Digital Ambition

Last week I was delighted to travel to Hull History Centre to speak at the Archives and Records Association‘s Section for Archives and Technology Digital Ambition training session about digital preservation.  The audience was made up of archives professionals. interested but not necessarily specialist in digital preservation

We were welcomed to Hull History Centre by University Archivist Simon Wilson who gave us an overview of their project to capture the Hull City of Culture 2017 events.  This is extremely ambitious in its scale and complexity and he talked us through some of the more challenging aspects of working on a collaborative time-limited project.  They are learning lessons from The Olympic and Paralympic Record project run by the National Archives in capturing the digital elements of a cultural event.

Hull: Weeping Window (author’s own CC-BY)

Next up was Jen Mitcham of the University of York who shared her experience of using Open Source software.  She introduced the context by way of a great Lego video

and then went through what the challenges and benefits are of using Open Source solutions.  Using Open Source definitely comes hand in hand with working as part of a community – and building a community is something which is a feature of digital preservation which relies on input and support from a wide variety of places.  There was discussion about how different institutions and organisations have a very different take on how far they embrace the Open Source model – unsurprising given the range of organisations represented and the different needs and priorities they have.

Lunch was a great opportunity to meet up catch up with friends and colleagues working on various aspects of digital preservation.  There was quite a lot of talk about developing digital skills for archivists – which was the theme of my presentation – and interestingly shortly after the event Library Carpentry put out a call for an “Archivists Wish List” of skills  – please consider contributing to their call for suggestions or even become part of the community by taking part in their ideas sprint.

In the afternoon we heard from Gary Tuson from Norfolk Record Office who is leading an impressive consortium bid from East Anglia to procure preservation services at scale for 5 organisations of different sizes and needs.  Its impressive stuff and not without challenges – especially with dealing with sensitive data – but an important and worthwhile exercise.  Even the scoping of the project is a huge learning experience, says Gary.

Image: Pixabay CC0 (

Finally I had my slot and I talked about the transferable skills which all archivists have which I had rather cheesily called “From Secretary hand to software”.  The idea was to encourage those who were present to think about the skills they have as an archivist and apply them to the issues around digital preservation.  Fragile formats in danger of obsolescence, metadata requirements, authenticity and provenance – all these key issues with regards to digital formats should be familiar to the archivist from a traditional background.  Granted, the technology is different, and this is where we are going to need help from our IT colleagues, although some basics are helpful.  In fact it would be useful to start bringing together some ideas – ARA’s Section for Archives and Technology are certainly interested in developing future training opportunities and the Library Carpentry Archivist’s Wish Lists is another way of contributing to the skills development process.

My main regret of the day was not to spend more time in the City of Culture 2017 and my main message of the day was:

Do nothing and you are guaranteed to lose records.

Do something!

I tried to be helpful on this and suggest my two favourite articles which I refer to time and again: NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation and Tim Gollins’ Parsimonious Preservation.  The former because it offers a structured approach and goals to aim for and the latter because it is short, accessible and reassuring.  I return to them often and when I got back to Lancaster I put into practice my “do something” and started my long overdue inventory of digital holdings in our Special Collections.  Time to get planning!

Image: Pixabay CC0 (

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