The digital nature of museums continues to evolve at a dizzying pace.
Digital projects are on an enduring upward trajectory, born-digital records continue to increase exponentially, and NFT-art lingers in the field and full of possibility.
However, digital projects, collections, data, and assets (digital files) are associated with a complex set of needs. Once we have created or acquired a digital file, we immediately must have somewhere to put it. A storage location. Much like physical collections, digital collections need a storage space configured to best suit the preservation, management, and access needs of the items. Yet, many in the field are still struggling to find a cohesive, intuitive, and budget-friendly digital storage system they can reliably put into place.
The Act of Digital Storage
So, what does it mean “to store”? For our purposes, to store something is to execute the placement of a digital file on a piece of hardware (N.B.: even via the Cloud it ends up on a server farm). Additionally, we need the ability via a computer program interface to manipulate, move, and access that file an unlimited number of times. To store a digital file and perform the previously listed actions will require the ability to trigger executions via program functionality.
With that in mind, the following functionality is viewed as core to museum digital storage needs:
- The ability to store (save) digital files upon their creation.
- The ability to store a massive amount of files (with corresponding large files sizes).
- The ability to organize those files.
- The ability to access those files through hierarchical structure navigation or search.
The core storage function—the gathering and storing of digital files—can take place locally on a computer, the local computer network (servers), a local but external (to a computer) storage device, or with a cloud (SaaS) platform. The remaining storage functions require some aspect of an operating system to execute the series of actions needed for any activities beyond the fairly simple act “to store a file”.
Essentially, we need a digital infrastructure (both hardware and software) that can execute the acts of storing, organizing, and accessing digital files.
Then there’s the more complex—yet quickly becoming mainstream—set of digital storage needs to consider:
- The ability to store complex, cutting edge file types (e.g. 3D renderings or blockchain-supported NFT files).
- The ability to preserve files and maintain file integrity.
- The ability to perform file health checks to mitigate risk of digital file loss or corruption.
- The ability to migrate files to updated file formats in order to ensure continued file access.
- The ability to attach, upload, or otherwise connect or provide access to those files to complementary applications (like a CMS).
Given the complex and varying needs of museums and their digital collections, there’s no one-size fits all approach to digital storage. Even if there was a unified set of needs, the digital storage options available have their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll cover museum digital storage options in the next post.
Digital Storage is Foundational to Our Work
Given how much of the museum collections, programs, and projects are predicated on digital files and content, it is imperative that our digital storage foundation is robust. If we can’t adequately or reliably store, manage, access, or preserve museum digital files then we’re impacted in our ability to successfully work on the other aspects of our digital project work. As your museum considers its current digital storage infrastructure and plans for future digital infrastructure, it is important to make sure that “digital storage” is as important as other high priority functionality.
Museum digital storage is undeniably a foundational need anytime a digital file is involved. Now that we’ve covered the essentials of what it means to store museum digital files, we’ll review digital storage options in the next post.
Rachael Cristine Woody
If you’d like to learn more, please join us for “Figuring Out Museum Digital Storage”, presented by Rachael Woody June 7, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.
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