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Digital Assets in the Archives

September Spotlight on the Archives presents a blog about International House’s new Digital Asset Management System, Canto. To support the Archives, please donate below! Support the Archives! The International House Archives are the physical manifestations of our history in the form of paper documents, photographs, audio recordings, films, and digital media. These records provide a unique window into I-House’s historical legacy and document the untold stories of our notable alumni, distinguished speakers, and prominent chairpersons and trustees.
Hellen Keller program, 1931/ I-House Archives
As the Lead Archivist at International House, it is my responsibility to preserve and maintain all records of enduring value. So, when I began to assess I-House’s archival holdings, I knew we needed to contend with our digital records as well. In comparison to archiving print and paper materials, which are relatively straightforward, archiving digital records requires a different approach and more sophisticated means of preservation. A common misconception is that it is possible to store an infinite amount of digital material for an endless amount of time. But technology evolves at a rapid rate, and the hardware required to safeguard and access these materials without risk of obsolescence moves equally fast. The software we employ is continually changing and even hard drives are highly susceptible to ‘digital decay’, or the gradual corruption of data through time. The result is a digital minefield where electronic files are at risk of damage. If a paper back up of this data does not exist, this information can be lost forever (If you take anything away from this blog post, please let it be the understanding that digital assets are extremely vulnerable!). Before my time, I-House stored its digital photographs and videos on an increasingly deteriorating shared network drive. Not only were we running out of space, but data was also degrading, and files could not be accessed remotely. This problem is not unique to I-House, many organizations struggle to keep up with technology. Professionals across fields have been actively working to find comprehensive solutions for organizations to better manage and preserve their digital content.
July 19, 1959, Reception for Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. (Left to right) Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, Under Secretary of the United Nations and Trustee; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Premier of Eastern Nigeria; and Howard Book, President of I-House/ I-House Archives
Now, the Archives and International House are thrilled to announce that it has contracted Canto, our new Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMS). A DAMS is a centralized platform that provides organizations with a secure repository to facilitate the management, control, and preservation of growing amounts of digital records.  While there are many different vendors of DAMS on the market, Canto offers several distinguishing features that made it the perfect fit for I-House. First, facial recognition software enables users to search and download images of our speakers and notable alumni quickly. Links and portals make it possible to share assets out to our community easily. The flexible metadata structures move beyond the traditional hierarchical folder structure and allow for easy search and retrieval. Control access lets administrators retain strict control over which individuals and teams can access specific digital assets. Cloud-based technology enables users to access work remotely with no need to worry about obsolete formats and failing hardware. And last but not least, Canto provides a single interface for I-House to store, organize, and access digital media.
Fall Fiesta, 2012/ I-House Canto
So far, Canto has been an excellent addition to our team, both in the Archives and across the Institution. Having a DAMS during the pandemic has been immensely helpful. Canto allows our teams to collaborate off-site, and we are using the platform to manage and store submissions from ‘The I-House at Home’ project. In the future,  we hope to use Canto as a safe repository to preserve digitized material of the physical archives. Canto is also being used to preserve our virtual events and has been critical in our commination and outreach efforts during this difficult time.
Digital image of 1923 photograph/ I-House Canto
For more information about Canto at I-House, please email me at If you would like to contribute to the support of Canto, please click on the donate button below! Support the Archives!