United we stand 

I attended a Digital Preservation Coalition training event recently in Liverpool called “Making Progress with Digital Preservation”. This came at a good time for me after having been in post as Digital Archivist at Lancaster University for a couple of months and finding myself trying to do just that.  It was a great opportunity to meet some of my fellow professionals in the region and also to meet a wide range of practitioners from different disciplines who had come together to try and get their heads around some of the challenges faced by the emerging and changing discipline of Digital Preservation.

One of the big themes of the day – and something I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to recently – is the need for advocacy – as William Kilbride, chief executive of the DPC, said “a huge part of digital preservation is relentless advocacy” and certainly the relentless nature of it can seem daunting. I often think that very few people really grasp what it is I am trying to achieve in my job – it can be quite hard to explain – and without having the record creators on board with the task of preserving is impossible. Digital preservation does not take place in isolation – it is a combination of tasks undertaken by a wide range of people taking on the challenges posed by the technologies, information, curation, selection and so on and so on. 

As was discussed at the event, digital preservation is an activity undertaken by people from many different disciplines each of whom bring a different angle or perspective to many of the issues with are being grappled with. This includes librarians, records managers, archivists, data managers, IT systems people, researchers… the List is endless.  It’s a collaborative effort and one which, if it is to succeed, needs to be taken up and be taken seriously by anyone who is engaged in data creation.  And by that of course I mean everybody.

Funding models for projects mean that there are a multiplicity of time-limited projects, the results of which are scattered and difficult to navigate even for someone who knows a little about the subject. On the plus side here are lots of people who are keen to share their knowledge, experience and expertise, and only by string collaborative working will we really achieve results.

I’m preparing to introduce my colleagues to the principles of Digital Preservation because that advocacy work starts at home, and I can’t save the world digital data on my own.

This week I’ve been reading this article by Anthony Cocciolo, Professor of Information at the Pratt Institute, New York and Library Science which looks at the archivist in a data managers world.  I’ve also looked at this article from International Article of a Digital Curation on how we should be taking a holistic approach to data curation.

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One small step

I was excited to read today that the National Archives have made their first born-digital records archives available via the Discovery tool.  This marks the beginning of a long process of integrating the traditional and born digital elements of the government’s records into one portal in what (hopefully) will be a seamless point of discovery. This might seem like a small step for many but having spent my first few weeks grappling with the issues around managing, preserving and making available digital data I can only be extremely grateful that there are pioneers there who are paving the way to enable all archives, whether purely digital (as here at Lancaster) or hybrid (as surely all others will eventually become), can look to making their holdings available for anyone who wants to access them.  

The focus on discoverability has been shaping the way I have been thinking over the last week or so and it was good to read Professor Lorna Hughes of the School of Advanced Studies write about the necessity of public access to our heritage as part of the democratic process.  This includes the digitisation of archival and historical resources, the publication of Big Data and the preservation of the born-digital, all activities which as I mentioned in my previous post underpin the democratic process.

For an archivist from a traditional paper-and-parchment (yeah and the rest) background, getting to grips with the way digital data can and should be described so that it can be made available has been a steep learning curve.  I shall be looking at how the National Archives have used Discovery to weave together their hybrid catalogue but I have also been taking a lot of inspiration from the work of Jane Stevenson at Archives Hub and in particular her blogs on the AHRC funded Exploring British Design project. There is much to be gained from thinking above and beyond traditional archival description to help make the digital discoverable for as many people as possible. This fits in well with the emphasis on sustainability and access to research data which is one of the key drivers behind my role here at Lancaster University.

In the meantime my first small steps are going to be around drafting digital preservation policy and reading about what others have already done; by sharing and making available their work to the wider digital preservation and archives community benefits, everyone reaps the benefit.

I’ve been following #LIBER2015 tweets for lots of stuff about copyright, research data management and more….

Happy International Archives Day

I’ve been motivated to write my blog to coincide with International Archives Day with is being celebrated on 9th June with the theme the year of democracy.  The blog is intended to chart my progress in digital preservation which is a new(-ish) direction for me. However as an archivist committed to ensuring authenticity, transparency and access to information it’s one which I see as the logical way of taking this work on into the future and ensuring current and future archives continue to maintain these principles.  In fact it underpins the whole democratic process, and the whole business of democracy cannot exist without archivists and information managers supporting its regulation.

“Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of regular government.” Jeremy Bentham, On Publicity from The Works of Jeremy Bentham volume 2, part 2 (1839).
However before these weightier matters can be tackled I need to take my first steps in mapping out a digital preservation strategy and my first task has been to survey what other institutions are doing, what kind of policies they have and any interesting or innovative ways in which digital collections are preserved and presented.  It’s given me a great opportunity to spend some time looking at a variety of collections, some of my favourites being YODAL – the University of York’s Digital Library and New York Public Library‘s digital collections. Whilst I was on the “York” theme (there must be something in the name which promotes good digital projects) I found a wonderful set of digitised images relating to the Spanish Civil War held at New York University and made available via their Digital Library Projects from originals held in the Internaitonal Brigade Archives in Moscow.  Lots of other fascinating stuff here as well including the Guantánamo Lawyers Archive.

In the meantime I’ll be following #IAD15 on Twitter for all the best archives and democracy stories from around the world.