Head in the Cloud?

The appeal of digital repositories

September 1, 2021

Photo of Dispatches author Jarrod Bogucki

Digital repositories—virtual spaces for sharing objects of interest and importance—can be used anywhere with internet access. The need for such spaces has become much more apparent as the world grapples with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made it harder to visit libraries, museums, and schools in person.

As access remains limited and fewer staffers work onsite than before the pandemic, launching a digital repository via traditional, onsite hardware may be impractical or even impossible. Our world may be opening up again, but trends such as remote working and online education are likely to continue. To host cultural resource collections in a remote and distributed environment, consider creating a digital repository with cloud services.

Digital repositories (also known as cultural repositories or digital archives, among other names) extend data preservation and discovery online. For many collections, this can be an exciting prospect. The depth and variety of material housed in cultural heritage projects lend themselves to many media formats, interactive applications, and interconnected discovery tools. And these collections can grow to an almost limitless scale, presenting libraries with exciting, inspiring, and potentially daunting opportunities.

Cloud technology—a collection of remotely hosted online resources—lets libraries access existing software to quickly deploy and easily operate digital repositories. In most cases, cloud technology involves large buildings called data centers that contain all of the servers, storage space, and other hardware required to give vast numbers of users the ability to do almost any computing task. With these powerful, flexible resources, any library, university, cultural center, or other institution can find the best solution for sharing cultural heritage collections.

By using web browsers and certain software applications, users can create servers and databases, manage network traffic, run custom code, and re-create the functionality of most common computer hardware in a virtual environment. Moreover, this technology provides users with out-of-the-box solutions to common IT challenges, including those presented by a digital repository.

Because cloud technology can serve projects of any size, its solutions meet the needs of almost every customer, from professional system administrators and programmers to librarians who have great ideas for collections but not much technical savvy. The scope of offerings is vast. For all practical implementations of a digital repository, there is little that cloud technology tools cannot achieve.

While cutting-edge cloud services can provide engaging experiences and exciting visuals, they don’t need to be used for every collection, as they can be expensive and time-consuming and require expertise. Try to use resources that will not overextend your team’s capabilities. For example, managing video resources requires more work than hosting still images. So if the effort needed to provide video digitization, playback, and transcription seems large compared with the number of videos intended for inclusion, consider prioritizing still images.

The cloud’s remote capabilities support workforce flexibility. Staff may work in distributed locations for any number of reasons, including limited onsite space or network bandwidth, limited access to locally available expertise, or an institutional push for work-from-home options. Using cloud resources can require significantly less onsite power for running computers, and it can offer stability where continuous power is unavailable.

When planning your digital repository, check out your options in the cloud.

Adapted from “Cloud Services for Digital Repositories,” Library Technology Reports vol. 57, no. 5 (July 2021).


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