Volume 23, Number 5/6
Table of Contents
The National Digital Stewardship Residency: Building a Community of Practice through Postgraduate Training and Education
Rebecca Fraimow, WGBH
rebecca_fraimow [at] wgbh.org
Meridith Beck Mink
meribecks [at] gmail.com
Margo Padilla, Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO)
mpadilla [at] metro.org
The National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) program addresses the need for a dedicated community of professionals with the knowledge and technical skills to ensure the long-term viability of the digital record by matching recent postgraduate degree recipients with cultural heritage institutions to manage digital stewardship projects. Since the initial NDSR DC pilot program, there have been five more iterations of the program NDSR New York, NDSR Boston, American Archive of Public Broadcasting NDSR, NDSR Art, and Biodiversity Heritage Library NDSR. Although these programs share the same characteristics, each operates independently and no formalized guidelines or standards currently exist to link all the programs together. In the fall of 2015, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) was awarded an IMLS grant to evaluate the early NDSR programs. By providing a comprehensive picture of the NDSR programs that were completed by 2016, the study was intended to help the NDSR community build connections across initiatives and learn from the experiences of its first participants. IMLS also funded the NDSR Symposium planned for April 2017, which will serve as an opportunity to bring stakeholders together to incorporate the strongest practices of each iteration and develop a standardized model for future programs.
Keywords: National Digital Stewardship Residency, NDSR
The range of processes involved in the long-term management of digital objects requires a specific skillset and specialized training. As the amount of digital material being acquired by cultural heritage organizations continues to grow, building and maintaining professional capacity for digital stewardship is becoming increasingly vital. The National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) programs are designed to address this need by cultivating a dedicated community of new professionals with the knowledge and technical skills to ensure the long-term viability of the digital record.
The NDSR model matches recent postgraduate degree recipients with cultural heritage institutions to gain practical, hands-on training by managing digital stewardship projects in real-world settings. Institutions gain the benefit of a dedicated, full-time employee focused on advancing and strengthening institutional capacities. Projects can range from policy development to web archiving to data management. Host institutions are competitively selected based on their proposed project, ability to mentor and support the resident, and other criteria to ensure effective and high-level training. During the residency, the host institution is responsible for engaging the resident as a professional employee of the institution and providing them with the space, supplies, and institutional access that they need in order to complete the project. The resident is responsible for completing the project on behalf of the institution, as well as spending a certain portion of their time on professional development activities as designated by the program administration.
NDSR programs are funded in part through the Institute of Museum and Library's (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, which helps libraries and archives better meet the changing learning and information needs of their patrons by providing professional development, graduate education, and continuing education opportunities for information students and professionals. The initial NDSR DC pilot program, hosted by the Library of Congress, ran from 2013-2014. Since then, five more programs NDSR New York, NDSR Boston, American Archive of Public Broadcasting NDSR (AAPB), NDSR Art, and Biodiversity Heritage Library NDSR (BHL), as well as a new round of NDSR DC have recruited new professionals to serve as National Digital Stewardship Residents and undertake the challenges of caring for digital content at institutions around the country.
Although these programs share many of the same characteristics, each operates independently. Most implementations have introduced variations that have tested the potential and flexibility of the basic conceptual model. For example, the NDSR Boston and New York programs demonstrated that the program was replicable in other metro areas outside of DC while adapting curricula and management structures to suit local needs. The AAPB NDSR and NDSR Art programs were experiments in adapting the program for cohorts working at a distance from one another, organized around thematic rather than geographic institutional connections. The BHL NDSR further tested the model by pre-selecting hosts from among a small group of collaborating member institutions; each BHL resident has worked on a different aspect of a larger coordinated effort. Although program administrators have remained in communication with each other, and many have informally shared resources and best practices, no formalized guidelines or standards currently exist to link all the programs together. Because of its flexibility, each program has been adapted to suit the needs of hosts, the bureaucratic requirements of the administering institutions, and the managerial preferences of project staff.
In the fall of 2015, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) was awarded an IMLS grant to evaluate the early NDSR programs. By providing a comprehensive picture of the NDSR programs that were completed by 2016, the study was intended to help the NDSR community build connections across initiatives and learn from the experiences of its first participants. IMLS also funded a national symposium for NDSR constituents planned for April 2017, which will serve as an opportunity to bring stakeholders together to discuss and evaluate program-specific needs and goals, to make recommendations that incorporate the strongest practices of each iteration, and to develop guidelines for future NDSR programs.
2 CLIR's Assessment of the National Digital Stewardship Residency 2015-2016
Commenced in the fall of 2015, the CLIR assessment was a formative evaluation that gathered qualitative feedback predominantly from interviews and surveys in order to capture the diversity of experiences of the first NDSR participants. It considered the four NDSR programs that were completed by summer 2016, which included the initial NDSR pilot program designed by the Library of Congress (2013-2014); the second Washington, D.C.-based program led by the Library of Congress (2015-2016); the Boston-based program led by Harvard Library and MIT Libraries (2014-2016); and the New York City-based program led by the Metropolitan New York Library Council, or METRO (2014-2016). The CLIR team conducted both phone interviews and site visits with the 20 residents and their supervisors who were in the midst of their residencies in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. between January and May of 2016. In addition, CLIR administered surveys to residents and supervisors from the first NDSR cohorts that ran from 2013-2015, and spoke with the individuals who administered and managed these programs.
CLIR's research team also interviewed or met with staff associated with NDSR programs led by the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB NDSR), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Art Libraries Society of North America (NDSR Art); however, because these programs were only just underway at the time of research, they were not a significant part of the study. Nonetheless, CLIR's study is the first comprehensive evaluation that compared all completed NDSR programs and investigated the differences in program design and coordination, and identified common factors that made for successful and productive residencies. Although the assessment was independent from previous evaluations conducted on the first DC, Boston, and New York programs by Howard Besser and Michelle Gallinger, CLIR's research team reviewed conclusions made by these previous studies.
CLIR's report Keepers of our Digital Future: An Assessment of the National Digital Stewardship Residencies, 2013-2015 was published online in December of 2016 and is openly accessible on CLIR's website. It provides a comprehensive picture of the NDSR programs to date and identifies several key strengths that have influenced participant satisfaction and perceptions of success. The study shows that there was an overwhelmingly positive response to NDSR's cohort model, and that NDSR projects had generally very constructive outcomes for host organizations. Because the NDSR projects are designed for very different kinds of host institutions including university libraries, radio and TV stations, and governmental agencies the specific digital preservation skills and tools acquired by residents have varied greatly. On the whole, however, participants reported gaining and honing a wide variety of skills critical to good digital stewardship and making significant strides in their professional development. The programs also had a positive impact on the careers of most of the participants: twenty-six of the thirty-five residents who completed NDSR by the summer of 2016 were employed in the digital preservation field at the time of the report's publication. The vast majority over 80% of all residents also indicated they use the skills and tools they learned through NDSR in their current jobs.
The assessment also noted some ongoing challenges, including the need for improving the clarity and regularity of communication between program administrators, hosts and residents, and strengthening connections to unify the growing NDSR community. Participants in the assessment repeatedly emphasized the need for dedicated staff with sufficient time to coordinate the residencies. During the duration of CLIR's study, preparations were underway for the NDSR Symposium, discussed in detail below.
The report also proposes a series of recommendations for NDSR based on insights provided by those who participated in the assessment. These include a set of general recommendations for all programs, such as setting terms of twelve months for the residencies, adjusting pay according to the cost of living where the residency takes place, and providing health care. CLIR also made more specific recommendations for the effective management of programs, building curricula, establishing key digital preservation skills related to program goals, encouraging strong cohorts, fostering successful mentorship, and establishing a more formalized means of coordinating NDSR programs at a national level. As separate assessments of the Boston and New York programs noted, the NDSR community is not yet effectively or formally organized and connected at a national scale. To achieve this goal, CLIR made several recommendations for NDSR stakeholders, including: appointing or electing a national committee to set basic standards and best practices, formalizing a means to facilitate cross-cohort communication and interaction, and establishing procedures for collecting data on resident competencies.
Overall, CLIR's study concluded that NDSR has been particularly successful in increasing residents' professional experience, cultivating supportive regional cohorts, enriching digital preservation at host organizations, and heightening the awareness and understanding of digital stewardship concepts and practices among participants in its programs. Julia Kim, who was part of the first group of New York residents, stated that once she completed NDSR she "felt thoroughly trained, tested, and ready for the next phase in my unfolding career as a folklife specialist and digital assets manager at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C." Many other study participants echoed Kim's affirmation that the residencies help prepare new professionals for the growing number of jobs in digital stewardship. The cohort-based NDSR programs, therefore, are effectively building a community of professionals dedicated to the preservation of the nation's digital heritage.
3 The National Digital Stewardship Residency Symposium
In the fall of 2015, administrators of the various NDSR programs then active NDSR DC, hosted by the Library of Congress; NDSR Boston, hosted by Harvard and MIT Libraries; NDSR New York, hosted by METRO; and the at-the-time brand-new AAPB NDSR, hosted by Boston public broadcaster WGBH in its role as steward of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting identified a need to address challenges in the program's stated mission of "building a community of professionals." While each individual program has forged strong links between the residents and mentors that make up each year's cohort, the impact of the programs has largely remained siloed within the urban areas and institutions that have directly participated in each program, with little cross-collaboration between programs or outreach to geographic areas that have not yet hosted any NDSR residents. Assessments of the first DC, Boston, and New York programs determined that "Work needs to be done to fully realize the "national" part of the National Digital Stewardship Residency [...] The NDSR programs would benefit from banding together to connect their networks and expand them further."  CLIR's research subsequently reinforced this conclusion, demonstrating that most members of the NDSR community "felt that connections across NDSR cohorts and initiatives should be formalized and strengthened." 
In order to realize this goal, METRO applied to IMLS for funding to host a national event that would convene current participants, alumni, and organizers of all the NDSR programs, along with prospective organizers of future NDSR programs and other digital preservation professionals. The NDSR Symposium was originally designed as an opportunity to allow members of the NDSR community to build connections, present achievements, share knowledge, and discuss the sustainability and long-term goals of the NDSR initiative. Once the announcement was made of CLIR's project to assess the impact of the NDSR initiative, the program organizers decided that the Symposium could also serve as an opportunity to discuss the CLIR report as a community and, in addressing their findings, develop more formalized guidelines for the NDSR initiative as a resource for future programs and take steps towards coordinating NDSR at a national level.
In order to ensure that stakeholders at all levels of the NDSR community had a voice in planning the Symposium, NDSR program organizers asked current and past residents and hosts from all four extant programs to form a Symposium Program Committee and take the lead in developing the curriculum for the event. After the Philadelphia Museum of Art was awarded an IMLS grant to host the NDSR Art program, a representative was invited to join the Program Committee. Utilizing CLIR's report and recommendations, the Program Committee solicited proposals for the event around five suggested topics:
- models and strategies for making programs like NDSR sustainable;
- expanding the geographic reach of NDSR;
- methods of fostering a digital preservation community of practice;
- raising awareness of the NDSR program; and
- models and strategies for effective mentorship.
Project staff and the Program Committee worked to identify prospective organizers of future NDSR programs and invite them to attend the Symposium, in order to solicit feedback on how best to support the expansion of the NDSR community.
The project has also grown beyond the original proposal in encouraging members of the NDSR community to reflect on the program in a collaborative fashion. Former and current residents who are attending the Symposium will be meeting before the event to discuss their vision for the program as residents and how they can work to accomplish it. Joint program resources have developed, such as the collaborative website ndsr-program.org, and the NDSR Beacon email newsletter.
The NDSR Symposium will be held at the Library of Congress on April 27th and 28th, 2017. With the support of project staff, and feedback from the Advisory Board of program organizers, the Program Committee has curated a curriculum for the Symposium that includes presentations from residents, organizers and hosts. Topics such as "Building a Communication Network for Collaborative Projects" and "Extending Training Findings Beyond NDSR" focus on the work necessary to continue the development of a community of practice in digital preservation. The final half-day of the Symposium will be dedicated to small group discussions of topics raised in the CLIR report, with the goal of gathering recommendations for an NDSR Handbook which the program organizers will collaboratively write in the months following the Symposium, and which will be made publicly available on the joint program website, ndsr-program.org. The Handbook and results of the Symposium will also be presented publicly at the next meeting of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance in 2017.
The different iterations of NDSR are not only intended to advance the careers of a small number of individuals; they are designed as a long-term investment in developing human resources and human connections to support the project of digital stewardship over the long term. Participation in an NDSR program whether as a host institution committing to mentoring a new professional, or as a resident committed to learning and sharing their work with peers and colleagues encourages the collaboration and community-building that are key to developing the kinds of impactful, nationally significant tools, projects and partnerships conceptualized in the national digital platform.
As one archivist quoted in CLIR's survey reported, NDSR "helps foster this idea of changing the culture of archives from being a single person alone in a dark room to being a more community-based field." The programs have already seen considerable success in launching participants into the field of digital stewardship and enriching that field and community through their work. However, as with all new initiatives, NDSR must continue to look both inward and outward if it wishes to establish itself as a sustainable long-term model for community growth. The discussions, connections, and standards generated in response to CLIR's report and by the Symposium will further the NDSR program and support the continued development of a robust digital preservation community of practice.
||Gallinger, Michelle, "NDSR New York: Assessment of the 2014-2015 Program Year," June 2015.
||Mink, Meridith Beck, "Keepers Of Our Digital Future," December 2016.
About the Authors
Rebecca Fraimow joined WGBH Educational Foundation as a resident in the 2014-2015 NDSR Boston cohort and is now a Project Manager at the WGBH Media Library and Archives, where she leads the American Archive of Public Broadcasting National Digital Stewardship Residency and the PBCore Development and Training Project, as well as overseeing collections processing and preservation workflows. She has also worked as the Digital Projects Coordinator at the Dance Heritage Coalition, and is one of the founders of XFR Collective, a video preservation nonprofit organization. Rebecca holds an MA in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation from NYU and a BA in English from Stanford University.
Meridith Beck Mink is a freelance research consultant, writer, and helps run a sustainable seafood company with her husband in Sitka, Alaska. She was the lead researcher for CLIR's assessment of the NDSR programs and was responsible for implementing the project, including designing the interview protocols and survey, and writing the final report. In her former position as a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for Early Modern Studies, she worked at Indiana University on The Chysmistry of Isaac Newton project and consulted on digital scholarship in the Herman B. Wells Library's Scholars Commons. Meridith received her Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds an MA in history and BA in archaeology from Simon Fraser University.
Margo Padilla is the Strategic Initiatives Manager at The Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). In addition to managing METRO's strategic initiatives, including program development, grant management, and technology services, she was the Project Director for NDSR-NY and a resident in the inaugural NDSR-DC cohort. Margo received her MLIS with a concentration in Management, Digitization, and Preservation of Cultural Heritage and Records from San Jose State University and her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley.