Category Archives: Digital archives

Thai Manuscript Conservation Association Workshop at the Bodleian

On 14th and 15th December staff from Bodleian Special Collections and Digital Library Systems and Services welcomed representatives from the Manuscript Conservation Association of Thailand. Delegates included Mr. Boonlert Sananon, President of the MCA, Mr. Boonlue Burarnsan, Vice President of the MCA, and Mrs. Phatchanun Bunnag, Registrar of the MCA.

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During the first day of the workshop delegates discussed the latest developments in TEI /XML cataloguing standards for Thai manuscripts at the Centre for Digital Scholarship. On the morning of second day of the workshop the delegates visited the Conservation workshop. This was followed by a lecture by given Mr Saneh Mahapol, from the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture on the conservation of palm leaf books in Thailand.

The workshop ended with delegates helping the library to identify and make basic TEI descriptions of uncatalogued Thai manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collection.

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iPRES 2016

Last month, I attended the 13th International Conference on Digital Preservation, this year hosted in Bern, Switzerland. The four days of papers, panels, posters and workshops were an intensive and exciting opportunity to meet with colleagues working in digital preservation around the world, share ideas, and hear about innovative projects and approaches. The topics ranged widely from technical systems and practices, to quality and risk assessment, and stewardship and sustainability. What follows are just a couple of highlights from a really fascinating week.

Networking wall

The post-it note networking wall: What do you know? What do you want to know?

Net-based and digital art

As email, digital documents and social media replace traditional forms of communication, it is crucial to be able to preserve born-digital material and make it accessible. An area which I hadn’t previously considered was the realm of net-based art. Here, the internet is used as an artistic medium, which of course has implications (and complications) for digital preservation.

In her key-note speech, Sabine Himmelsbach from the House of Electronic Arts in Basel, introduced us to this exciting field, showing artwork such as Olia Lialina’s ‘Summer’, 2013, shown below.

Summer, by Olia Lialina

Screenshot of Summer, Olia Lialina, 2013. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxvHoXdC4Uk

The artwork features an animated loop of Lialina swinging from the browser bar. Each frame is hosted by a different website, and the playback therefore depends on your connection speed. This creative use of technology creates enormous challenges for preservation. Here, rather than preserving artefacts, it is the preservation of behaviours which is crucial, and these behaviours are extremely vulnerable to obsolescence.

Marc Lee’s ‘TV Bot’ is another net-based artwork, which is automated to broadcast current news stories with live TV streams, radio streams and webcam images from around the world. Reliant on technical infrastructure in this way, the shift from Real Player to Adobe Flash Player was one such development which prevented ‘TV Bot’ from functioning. The artist then not only worked on technical migration, but re-interpreted the artwork, modernising the look and feel, resulting in ‘TV Bot 2.0’ in 2010. This process soon happened again, this time including a twitter stream, in ‘TV Bot 3.0’, 2016. In this way, the artist is working against cultural, as well as technical obsolescence.

Marc Lee, 'TV Bot 2.0', 2010. Image from http://ceaac.org/en/artistes/marc-lee

Marc Lee, ‘TV Bot 2.0’, 2010. Image from http://ceaac.org/en/artistes/marc-lee

The heavy involvement from the artist in this case has helped preserve the artwork, but this process cannot be sustained indefinitely. Himmelsbach ended her speech by stressing the need for collaboration and dialogue, which emerged as a central theme of the conference.

A new approach to web archiving

Another highlight was the workshop on Webrecorder lead by Dragan Espenschied from Rhizome. He introduced their new tool which departs from the usual crawling method to capture web content ‘symmetrically’, which results in incredibly high-fidelity captures. The demonstration of how the tool can capture dynamic and interactive content sparked gasps of amazement from the group!

Webrecorder not only captures social media, embedded video and complex javascript (often tricky with current tools), but can actually capture the essence of an individual’s interaction with the web-content.

How it works: Webrecorder records all the content you interact with during the recording session. Users are then able to interact with the content themselves, but anything that was not viewed during the recording session will not be available to them.

Current web archiving strategies aren’t able to capture the personalised nature of web use. How to use this functionality is still a big question, as a web recording in this way would be personal to the web archivist: showing what they decided to explore, unless a systematic approach was designed by an institution. This itself would be very resource-intensive, and is arguably not where the potential of Webrecorder lies: the ability to capture dynamic content, such as net-based artworks. However, the possibility of preserving not only web content, but our interaction with it, is a very exciting development.iPRES 2016 balloon

iPRES 2016 was a fantastic opportunity to gain insight into projects happening around the world to further digital preservation. It showed me that often there are no clear answers to ‘which file format is best for that?’ or ‘how do I preserve this?’ and that seeking advice from others, and experimenting, is often the way forward. What was really clear from attending was that the strength and support of the community is the most valuable digital preservation tool available.

 

Capturing and Preserving the EU Referendum Debate (Brexit) – UK Web Archive blog

Following the announcement in May 2015 that there would be a referendum on the UK’s EU membership, the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive, led by curators at the Bodleian Libraries, started a collection of websites.

The team of curators includes contributors from the Bodleian Libraries, The British Library, the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales and also Queen’s University Belfast (for the Northern Ireland perspective) and the London School of Economics (for capturing and preserving individual documents, such as the pdf versions of campaigning leaflets).

The collection scope is to capture the ‘Brexit’ debate and the debate around the EU Referendum as well as the wider context of UK/EU relations, including:

  • Media coverage
  • websites of political parties and other political institutions and groups
  • campaigning and lobbying
  • trade unions, professional organisations, businesses
  • academic debate
  • culture and arts
  • public opinion through blogs, comments, and if possible social media.

We primarily archive UK websites under the Non-Print Legal Deposit mandate, but also decided to include some sites outside the UK, if relevant – e.g. websites of UK expats in Europe, or political parties, interest groups and think tanks in the EU and in EU member states – on a permission basis.

The collection (at the time of writing) has 2590 target websites. Some of these are whole websites; others will be a single news story or blog post.

Access and availability
The majority of the collection will be available in the reading rooms of UK Legal Deposit libraries, including both British Library sites, the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Dublin. As is usual for web archive collections, there is a delay between collection and availability of up to a year, allowing for cataloguing and for ingest into digital library systems.

by Svenja Kunze, Project Archivist, Bodleian Libraries (Oxford University)

Source: Capturing and Preserving the EU Referendum Debate (Brexit) – UK Web Archive blog

EU Referendum Web Archiving Mini-internship – Part 1

On 20 and 21 June eight Oxford University students took part in a web archiving micro-internship at the Weston Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship. Working with the UK Legal Deposit Web Archive, they contributed to the curation of a special collection of websites on the UK European Referendum. This is the first of two guest blog posts on the micro-internship.

Web archiving micro-interns on the roof of the Weston Library, June 2016.

Web archiving micro-interns on the roof of the Weston Library, June 2016.

Using library archives for their research is not a novelty for any student or scholar. However, web archives represent a completely new dimension of swiftly evolving research methods – they intend to document what is posted online – a  relatively recent form of data collection due to scientific advancements.

For researchers used to traditional archives, the need to store and analyse this data might be not really understandable, however, web archiving, despite being relatively new, is very significant. Firstly, it allows us to store information for generations of future historians and sociologists – contrary to the common perception, many data held on World Wide Web disappears or changes very frequently and rapidly. Secondly, it might be an asset for those pursuing topical research projects in the present – recent technologies (such as prototype SHINE database for historical research) allow us to trace data trends and come to important and fascinating conclusions. Therefore, even if some might underrate web archives, it surely does not diminish their utility to academia.

In the eve of the Brexit referendum, which sparked many debates and discussions in British web space, timely creation of a web collection has proven to be very important – after all, the decision is likely to have long-term consequences for our society, economy, and legal system. Traditionally, individual narratives and civic engagement are set aside when documenting major political decisions. However, a web collection can significantly improve this situation by collecting diverse standpoints expressed in the web sphere. This, in my opinion, perfectly mirrors the ethos of direct democracy where every vote and view counts.

However, important as it is, web archiving comes with a range of practical and ethical obstacles: with huge masses of information being stored online it is very hard to choose what is worthy of being preserved for future generations. Legal restrictions, such as the recent legal deposit legislation, also significantly limit the scope of archivists’ work. During my micro-internship I, along with other interns, tried to overcome these obstacles as much as possible, minimising bias and efficiently using our time resources and server memory. Even in the era of technology, it is the human resources and individual judgment that shape the scope and direction of the collection.

Working on a web collection, especially since the campaigning has increased just before the referendum, was very challenging. However, as interns, we tackled the masses of information by focusing on individual areas of knowledge. Our work on the project was also aided by the guidance provided by our supervisors and discussions on ethical and scientific implications of our research. This was a very rewarding insight into a new area of knowledge, and I am convinced that skills and knowledge acquired and applied by me during the internship will aid me in my future research career.

Anna Lukina

What has web archiving ever done for us? – Saving our dinner plans, for example.

The Bodleian Libraries is involved in web archiving both through the Bodleian Libraries’ own web archive since 2011 , and – as one of the six UK Legal Deposit Libraries – through the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive since 2013.

What’s cooking in the web archives?   —  (Detail from painting by Jean-François Millet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

A considerable amount of archivists’, curators’ and subject librarians’ time goes into this web archiving work, be it selecting websites for archiving, capturing and preserving web content, describing web archive resources or participating in web archiving strategy, collections management and outreach activities.

Current web archiving projects at the Bodleian include the further development of the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive, for example to capture audio files hosted on web servers, and curatorial work in the UK Web Archive context, such as the Easter Rising 1916 Web Archive and the EU Referendum website collection.

But why archive the web?

What’s on the internet will be there forever, won’t it? Haven’t we all be warned to be careful what we put on the internet, because all the information out there will still reveal awkward details of our first-year-at-university life when we are about to retire?

Unfortunately, for archivists, this is far from what really happens. In fact, websites are extremely ephemeral. They change and disappear at a fast rate.

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Getting Started with Digital Preservation

On 28th April 2016 we attended the Digital Preservation Coalition’s workshop entitled ‘Getting Started with Digital Preservation’. It was a brilliant introduction into the processes involved in undertaking digital preservation, the tools currently available and the standards such work should adheres to.

The day began with an overview of what digital preservation is. Sharon McMeekin explained that digital preservation is an active process that needs to be integrated into daily business rather than being tackled as an aside or as a temporary initiative. It requires early intervention and work on an ongoing basis. She gave some specific advice on the kind of systems that should be used for digital preservation:

  • They need to be resilient, based on standards and be able to be tested
  • They must include error checking and refreshment, be multi-media compatible, self-reporting and backed-up
  • They must provide authenticity checks on data to show alterations by generating a checksum for each digital item. This is unique to the item and would only change if the item has changed (by, for example, degradation or alteration)

We then moved on to Assessing Institutional Readiness. This was described as a benchmarking process to determine the actions required for digital preservation, and revolves around asking the following questions:

  • How much of the organisation is in scope?
  • How much can you rely on others?
  • What will you gain from the exercise?

Sharon suggested using the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation in this endeavour to create a document which identifies risks, sets objectives, prioritises developments and can be used as an advocacy tool.

We were introduced to the risks affecting digital material:

  • Media/technology obsolescence
  • Media/technology failure
  • Human error
  • Natural disaster
  • Malicious damage
  • Viruses
  • Network failure
  • Disassociation

One way to combat these issues is to migrate the data into a more technologically-stable, secure format and control access to the data through passwords and systems. Metadata which follows the PREMIS standard should also be recorded and preserved alongside the data so its context is not lost. The DPC recommends undertaking a risk assessment whereby the risk, its consequences, likelihood and impact are analysed and priorities are drawn out.

We were shown DROID, a characterisation tool developed by The National Archives which analyses the files on a system, recording how many files there are, how big they are and what formats they are in. It also generates a checksum for each file.

Digital Asset Registers were recommended to use as a coordination tool for actions. They gather all necessary information (Asset name/Location/Owner/Format etc.) into one place, assigning responsibilities and producing a document which can be shared, expanded and updated.

Some final advice we were given was:

  • Think of digital preservation as a shared activity, engaging stakeholders and assigning responsibilities to colleagues
  • Continually update your own skills and knowledge by attending training and identifying useful resources

Having attended this engaging and worthwhile workshop, we now have some foundation knowledge on what is involved in digital preservation and feel ready and excited to begin work on digital preservation at the Bodleian.

WARC Files and Blue Lagoons: The IIPC Web Archiving Conference, 13-15 April 2016 in Reykjavik

The International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) is the leading international organisation dedicated to improving the tools, standards and best practices of web archiving, promoting international collaboration and the broad access and use of web archives for research and as cultural heritage.

logoThis year, for the first time the IIPC’s annual General Assembly in Reykjavik was accompanied by a three-day conference, bringing together web archivists, curators, IT specialists and researchers to discuss challenges related to acquiring, preserving, making available and using web archives.  With over 150 participants, including leading experts – most prominently the internet pioneer Vint Cerf – the conference provided a unique opportunity to learn about web archiving strategies and projects around the world, and to keep up to date with emerging trends in research and latest technological developments.

Vint Cerf, Avoiding a Digital Dark Age

Vint Cerf, Avoiding a Digital Dark Age

The first day, after a warm welcome by Ingibjörk Sverrisdottir, Iceland’s National Librarian, was dedicated to the ‘big questions’ of web archiving: What’s worth saving? (Hjalmar Gislason) and how to avoid a Digital Dark Age? (Vint Cerf). How might new services look like, which tools and strategies for preservation are available (Emulation!), or being developed? Or, in the words of Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive: ’20 years of Web Archiving – What do we do now?’ (video of his talk introducing the ‘National Library of Atlantis’ prototype for integrated web archive discovery)

Brewster Kahle, What Do We Do Now?

Brewster Kahle, What Do We Do Now?

On the second day, the conference continued with two separate tracks, discussing either policies, practices and strategies for capture and preservation of web material, or looking more at the user side of web archives, and at how web archive data be accessed, searched, analysed and visualised as a resource for research.
The third day was the hands-on day with workshops exploring search interfaces such as the SHINE interface developed at the British Library for the UK Web Archive,  DIY web archiving tools such as webrecorder.io, the open-source platform Warcbase for analysing web archive data, and discussing the future of the WARC archive format.

There was plenty of time for Q&A and discussions between and after the talks and presentations, and open, friendly atmosphere of the conference encouraged informal conversations with web archiving colleagues and networking during coffee and lunch breaks, and on visits like the tour of the National and University Library of Iceland.

The National and University Library of Iceland

The National and University Library of Iceland

Once again it became clear that web archiving practice is at the same time extremely diverse and depending on joint efforts and collaborations:
For example, the priorities in curating a relatively small collection of Electronic Literature at the German Literary Archive Marbach are very different from these in capturing and preserving the .EU domain at the Portuguese National Foundation for Scientific Computing FCCN, owing the scope, size and structure of the collections, and the resources available to build and maintain them. Similarly, quality assurance policies and workflows differ considerably between national domain scale archives, such as the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive containing millions of websites, and specialized archives curated and captured by university libraries like the North Carolina State University. Researchers approach the UK Government Web Archive with different research questions than those they would use to look at archived Twitter data.

But no matter the size and scope of the web archive, the resources available at a web archiving institution, or the focus of a particular project, the underlying challenges are very similar:

  • How do we decide what to capture?
  • How to capture it?
  • How to preserve it for the future?
  • Metadata?
  • How to provide access and facilitate discovery?
  • How to use web archives for research?

Working collaboratively and across disciplines, including perspectives from archivists, curators, IT engineers and researchers seems to be the best way forward, and the practice of sharing knowledge and experience, and to openly discuss problems gets certainly embraced by the web archiving community. A particular project might have ‘failed’ in terms of achieving the intended outcome, but it can still provide valuable lessons for the next project elsewhere, and in the long run, for developing best practice, policies and standards for web archiving as a discipline.

Mistakes are only wrong if you - and others - don't learn from them!

Mistakes are only wrong if you – and others – don’t learn from them!

Curators might be slightly overwhelmed by technical details discussed by web crawl engineers (I certainly was!) and ‘the IT guys (and girls)’ might sometimes be confused by the curatorial way of thinking; web archiving cultures in North America seem to differ considerably from the approaches in Europe, where Legal Deposit regulations have a strong impact on collection strategies and access to archives. STEM researchers look at data in different ways than historians and social scientists.
International conferences like the IIPC Web Archiving Conference 2016 are invaluable for bringing together these different perspectives, for fostering discussion and knowledge sharing and for providing an opportunity to establish new and strengthening existing contacts with web archiving colleagues in archives, (university) libraries and research institutions worldwide.

Archiving social media...

Harvesting social media: Overview…

 

...the details.

…and details.

Web archivists love to produce new social media content:
The conference seen through the participants’ Tweets: #iipcwac16.
(Now we just have to archive that!
)

Not least, the Reykjavik conference provided a rare opportunity to meet web archiving colleagues from other UK Legal Deposit Libraries outside the usual committees and institutional settings. One of the conference lunch breaks was turned into an ad-hoc UK Legal Deposit Web Archive meeting, discussing user interface redevelopment – and where else but in Iceland can you have a Friday late afternoon conference debrief whilst soaking in a giant outdoor geothermal bathtub (aka the Blue Lagoon)?

UK web archivists after conference debrief

Some very clean UK web archivists after the conference debrief

 

 

Making sense of uncertainty

On Monday 4th April 2016 I attended the International Conference on Literary Archives, held at the British Library under the heading ‘Archival Uncertainties’. The talks were insightful and varied, and generally had a theoretical rather than practical angle. This complimented the theme as it suggested that we are as yet unsure on the forms literary archives will take now and in the future, and how archivists can effectively preserve and provide access to them.

The panels I attended addressed the opportunities and issues afforded to archives in the digital world. The key ideas that came across were as follows:

  • Traditional archival descriptive fields and standards do not adequately express or represent the complexity of literary archives
    • Literary works can now take multimedia and multimodal forms. Catherine Hobbs, Literary Archivist at Library and Archives Canada, suggested that archivists need to be open to literary aesthetics in order to preserve the ‘multiple-canonical perspective’ literature is created in now. The archivist needs to be aware of the techniques used to create literary works and the technology needed to sustain it. Hobbs asserted that the exposure and publicity of a work, as well as the audiences it reaches, has changed in the digital world. Traditional archival descriptive fields no longer adequately express the content, its iterations and context.
    • Alexandra Kardoski Carter, Special Collections Librarian at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library spoke on the difficulty of making legacy finding aids and descriptions available using open-source archival description and access software because of their reliance on archival standards which do not effectively represent the scope of the literary archives in their collections. They also found that an intellectual structure was imposed on the material.
  • Technology enables new ways of presenting archives
    • Jeremy Boggs and Purdom Lindblad from the University of Virginia asserted that content management systems don’t always fit the material they should contain. They introduced the use of rich-prospect browsing as a way of presenting digital literary archives. This approach presents a whole collection through a representation of every item which can then be organised by the researcher.
  • Digital archives enable enhanced disaster planning
    • Having multiple digital copies of a work in different locations safeguards the work from being lost. Emmanuela Carbé from the University of Pavia said the university kept two encrypted copies of selected digital works in Pavia, and another copy over ninety kilometres away. This doesn’t help if the formats they are kept on become unreadable though – only migrating the digital object into a stable format will do that.
  • The original experience of a work can be lost in migration and emulation
    • Dene Grigar and John Barber from Washington State University both argued that digital archives do not always provide an authentic rendering of works. For me personally, this conjured up suppressed memories of studying Roland Barthes’ ‘The Death of the Author’. I would argue that as soon as a work is presented in the public sphere, the intended meaning of a work is lost and everything is open to interpretation and re-interpretation. Kate Pullinger from Bath Spa University suggested that not all works are produced for posterity, and in fact there may be something ‘beguiling’ about a lost work. While this may be so, and indeed there will always be a number of works that are lost because of their volume and our limitations, I do believe that if we preserve a work that at one stage was envisaged as ephemeral, this simply adds to the enduring lifecycle and meaning of the work rather than takes anything away.
  • Online projects bring together archives and expertise that could not be brought together physically
    • Members of the Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium, an online project to create interactive digital archives of Victorian life writing, affirmed that their digital collection of Victorian archives could never have been consulted together in one space.  The collaborative nature of the project meant that resources could be shared and thus they could afford to do more and had the skillset to do it. They also asserted that each project has required new ways of thinking and presenting archives and digital initiatives have enabled them to continually adapt and progress in how they appropriately display the content.
  • Digitisation boosts awareness and visibility of the collection
    • Digitisation projects can provide remote access to collections meaning they can be viewed by a wider audience than could ever visit. It can also provide a surrogate for fragile or particularly-valuable items. Further, even if a collection cannot be made available online in full, significant parts of it can be which will give an idea of what the collection consists of. Anna St.Onge from York University, Toronto spoke about a project to digitise selected parts of the archives of Lady Victoria Welby. St.Onge consciously chose what she believed to be interesting parts of the archive, thereby moving away from the traditional view of archivists being impartial and instead attempting to actively shape and inspire research and interest in the archive. This was interesting as it showed how archiving is evolving and responding to new technology.

As is evident from the above, the conference gave me a lot to think about and broadened my knowledge of current digital initiatives as well as uncertainties surrounding how to keep digital archives. It is certainly an exciting time to be involved in archival practice as it attempts to move forward with technological advances.

Catching butterflies

Archival Uncertainties: International Conference on Literary Archives at the British Library – 4 April 2016

This one-day conference focused on digital humanities, with papers from a spectrum of interested parties including academics working on digitisation projects, authors, translators, archivists and curators. I attended three panels on the day and the unifying theme was a contrary message of dispersal and amalgamation (and butterflies).

The first thing that has been dispersed or discarded is any idea of a literary canon. As plenary speaker and archivist Catherine Hobbs pointed out, scholarship now focuses less on established set texts and more on themes like “environmental literature”. Over the past few decades, in response to this, archives have collected more non-traditionally canonical literary papers but, Catherine reminded us, as archivists we can’t stop paying attention to the ways that literature continues to change. We need to keep tabs on what is going on in the literary world in order to document it, and this will include tackling new forms of experimental, avant-garde and self-published writing.

Caterpillar: Schwalbenschwanz (Raupe)

Caterpillars and collection development [By Eric Steinert – photo taken by Eric Steinert at Paussac, France, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=338409]

As Catherine noted, it used to be easy to find the avant-garde – pretty much whoever was hanging out on the Left Bank – but now it’s up to archivists to not only collect this material, but to track it down in the first place, and not to default to the temptingly easy path of collecting only the papers of that tiny sliver of authors considered publishable by mainstream publishers.

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What I learned in London…at the DPTP Digital Preservation Workshop!

A few months ago I applied for a scholarship through the DPC Leadership Programme to attend the DPTP 14-16 March course for those working in digital preservation: The Practice of Digital Preservation.

It was a three-day intermediate course for practitioners who wished to broaden their working knowledge and it covered a wide range of tools and information relating to digital preservation and how to apply them practically to their day-to-day work.

The course was hosted in one of the meeting rooms in the Senate House Library of the University of London, a massive Art Deco building in Bloomsbury (I know because I managed to get a bit lost between breaks!).

Senate House, University of London

The course was three full days of workshops that mixed lectures with group exercises and the occasional break. Amazingly this is the last year they’re doing it as a three day course and they’re going to compress it all into a single day next time (though everything they covered was useful, I don’t know what you’d cut to shorten it—lunch maybe?).

Each day had a different theme.

The first was on approaches to digital preservation. This was an overview of various policy frameworks and standards. The most well-known and accepted being OAIS.

No Google, not OASIS!

Oman-Oasis

Oasis, Oman. Taken by Hendrik Dacquin aka loufi and licensed under CC BY 2.0.

After a brief wrestle with Google’s ‘suggestions’ let’s look at this OAIS Model and admire its weirdly green toned but elegant workflow. If you click through to Wikimedia Commons it even has annotations for the acronyms.

OAIS-

After introducing us to various frameworks, the day mostly focused on the ingest and storage aspect of digital preservation. It covered the 3 main approaches (bit-level preservation, emulation and migration) in-depth and discussed the pros and cons of each.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a method and depending on what your main constraint is: money, time or expertise, different approaches will be more suitable for different organisations and collections. Bit-level preservation is the most basic thing you can do. You are mostly hoping that if you ingest the material exactly as it comes, some future archivist (perhaps with pots of money!) will come along and emulate or migrate it in a way that is far beyond what your poor cash strapped institution can handle.

Emulation is when you create or acquire an environment (not the original one that your digital object was created or housed in) to run your digital object in that attempts to recreate its original look and feel.

Migration which probably works best with contemporary or semi-contemporary objects is used to transfer the object into a format that is more future-proof than its current one. This is an option that needs to be considered in the context of the technical constraints and options available. But perhaps you’re not sure what technical constraints you need to consider? Fear not!

These technical constraints were covered in the second day! This day was on ingestion and it covered file formats, useful tools and several metadata schemas. I’ve probably exhausted you with my very thorough explanation of the first day’s content (also I’d like to leave a bit of mystery for you) so I will just say that there are a lot of file formats and what makes them appealing to the end user can often be the same thing that makes a digital preservationist (ME) tear her hair out.

Thus those interested in preserving digital content have had to  develop (or beg and borrow!) a variety of tools to read, copy, preserve, capture metadata and what have you. They have also spent a lot of time thinking about (and disagreeing over) what to do with these materials and information. From these discussions have emerged various schemata to make these digital objects more…tractable and orderly (haha). They have various fun acronyms (METS, PREMIS, need I go on?) and each has its own proponents but I think everyone is in agreement that metadata is a good thing and XML is even better because it makes that metadata readable by your average human as well as your average computer! A very important thing when you’re wondering what the hell you ingested two months ago that was helpfully name bobsfile1.rtf or something equally descriptive.

The final day was on different strategies for tackling the preservation of more complex born-digital objects such as emails and databases (protip: it’s hard!) and providing access to said objects. This led to a roundup of different and interesting ways institutions are using digital content to engage readers.

There’s a lot of exciting work in this field, such as Stanford University’s ePADD Discovery:

ePADD

Which allows you to explore the email archives of a collection in a user-friendly (albeit slow) interface. It also has links to the more traditional finding aids and catalogue records that you’d expect of an archive.

Or the Wellcome Library’s digital player developed by DigiratiMendel

Which lets you view digital and digitised content in a single integrated system. This includes, cover-to-cover books, as pictured above, archives, artwork, videos, audio files and more!

Everyone should check it out, it’s pretty cool and freely available for others to use. There were many others that I haven’t covered but these really stood out.

It was an intense but interesting three days and I enjoyed sharing my experiences with the other archivists and research data managers who came to attend this workshop. I think it was a good mix of theory and practical knowledge and will certainly help me in the future. Also I have to say Ed Pinsent and Steph Taylor did a great job!