Thursday, 9 March 2017

NDSA Levels of digital preservation

Here at the Hull History Centre, we have been reviewing the NDSA levels of digital preservation. This was something we had meant to do for a while. Last summer we volunteered to feed our experiences back to the Archives Accreditation team which is looking at using this element in the future.  

The levels are a framework created by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance as a guide for institutions that are managing digital material. The framework breaks up the many various and sometimes confusing aspects of digital preservation into five easily understood functional areas: Storage, Integrity, Security, Metadata and File Formats. These areas can be graded into four levels of increasing preservation security, creating a visual reference grid that can be used as a checklist. 

Two extra areas that have been proposed are Access (proposed by the Library of the University of California) and Physical Formats (by the United States Geological Survey). In creating a grid for the Hull University Archives we decided to include these two proposed areas.

This is our starting grid, with the two extra areas and a few minor tweaks around virus checking

Completing the self-assessment
To undertake the self-assessment we simply looked at each area, starting with level 1 and quickly determined whether we had met the requirement completely (green), partially (yellow) or not at all (red). We deliberately sought not to dwell on each element and erred on the side of caution.
This is our final grid, lots of red but some aspects/elements are already in-place

Using the framework
The framework is a self-assessment tool which can help you plan your digital preservation journey.  Don't worry - most of the Level 4 requirements in each area are intended to be hard to reach but is intended to serve as a long-term target to aspire to. At Hull our long-term target is to become a trusted digital repository.

Some elements will conflict with institutional policy - for example the storage area recommends having three separate copies of your data in different locations obviously has resource implications. 

The best way we found to approach the NDSA levels is to focus on meeting the basic requirements, understand the level of preservation that can achieve with the current resources and work up to levels 3 and 4 step-by-step. At the end of the day, every archive has different goals for their digital preservation plans and understanding how to achieve them is an ongoing learning process. Having conducted the exercise this year - we now need to make it an integrated element into our work-programme and review progress in 12 months time!

We decided to implement the two proposed areas but we did not a few issues. It can be argued that Physical Media is already featured under the Storage area albeit in not such an explicit way.  It can be argued (indeed was often argued) that the Access area of the framework fits outside of the main digital preservation strategy. One reason to include Access is that it ensures this element remains a visible and explicit part of the planning process - and of course is the reason why we are preserving the stuff in the first place. Whilst we didn't always agree - the discussions were very interesting in that it made us think about the detail and the big picture.

Whatever form the NDSA levels of digital preservation end up taking in the future, the ability to be able to see at-a-glance how an institution is faring in its digital preservation efforts, and what should be the next set of goals, is an incredibly useful tool. It breaks down the sometimes confusing terms and stages of digital preservation into smaller points that are more easily manageable, making it much easier for institutions to begin implementing their own digital archives.

Francisco & Tom
Transforming Archives trainees

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