It was an early 2020 start for the Archivematica UK User group but thankfully the weather was very kind for those of us travelling to London to our hosts, the University of Westminster, who kindly provided accommodation and refreshments for us. These meetings need caffeine and sugar!
The meetings are a great chance for users to get together and share their successes and their woes which tend to come in equal measure for anyone practising digital preservation (we are all agreed we’re all still learning!).
First to take the floor was Matthew Addis from Arkivum who talked about the Preservation Action Registry which is a bold but incredibly useful project to try and capture and share technical best practice for preservation actions in a human and machine executable way. Both Archivematica’s Format Policy registry (of which more in a moment) and Preservica’s Linked Data Registry define rules for preservation actions but are not interoperable and the benefits for users of both systems and any systems going forward if they were would be great. It was just the first in a series of presentations which touched on the theme of interoperability which chimes well with the Open Source nature of Archivematica. After all we’re all trying to work on a common task of preservation of a dizzying variety of digital file formats in a wide variety of contexts so the more working together we can do the better!
The open part of the agenda allowed us to give some thought to PDFs. Who loves PDFs? Not many of us it seems. You thought a PDF was a PDF (or maybe a PDF/A) and that was it? You’d be wrong. There a wide varieties of types of PDF and then there are PDFs which conform to the standard they are supposed to and those which don’t. And then there are those that will render correctly and those which don’t…. Archivematica can and does tell you the type and conformity of the PDF but what you are going to do with this information and whether the PDF will render as it should are separate questions. We had some good debates on this and we referenced Paul Wheatley’s thought provoking (or is that provocative?) blog on the subject of validation, something we should all be giving a lot more thought to.
I then took gross advantage of the fact that I was chairing the meeting by chipping in with my tuppence worth on normalization, sparked off by Evelyn McLellan’s recent questions to the user community more broadly about normalization options in Archivematica. I was interested to know whether people had been investigating Archivematica’s Format Policy Registry – a question which had been posed at a previous user group meeting a couple of years ago in Aberystwyth. There definitely seemed to be more confidence about having a go at tinkering with it and overall a questioning about whether the “normalize everything approach” was the right one. I am keen to get more people thinking proactively about their normalization choices – when, where and whether to normalize and agree with Tim Walsh when they wrote about it in their response to Evelyn – that having a view is a responsibility of the institution because of the resource implications of large uncompressed normalized formats but also that each institution is very context specific.
The final session before lunch was a introduction to work by the Wellcome Collections who are getting to grips with Archivematica and tailoring it to meet the needs of their fairly sophisticated workflows. I suspect I wasn’t the only one who was envious of their plans for full scale automation in many of their workflows and their contribution to the user community is going to be invaluable – all shared via GitHub. I’m excited about what the future holds and will be watching their work with keen interest.
After lunch Jen Mitcham from the Digital Preservation Coalition presented on their new project developing a guide to procurement for digital preservation systems and services. They are looking for ways to support both product users and vendors get the best from the procurement process and there was some valuable discussion about the dos and don’ts – we all recognised the “manage expectations” advice because procuring a system does not mean that you have solved digital preservation – I think everyone in the room has found this out!
Next up was Matthew Neely from Bodleian Libraries, Oxford talking about their work on Archivematica. Some of us had heard about this work at last year’s Archivematica Camp in London and via their blog but it was good to hear about where they are and what their future development plans are. The Bodleian have particular challenges around the size and scale of both their holdings and their staffing – user management is a key concern for them in the way it isn’t for smaller organisations. They are also doing some interesting work on reporting functionality as an add-on to Archivematica. This isn’t something which Archivematica does (as it isn’t part of its core functionality) but it’s always interesting to hear about this kind of work – one of the great benefits to Open Source software is that it can encourage and support a whole range of additional parallel services to suit individual needs.
The final talk of the day was from Stephen Mackey of Penwern Ltd, a consultancy firm that are involved in a number of digital preservation projects including work on the Central Europe Facility (CEF) eArchiving project (EARK) which has the bold and ambitious aim to introduce compliance and interoperability into the way that institutions work looking at creating AIPs which can be read and shared by any system. Stephen shared the proposed data model with us and there was some interesting discussion around how disparate systems might achieve conformance in different ways.
Finally no Archivematica User group meeting would be complete without input from Artefactual and we were really pleased to be able to welcome Sarah Mason, Systems Archivist at Artefactual who is based in the UK which meant she was able to attend in person. She gave us the latest news on Artefactual developments including informality about changes to normalization paths for video files (part of the work I had referred to earlier), some improvements to user acceptance testing which should make for smoother releases for updates and the integration of new PRONOM updates.
All in all it was a very successful meeting although next time I think we should factor in more general discussion time. I certainly stayed on an extra half an hour or so (thank you University of Westminster!) exchanging experiences in an informal environment which is in part what these meetings are all about. I’m looking forward to the next one already!