Archive for the ‘Preservation Tools’ Category

In my previous post, I’ve recommended working with depositors to explain the issues of digital preservation and to suggest simple steps for creating and curating digital records with a view to their long-term preservability.

I guess it would be correct to say though that many local archives staff do not feel confident in giving such advice. Although many UK local archives have been involved in digitisation programmes, much of this work has been outsourced and the funding has rarely extended to longer-term preservation of the digital assets created. In all likelihood, the most pressing digital preservation issue facing most UK local archive services is in fact an ever-growing output of CDs and DVDs from their own digitisation initiatives.

The NLA’s Digitisation of Heritage Materials training course is designed to help organisations with very limited resources design and run an in-house digitisation programme, using free or inexpensive software and hardware. It will be of interest to many UK local authority archive services for just these reasons. However, because it also covers sustainability issues – image file formats suitable for long-term preservation, data storage and backup, legal issues etc. – the course might equally well serve as an introduction to the digital preservation of images. It even includes some free software.

Well worth a look.

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A couple of articles in the most recent edition of the International Journal of Digital Curation caught my eye this week as I prepare for my forthcoming Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship to Australia and the US.

Martha Anderson reviews the evolution of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program initiated by the Library of Congress, and draws some conclusions about lessons learned, many of which will be familiar to those of us working within existing partnership organisations, such as West Yorkshire Joint Services. The layered stewardship model introduced in the paper is nevertheless a useful concept to bear in mind as the UK archive sector begins to build our own national network of diverse stakeholders to tackle the digital preservation challenge. The full paper is available at http://www.ijdc.net/ijdc/article/view/59/60.

David Pearson and Colin Webb discuss issues of file format obsolescence and introduce the AONS II Project, something I hope to find out more about when I visit the National Library of Australia in September. The project aimed to develop a software tool that would find and report indicators of obsolescence risks. It will be interesting to see how this works fits with European Planets Project and their PLATO preservation planning tool. The IJDC paper can be found at http://www.ijdc.net/ijdc/article/view/76/78.

I see more papers have appeared on the PeDALS project website in Arizona too – plenty of reading to get through…

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This article was written for the Society of Archivists ARC magazine, October 2008

It was pleasing to see a good number of archivists at this event, organised by the Digital Preservation Coalition (http://www.dpconline.org/) in conjunction with the European digital preservation research consortium, Planets (http://www.planets-project.eu/). The day was billed as an informal and interactive workshop, allowing attendees to share knowledge and experience of digital preservation policy and strategy, together with a hands-on session using PLATO, Planets’ automated preservation planning tool.

There was considerable interest in the morning session in Natalie Walters’ account of the Wellcome Library’s Digital Curation in Action Project (http://library.wellcome.ac.uk/node288.html). The Wellcome is typical of many collecting archive services in the UK in that it has little control over the types of material offered for preservation by its private depositors, but the Digital Curation Project is an excellent example of how traditional archival practice can be successfully adapted to the digital world in a practical setting. As Matthew Wollard from the UK Data Archive pointed out, one cannot hope to construct a sustainable digital preservation policy from a purely theoretical point of view: both UKDA and the Wellcome approach digital preservation planning as a strategic imperative for the organisation and its user community, coupling this with a solid understanding of relevant standards and the technological and legal constraints, something which can only really be gained from practical experience of actually working with digital archives. The continued relevance of archival practice in the digital realm should offer encouragement to those just setting out to address the digital archives challenge. Our professional training provides a sustainable platform from which to build capacity and understanding in handling digital material.

PLATO is an online tool designed to help organisations identify, evaluate and select the best preservation methods for individual types of digital object. It is designed to enable comparison of the various strategies (migration, emulation etc.) available, and experimentation in the use of third-party preservation tools. The experiments can then be uploaded into PLATO and stored for re-evaluation at a later point. The process starts with a detailed mapping of relevant object characteristics (content, structure, context, appearance etc.) for a representative collection sample within a specific institutional and user community setting. Only after this very detailed planning does the tool proper come into play in assessing alternative strategies for preservation.

There are concerns, certainly, about the scalability of the PLATO tool. For my own local authority archive service, for instance, the bulk and variety of digital archives we can expect to receive would make the detailed utility analysis overly onerous to use on every occasion, even selecting a small sample of records for planning purposes. The intention is to build template solutions using the tool, for organisations facing similar type problems to adopt, and one of the options being considered for the sustainability of PLATO itself is to develop the project into a third party preservation service, into which external partners could submit their own custom-built tools as a community resource.

It occurred to me, however, that perhaps the greatest value from the PLATO tool to smaller archive services derives not so much from the output results as from the discussion and debate which informs the experiment definition. Throughout the day, contributors to the workshop emphasised that successful preservation planning required input from a wide range of stakeholders – creators, curators, IT staff, users, managers etc. This reminded me of the Revisiting Archives approach to cataloguing. At West Yorkshire Archive Service, I hope to adapt the PLATO approach to preservation planning into awareness raising and training sessions emphasising the need for a rounded community effort to help preserve our local digital heritage.

All the presentations from the workshop are now available at http://www.dpconline.org/graphics/events/080729PlanetsBriefing.html. You can find out more about PLATO and register at http://www.ifs.tuwien.ac.at/dp/plato.

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A useful sneak preview of the PLATO preservation planning tool, something I’d heard about but not really understood how it might fit in to a practical digital preservation context.

PLATO is designed to help organisations identify, evaluate and select the best preservation methods for individual types of digital object. It is designed to enable experimentation on sample objects of the various strategies (migration, emulation etc.) and tools available (eg DROID). The experiments can then be uploaded into PLATO and stored for re-evaluation at a later point.

I’m not really sure how practical a tool this will prove to be (in its current state of development) in the local authority archive service. The bulk of digital records we can expect to receive might make the detailed utility analysis approach overly onerous to use, even selecting a small sample of records for planning purposes. Nevertheless, one to keep an eye on. There is a DPC Digital Preservation Planning event in London later in July which will give an opportunity to discuss and experiment with the tool in more detail.

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