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Posts Tagged ‘data storage’

Last Thursday I was delighted to attend the culminating workshop for the Society of Archivists‘ (SoA) funded digital curation project at Gloucestershire Archives.  As Viv Cothey, the developer employed by Gloucestershire Archives, has noted, “Local authority archivists may well be fully aware of the very many exhortations to do digital curation and to get involved but are frustrated by not knowing where to start”.  Building upon previous work on a prototype desktop ingest packager (GAip), the SoA project set out to create a proof of concept demonstration of a ‘trusted digital store’ suitable for use by a local government record office.  The workshop was an important outreach element of the project, aiming to build up understanding and experience of digital curation principles and workflow amongst archivists in the UK.  I have been involved with the management board for the SoA project, so I was eager to see how the demonstration tools which have been developed would be received by the wider digital preservation and archivist professional communities.

Others are much better qualified than me to evaluate the technical approach that the project has taken, and indeed Susan Thomas has already blogged her impressions over at futureArch.  For me, what was especially pleasing was to see a good crowd of ‘ordinary’ archivists getting stuck in with the demonstration tools – despite the unfamiliarity of the Linux operating system – and teasing out the purpose and process of each of the digital curation tools provided.  I hope that nobody objects to my calling them ‘ordinary’ – I think they will know what I mean, and it is how I would describe myself in this digital preservation context.

Digital preservation research has hitherto clustered around opposite ends of a spectrum.  At one end are the high level conceptual frameworks: OAIS and the like.  At the other end are the practical developments in repository and curation workflow tools in the higher education, national repository, and scientific research communities.  The problem here is the technological jargon which is frankly incomprehensible to your average archivist.  Gloucestershire’s project therefore attempts to fill an important gap in current provision, by providing a set of training tools to promote experimentation and discourse at practitioner level.

I’ll be interested to see the feedback from the workshop, and it’d be good to see some attendee comments here…

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Visiting Arizona was a useful way of pulling together many of the strands of what I’ve learnt so far. I was particularly interested in the Persistent Digital Archives and Library System (PeDALS) project, which aims to create an automated workflow for processing digital collections, but also to keep costs as low as possible in an effort to reduce the barriers to addressing the challenges of digital preservation.

The automation aim is of course shared with another of the State Government NDIIPP projects at Washington State Digital Archives, and there are indeed some conceptual similarities in the workflow. However, PeDALS also makes use of a LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe) private network to provide inexpensive storage with plenty of redundancy and automatic error detection and correction. Having visited the LOCKSS team earlier in my Fellowship, I was curious to see how this system (originally designed to enable libraries to collect and preserve locally materials published on the internet) could be implemented in an archival context.

The envisaged workflow for PeDALS works best when there are clear series of records – in other words, it should work pretty well for government record series, but less well for miscellaneous private and personal accessions.  This is because the system is based upon the application to systematic ‘business rules’ to process large sets of similar records in the most efficient way possible.  This programming work could only be justified where there are sufficient records of a similar type, being created as the result of a routine process.  As has become something of a theme in most of the operational digital archives I have visited, the PeDALS team originally intended to focus on born-digital records but has found that many routine processes are still embedded in a paper system, and hence is currently working primarily with digital records.

The current phase of the collaborative, inter-State NDIIPP PeDALS project is looking at writing these business rules and setting up the PeDALS workflow and storage systems.  Without going into all of this in a tremendous amount of detail (I’d suggest a look at the PeDALS website for further details), the basic idea is to write the rules once and then allow individual participants in the network to tweak them to suit their local circumstances.

Whilst very much in the early stages of building the system, the project is definitely work colleagues in the UK local archives network keeping an eye on – not least because of the emphasis on keeping costs down.  As well as the main project website, there is an update log at https://pedals.updatelog.com/login (you need to register for a username and password).

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Archival Support Programme

There are an estimated six to seven hundred places in the State of Victoria which hold archive collections, about 120 of which are recognised as Places of Deposit by PROV. PODs in this Australian context are “community facilities that meet the storage standards required by PROV to preserve records of significance to local communities”.

The Archival Support Programme started around ten years ago, originally as a small grants programme for archival supplies, and is run in collaboration with the Australian Society of Archivists and the National Archives of Australia. The programme takes the form of a travelling roadshow, with around four seminar topics presented each year.

This year’s programme included a roadshow seminar on “Computers and Small Archives”. This covered the basics of digitisation, designing online exhibitions, and using a computer to catalogue archival records, all focused on the kinds of practical situations likely to arise in a community archive setting. The seminar also included a session on digital preservation issues. This outlines the preservation issues of obsolescence and poor management, and encourages communities to adopt good practice in selecting appropriate long-term preservation formats, to copy media regularly, and to take care with storage conditions and handling, to take periodic backups, and to ensure documentation about the archives themselves, if maintained on a computer, can itself be exported and preserved over time. The central message is the need actively to manage digital information to ensure its continued accessibility.

The messages conveyed in this digital preservation talk are similar to those I incorporate in a WYAS presentation aimed at local Family History Societies. However, the emphasis in the PROV session on the various simple, yet effective, solutions which might be employed is striking, and is something which I will incorportate in future versions of the WYAS presentation.

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