Thursday, 29 November 2018

World Digital Preservation Day - some reflections

I am currently working on a reflective report capturing the experiences and lessons learnt in creating an archive of Hull City ofCulture 2017. By its very nature this has involved looking back at things we said and did along the way, so to mark World Digital Preservation Day 2018 I thought I would reflect on Hull university archives digital preservation journey over the last eight years. 

2010-2012 AIMS Project
Our first forensic workstation in 2011
It is fair to say that in 2010 as far as digital preservation was concerned it was something that other archives did but we did not. The opportunity to collaborate with colleagues at the Universities of Stanford, Yale and Virginia was not something we hesitated over. The project allowed me to be seconded as Digital Archivist and to immerse myself into all things digital preservation. There was a steep learning curve with a lot of activity to keep abreast with. 

Things really began to make sense when we started to practice what we were learning – capturing our learning in the AIMS White Paper. It gave us the confidence to initiate discussions with depositors, admittedly with mixed and sometimes unexpected results (no because of Wikileaks being one that springs to mind) but learning is an important part of the process. At the end of the secondment I returned to my substantive role and tried to maintain the interest and momentum the project had created.

During this period we continued to talk to other archivists and more depositors and our holdings increased gradually, but we were very aware that we had no technical infrastructure inplace and the files were stored on our non-networked forensic workstations. 

Between March 2015 and September 2016 colleagues at the Universities of Hull and York collaborated on a JISC funded Filling the Digital Preservation Gap project to look at Archivematica and its appropriateness for research data management. I took the opportunity to join the conversations to consider how different the scenarios and situations were compared to born-digital archives and while there were some differences there were far more aspects we had in common.

2016-2018 City of Culture archive project 

Hull was announced as UK City of Culture 2017 on 20 November 2013 and ideas about “archiving the City of Culture” emerged shortly after. We had no real idea of what to expect - which turned out to be both a hindrance and an opportunity.

Ideas were developed and crucially funding secured to appoint a Digital Archivist (Laura Giles) to collect records (primarily digital in format) and Laura has been sharing her experiences in this - speaking at the British Museum conference and DCDC18 to name just two. 

We have collected c150,000 files so far and a parallel piece of activity working with CoSector has been to join-up the dots including Box (digital storage); Archivematica (digital preservation activities); CALM (collections management software); Samvera (digital repository) and Blacklight (discovery layer) to ensure we have a robust solution for storing, preserving and sharing digital records. We will be talking about and demonstrating this joined-up solution in 2019...

NDSA levels in Feb 2017 - to be revisited Feb 2019
In reflective mode this journey appears to be a natural progression but the reality is far from that - more akin to a series of steps than a straight line. There have been many other aspects along the way including NDSA levels of digital preservation, Archives Accreditation, hosting Transforming Archives and now Bridgingthe Digital Gap trainees. These personal reflections are mine but the achievements and progress has only been possible because of other people's time and support along the way - for which I continue to be grateful.  

If you are just starting your own journey my biggest tip - is do something practical - whether identifying what born-digital materials you have, setting-up a forensic workstation or playing with DROID on some sample files. It may seem a daunting journey but you are not alone and help is out there.  

Simon Wilson
University Archivist

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