Intentionally Blurring the Line between Production and Preservation

New Stanford Digital Repository tool helps SUP preserve and now also serve durable media in its digital publications.

Public domain image via Pixabay.

When it comes to digital web-based content, longevity can really only be accomplished if something is designed from the start to endure. But it’s difficult to predict what features, formats, and methods will last when they are constantly evolving. As a result, balancing innovation with durability is perhaps the most consistent challenge, from the production perspective, of digital publishing. But the process improves with every work that comes through our pipeline, and we’ve just leveled up when it comes to one piece of that process in particular: embedded media.

While for the most part, it’s best to keep all a publication’s dependencies local in relation to the project, when those dependencies present a strain to the storage capacity of a server, an external media repository can not only lighten the load on the publication server but also bridge the gap between publication and preservation. For the first time in our ever-evolving digital publication program, a project’s media assets are being accessioned and deposited into the Stanford Digital Repository before publication so they can be assigned persistent URLs (PURLS) which can then be source-linked into the publication itself. This seemingly obvious solution has only recently become feasible because of a new tool, a pre-assembly application for Stanford Digital Repository and developed by Stanford Libraries, allows select institutional users (including me!) to self-manage what would otherwise be a very time-consuming and resource-heavy workflow. Having been trained on the app and granted the necessary credentials for its use in the SDR environment, as SUP’s digital production associate I can now take all the images, audio, and video an author provides for a publication and pipe them into the repository early in the production process. Previously, the chain of specialists in the library necessary to complete this process meant it could take several months or even over a year to get content into place. This meant repository storage could only function as a post-publication preservation method and not as a source of content for the publication itself.  

The first publication to benefit from this improved configuration is now in production. In terms of format, the project uses the Scalar platform and is further comprised of nearly 144,000 words (the equivalent of more than 600 manuscript pages of text), 146 images and video, and over a thousand files that make up multiple 3D environment and structural models. While the live publication will be hosted by SUP, the downloadable 3D model files and the media that is embedded within the publication will be pulled from the SDR, where it will also be preserved longterm as the publication’s archived-components collection. This is a significant step toward merging publication and preservation workflows, a merging which itself forwards the sustainability of SUP’s digital publishing program.

Though the new approach adds steps to the production process, they are steps that can run concurrently with other production processes. Furthermore, completing the deposit before publication means that post-publication preservation work is reduced. Thanks to the new pre-assembly tool, we are able to run the accessioning and deposit process out of the Press rather than impose the previous, more drawn-out process on Stanford’s Digital Library Systems and Services department. Though the learning curve has been steep, it has ensured that I and those who have been graciously assisting me along the way have generated thorough documentation and reusable templates for the application and its component processes. The project in discussion will be released in early 2020, and though it will seem to technically act in many ways like other Scalar-based projects we’ve published, it’s these little but complex improvements happening behind the scenes that make a huge difference in a publication’s longevity.

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