Mid-Project Report

It’s been 6 months already at DC Public Libraries as I work to increase knowledge about personal archiving and prepare to launch a personal archiving lab at our central branch.  The question “Is this sustainable?” has underpinned the majority of my work as personal collections grow ever bigger and unwieldy , and over this period the threats to the lab’s future have become clear.

A sustainability meeting was convened to discuss these threats and how to solve them.  In attendance was my NDSR mentor, project author, and Special Collections Digital Curation Librarian Lauren Algee, supporting mentor and DCPL’s Technology and Innovation Manager Nick Kerelchuck, The Labs at DC Public Library Interim Manager, DCPL’s Special Collections Manager, and the Assistant Director of Programs & Partnerships. Quite the all-star crew, and reflective of this project’s reach across departments.

What’s been done?

  • Research. Labs in public libraries, personal archiving practices, av preservation workflows
  • Equipment purchased and tested
  • Workflows established
  • Building out wiki. Currently building a libguide in the vein of Vancouver Public Library’s Inspiration Lab to facilitate DIY access to our lab’s transfer equipment and aggregate resources on personal archiving.
  • Outreach. Personal Archiving with Facebook Class at Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Digital Estate Planning Class at SE Library, Home Movie Day, presentations for the Federation of Friends and Adult Programs Committee, tabling at local conferences, blogging, publications in Washington Post Express, Citypaper, and The Future of Information Alliance News Blog
  • Partnerships. One of the unexpected but valuable developments has been the partnerships that have blossomed around the city- working with SMAAHC and Playbackthetape to put on Home Movie Day, programming and shared outreach with the Washington Historical Society, programming with the Capital Hill Senior Village and Mt. Pleasant Stoddard Home, loaned equipment from the Dance Heritage Coalition, and interest from the Anacostia Community Museum
  • Staff training- 3 Lab staff members have been trained.
  • Secondary procurement order that included security locks for equipment, speakers, a backup composite to component converter, a 5.25″ floppy disk USB controller and drive, and an external r/w cd drive

What still needs to be done

  • Staff training. Not only will the Labs staff need to be trained on running the lab, but personal archiving outreach was accepted as a Smart Goal for DC Public Library employees, meaning that librarians will be able to do a workshop with me towards their professional development goals.
  • Branch classes. Besides the past programs at Southwest and Southeast Libraries, 5 other branches have expressed interest in a personal archive program in the coming year.
  • Finish Wiki.
  • Launch. Happening in February. Looking like its going to be a signature event.
  • Running the lab- evaluating, tweaking, documenting
  • Final report

Sustainability threats and solutions

  • Where is the lab going to go during renovation?
  • Best practices and tools for digital preservation change as quickly as technology trends. Who will update the resources, continue to teach classes, organize programming around this issue? The lab isn’t successful unless it’s addressing the long-term care of the digital files.
  • National model- so far there has been a lot of interest in this by librarians around the country. How will we continue to report on the progress of the lab to the public library audience?
  • Who will advocate for the lab, continue with established partnerships?
  • How will we establish a continued connection with our Special Collections? Where do the responsibilities lie?

At first I thought that I would really have to make a case for these threats to our team, but it didn’t take much convincing. Everyone agreed that we needed to find solutions for these issues and several were suggested.

Two options were discussed. Either with the other Labs in an interim space or at a branch library. Labs staff have also discussed perhaps having a mobile unit as well during the interim. I suggested doing something similar to Culture-in-Transit and getting a mobile scanning kit for the mobile lab.    

  • Who will update resources, teach classes, advocate for the lab, continue partnerships, and continue to share progress with the larger library community?

It was agreed that ideally it would be taken over by a dedicated full-time librarian with archival and av knowledge as well as people skills. Having an internal search would be the fastest way to move someone into this position and give me time to train them before June. As I continue to develop processes, I will think about how feasible the work is for a full-time position.

  • How will we establish a continued connection with our Special Collections?

Making sure resources are there for patrons to make contact if they wish would be the best approach to manage expectations of potential donors, patron privacy and Special Collections workload and collection scope.


I’m eager to transition from the planning stage of the project to its realization. There’s a lot of work ahead, but I’m also lucky to have the support and enthusiasm of my DCPL colleagues, and that more than anything bodes well for its sustainability.


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