• Digital Preservation at Hull – Archives and Society Seminar

    Date: 07.05.2012 | Category: Digital Preservation, Open Source | Tags:

    On Tuesday 6 March, I went along to the Archives and Society series seminar given by Simon Wilson on the ‘Early Steps and Early Lessons’ in digital preservation at the University of Hull. I was interested to see how an organisation developed from having no knowledge of digital preservation as a discipline to having the confidence to encourage deposits of digital material from both internal and external sources. Simon was keen to stress that the talk was base of early steps and early lessons; there is still plenty to learn and develop and the processes covered in the talks were very much a ‘work in progress’.

    The first part of the talk addressed the first steps taken by staff at Hull, including reading around the (rather overwhelming!) amount of material on digital preservation and getting an idea of the challenges that digital material face. These have been documented in great detail elsewhere, so I hesitate to repeat them here, but  needless to say ‘obsolescence’ and ‘format’ featured prominently!

    The next part of the talk introduced the AIMS project, of which the University of Hull was part, along with the Universities of Yale, Stanford and Virginia in the United States. The AIMS project was looking to develop and ‘Inter-institutional Model for Stewardship’ of digital collections, and the full white paper detailing the projects findings can be found here. There’s no need to go into detail here, but the rest of the talk did highlight a few simple steps taken by the staff at the University of Hull that could be developed and used by other repositories.

    1. Do a collections survey. Work out what you’ve already received in digital format and consider any challenges concerning format and/or content. What do you need to be able to retain access to it in the long term? This can be as simple as a basic excel spreadsheet.
    2. Build a forensic workstation. Basically, nab yourself an old computer and add bits to it to deal with a wide range of different formats. See the blog post from the University of Hull. It definitely pays to make friends in the IT department for this. Get them to hold back any old floppy or zip drives to replace broken ones.
    3. Utilise free software. There are increasing numbers of programs out there that can aid with the management of digital materials. The National Archives file profiling tool DROID is useful in identifying what file formats you are looking at, and Karen’s Directory Printer will provide a detailed list of files, formats, dates of creation and modification and attributes. This list will prove useful at all stages of processing, but particularly so when assessing the material prior to deposit and as part of the accessioning process.
    4. Work with others. Relationships are critical to the management of digital materials, from relationships with potential outside depositors to internal users, information professionals and IT staff. Utilise other professionals ot discuss issues and bounce ideas around. You are not alone!

    The key message that I took from the seminar was that, when faced with digital materials, do SOMETHING. Even if it’s something as small as a collections survey, anything is better than ignoring the problem in the hope that it will go away.

    Digital materials require the Archivist to develop some new skills, but the traditional processes of accessioning, arrangement and description are still relevant to the management and preservation of digital materials. The main difference is that the process for managing digital material is more intellectual than physical – you do not have the files and folders in your hands, just representations of bits and bytes on a screen.

    The seminar highlighted the need to tinker with available tools in order to gain confidence, something that I’m a great believer in. I’ve been installing and playing around with a number of these tools and hope to write up some of my experiences.

    In the meantime, check out these links from the Hull History Centre to get you started;

    Slides from the Archives and Society Seminar

    The Born Digital Archives Blog

    Hull History Centre page on born digital records

    Forensic Workstation ‘Idiot’s Guide’

    DROID ‘Idiot’s Guide’