Sue Donnelly, Ed Fay and I presented at the final day of this conference, the morning of which was dedicated to new developments in digital archives. It was a great opportunity to share the work that we’ve done in digital archives, and to engage with other archivists who might be starting this work.
Our talk was based around trust, and how we apply and sustain it at LSE. The idea of trust and trustworthiness has been a lynchpin of the archives profession since the beginning, and as professionals we’re aware that our users, whether they are researchers, depositors, or any other stakeholder, must be able to trust us when we say that the document in their hands is authentic. But when that document is electronic, rather than physical, does the notion of trust change?
Sue kicked things off by considering the traditional aspects of trust and how it is demonstrated in the LSE Library. Trustworthiness is much more explicit in the care of tangible objects; when users see acid-free boxes coming from a locked strongroom they are more likely to accept our trustworthiness at face value. This attitude has been challenged by recent technological advances, and Sue discussed how some depositors with whom the Library has had a long relationship have started asking a lot more questions about what we would do with their digital material, whereas other depositors have embraced the technology and are more than happy for us to receive their files on a memory stick with little call for us to articulate what we would do with it.
This led nicely onto my section of the talk, which was to outline the practicalities of working with digital archive files at LSE. I tried to align our practices with traditional archive ones, so for example the use of anti-virus tools is akin to putting an archive in quarantine before accepting it into a store, and the use of forensic imaging and profiling tools such as FTK Imager and DROID enables the traditional archive practices of appraisal and listing. This is all done to protect archives and ensure their future use; it is the medium that has changed, not the message. I also talked about the metadata we are collecting and why it’s important to collect it; if we’re not documenting the aforesaid actions then we cannot prove to our users and depositors that our records are authentic.
Ed rounded off our talk with trustworthy digital repositories and how they can be something of an elephant to manage. As the best way to eat an elephant is to take one bite at a time, so the best way to manage a digital repository is not to try to set up the entire infrastructure in one go, but to break down the process into what is necessary, what can be done now, and what requires further investment. Ed explained some of our technical infrastructure and how it is based on the OAIS standard, and then went on to talk about how we articulated the value of preserving digital records to internal and external stakeholders. In both cases we used our own interpretation of existing standards, thinking it is better to get the ball rolling and aim for full compliance later. Ed stressed that achieving official trusted status as a digital repository can take years, and advised institutions to work towards better practice, rather than best in the near term.
Sue wrapped up our talk by reminding us that trust isn’t a new issue, but the lack of standards is. Rather than wait for standards and best practice to emerge, it’s better to get hands-on with material and learn by doing, developing a narrative about preserving digital archives that we can use with peers, depositors and researchers, thereby preserving that trusting relationship. We ended with the George MacDonald line, “to be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved”, although we like to aim for both!
Slides from our talk are available here.