The Vedder has officially brought online a new Network Attached Server (NAS). Naturally anyone's first two questions would be the following: "What on earth is an NAS?" and "Why does the library need something like that?" - please read on, and with any luck I'll be able to answer those two questions as best as I can.
Digital files are one of the standard reference tools patrons expect and seek in a modern archive. Organizations like the Library of Congress and Huntington Digital Library have set the bar pretty high, making it easy for patrons to view some pretty amazing items and collections from the comfort of their own couch. Any archive that wants to keep pace with best practices has to either catch up or resign to being left in the dust. We at the Vedder, of course, will not be left in the dust.
While LOC and HDL make it seem relatively simple, the actual process of creating, maintaining, hosting, and providing access to those digital files in even a minimal way presents a unique set of challenges and concerns. The Vedder, while it doesn't have a huge amount of existing digital content, is making fast progress towards having some of its least accessible image collections (mainly our vast holdings of Glass Plate Negatives) digitized and set aside for more stable long-term storage. We'll talk about the theory and process behind digitizing items in another post, all you need to know right now is that digitizing these pictures has created a lot of LARGE image files that need to be stored in a central location.
So we have all these large image files - now enter the NAS. A Network Attached Server is far more simple than it sounds. An NAS is essentially a box with a small computer in it that is devoted to managing a bank of hard drives (the things that store information in your home computer). The whole NAS unit (computer and hard drives) is connected to our wireless router (the thing that gives the library WiFi) and that allows every other computer in the library to connect with the NAS and look at the things it is storing for us. To picture this a different way: imagine having a 1 Gigabyte thumb drive which you carry around in your pocket, and then multiply it's storage ability by 10,000, and then imagine having that 10,000 Gigabyte thumb drive always plugged in to every computer you work on without ever having to move it around - that is what our NAS is basically doing. It is actually pretty cool, and it has some neat additional features.
The library now has only 70 gigabytes of data it needs to permanently store, but that number is growing weekly. The NAS stores all that data, and it is actually backing it all up too in case of a computer crash or failure. Unlike a thumb drive, external hard drive, or compact disk, the NAS has five separately operating hard drives that "talk" to one another and back each other up using a rather innovative storage protocol called "Synology Hybrid RAID" (SHR) - I won't get into details except to say that SHR is a method that allows each NAS hard drive to back up parts of all its neighbors so that if some of them crash the information they had isn't lost. This is different than a normal computer's storage system which only uses one or two hard drives which, if they crash, take all their data with them to that big RadioShack in the sky.
What I've told you in summary is that we have an NAS, and that we got it to store data in a safer way than what is offered by other common storage systems like thumb drives, CDs, or even desktop computers. The last thing I'll mention is that this NAS also helps us to share those digital files with patrons when they are physically in the Library. When a patron walks into the library now, they can actually connect to our NAS and view files on it without deleting, editing or downloading them. They do this from their own laptops or tablets (which most patrons bring with them to the library now). For patrons that don't have a personal computer on site, I have a computer that will let them browse that content with the same permissions. This on-site access to our entire digital collection is a huge step forward, and it is the first step we needed to take if we ever decide we want to transform the Library website into something like the one from Library of Congress or Huntington Digital Library. Until that happens though, why don't you drop by the library and try the system out for yourself. I'll be there to walk you through it.
- Librarian Jon