An Honest Look at Implementing a Digital Preservation Program and the Role of Archive-It

April 17th, 2024

Guest post by Amber Passen (she/they), Digital Archivist for the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives (CIAA) at the Bartholomew County Public Library in Columbus, Indiana

This post is part of a series written by members of the Community Webs program. Community Webs advances the capacity for community-focused memory organizations to build web and digital archives documenting local histories and underrepresented voices. For more information, visit

Before I can talk about Community Webs, archiving websites, or implementing a digital preservation program, I first must give a little background on my organization.

The Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives (CIAA) is part of the Bartholomew County Public Library (BCPL) in Columbus, Indiana. However, this simple sentence belies a mildly tumultuous history.

CIAA began its life in 1969 as an unmediated collection of unknown materials that were gathered and housed in the newly constructed library building. Columbus, Indiana is well-known for its outstanding modern architecture and public art, so the community began collecting material to document this history. There was no formal program to administer the records nor was there dedicated staffing.

The assortment of records did not become an archive until 2004 when the nonprofit organization Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives was founded. However, CIAA did not hire a full-time professional archivist until 2014. Unfortunately, the nonprofit was unable to sustain itself, and in 2018 CIAA’s collection became part of the Bartholomew County Public Library. I joined the team in 2023 to design, implement, and manage the first ever digital preservation program at BCPL/CIAA.

Within the organizational structure of BCPL, the CIAA collection is part of the BCPL Archives. This larger, and largely unknown, archive houses three distinct collections: Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives, BCPL’s Institutional Records, and a local history collection. CIAA maintained its identity since it was so well known, but it is technically only a collection and the repository is called BCPL Archives. In addition to the BCPL Archives (and CIAA), the library also has an extensive physical collection of local genealogy and history materials, ranging from books and microfilm to birth and death records.

Image of a brownish reddish building with steps leading up to it. Building is cut off by a statue closer in view.

Photograph of the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, with Henry Moore’s “Large Arch” sculpture in the foreground. Photo by Hadley Fruits, 2017

When BCPL first joined the Community Webs program, Collection and Discovery Services Coordinator Tyler Munn and Library Director Jason Hatton envisioned utilizing the program to collect and preserve the digital presence of our community.

BCPL’s mission is to be “the community crossroads connecting people, ideas, information, and experiences to empower everyone on their journey of lifelong learning.” As demonstrated in the background above, the library has long had a role in collecting and preserving the history of our community. Celebrating, preserving, and providing access to the history and architecture of Bartholomew County is a vital part of BCPL’s mission.

BCPL’s first forays into web archiving primarily focused on preserving the websites and digital presence of community organizations unique to Bartholomew County, underrepresented voices, and local history sites that told the story of our community, such as the “It Began with Bartholomew County” documentary video series. The series was produced as part of the county’s bicentennial, in partnership with Bartholomew County Historical Society.

Screenshot of the “It Began With Bartholomew” archived web page with missing media and page elements.

As illustrated by the obvious issues in the archived web page screenshot above, there are plenty of challenges associated with this work. We all know that web archiving is neither easy nor quick.

Like most public libraries and memory institutions, our primary issue is a lack of dedicated staff, time, and expertise. Though the work we do is important, there are never enough people or resources to support it. When BCPL joined the Community Webs program, there were insufficient staff available to work on the project. A few web pages were archived, but not much work has been done on the project since 2021.

Skip ahead a couple of years to when I joined the team in 2023 and here we are. The BCPL Archive-It account was passed to me a few months after I started, and a year later I still haven’t gotten the project moving due to the unavoidable focus on other high priority projects.

My primary focus is on the CIAA collection and implementing a digital preservation program for the library system, with the intention of starting first with the architectural archives, then expanding out to the BCPL institutional records. CIAA is our largest collection and currently comprises the majority of our collection materials.

Nearly all of CIAA’s collection is analog. The analog collection contains approximately 30,000 architectural drawings, 260 linear feet of documents, a few thousand photographs, slides and negatives, architectural models, and a handful of audiovisual materials. Digital files have been produced; predominantly digital surrogates created via digitization activities and to facilitate access. However, due to having no digital preservation program in place, there are around 68,000 files of unmanaged digital collection material with little to no metadata.

One such digitization project is the 301 Washington Street digital exhibit, which highlights materials from BCPL, CIAA, and the Bartholomew County Historical Society. Long-term digital preservation of these files has not been implemented.

Prior to engaging heavily in web archiving, our goal is to finish establishing our policies and procedures and implement a baseline level of preservation for the existing digital material. Once that is stabilized, I will work to increase our web archiving activities. This year I hope to devote more time and resources to archiving our community’s webpages. My initial web archiving focus will be working to update and QA the existing collections and sites on BCPL’s Archive-It, and then begin archiving community websites, blogs, forums, online local history sites, as well as architecture and design related sites.