To experience this website in full, please enable JavaScript or upgrade your browser.

Digital Archives

Updating the AIDA toolkit

AIDA cover by ULCC; "Needs Assessment" graphic by OCHA Visual Information Unit, US, Public Domain. Source: thenounproject.com

AIDA cover by ULCC; “Needs Assessment” graphic by OCHA Visual Information Unit, US, Public Domain. Source: thenounproject.com

This week, I have been mostly reworking and reviewing the ULCC AIDA toolkit. We’re planning to relaunch it later this year, with a new name, new scope, and new scorecard.

AIDA toolkit – a short history

The AIDA acronym stands for “Assessing Institutional Digital Assets”. Kevin Ashley and myself completed this JISC-funded project in 2009, and the idea was it could be used by any University – i.e. an Institution – to assess its own capability for managing digital assets.

At the time, AIDA was certainly intended for an HE/FE audience; and that’s reflected in the “Institutional” part of the name, and the type of digital content in scope. Content likely to have been familiar to anyone working in HE – digital libraries, research publications, digital datasets. As a matter of fact, AIDA was pressed into action as a toolkit directly relevant to the needs of Managing Research Data, as is shown by its reworking in 2011 into the CARDIO Toolkit.

I gather CARDIO, under the auspices of Joy Davidson, HATII and the DCC, has since been quite successful and its take-up among UK Institutions to measure or benchmark their own preparedness for Research Data Management perhaps indicates we were doing something right.

A new AIDA toolkit for 2016

My plan is to open up the AIDA toolkit so that it can be used by more people, apply to more content, and operate on a wider basis. In particular, I want it to apply to:

  • Not just Universities, but any Organisation that has digital content
  • Not just research / library content, but almost anything digital (the term “Digital Assets” always seemed vague to me; where the term “Digital Asset Management” is in fact something very specific and may refer to particular platforms and software)
  • Not just repository managers, but also archivists, records managers, and librarians working with digital content.

I’m also going to be adding a simpler scorecard element; we had one for AIDA before, but it got a little too “clever” with its elaborate weighted scores.

Readers may legitimately wonder if the community really “needs” another self-assessment tool; we teach several of the known models on our Digital Preservation Training Programme, including the use of the TRAC framework for self-assessment purposes; and since doing AIDA, the excellent DPCMM has become available, and indeed the latter has influenced my thinking. The new AIDA toolkit will continue to be a free download, though, and we’re aiming to retain its overall simplicity, which we believe is one of its strengths.

A new acronym

As part of this plan, I’m keen to bring out and highlight the “Capability” and “Management” parts of the AIDA toolkit, factors which have been slightly obscured by its current name and acronym. With this in mind, I need a new name and a new acronym. The elements that must be included in the title are:

  • Assessing or Benchmarking
  • Organisational
  • Capacity or Readiness [for]
  • Management [of]
  • Digital Content

I’ve already tried feeding these combinations through various online acronym generators, and come up empty. Hence we would like to invite the wider digital preservation community & use the power of crowd-sourcing to collect suggestions & ideas. Simply comment below or tweet us at @dart_ulcc and use the #AIDAthatsnotmyname hashtag. Naturally, the winner(s) of this little crowd-sourcing contest will receive written credit in the final relaunched AIDA toolkit.

Free OAIS Beginners Course – Update


OAIS_3Back at the beginning of November, we launched our first online course, ‘A Beginners Guide to the OAIS Reference Model’. It was free, and available to anyone who wanted to find out more about this subject. A month after going  live, we’ve had a lot of interest.

Over 70 people have taken the course in 12 different coutries. As well as the UK, we’ve had students  from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Spain, Latvia, Croatia, Chile, Russia, USA and the Netherlands. . The Netherlands seem to be very keen on learning about OAIS, being the country with the most people signing up,  except the UK.  It’s been fantastic to see so much international engagement. We’ve also had a great cross-section of students in many roles from many kinds of organisations, including national memory institutions, higher education, cultural heritage, national and local government departments and the commercial sector.

We’ve had so much enthusiasm  that we have decided not to close the course at the end of November. Instead, we’ll continue to have it open and free. If you’d like to do the course, just click here and sign up!

FREE OAIS ONLINE COURSE SIGN UP NOW

 

 

Building a Digital Preservation Strategy

random binary code

IRMS ARAI Event 19 November 2015

Last week I was in Dublin where I gave a presentation for the IRMS Ireland Group at their joint meeting with ARA Ireland. It was great for me personally to address a roomful of fellow Archivists and Records Managers, and learn more about how they’re dealing with digital concerns in Ireland. I heard a lot of success stories and met some great people.

Sarah Hayes, the Chair of IRMS Ireland, heard me speak earlier this year at the Celtic Manor Hotel (the IRMS Conference) and invited me to talk at her event. Matter of fact I got a similar invite from IRMS Wales this year, but Sarah wanted new content from me, specifically on the subject of Building a Digital Preservation Strategy.

Read more

Free OAIS online course – A Beginner’s Guide to the OAIS Reference Model

Reference model for free OAIS online course

We’re starting to move the Digital Preservation Training Programme into the realms of the online. As a first step, we’re releasing a free OAIS online course aimed to help with the understanding of the OAIS Reference Model.

The content for this short course comes out of what we currently teach on the Beginner version of the DPTP face-to-face Course. Our plan is to move away from teaching OAIS in the classroom, and move towards students learning it online before they attend the teaching.

Read more

Ed at IRMS15

IRMS Conference 2015 – ‘Information: The New Currency’

Last week we attended the Information and Records Management Society (IRMS) conference in Newport. We have quite a few records managers attending our DPTP courses, so we decided to go along to the conference to tell records managers more about our consultancy work and our training in digital preservation.

Ed had a paper accepted, in which he talked about the ‘dream’ of integrating digital preservation within the records management workflow. Slides from the talk were heavily requested!

We also had a stand, and had a lot of great conversations with records managers from all over the UK and beyond, about their digital preservation needs. Read more about our #IRMS15 experiences in our Storify of the event below:

We ran a competition, giving away two places on our ‘DPTP: Introduction to Digital Preservation’ two-day course. We’ll be announcing the winners soon…

DPTP at the National Library of Ireland

Silence is requested!

Silence is requested! *

We will be running a version of our Digital Preservation Training Programme course ‘The Practice of Digital Preservation’,  in Dublin, at the National Library of Ireland (NLI) next week, 29th April – 1st May.  ANLTC – Academic & National Library Training Co-operative sought suggestions for courses from the CONUL Sub-Committees and our programme was recommended by the CONUL Sub Committee on Digital Services and Infrastructure.

We’ve been working with staff there to adapt our standard 3-day course to their specific requirements, a service we provide for many organisations in the UK and beyond. We’re delighted that our course was selected and excited to be taking DPTP to Ireland. It will also be Preservation Week, and being able to share knowledge about digital preservation in  Ireland seems like a very good way to celebrate the digital aspects of preservation during that time.

This isn’t the first time that DPTP has been on tour in Ireland, though. Back in 2012, Ed Pinsent and our then colleague Patricia Sleeman ran a version of the original DPTP course in Dublin, also hosted by NLI. We’re very glad to be invited back, and are really looking forward to another Dublin version of DPTP ‘on tour’!

* Image from the  National Library of Ireland on Flickr Commons

#24DaysofDP – the first #7days

24Days_sledge

Last week we launched our digital preservation advent tweets, a series of 24 tweets throughout the run up to Christmas. If you missed any, you can catch up via our Storify of the first 7 days.  We hope you’re enjoying this small celebration of all things digital preservation, and that you will share the links on Twitter if you find something useful. Thanks to all the people and organisations who have inspired our tweets so far, and here’s to the next 17 days!

Image from the British Library on Flickr

Making Progress in Digital Preservation: Part 3 – Roundtable

Photo by James Jordan https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesjordan/

Photo by James Jordan https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesjordan/

This one-day event on 31 October 2014 was organised by the DPC. The day concluded with a roundtable discussion, featuring a panel of the speakers and taking questions from the floor. The level of engagement from delegates throughout the event was clearly shown in the interesting questions posed to the panel, the thoughtful responses and the buzz of general discussion in this session. Among many interesting topics covered, three stand out as typical of the breadth of knowledge and interest shown at the event.

First, a fundamental question about the explosion of digital content and how it will impact on our work. How can we keep all of this stuff, where will we put it, and how much will it really cost? Sarah Middleton urged us to attend the upcoming 4C Conference in London to hear discussion of cutting-edge ideas about large-scale storage approaches. Catherine Hardman reminded us of one of the most obvious archival skills, which we sometimes tend to forget: selection. We do not have to keep “everything”, and a well-formulated selection policy continues to be an effective way to target the preservation of the most meaningful digital resources.

Next, a question on copyright and IPR as it applies to archives/archivists and hence digital preservation quickly span into the audience and back to different panel members in a lively discussion. The general inability of the current legislation, formed in a world of print, to deal with the digital reality of today was quickly identified as an obstacle to both those engaged in digital preservation and to users seeking access to digital resources.

The Hargreaves report was mentioned (by Ed Pinsent of ULCC) and given an approving nod for the sensible approach it took to bringing legislation into the 21st century. However, the speed with which any change has actually been implemented was of concern for all, and was felt to be damaging to the need to preserve material. The issues around copyright and IPR were knowledgeable discussed from a wide variety of perspectives, including the cultural heritage sector, specialist collections, archaeological data and resources and, equally important among delegates, the inability to fully open up collections to users in order to comply with the law as it stands.

Some hope was found, though, in the recent (and ongoing) Free Our History campaign. Using the national and international awareness of various exhibitions, broadcasts and events to mark the anniversary of the First World War, the campaign has focussed on the WW1 content that museums, libraries and archives are unable to display because of current copyright law. Led by the National Library of Scotland, other memory institutions and many cultural heritage institutions have joined in the CILIP campaign to prominently exhibit a blank piece of paper. The blank page represents the many items which cannot be publicly displayed. The visual impact of such displays has caught attention, and the accompanying petition is currently being addressed by the UK government.

The third issue raised during this session was the suggestion for more community activity, for example more networking and exchange of experience opportunities. Given the high rate of networking during lunchtime and breaks, not to mention the lively discussions and questions, this was greeted with enthusiasm. Kurt Helfrich from RIBA explained his idea for an informal group to organise site visits and exchange of experience sessions among themselves, perhaps based in London to start off with. Judging by the level of interest among delegates to share their own work and learn from others during this day, this would be really useful to many. Leaving the event with positive plans for practical action felt a very fitting way to end an event around making progress in digital preservation.

The above authored mostly by Steph Taylor, ULCC

Download the slides from this event

Making Progress in Digital Preservation: Part 1 – The path towards a steady state

Photo by Ard Hesselink https://www.flickr.com/photos/docman/

Photo by Ard Hesselink
https://www.flickr.com/photos/docman/

This one-day event on 31 October 2014 was organised by the DPC and hosted at the futuristic, spacious offices of HSBC, where the presentation facilities and the catering were excellent. All those attending were given plenty of mental exercises by William Kilbride. He said he wanted to build on his “Getting Started in Digital Preservation” events and help everyone move further along the path towards a steady state, where digital preservation starts to become “business as usual”. The very first exercise he proposed was a brief sharing-discussion exercise where people shared things they have tried, and what worked and didn’t work.

Kurt Helfrich from The RIBA Library said his organisation had a large amount of staff administering a historic archive; various databases, created at different time for different needs, would be better if connected. He was keen to collaborate with other RIBA teams and link “silos” in his agency.

Lindsay Ould from Kings College London said “starting small worked for us”. They’ve built a standalone virtual machine, using locally-owned kit, and are using it for “manual” preservation; when they’ve got the process right, they could automate it and bring in network help from IT.

When asked about “barriers to success”, over a dozen hands in the room went up. Common themes: getting the momentum to get preservation going in the first place; extracting a long-term commitment from Executives who lose interest when they see it’s not going to be finished in 12 months. There’s a need to do advocacy regularly, not just once; and a need to convince depositors to co-operate. IT departments, especially in the commercial sector, are slow to see the point of digital preservation if its “business purpose” – a euphemism for “income stream”, I would say – is not immediately apparent. Steph Taylor of ULCC pointed out how many case studies in tools in our profession are mostly geared to the needs of large memory institutions, not the dozens of county archives and small organisations who were in the room.

Ed Pinsent (i.e. me) delivered a talk on conducting a preservation assessment survey, paying particular attention to the Digital Preservation Capability Maturity Model and other tools and standards. If done properly, this could tell you useful things about your capability to support digital preservation; you could even use the evidence from the survey to build a business case for investment or funding. The tricky thing is choosing the model that’s right for you; there are about a dozen available, with varying degrees of credibility as to their fundamental basis.

Catherine Hardman from the Archaeological Data Service (ADS) is one who is very much aware of “income streams”, since the profession of archaeology has become commercialised and somewhat profit-driven. She now has to engage with many depositors as paying customers. To that end, she’s devised a superb interface called ADS Easy that allows them to upload their own deposits, and add suitable metadata through a series of web forms. This process also incorporates a costing calculator, so that the real costs of archiving (based on file size) can be estimated; it even acts as a billing system, creating and sending out invoices. Putting this much onus on depositors is, in fact, a proven effective way of engaging with your users. In the same vein, ADS have published good practice guidance on things to consider when using CAD files, and advice on metadata to add to a Submission Package. Does she ever receive non-preferred formats in a transfer? Yes, and their response is to send them back – the ADS has had interesting experiences with “experimental” archaeologists in the field. Kurt Helfrich opened up the discussion here, speaking of the lengthy process before deposit that is sometimes needed; he memorably described it as a “pre-custodial intervention”. Later in the day, William Kilbride picked up this theme: maybe “starting early”, while good practice, is not ambitious enough. Maybe we have to begin our curation activities before the digital object is even created!

Catherine also perceived an interesting shift in user expectations; they want more from digital content, and leaps in technology make them impatient for speedy delivery. As part of meeting this need, ADS have embraced OAI-PMH protocols, which enables them to reuse their collections metadata and enhance their services to multiple external shareholders.

There is no doubt that having a proper preservation policy in place would go some way to helping address issues like this. When Kirsty Lee from the University of Edinburgh asked how many of us already had a signed-off policy document, the response level was not high. She then shared with us the methodology that she’s using to build a policy at Edinburgh, and it’s a thought-through meticulous process indeed. Her flowcharts show her constructing a complex “matrix” of separate policy elements, all drawn from a number of reports and sources, which tend to say similar things but in different ways; her triumph has been to distil this array of information and, equally importantly, arrange the elements in a meaningful order.

Kirsty is upbeat and optimistic about the value of a preservation policy. It can be a statement of intent; a mandate for the archive to support digital records and archives. It provides authority and can be leverage for a business case; it helps get senior management buy-in. To help us understand, she gave us an excellent handout which listed some two dozen elements; the exercise was to pick only the ones that suit our organisation, and to put them in order of priority. The tough part was coming up with a “single sentence that defines the purpose of your policy” – I think we all got stumped by this!

Download the slides from this event

Report continues in part two

IT skills for archivists and librarians

DThompsonTweet2

In September this year Dave Thompson of the Wellcome Library asked a question by Twitter, one which is highly relevant to digital preservation practice and learning skills. Addressing digital archivists and librarians, he asked: “Do we need to be able to do all ourselves, or know how to ask for what is required?”

My answer is “we need to do both”…and I would add a third thing to Dave’s list. We also need to understand enough of what is happening when we get what we ask for, whether it’s a system, tool, application, storage interface, or whatever.

Personally, I’ve got several interests here. I’m a traditional archivist (got my diploma in 1992 or thereabouts) with a strong interest in digital preservation, since about 2004. I’m also a tutor on the Digital Preservation Training Programme.

As an archivist wedded to paper and analogue methods, for some years I was fiercely proud of my lack of IT knowledge. Whenever forced to use IT, I found I was always happier when I could open an application, see it working on the screen, and experiment with it until it does what I want it to do. On this basis, for example, I loved playing around with the File Information Tool Set (FITS).

When I first managed to get some output from FITS, it was like I was seeing the inside of a file format for the first time. I could see tags and values of a TIFF file, some of which I was able to recognise as those elusive “significant properties” you hear so much about. So this is what they look like! From my limited understanding of XML – which is what FITS outputs into – I knew that XML was structured and could be stored in a database. That meant I’d be able to store those significant properties as fields in a database, and interrogate them. This would give me the intellectual control that I used to relish with my old card catalogues in the late 1980s. I could see from this how it would be possible to have “domain” over a digital object.

There’s a huge gap, I know, between me messing around on my desktop and the full functionality of a preservation system like Preservica. But with exercises like the above, I feel closer to the goal of being able to “ask for what is required”, and more to the point, I could interpret the outputs of this functionality to some degree. I certainly couldn’t do everything myself, but I want to feel that I know enough about what’s happening in those multiple “black boxes” to give me the confidence I need as an archivist that my resources are being preserved correctly.

With my DPTP tutor hat on, I would like to think it’s possible to equip archivists, librarians and data managers with the same degree of confidence; teaching them “just enough” of what is happening in these complex processes, at the same time translating machine code into concrete metaphors that an information professional can grasp and understand. In short, I believe these things are knowable, and archivists should know them. Of course it’s important that the next step is to open a meaningful discussion with the developer, data centre manager, or database engineer (i.e. “ask for what is required”), but it’s also important to keep that dialogue open, to go on asking, to continue understanding what these tools and systems are doing. There is a school of thought that progress in digital preservation can only be made when information professionals and IT experts collaborate more closely, and I would align myself with that.