Category Archives: Digitisation

PASIG 2017: “Sharing my loss to protect your data” University of the Balearic Islands

 

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the PASIG 2017 (Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group) conference, held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, where over the course of three days the  digital preservation community connected to share, experiences, tools, successes and mishaps.

The story of one such mishap came from Eduardo del Valle, Head of the Digitization and Open Access Unit at the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), in his presentation titled Sharing my loss to protect your data: A story of unexpected data loss and how to do real preservation”. In 2013 the digitisation and digital preservation workflow pictured below was set up by the IT team at UIB.

2013 Digitisation and Digital Preservation Workflow (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

Del Valle was told this was a reliable system, with fast retrieval. However, he found this was not the case, with slow retrieval and the only means of organisation consisting of an excel spreadsheet used to contain the storage locations of the data.

In order to assess their situation they used the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, a tiered set of recommendations on how organisations should build their digital preservation activities, developed by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) in 2012. The guidelines are organised into five functional areas that lie at the centre of digital preservation:

  1. Storage and geographic location
  2. File fixity and data integrity
  3. Information security
  4. Metadata
  5. File formats

These five areas then have four columns (Levels 1-4) which set tiered recommendations of action, from Level 1 being the least an organisation should do, to Level 4 being the most an organisation can do. You can read the original paper on the NDSA Levels here.

The slide below shows the extent to which the University met the NDSA Levels. They found there was an urgent need for improvement.

NDSA Levels of Preservation UIB compliance (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – Eduardo del Valle

In 2014 the IT team decided to implement a new back up system. While the installation and configuration of the new backup system (B) was completed, the old system (A) remained operative.

On the 14th and 15th November 2014, a backup was created for the digital material generated during the digitisation of 9 rare books from the 14th century in the Tape Backup System (A) and notably, two confirmation emails were received, verifying the success of the backup.  By October 2015, all digital data had been migrated from System (A) to the new System (B), spanning UIB projects from 2008-2014.

However, on 4th November 2014, a loss of data was detected…

The files corresponding to the 9 digitised rare books were lost. This loss was detected a year after the initial back up of the 9 books in System A, and therefore the contract for technical assistance had finished. This meant there was no possibility of obtaining financial compensation, if the loss was due to a hardware or software problem.  The loss of these files, unofficially dubbed “the X-files”, meant the loss of three months of work and it’s corresponding economic loss. Furthermore, the rare books were in poor condition, and to digitise them again could cause serious damage. Despite a number of theories, the University is yet to receive an explanation for the loss of data.

The digitised 14th century rare book from UIB collection (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

To combat issues like this, and to enforce best practice in their digital preservation efforts, the University acquired Libsafe, a digital preservation solution offered by Libnova. Libsafe is OAIS and ISO 14.721:2012 compliant, and encompasses advanced metadata management with a built-in ISAD(g) filter, with the possibility to import any custom metadata schema. Furthermore, Libsafe offers fast delivery, format control, storage of two copies in disparate locations, and a built-in catalogue. With the implementation of a standards compliant workflow, the UIB proceeded to meet all four levels of the 5 areas of the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation.

The ISO 14.721:2012 Space Data and Information Transfer Systems – Open Archival Information System – Reference Model (OAIS)  provides a framework for implementing the archival concepts needed for long-term digital preservation and access, and for describing and comparing architectures and operations of existing and future archives, as well as describing roles, processes and methods for long-term preservation.

The use of these standards facilitates the easy access, discovery and sharing of digital material, as well as their long-term preservation. Del Valle’s story of data loss reminds us of the importance of implementing standards-based practices in our own institutions, to minimise risk and maximise interoperability and access, in order to undertake true digital preservation.

 

With thanks to Eduardo del Valle, University of the Balearic Islands.

PASIG2017: Preserving Memory

 

The Oxford University Natural History Museum (photo by Roxana Popistasu, twitter)

This year’s PASIG conference, (Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group) bought together an eclectic mix of individuals from around the world to discuss the very exciting and constantly evolving topic of digital preservation. Held at the Oxford University Natural History Museum, the conference aimed to connect practitioners from a variety of industries with a view to promoting conversation surrounding various digital preservation experiences, designs and best practices. The presentations given comprised a series of lightning talks, speeches and demos on a variety of themes including: the importance of standards, sustainability and copyright within digital preservation.

UNHCR: Archiving on the Edge

UNHCR Fieldworkers digitally preserving refugee records (photo by Natalie Harrower, twitter)

I was particularly moved by a talk given on the third day by Patricia Sleeman, an Archivist working for the UNHCR, a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.

Entitled “Keep your Eyes on the Information” Sleeman’s poignant and thought-provoking presentation discussed the challenges and difficulties faced when undertaking digital preservation in countries devastated by the violence and conflicts of war. Whilst recognising that digital preservation doesn’t immediately save lives in the way that food, water and aid can, Sleeman identified the place of digital preservation as having significant importance in the effort to retain, record and preserve the memory, identity and voice of a people which would otherwise be lost through the destruction and devastation of displacement, war and violence.

About the Archive

Sleeman and her team seek to capture a wide range of digital media including: you tube, websites and social media, each forming a precious snapshot of history, an antidote to the violent acts of mnemnocide- or the destruction of memory.

The digital preservation being undertaken is still in its early stages with focus being given to the creation of good quality captures and metadata. It is hoped in time however that detailed policies and formats will be developed to aid Sleeman in her digital preservation work.

One of the core challenges of this project has been handling highly sensitive material including refugee case files. The preservation of such delicate material has required Sleeman and her team to act slowly and with integrity, respecting the content of information at each stage.

For more information on the UNHCR  please click here.

 

PASIG 2017: Reflections on ‘Digital Preservation at the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals’

Along with my colleagues, I was incredibly grateful to be at Oxford PASIG 2017, hosted at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History from 11-13 September.

A presentation given by Angeline Takawira,  was affirmation indeed as to why advocacy for digital preservation is crucial worldwide.  Angeline gave us an insight into the aims and challenges of digital preservation at the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (UN MICT).

The Mechanism

Angeline explained that the purpose of the UN MICT is to continue the mandated and essential actions that  have been carried out temporarily by two International Criminal Tribunals: Rwanda (ICTR) from 1993 until 2015 and Yugoslavia (ICTY) since 1994, which will be closing at the end of this year. UN MICT was established in 2010 by the UN Security Council, and is therefore a relatively new organisation. However, like its two predecessors, it is temporary.

We were told about the highly significant and mandated functions of MICT:

  1. To protect and support victims, witnesses and all others affected by war crimes
  2. To enforce sentences and other judicial work
  3. To preserve and manage the archives of the international tribunals.

You can find out more about the important work of the UN MICT here.

Digital Preservation at UN MICT

The Mechanism is made up of two branches: The Hague, Netherlands and Arusha, Tanzania, so the single digital repository is maintained across two continents. Currently the digital records of each of these are a hybrid of both digitised and born-digital material with example files including emails, GIS datasets, websites and CAD files. However, the audio-visual files take up 90% in volume of the digital archives combined.

It is so apparent that UN MICT’s  preservation goals are aligned to their aims as an organisation as a whole; authenticity is imperative for all of their records.  Angeline asserted that their digital preservation goals were to be trustworthy, accessible and useable and ‘demonstrably authentic’ – that is, identical to the digital original in all essential aspects. The digital archive is made up of:

  • Judicial case records – such as court decisions, judgements, court transcripts
  • Records relating to the judicial process – for example detentions of the accused and the protection of witnesses
  • Administrative records of the tribunals as an organisation (and also the Mechanism as an organisation).

Through a range of actions, the development of the digital preservation programme is achieving these aims. Angeline cited the introductions of workflows and compliance with standards, as well as the records being transferred to the repository with an unbroken chain of custody with stringent access controls and fixity checks to ensure no corruption. Furthermore, work continues on defining procedures around migration plans, as the Mechanism wishes to retain an experience of authenticity – which understandably needs a focus on file format characteristics.

Challenges

PASIG definitely taught me that authentic and usable digital preservation is always a trialling undertaking, but the challenges faced when digitally preserving the UN MICT are particularly unique due to its sensitive content and technicalities. For one, the fact that it is a temporary organisation is at odds with the long term endeavour of making these tribunal records accessible for the future and ensuring their protection. A repository transfer as a next step would need extremely critical consideration. Also, the retention schedule of different data is a factor for discussion – so that the UN MICT can fulfil its requirements of deletion in a transparent way.

One of the largest challenges to the future of digital preservation for similar organisations and initiatives, there is limited financial sustainability, resources and staff in order to sustain the long term commitment that digital preservation of records like this really command.

Use

There is no doubt that the digital archive of the UN MICT would be of fundamental significance to an international user community of the global media, legal professionals, academics, researchers and all education in general.  Combine these user groups with the broad range of stakeholders in preserving the Mechanism: the international courts, the security council who gave the mandated the work, there are many to whom this cause, and the information it preserves, will be vital to.  I have visited 4 countries of former Yugoslavia and the digital records of the MICT are surely equally  as compulsory to preserve and learn from as the  physical and tangible evidence of conflict. The need for advocacy of digital preservation is pertinent, and the UN MICT are doing urgent work.

The Archive of Emily Hobhouse is now available

“to call a woman ‘hysterical’ because you have not the knowledge necessary to deny her facts is the last refuge of the unmanly and the coward…I always felt when termed hysterical that I had triumphed because it meant my arguments cannot be met nor my statements denied…” [MS. Hobhouse 25].

A strong-willed, compassionate and at times controversial figure, Emily Hobhouse is best known for her work publicising the conditions in the concentration camps which were set up by the British government to detain predominantly women and children during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Report on the conditions in the camps for the Committee of the Distress Fund for South African Women and Children, MS. Hobhouse 4

Hobhouse’s influential report, MS. Hobhouse 4.

Travelling to South Africa in December 1900, Hobhouse reported on the widespread hunger, death and disease that she encountered there, distributing aid gathered by her Distress Fund for South African Women and Children, and putting pressure on the British government to improve conditions. This led the government to send out a Ladies’ Commission led by Millicent Fawcett, a contemporary but by no means friend of Emily Hobhouse.

Although Hobhouse was not permitted to join the commission, they would confirm her initial reports and make similar recommendations. In 1901 Hobhouse would attempt another visit of the camps, only to be refused permission to disembark, and be deported back to England. In 1905 she returned to South Africa to establish a Home Industries scheme to support rehabilitation, opening schools for spinning, weaving and lace making for local girls.

“a war is not only wrong in itself, but a crude mistake” [MS. Hobhouse 10]

A committed pacifist, Hobhouse travelled to Germany and Belgium during World War One to investigate conditions and meet with the German foreign minister, an act which to some put her on the wrong side of public opinion. Following the armistice, Hobhouse continued her commitment to relief work, and in 1919 set up a local relief fund in Leipzig, where she was honoured and awarded the German Red Cross decoration of second class.

The fascinating collection includes letters, diaries, and her own extensive writings, which reveal her unyielding dedication to her work. The collection also contains papers of her brother, Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse (1864-1929), a social philosopher and journalist.

While she is an often forgotten figure in British history, Emily Hobhouse is still remembered as a heroine in South Africa, where her ashes are buried in the Women’s Monument at Bloemfontein. On her death, Mahatma Gandhi wrote the following memorial:

On her death, Gandhi published the following memorial for Emily Hobhouse, MS. Hobhouse 23

Gandhi’s tribute to Emily Hobhouse, MS. Hobhouse 23.

The Archive of Emily Hobhouse is now available to readers in the Weston Library. The catalogue can be accessed here.

A selection of Emily Hobhouse’s own writings are now available to view online.

 

Study day of Ge’ez manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea

Recent months have brought an unprecedented interest in Ge’ez manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea – a development that we welcome at the Bodleian. Study of this material has reached a new level, with further palaeographical and codicological knowledge, as well as a growing appreciation of art history. Studying, displaying, and digitising a variety of our little-known codices and scrolls with modern means help us better understand and disseminate our findings to new audiences.
With this in mind, on Saturday, the 17th of June we welcomed a small group of Ethiopians and Eritreans at the Bodleian to view a selection of Ge’ez manuscripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The material, which was studied and discussed with great excitement, included a magic scroll with miniatures of angels and demons, an illuminated seventeenth-century prayer book, fragments of a medieval gospel with evangelists’ portraits, a hagiographic work with copious illustrations to the text, an important textual variant of the Book of Enoch and the epic work Kebra Nagast (Glory of the Kings).
The experience of the day was that of beautiful exchange of ideas, as well as building bridges within and between communities. We look forward to future developments!

Engaged in discussion from left to right: Dereje Debella, Judith McKenzie, Girma Getahun, Yemane Asfedai, Gillian Evison, Madeline Slaven and Rahel Fronda. Photo credit: Mai Musié.

Studying a magic scroll, from left to right: Yemane Asfedai, Girma Getahun, Dereje Debella, Madeline Slaven and Rahel Fronda. Photo credit: Gillian Evison.

Studying a textual variant of the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, from left to right: Rahel Fronda, Dereje Debella, Girma Getahun, Yemane Asfedai, Gillian Evison and Madeline Slaven. Photo credit: Miranda Williams.

Index of Chandra Shum Shere manuscript collection now digitized

Chandra Shum Shere1On 20th December, the Bodleian’s Clay Sanskrit Librarian, Dr. Camillo Formigatti, was pleased to be able to announce the launch of a complete digital version of the Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere by T. Gambier Parry, revised and completed by E. Johnston. This small project was made possible by a generous grant from the Max Müller Memorial Fund.

The PDF files are available on the Finding Aids – Oriental Manuscripts & Rare Books: South and Inner Asia webpage of the Oxford LibGuides website. They are listed under the section Sanskrit. Dr. Formigatti has prepared a set of three different files:

• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 1 (A-Tarpaṇa)
• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 2 (Tarpaṇa-Muktāvalī)
• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 3 (Muktāvalī-Haumikaprāyaścitta-Modern Indian Languages)

Each file is available in two different resolutions: the first for fast internet connections and fit for printing, the second for slower internet connections and to be displayed on-screen. All files are provided with bookmarks for easy navigation.

We hope this basic navigation tool will help all manuscript lovers to find their way through the thousands of manuscripts in this valuable collection.

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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Farewell to the VCR!

I was interested to learn from a recent BBC News article that July 2016 would see the end for the production of videocassette recorders (VCR). Whilst this hardly comes a surprise, given that VHS tapes have long since been superseded by digital technology, it does present something of a problem for archivists.

Image of VCR

Sony Professional VCR by By Hosseinshamloo (2009). Wikicommons.

VHS tapes have had a relatviely long life (they were first introduced in the 1970s) and ensuring that important content held on them is preserved for future generations will become increasingly difficult. Without the technology to play them, we shall have no means of digitising their content. Despite the end of production, hopefully the VCR will be around for a few more years yet!

1916 Live: documents recounting Ireland’s Easter Rising published in real time

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 - MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 – MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35 – Click to enlarge

Guest post by Naomi O’Leary

The small pink slip is a snapshot of a world about to be upended. Jotted in cursive is a message from the Chief Superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, telephoned to all stations. It reports the movements of a suspicious vehicle, at that moment parked at the headquarters of Irish radical nationalist activity, Liberty Hall. The note is time-stamped 10:50am, the 24th of April, 1916. It is one of hundreds that will be published on social media this month, telling the story of the Easter Rising in real-time exactly one century on.

Outwardly, the streets of Dublin were quiet on that bank holiday Monday. But behind the doors of Liberty Hall, feverish preparations were underway. Men and women had gathered with rifles, rations, ammunition, and a stack of hastily-printed posters declaring an independent Irish republic.

Within days, British artillery guns would be raining shells on Dublin city. A chain of events was about to be set in motion that would presage the fall of the British Empire. The writer of the telephone note sat in Dublin Castle, the centre of British power in Ireland for centuries. She could not have imagined that within six years, the stronghold would be handed over to an Irish government, in a scene that would be repeated around the world in the coming decades as former colonies broke free.

The following telephone messages, each time-stamped to the minute, capture the cascade of events. At 11:20am: “Fifty volunteers have now travelled by tram car 167 going in direction of the city”. At 11:50, an anonymous report: “The volunteers are turning everyone out of St Stephen’s Green Park”. By 12:20, the world had changed. The Superintendent of the G Division, which tracked political crime, telephoned to the representative of the British Monarchy in Ireland, Lord Lieutenant Wimborne: “The Sinn Fein volunteers have attacked the Castle and have possession of the G.P.O.”

I came across these hundreds of telephone messages in the personal papers of Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the top civil servant in Dublin Castle that spring of 1916. Jotted down in the thick of events, sometimes in frantic handwriting, they such give a vivid account of the six day rebellion I felt my pulse beat faster.

Their brevity and immediacy reminded me of my own reporting of live events as a journalist, particularly of protests that threatened to spill out of control.

With the kind permission of the Bodleian Library and the help of volunteer transcribers, I have put together a project to mark the centenary of the rebellion by publishing each update on social media at the time it was logged, exactly one hundred years later. A short version of the updates will go out on Twitter from @1916live, while full documents will be published simultaneously at www.1916live.com.

The reason the documents survive as a collection is precisely because they give such a rich account of the rebellion. As the most senior figure in Dublin Castle, Nathan resigned after the revolt and was called to explain how it had happened to a Royal Commission of Inquiry in London. He gathered up his correspondence along with the telephone and telegraph records of Dublin Castle, and arranged them into chronological order into a collection that was later bound in leather. It was one among hundreds of boxes of his papers given to the Bodleian Library after his death. The documents in it span the course of the rising, concluding with the rebels’ surrender on April 29th.

This project will allow anyone in the world to experience this key moment in history as it unfolded through a unique primary resource. Publishing the telephone notes on Twitter seems particularly appropriate, as they are the records of a new system of technology from the time that allowed for real-time communication, which ultimately gave British authorities a key advantage in their response to the rebellion. The material will remain online afterwards as a freely accessible resource for the future.

For any questions or suggestions, please contact 1916live@gmail.com

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.