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Cloud-Enabled Preservation of Life in the 20th Century White House

The Cloud-Enabled Preservation of Life in the 20th Century White House project is making previously-inaccessible images of life in the White House available to the public via the Digital Library. The White House Historical Association has thousands of photos covering public and private events at the White House from the Kennedy era through the current administration, which we are working on adding to the Digital Library using Amazon Rekognition, a cloud-based facial recognition technology, in the processing of our collections, and by using Amazon Glacier cloud storage for the long-term preservation of these materials.

The Cloud-Enabled Preservation of Life in the 20th Century White House project has been selected as a finalist for the Digital Preservation Awards for 2018, in the "Safeguarding the Digital Legacy" category. Click here to see the full project.

When the Library team was formed in 2015, the team adopted a holistic approach to preserving the entirety of the WHHA's legacy collections, both physical materials and born-digital files, following best practices available and leveraging new technological innovations. The evolution of digital asset management systems (DAM), combined with the relative low-cost of cloud computing technology provided the best approach to digital preservation for a small, private non-profit.

The beginning of the project was getting the 20,000 physical slides digitized and, thanks to an agreement between WHHA and Amazon Web Services signed in late 2016, the large-scale digitization project was begun in March of 2017. At the same time, the Library team ingested 7TB of digital photographs into the Fotoware DAM software that runs the Digital Library using an Amazon Snowball in April 2017. Working with Amazon Web Services again, the team employed Amazon Rekognition, a facial-recognition software that runs in the cloud, to explore the legacy digital backlog and identify images of historic value to help process the nearly 300,000 files in this group. These images are being described and added to the Library over time.

To ensure the long-term accessibility of all of these images, regardless of whether they were born-digital or not, WHHA has set up an Amazon Glacier instance, which is the cloud equivalent of cold storage. Both camera-raw versions and archival TIFF files are being kept in Glacier, which is one of the most secure long-term digital storage options available. Should a freezer stop working, or a single external hard drive fail, WHHA will no longer be at risk for losing its unique collection of images of life in the White House during the last half of the 20th century.

Going forward we hope to create a more interactive website for users to explore the project's collection, as well as contributions from our partner institutions, and take advantage of other new technologies, including tools like augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as voice interaction technologies, to improve accessibility and expand our outreach to users all over the globe. The Digital Library is our locus of public outreach and access to our collections. We understand the need to guarantee our materials can be accessible by anyone at any time and that we are gifted with a unique record of events in one of the most famous buildings in the world, which we have an obligation to protect and preserve.

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