On the 17th of May I attended the Digital Preservation Coalition’s (DPC) ‘Getting Started with Digital Preservation’ workshop in London.
The one-day event was a great opportunity to gain clear insights into starting in the digital preservation sector, and provided a useful platform for networking with other archivists. The event consisted of lectures from DPC members on various topics related to starting digital preservation. It also included group exercises that were aimed at putting these ideas into practice.
The day started with a brief overview of digital preservation. The DPC team started by making us focus on identifying the main aspects of traditional archival preservation for physical documents. For example, a document’s physical, robust and tangible nature. Its ability to be independently understandable without relying on technology. The existence of well-established approaches to its preservation. And the existence of a well-established understanding of value-assessment relating to these documents.
This was used as a springboard to introduce us to many issues that we would face transitioning to digital. Issues like the ephemeral and intangible nature of digital (1s & 0s can’t be held in your hands). The need for technology and software for documents to be understood (e.g. a PDF file requires software to open it). Issues of obsolescence (e.g. new hardware and software making older files redundant) and lack of any value-assessment experience in the field (how do we assess the value of a set of data?).
These areas helped us to understand that digital preservation presented its own set of unique challenges that have to be understood within their own context. The question of ‘Why Digitise?’ was then asked to the attendees at the workshop. The responses focused on: legal, research, cultural heritage, funding opportunities, efficiency, contingency and access reasons for digitising. This shows us that digital preservation cannot be seen as a simple solution to a single problem but a complex solution to many.
Bit-Level Preservation was covered in detail at the workshop, this section focused on the potential dangers that could affect data and how to prevent these from occurring. The three main areas were: media obsolescence: where media type is no longer used or the hardware no longer exists to support it, media failure / decay: when the media itself runs to the end of its life cycle or breaks, and natural / human-made disaster: fire, earthquakes etc. Mitigating these dangers is achieved by backing up the data more than 2-3 times (the actual number of copies needed is a subject of debate). Then storing these copies in different geographical locations, and performing periodical migration of media to new storage devices.
The workshop also looked at integrity checks and the role they play in bit-level preservation. Integrity checking is the process of creating a ‘checksum’ or ‘hash value’ (a unique number created when running an integrity checking program like Fixity, ACE and COPTR on a file). This number is unique to that data, like a fingerprint, and can be used to check if the data has changed or become corrupted in any way due to bit-rot or other data corruption.
Later in the workshop characterisation tools were demonstrated. The tool showcased was DROID (Digital, Record Object Identification). DROID is an open-source tool that analyses file types / formats on a system, it then relays this information to PRONOM, a database of file formats. The presentations stressed that the databases the tools used were important, and needed gradual updating to be accurate. Other examples of characterisation tools mentioned: C3PO, JHOVE, TIKKA, FITS.
The presentation on departmental readiness provided useful insights into preparing for digital preservation projects. It focused on the way that maturity models could be used to benchmark your department’s readiness for digital preservation The two main models discussed were: Digital Preservation Capability Maturity Model and the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation. These models aimed to identify gaps in the institution’s readiness for digital preservation, whilst also focusing on aspects of best practice that they could aim to achieve.
A risk assessment exercise also formed part of the workshop. Those attending were asked to consider how various risks would affect the digital archival process. The risks would then be ranked on their likelihood of occurring, and the potential damage that they might cause. We would then propose potential solutions to help mitigate these risks, and prevent further ‘explosive’ risks from occurring. This was followed by assessing whether the scores for both criteria had improved.
The last presentation was on digital asset registers. It focused on the importance of creating and managing a detailed spreadsheet to hold an institutions digital assets, with the aim of having one organised and accessible source of information on a digital collection. The presentation focused on how this register could be shared with all members of staff to promote a better understanding of a digital collection. It mentioned that this would remove the issue of having one staff member who was a sole specialist on a collection, and promote further transparency throughout the digital preservation process. Another idea mentioned was that the register could be used for promoting further funding into digital collections, by providing a visual representation of the digital preservation process.
I thoroughly enjoyed the DPC workshop and look forward to attending similar workshops.