thinking long-term: 10, 20 or 30 years from now. To be effective, a digital preservation program should include policies and procedures as well. Preservica and their team have been helping us with this.”
Now a few months into their Preservica implementation, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 staff are pulling assets into the system, documenting their work through what Heather calls the “Preservica Bible” and updating their stakeholders on their progress. The team is also working with IQ Business Group staff to develop APIs to link content in Preservica to other systems across the Museum.
Digital Preservation tips from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
When asked what advice they might have for other Canadian organizations exploring Digital Preservation, Luke shared “Technology is changing and ‘stuff’ we collect five years from now may not be the same formats we use today. Build a case for why Digital Preservation is important for your organization. Don’t get overwhelmed by scale. Just get started and see it as a learning journey.”
Heather added, “Give yourself time to figure out your data model and determine which metadata fields you want to preserve. It should be clean, relevant, and up to date. Start with your best quality assets and plan around those.”
Check out some of Heather and Luke’s favorite items from The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21’s photograph and oral history collections by visiting Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
Learn more about Preservica and AWS hosting options in Canada at Secure Digital Preservation, Archiving & Storage Software. Canadian institutions can also explore Digital Preservation by downloading our FREE Preservica Starter software. Canadian Institutions should also take advantage of Preservica’s Canadian four-part Practical Digital Preservation Training & Education Series by visiting Practical Digital Preservation Training & Education — Canada Series.
To learn more about Preservica’s partner, IQ Business Group, visit IQ Business Group: Records & Information Management Solutions.