Sustaining MedArt

The Impact of Socio-Technical Factors on Digital Preservation Strategies

Principle Investigator:
Dr. Alison Langmead
Department of History of Art & Architecture and School of Computing & Information

Project Manager:
Aisling Quigley
School of Computing & Information

University of Pittsburgh


In the Summer of 2015, Dr. Langmead and I co-wrote and submitted an NEH Research & Development Grant proposal to the Division of Preservation & Access. A few months later, we learned that we’d been awarded the grant. 


The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of History of Art and Architecture is home to “Images of Medieval Art and Architecture” (or MedArt, as it is known colloquially), a website that has persisted throughout the past two decades of significant technological change. As such, the site represents an ideal space for exploring the implications of usability on sustainability and digital preservation. As digital humanities projects begin to age and new ones continue to emerge, these latter considerations have become increasingly important. Will a project languish after a few years, or will it be maintained? This project investigated this, among many other questions.


PHASE 1: preparation
August-October 2014
I created and disseminated an online usability survey using the Qualtrics software available through the University of Pittsburgh. This survey, prompted by Dr. Langmead and Dr. Brian Beaton’s previous research, began the work of investigating how users engage with the MedArt website. Although I only received 18 responses to the survey, this feedback fueled the next phase of this project.

December 2014-January 2015
Dr. Langmead and I submitted a proposal for the academic poster session at iConference 2015 and were accepted. Read more about the published poster here. It is relevant to this story because the academic poster, discussing the results of the earlier usability survey, sparked a conversation with an NEH program officer. 

April 2015
I followed up with the NEH program officer. After communicating with him further, Dr. Langmead and I decided to apply for a Research & Development Grant.

June 2015
We submitted our grant proposal to the NEH Division of Preservation & Access. 

~~We waited.~~

December 2015
Success! We are awarded the grant!

PHASE 2: data collection
Spring 2016
We prepared our usability survey for the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This was an ideal venue for interviewing medievalists about our site.

May 2016
A team of five researchers (including myself, two PhD students in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, one MLIS student, and Dr. Langmead) conducted over 100 interviews over three days at the conference in Kalamazoo.

PHASE 3: data analysis
Summer 2016
Myself and an MLIS student transcribed, analyzed, and coded interviews from Kalamazoo and started to prepare for the next phase of the grant.

Fall 2016
I describe Phase III of the project here.

April 2017
Update posted here! 

PHASE 4: dissemination
May 2017
Dr. Langmead, Lindsay Decker (an MLIS student), and I returned to Kalamazoo, Michigan for the 52nd annual International Congress on Medieval Studies. Dr. Langmead and I co-presented at a session organized and sponsored by the Material Collective. We also collectively presented a “rogue” poster enumerating some of the usability survey findings from our trip to K’zoo in 2016.

An update about the findings and the poster is available here.

June 2017
I presented at the California Visual Resources Association 2017 Conference, University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Langmead and I participated in the NEH Preservation and Access Research & Development Project Directors Meeting, Washington, DC.

July-August 2017
Dr. Langmead, Chelsea Gunn, Lindsay Decker, Jedd Hakimi and I continued to revise the NEH grant report. We also made a first iteration of “The Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap” (or This is still a work in progress and will benefit from user-testing in the near future.

phase 5: reporting and roadmap roll-out

October 2017
Dr. Langmead and I presented at the 2017 Digital Library Federation Forum & National Digital Stewardship Alliance Digital Preservation Conference.