February 25, 2016

Wrapping up NDNP

by Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Services Technician

From September 2009 through August 2015, the Montana Historical Society participated in the National Digital Newspaper Project (NDNP) funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Library of Congress.  The project consisted of three grant cycles (2 years each), funded two positions (filled by 6 different people), and produced 265,231 digital pages from over 50 newspapers in 41 cities.  This post is about what happens when a large, multi-year project ends.
When the Library of Congress accepted our last batch, we celebrated the completion of a project that had been the center of our working lives.  If I had only known the difficulty of the task awaiting us…

Two months later, we began to officially wrap up the project.  We needed to review all the project files and decide what to keep short-term, what to preserve long-term and what to discard.  This is one of those tasks that sounds straightforward until you try to do it.  For example, our organization of files wasn’t always consistent.  We had different folders for different activities.  Within those folders, sometimes files were organized at the batch level, sometimes by cycle, and sometimes they were all together.  An additional hurdle involved the mix of print and electronic files.  While most records were either print or electronic, the most important documentation had versions in both formats.  We choose to retain the digital files, but we still needed to ensure the digital files constituted a complete set.  When we found instances of a print record without a digital copy, we scanned the print version.

In general, we knew what was in most folders and could determine quickly whether those files should be retained or not.  However, a few folders required more thorough investigation and evaluation of each document.  We discovered that typically these documents were reference materials.  While these files are not part of the NDNP record, they are relevant for our current projects.  Therefore, we did  kept them but removed them from the NDNP folder.

Throughout this process, the overarching question “Do we need this?” formed the core of the decision-making process. The question “How will we use this in the future?”  helped me frame the decision.  If I could look at a document and say “I would want to look at this if I wanted to understand how this project worked or if I was doing something similar” then I kept it.  I also found it helpful to ask “What question would this document answer?”

How much time did this take?  We met three times for a total of 5 hours.  Then each of us went off to examine individual sets of files and decide how to store or dispose of them.  We estimate that we reduced the size of the original computer file folder by 40% and the amount of hardcopy by 80%.

In addition to being good stewardship, this process cleans up your computer file folders and filing cabinets.  Perhaps most importantly however it offers the opportunity to reflect on the project.  What worked? What didn’t? If you knew at the beginning of the project what you do now, what would you have done differently?  The answers can then be applied to current and future projects.

Whatever your specific process is for ending a project, it is a challenging but essential task.