Archive for the ‘Digital archives’ Category

Archives and Records Association Annual Conference, Brighton 2012

September 17th, 2012 by Ellie Robinson

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.

The Boni Sones Archive

May 28th, 2012 by Ellie Robinson

Some exciting things have been afoot with our digital archives lately. We’ve just agreed to dispatch some of our oldest physical media (e.g. 5 ¼” floppy) to a company in Cheshire to see if they can extract the data for us, and I’m really excited to see what they can come up with. I’ve been playing around with some 3 ½” floppies from our collections, and am thrilled to have successfully imaged some disks from our Campbell Transcripts collection, and viewed and migrated the WordPerfect files therein.

Our newest accession of digital archives is the Boni Sones archive, donated to us by Boni earlier this month. The collection is the result of Boni’s ambitious Women’s Parliamentary Radio project, where British and international female Members of Parliament were interviewed about women’s issues and the resulting audio files hosted online. This was quite an undertaking, both in an engineering and organisational sense. As Boni writes,

My sound engineer Peter Cook, who worked with me at Cambridge University, saw “the future” too and together we created what became, helped by the web management company Magstar of Cambridge. We were all innovators ahead of our time. I always saw that you could do interviews “as live” rather than “live” streaming, allowing the audience to tune in when they wanted to listen. This was ahead of what others were doing technically and in broadcasting conventions too.

“We had tremendous and heartfelt support from women in the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinets such as Theresa May, Caroline Spelman and Eleanor Laing for the Conservative women, and Harriet Harman, Vera Baird, and Barbara Keeley for the Labour women, and for the Liberal Democrats Sandra Gidley,Jo Swinson and Susan Kramer were great supporters of us. Their unconditional support has lasted to this very day. We thank them so much.”

Also supporting the project were Jackie Ashley, Linda Fairbrother and Deborah McGurran, quite a collaboration! The collection is of extreme significance, both for its comprehensive and candid representation of women in Parliament and their thoughts on women’s rights and issues, but also as an indicator of how journalistic practices are changing with new technology. As such it makes a very welcome addition to our collections, sitting very nicely amongst some of other collections such as our Mary McIntosh, Baroness Summerskill and Baroness Seear collections.

Boni has deposited with us the sound files (WAV and mp3) of the interviews, as well as associated administrative files, and four group MPs photographs, party by party, taken by PA photographer Kieran Doherty (who did the now famous “Blair’s Babes” photograph) to celebrate 90 years of women and the Vote in 2008. The four photographs are called: “The Day the Carlton Club Accepted Women”, as the Conservative MP Caroline Spelman noted that the day the photographs were taken was the day the Carlton Club let in women, by coincidence! The collection will be available to researchers in our reading room in the new year.

UK Archives Discovery Forum at TNA: part 2

March 22nd, 2012 by Sue Donnelly, Archivist

This was a great day for meeting others working to promote archives and related heritage collections. Colleagues had travelled to Kew from all over the UK and aside from a generous supply of  M&Ms one of the highlights was the UKAD Lonely Hearts notice board – some examples included:

  • Archivist with legacy cataloguing backlog seeks help in working out where to start…
  • Popular blog for national institution seeks new followers!
  • Digital professional, likes history, cake, structure & logic, hates dust, WLTM archivists interested in learning programming, for fun and comradeship.

Outside of the keynote sessions Nick and I split our visit to get maximum coverage of the sessions.

Joy Palmer from JISC kicked off with Making the most of your date on the web: Practical  Next Steps for the JISC Discovery Initiative . Joy was keen to encourage us to to develop a thriving metadata ecosystem with the emphasis on opening up data as widely as possible to enable richer discover for researchers. The project aims to develop a risk assessment rather than a rights based appraoch to opening up data and champions the use of explicit open and standardised licenses and clear and reasonable terms and conditions of use. Everyone needs to think about this but the open approach of the LSE Digital Library is clearly a move in the right direction.

Joy was followed by Teresa Doherty of The Women’s Library who talked about the benefits of using name authority records to provide alternative access points for researchers. In particular the Women’s Library have been adding short biographical or corporate histories for their authority records providing those searching for information with quick guides to their records. The standard for producing authority records (ISAAR(CPF)) was first published in 1996 and although many archives have created thousands of authority records there is little take up in producing full authority records. There is not doubt that such records would be very useful but the resources needed to populate them is rather daunting. However it is true that many users do use personal and corporate names as entry points into our collections. Teresa also talked about the impact of linking to the catalogues from relevant wikipedia entries – something we can confirm from our own experience of linking to wikipedia over several years.

After lunch we moved into born-digital archives with Simon Wilson of the AIMS project at Hull History Centre talking through a SWOT analysis of the current state of play in working with born-digital archives. The strengths include realising that digital archives remain archives and many of the skills in appraising, accessioning and description remain as relevant now as they ever did. It is also true that there are already many free tools available to work with the archives. The weaknesses included fear of working in a new area and a lack of technical skills. Archivists also need to be doing move advocacy with archive creators and funders to ensure that digital archives are recognised as important resources. Working with born-digital archives brings opportunities for new collaborations with ICT colleagues, other archives and new organisations as well as the possibility of using new tools to provide richer access to archives for users.  As for threats – perhaps one of the biggest are the user expectations which are already running way ahead of the technologies ability to deliver, the enormous scale of digital archives, and the need to work more closely with potential depositors at an earlier stage of creation. It would be useful to think about these issues on a regular basis as we work through on our own digital project. Next year we should take our own proposal for a paper.

The day finished with some quick fire sessions from a range of projects. Sam Velumyl of TNA talking about the Finding Archives project aiming to improve the systems which allow archivists and users to find archives across the country – the project will be looking to improve the experience both for those contributing information and those using the results. Teresa Nixon from West Yorkshire Archives Service introduced History to Herstory: Yorkshire Women’s Lives Online, 1100 to present day. The site gathers information and teaching resources from across Yorkshire into a simple and easy to use site.  Kimberley Kowal showcased a British Library project to crowd source georeferencing data for maps. Fascinating to hear that they had enough volunteers even before they had time to put out the publicity but that in common with other crowd sourcing project five of the volunteers undertook 50% of the work. The session finished with Alison Cullingford speaking about RLUKs Unique and Distinctive Collections project which will support libraries and archives in making the most of their collections.

We finished the day with a round of applause for Bill Stockting of the British Library announcing the launch of the BL’s first online integrated catalogue for its manuscript and archive collections. All new work on archives (including the papers of Harold Pinter and Ted Hughes) as used the new system since 2009 and work is now completed on transferring existing electronic lists into the system creating a database of over 1 million records. The next step will be the long and tricky task of retroconversion of the paper catalogues and integration ibnto the Library’s infrastructure.

It looks like the UK Archival Description Forum will become a regular feature in the diary of everyone keen to promote their archives.

Manuscript, typescript ….. digital! Beatrice Webb launches LSE Digital Library

February 2nd, 2012 by Sue Donnelly, Archivist
Beatrice Webb, photographed by G.B.Shaw

Beatrice Webb, photographed by G.B.Shaw

In January I blogged about a couple of entries in Beatrice Webb’s diary and we are excited to announce the launch of the the LSE’s Digital Library with a complete and fully searchable version of both the manuscript and typescript versions of Beatrice Webb’s seventy years of diary entries.

Beatrice Webb was born in 1858, the eighth daughter of Richard Potter, a wealthy businessman, and Lawrencina Heyworth. Although Beatrice did not put much stock in novel writing, she nevertheless expressed a desire in her diary to write creatively and at length, and hence the diary, and the autobiography upon which it is based, was born. In the diary Beatrice records the activities of her daily life, the interactions with friends and family, and her most private thoughts and fears. In 1883 Beatrice took up social work in London, acting as a rent collector for the Charity Organisation Society and working undercover as a seamstress in a sweatshop in 1888. She began writing on social subjects and eventually started moving in the same circles as Sidney Webb, her future husband. The Webbs devoted their lives to socialism, becoming  central members of the Fabian Society, founders of the London School of Economics, and constant campaigners for the welfare state.

Two versions of the diary have been digitised – the actual manuscript as well as a transcription produced during Beatrice Webb’s life that is cross-referenced with the date fields indexed from the manuscript version.  Both versions can now be viewed side-by-side for comparison.  The diaries are fully-searchable and contain a wealth of information not just on Beatrice’s personal and working life, but on the social history of Britain and the world, spanning 70 years of social upheaval.  The project also includes a bibliography of all Beatrice and Sidney Webb’s printed works with the ability to link to full text versions where available and a gallery of photographs, including for the first time some colour portraits taken by G.Bernard Shaw. Webbs on the Web was funded generously by the Webb Memorial Trust.

In future we will be adding further material to the LSE Digital Library – we already have plenty of material in digital format from both the archive and print collections including Fabian Society pamphlets, Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps and 19th Century photographs. We are also excited that the Digital Library will open the doors to collecting and revealing a much wider range of material such as LSE theses, blogs, working papers and podcasts from LSE’s lively public events programme.  We are also considering statistics, posters, microfiche, audio visual content, historical broadcasts, exam papers, websites and material relating to LSE history and staff.

LSE Library’s collections are at the heart of the life and research of the School and of internationally recognised importance to the social sciences. They have been growing in breadth and stature for over 100 years and include many rare and unique materials. Collecting and preserving digital material is central to the continued distinction of these collections and a part of LSE Library’s role as a research library for the next 100 years.

To explore Webbs on the Web visit LSE Digital Library at

The KEEP Approach to Digital Preservation

January 27th, 2012 by Ellie Robinson

A few days ago I went to Cardiff, to attend the second day of the KEEP (Keeping Emulation Environments Portable) workshop. My colleague had already attended the first day, which was perhaps a little more theoretical than the second, as I had chance to get hands-on with what the KEEP project has created.

Emulation as a preservation strategy has largely been driven by the gaming community, who are looking to play old games in as close to their original environment as possible, thereby mimicking how the games used to be played and enhancing the user experience. Although emulators have been available for download for a long time, they have not always been created with long-term preservation in mind, and therefore were not robust enough to form part of a larger preservation workflow. The KEEP project has aimed to counter that by creating a virtual machine that can emulate several different environments (e.g. Commodore 64, BBC Micro etc.) and also work on different environments, such as Windows or Linux: hence the ‘Portable’ in the KEEP acronym. The idea is that if the emulating device itself is portable, it should by definition work into the long-term, as upgrading the host hardware or operating system shouldn’t have an impact on what the KEEP virtual machine can do, therefore there is no need to try and emulate the emulator years down the line.

Here at LSE we have been working on migration as a preservation strategy; it is more widely-used and we have tools in place to do it. However, emulation’s greatest strength is that it can replicate the context in which a record was created and how the record creator worked, thereby enhancing the user experience and perhaps making cataloguing easier, or more meaningful. So I was very interested in what KEEP had to say, and their virtual machine is certainly something that I will investigate further, especially in the context of some of our legacy media. Watch this space!

Digital Preservation – What Those in the Know Wish They’d Known

January 26th, 2012 by Catherine McIntyre, Archives Assistant

On Tuesday, I attended a half-day student conference on digital preservation organised by the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), the Archives & Records Management Association’s Data Standards Group and the Universities of Dundee and Aberystwyth, with the theme of ‘What I Wish I Knew Before I Started’. It was aimed at students on the postgraduate archival programmes around the country and had speakers who have been tackling the digital preservation issue for some time now talking about the things they wish they’d known before starting out.

 I study with the University of Dundee and have recently completed their ‘Management and Preservation of Digital Records’ module, which I found interesting, enlightening, but quite tough-going in parts (metadata being my least favourite aspect). Although, ultimately, I finished the module feeling as though the perceived problems of digital preservation were really just the same problems archivists have had to deal with in relation to traditional archives, just in a different format. This feeling was confirmed by the speakers at the conference and the general theme seemed to be that we shouldn’t be scared of digital preservation – Sarah Higgins of the University of Aberystwyth declared that it involves the same functions we as a profession have always undertaken, just with a different terminology. To demonstrate this, Sarah turned her slides of the OAIS model from tech-speak to archivist-speak, which I found very helpful.

1970s Technology (IMAGELIBRARY/473)

William Kilbride, Director of the DPC, had a nice wake-up soundbite as an introduction to digital preservation: It won’t go away. It won’t do itself. Don’t wait for perfection. Andrew Fetherston, from the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre, re-iterated the last point and said that no one solution would suit all repositories and that it was important to make a start, however small.

William also emphasised that digital data has value, potential and outcomes – just like other formats in archives – but what makes it different is that it has dependencies (on hardware, software, input/output devices etc.). It is how we pass on these values, potentials and outcomes to the next generation whilst dealing with the dependencies that is the issue because, as Dave Thompson of the Wellcome Library pointed out, re-use of digital materials is the point of preserving them – just like other formats in archival collections.


1980s Technology (IMAGELIBRARY/1174)

1980s Technology (IMAGELIBRARY/1174)

Dave also told us that archivists have a professional responsibility to engage with digital materials – this is our duty as recordkeepers and to ignore the problem would severely affect our professional integrity. As William said, it’s not going away and it’s not going to do itself. Adrian Brown, of the Parliamentary Archives, highlighted the point that an archivist’s role in digital preservation will be to manage the parts that can’t be automated.

Helen Hockx-Yu, Head of Web Archiving at the British Library, talked to us about the problems and processes of trying to archive web content. One of the things that struck me was how difficult, even impossible, it is to preserve the jazzier features of web sites that are encoded in Javascript etc. Technology moves so quick in the digital environment that what we are trying to preserve can be more sophisticated than the tools used for preserving it.


1990s Technology (IMAGELIBRARY/1095)

1990s Technology (IMAGELIBRARY/1095)

I found the event really helpful in confirming my opinions and I also felt reassured that archivists have the skills to tackle the issues arising from digital preservation. It’s important to educate the next generation of archivists and record managers so that they can continue the work being done by people like the speakers at this conference and learn from their mistakes and successes. The large turnout proved that the next generation are interested in and willing to step-up to the challenge. You can find more ideas from the conference via the Twitter hashtag #dpc_wiwik and the slides from the speakers are available on the DPC web site.