Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

I have had the pleasure in my life of working with a number of strong (and strong-willed) women who have seen me through various stages of my career. On the occasion of Ada Lovelace Day, I'd like to write about a colleague who I have known for many years, although we only had the opportunity to work in the same place for 4 weeks: Caroline Arms.

Caroline joined the Library of Congress in 1995 to work on the American Memory project. While the initial focus of the project was digitization and access, she saw the underlying issue that was created by such an effort: preservation. There was a profound lack of awareness in the library world about digital preservation at the time.

Caroline thought long and hard about the life cycle of digital objects, focusing in particular on one of the most vital areas that have consequences for all preservation efforts: standards for metadata and file formats. Preservation is always easier if good choices are made about digital formats. Curators should make collection decisions knowing which formats will and won’t be easily sustainable. For an object to be useful long into the future, its formats should be carefully selected and the specifications and characteristics of its formats must be documented.

Caroline and LC colleague Carl Fleischhauer’s exhaustive format research led to their creation of the Digital Formats web site, the first definitive inventory of information about current and emerging digital formats. The site is an essential resource for the international digital preservation community. Caroline also made a concerted effort to promote the use of formats with open standards, and to shepherd file formats through the standards review process.

She was also involved with the development of the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting. I first met Caroline working on a collaborative OAI harvesting project, and I owe much of my expertise to her mentoring.

It was a great loss to LC that Caroline retired in June 2008. She did not retire from the community, however, and is participating in a LC group looking at metadata even now.

Thank you, Caroline.

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