The Digital Art collection at the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art is an eclectic mix of moving image art installations and interactive/visual art documentation. The collection is in desperate need of both long-term preservation planning and immediate preservation action. The very nature of the materials have placed it in a precarious situation in which long-term sustainability will be difficult and hard fought because there is little that we know about how digital objects will behave in the future.
The digital art collection at the Blanton is unique in that these works do not exist in other forms within any other art institution. The loss of even one object will result in the complete loss of that work of art. The actions which are known to help safeguard these objects lay in the areas of documentation and migration. Currently, there is not preservation strategy that encompasses these areas. Many of the digital files included in the digital art collection are in file formats that may not last much longer or on magnetic tape formats that are decades past their projected obsolescence date. The file formats require constant research by a trained digital librarian. Upon receipt of funds, the Blanton will hire a full time librarian for a one year appointment under the supervision of the current registrar and curators of the collection. Job duties will include educating the current staff in long-term preservation needs, full metadata capture of all works, rehousing of all DVDs and CDs, and creation of a disaster plan for the collection. This very librarian will also take custody of creating a metadata document that documents all static elements of the objects to track any detrimental changes within the collection. Following these changes, the librarian will assess all original videotapes for signs of playback difficulties and all DVDs/CDs for media updates. Monies will be allocated towards the acquisition of playback machines for VHS, Beta cam, Digibeta, DVCPro, and U-matic tapes to aide in playback assessment. A separate cool storage container will be purchased to house the many copies of collection materials in archivally sound conditions. These basic changes will make a large impact on this small collection. Many do not realize how little can be done to better the health of a collection. Your grant funds will impact this collection not only now but throughout the life span of the collection. It will further impact the greater spectrum of museums and other institutions that have such digital holdings in that graduate students from the local school of information will be charged with aiding the digital librarian in securing proper server space for digital copies, ingest of files, curation of digital files, and maintenance. These students will go on to become employed in a variety of institutions and the knowledge they gain from this curatorial project will enhance the quality of these future collections as well. Furthermore, the librarian will be required to construct and present his work at no less than two digital conferences or symposiums as a requirement of his appointment. This will enable other institutions to also reap the benefits of the work at the Blanton. All playback machines purchased will be available for use by any person affiliated with the University of Texas as well as any local institutions with a moving image collection.
Digital objects are becoming more and more prevalent in all collections but little is known about their preservation. Your grant will fund research into an unknown aspect of preservation. Together we will become front-runners in the race towards saving our nations digital treasures.