Photo by Ard Hesselink
This one-day event on 31 October 2014 was organised by the DPC and hosted at the futuristic, spacious offices of HSBC, where the presentation facilities and the catering were excellent. All those attending were given plenty of mental exercises by William Kilbride. He said he wanted to build on his “Getting Started in Digital Preservation” events and help everyone move further along the path towards a steady state, where digital preservation starts to become “business as usual”. The very first exercise he proposed was a brief sharing-discussion exercise where people shared things they have tried, and what worked and didn’t work.
Kurt Helfrich from The RIBA Library said his organisation had a large amount of staff administering a historic archive; various databases, created at different time for different needs, would be better if connected. He was keen to collaborate with other RIBA teams and link “silos” in his agency.
Lindsay Ould from Kings College London said “starting small worked for us”. They’ve built a standalone virtual machine, using locally-owned kit, and are using it for “manual” preservation; when they’ve got the process right, they could automate it and bring in network help from IT.
When asked about “barriers to success”, over a dozen hands in the room went up. Common themes: getting the momentum to get preservation going in the first place; extracting a long-term commitment from Executives who lose interest when they see it’s not going to be finished in 12 months. There’s a need to do advocacy regularly, not just once; and a need to convince depositors to co-operate. IT departments, especially in the commercial sector, are slow to see the point of digital preservation if its “business purpose” – a euphemism for “income stream”, I would say – is not immediately apparent. Steph Taylor of ULCC pointed out how many case studies in tools in our profession are mostly geared to the needs of large memory institutions, not the dozens of county archives and small organisations who were in the room.
Ed Pinsent (i.e. me) delivered a talk on conducting a preservation assessment survey, paying particular attention to the Digital Preservation Capability Maturity Model and other tools and standards. If done properly, this could tell you useful things about your capability to support digital preservation; you could even use the evidence from the survey to build a business case for investment or funding. The tricky thing is choosing the model that’s right for you; there are about a dozen available, with varying degrees of credibility as to their fundamental basis.
Catherine Hardman from the Archaeological Data Service (ADS) is one who is very much aware of “income streams”, since the profession of archaeology has become commercialised and somewhat profit-driven. She now has to engage with many depositors as paying customers. To that end, she’s devised a superb interface called ADS Easy that allows them to upload their own deposits, and add suitable metadata through a series of web forms. This process also incorporates a costing calculator, so that the real costs of archiving (based on file size) can be estimated; it even acts as a billing system, creating and sending out invoices. Putting this much onus on depositors is, in fact, a proven effective way of engaging with your users. In the same vein, ADS have published good practice guidance on things to consider when using CAD files, and advice on metadata to add to a Submission Package. Does she ever receive non-preferred formats in a transfer? Yes, and their response is to send them back – the ADS has had interesting experiences with “experimental” archaeologists in the field. Kurt Helfrich opened up the discussion here, speaking of the lengthy process before deposit that is sometimes needed; he memorably described it as a “pre-custodial intervention”. Later in the day, William Kilbride picked up this theme: maybe “starting early”, while good practice, is not ambitious enough. Maybe we have to begin our curation activities before the digital object is even created!
Catherine also perceived an interesting shift in user expectations; they want more from digital content, and leaps in technology make them impatient for speedy delivery. As part of meeting this need, ADS have embraced OAI-PMH protocols, which enables them to reuse their collections metadata and enhance their services to multiple external shareholders.
There is no doubt that having a proper preservation policy in place would go some way to helping address issues like this. When Kirsty Lee from the University of Edinburgh asked how many of us already had a signed-off policy document, the response level was not high. She then shared with us the methodology that she’s using to build a policy at Edinburgh, and it’s a thought-through meticulous process indeed. Her flowcharts show her constructing a complex “matrix” of separate policy elements, all drawn from a number of reports and sources, which tend to say similar things but in different ways; her triumph has been to distil this array of information and, equally importantly, arrange the elements in a meaningful order.
Kirsty is upbeat and optimistic about the value of a preservation policy. It can be a statement of intent; a mandate for the archive to support digital records and archives. It provides authority and can be leverage for a business case; it helps get senior management buy-in. To help us understand, she gave us an excellent handout which listed some two dozen elements; the exercise was to pick only the ones that suit our organisation, and to put them in order of priority. The tough part was coming up with a “single sentence that defines the purpose of your policy” – I think we all got stumped by this!
Download the slides from this event
Report continues in part two