If you’re serious about thoroughbred racing, you know the Daily Racing Form, the newspaper that has been “America’s turf authority” since 1894. With the help of the library staff at the University of Kentucky, 132,000 pages of the paper—some 531,000 articles—have been digitized and posted online. The articles date from the 1890s, when the paper was founded, up through the 1990s. The selection represents each decade’s racing highlights, including Triple Crown coverage and reports on the careers of Seabiscuit, Secretariat, and the other great horses of the past hundred years.
The Daily Racing Form archive is a recent addition to the Kentuckiana Digital Library, a continuing project that provides access to digital archives of material particular to the state. “Nothing says Kentucky like thoroughbred racing, unless it’s bourbon,” says Mary Molinaro, associate dean for library technologies at the university. (Yes, the digital library’s holdings include bourbon-related material, such as this series of oral histories devoted to the Buffalo Trace Distillery.)
The University of Kentucky handles the technical infrastructure for the project. The virtual library got its start in the late 1990s with help from the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education, and it brings together a number of different institutions. “Right now we have 18 archives represented in the digital library,” Ms. Molinaro told The Chronicle. “Those include other universities, small colleges, historical societies, and some public libraries.”
The virtual library now contains more than a million images, says Eric Weig, director of digital library services at the university. The university library’s repository responsibilities don’t stop there. Mr. Weig, Ms. Molinaro, and their colleagues also oversee the Explore UK archive of university-related materials. They’re setting up a platform for faculty work in the humanities, and they’re looking into ways to preserve and make available other kinds of scholarly work, such as data sets.
“I don’t really think of them as distinct repositories,” Mr. Weig said. “They’re groupings within a larger system.” Some of those groupings are designed more around preservation, others around access, but building and maintaining all of them requires flexibility. “In some ways it’s like changing your tires as you’re running down the road,” Ms. Molinaro said. The trick is “choosing what to save and making it available and ensuring its sustainability over time.”
Given the amount of work and material involved in building and maintaining repositories, automation and flexibility are ever more important. At Kentucky, the librarians are trying out a new approach developed by the California Digital Library. Called Curation Micro-Services, it’s an open-source set of solutions to specific repository challenges, such as how to give each object a unique identifier.
Each micro-service “can be decoupled and replaced over time” if it breaks down or doesn’t meet the library’s needs, Mr. Weig explained. In contrast to setting up repository contents as a database, the micro-services approach works according to “a file system similar to what’s on your hard drive,” he said. “The idea is that databases will change over time, but the file system will remain the same.”
Mr. Weig said the idea “is really starting to gain some momentum now” among librarians and digital preservationists. Adopting a micro-services approach doesn’t preclude using what Ms. Molinaro calls an “out-of-the-box vendor-hosted repository solution” such as Digital Commons. That can be a quick and easy way to set up a platform for faculty research even as deeper archival work continues using micro-services.
The bottom line is how best to accomplish long-term preservation. All that digital material represents “a big investment,” Ms. Molinaro said. “Security is paramount.”