Archive for the ‘Digital archives’ Category

Digital Archives Awareness Day

October 6th, 2011 by Ellie Robinson

Happy  Digital Archives Awareness Day!  This is the inaugural Day, which aims to raise awareness of digital archives among users and practitioners, so that everyone can join in the conversation and contribute their own thoughts and ideas on how best to approach digital archives.  Myself and fellow practitioners will be contributing to the Day by blogging and tweeting about various aspects of our job (more info here:

So what’s been happening with LSE’s digital archives? Well, most of our technical team have been working hard on putting together our new digital library (watch this space!), which has given me the opportunity to do a lot of research and experimenting of my own, so that we can be All Systems Go after the digital library launch.

I’ve had great fun putting together a basic workflow from acquisition to accession, a snippet of which can be seen below. We still have some issues to iron out, but I’m pretty happy with how it looks! My current big philosophical ponderment has been around maintaining authenticity of digital archives – the archivist within me is insistent that there can and should be only one original of everything, but I’m gradually appreciating that that isn’t always the case! Luciana Duranti’s From Digital Diplomatics to Digital Records Forensics (Archivaria no.68) and various chapters in CLIR’s report no.92 on Authenticity in a Digital Environment have been very interesting reads, as have the outputs from the InSPECT project ( Next on my reading list is Duren and Hosmer’s Can Digital Evidence Endure the Test of Time?, which I’m looking forward to getting to grips with, as accurately documenting file creation timestamps is proving to be a bit of a challenge!

We’re still working with ArchiveMatica here, and I’ve been playing around with various forensic and directory listing tools, FTK Imager and Karen’s Directory Printer being the ones I’ve used the most. We’ve also started photographing some of our portable media (leading to endless conversations on disk imaging and images of disks, we really need some new terminology!). Next steps will be to finalise our ingest procedure and start doing some proper cataloguing, exciting times!

Part of digital archives workflow

Part of digital archives workflow

Digital events, June 2011

July 4th, 2011 by Ellie Robinson

I’ve been a bit of an itinerant conference attendee lately, having gone to three excellent events in Oxford and London last month (and on holiday in between). The first was an ‘un-conference’ hosted by the AIMS project (An Inter-Institutional Model for Stewardship, see their excellent blog at, and which I had been invited to talk on the changing nature of our relationship with depositors. The entire theme of the day was about ‘revisiting archival principles from a digital preservation viewpoint’, and the talks from practitioners such as Susan Thomas, Jeremy Leighton John, Simon Wilson etc provided much food for thought. It was also an excellent opportunity to do some networking and meet other people in the field.

The second event I attended was a Digital Preservation Coalition briefing day on digital forensics, in Oxford. The day was extremely informative and particularly relevant to the pre-ingest work that we’re focussing on at the moment in the Library. Brad Glisson gave a rather terrifying but very interesting talk on mobile forensics – something that we may have to consider at some point, but hopefully not for a while! Gareth Knight gave an excellent overview of the FIDO (Forensic Investigation of Digital Objects) project at King’s College, and highlighted some of the tools they’ve been investigating – lots for us to follow up on. Also Cal Lee and Kam Woods from University of North Carolina showcased the BulkExtractor tool, and brought attention to their Digital Acquisition Learning Laboratory, which provides a wealth of training material.

Finally, and immediately after the forensics day, I went to the International Curation Education Forum at UCL. The day was an opportunity for teaching professionals, practitioners and students to get together to discuss how digital curation is currently being taught, and what can be done in the future. There were some very interesting presentations from representatives from both Europe and America, and we had some really good discussions about digital curation and the role that archivists play. Included in the day was an ‘ICE-a-fon’, where we spent 45 minutes circulating the room and having discussions on training, educating and resources. There was also a ‘lightning talks’ session where attendees had 3 minutes to talk about a particular subject of  their choice. All in all it was a great day, well worth attending, and it’s left me itching to go back to my studies!

One of things I find most rewarding about working with digital archives is the community aspect of the field, as evidenced by the regular events that always come up. There’s a real sense of collaboration, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the work we’re doing in Library in the future.

Digital Archives – new developments

March 8th, 2011 by Ellie Robinson

Hello all, I’m LSE’s new Assistant Archivist with responsibility for digital archives, and I thought I’d write to introduce myself and give a quick update on what’s happening in terms of digital archives at the Library. My particular focus is on born-digital archives (rather than archive material that has been digitised), which carries an additional set of processing requirements to traditional paper archives. As the technology used to access digital material changes so rapidly (anyone still using floppy disks?), and the material itself is so susceptible to damage or alteration, we have be extra careful when working with it, whilst ensuring that procedures are in place to process the material as soon as we acquire it. Born-digital archives are no less archival than traditional paper ones, so we need to ensure also that we are following the usual archival principles of authenticity, reliability, and integrity. To that end, together with other members of staff in the Library involved in digitisation or IT, we’ve been developing a workflow for managing our digital material from acquisition to access that properly documents each action we take with our digital archives.

LSE computer room 1981

LSE computer room 1981

At the moment we’re looking at the ‘ingest’ stage of the workflow, focussing on what happens to the material when we first get it, how to store it on our servers securely, and how to link everything to CALM. In archival terms this is a bit like the accession process, where we receive boxes of material and store them in our strongroom, draw up a box list, and document it in CALM, but the material isn’t catalogued or available online yet. We hope to have the ingest work completed by July, then we can start work on making digital archives accessible to the public, so watch this space!

Digital Archives – baby steps forward

August 2nd, 2010 by Sue Donnelly, Archivist

A high priority for our work in the coming year is going to be developing systems and processes to begin to improve the management of our digital collections including the acqusition of born-digital archives – so I was interested to attend an afternoon down at the National Archives to talk about how our archive management system, CALM, might integrate with digital archive management. The intention was to look at how CALM might support accessioning and user use of digital archives.

The event began with Adrian Brown of the Parliamentary Archives reporting back on a survey undertaken last year to identify future user requirements for managing digital archives. A key issue was the need to bring digital records into a managed environment. It appears that the priorities for most people are how to resource this new work, training and the development of policies and guidance along with implementing digital repositories. In future archivists are looking to link CALM to digital records and develop links to repositories. We want the system to conform to the emerging national and international standards,  to support preservation and automation, and be easy to use! Developing these requirements will mean looking at developing metadata, and in particular links to technical metadata, thinking about how CALM will work with digital repositories, and the need to provide persistent identifiers for records.

Adrian was followed by a couple of presentations on current digital archive projects. Simon Wilson of Hull History Centre introduced the AIMS project which is investigating integrating the Fedora repository system with archive management systems and has partners investigating a wide range of formats including plans, photographs and oral history and developing appropriate workflows. AIMS wants to develop best pracise guidelines appropriate for both novices and experts base on hands on experience with real collections. Simon has blogged his own account of the day on the Born-Digital Archives blog.

One interesting development is the desire to develop a focus of ‘critical friends’ from among archive creators and users who will help in the assessment of access issues and it is hoped encourage use of digital archives.  There are two sets of tools in development:

  • Collection development including surveys, deposit terms, ingest and accessioning and also a feasibility study to assess the worth of new digital archives.
  • Arrangements and description tool to manage user permission, arrange digital objects and to enable viewing of the record. This is likely to be based on an existing self archiving tool produced by Stanford.

The project is acknowledging the sheer scale of digital archives and the impact this may have on cataloguing and access issues. Hull are already discussing whether more information will be provided at series level rather than at file level .

This was followed by Natalie Walters of the Digital Curation team at the Wellcome Library talking about their experience of cataloguing digital records. She began by highlighting some of the differences that arose with dealing with digital archives – eg the frequent existence of multiple copies, that documents don’t have a physical location, individuals and organisations create their own personalised hierarchies and the impact of web 2.0 in allowing multiple creators. BUT – there was much that remained unchangking in particular provenance and the need to maintain the authenticity of the document. Natalie has already worked on two hybrid collections and has come to some initial conclusions – that they will not expect to list archives to item level, that there is a great need for advocacy with depositors and creators to ensure that they understand issues around access and rights management.  It is also clear that there is a need for some fine tuning around the use of  ISAD (G) eg should archivists use the extent or the physical description field to include details of formats.

Malcolm Todd of TNA introduced some of the technology available for digital preservation – highlighting the key issues of modularity, interoperability, sustainability and cost effectiveness. The current phrase is ‘parsimonious preservation’ which includes deploying the existing technical infrastructure, tweaking and improving standard ICT good practice and the targeted use of various open access software. Malcolm stressed the need for archivists to be able to analyse the systems they use to manage archives to allow them to define the services required.

The talks finished with Malcolm Howitt and Nigel Pegg of Axiell giving a brief outline of the CALM development roadmap for the coming years. Axiell are looking for some agreement on a way forward and an outline specification for the next few steps in development. They have to meet the needs of a wide range of archives with widely varying resource levels. At the moment there is a lack of clarity regarding what people woud expect from CALM – clearly the system will need to work with accessioning and cataloguing but areas such as what metadata might be need to be added to CALM are still unclear. they hoped that meetings like this would help to develop a path forward.

After the presentations we all got down to work splitting into groups to discuss a range of issues including accessions and ingest, cataloguing and metadata, supporting user access, and training and best practice. It was clear from the discussions that there is a pressing need for more practical experience of dealing with digital records before we can began to develop firm guidelines and best practice.

There was some discussion of how cataloguing and the balance between cataloguing and accessioning might change when dealing with large deposits of digital files needing to be secured and documented swiftly to ensure their suvival. Most archives  intend to integrate the cataloguing of digital and non-digital materials and their presentation to users. An exception is the National Archives of Scotland who are separating the management of digital and non-digital materials.

The issue of ensuring depositors and creators understood the management of digital archives came up on several occasions and already at LSE we are thinking about the information we might be provide to digital depositors and the advocacy needed to make them feel more secure in handing over files.

Those looking at training and guidance highlighted the need to think about and analyse all the activities which surround the management of  archives to allow archivists to talk to IT colleagues and to interpet the issues for non-specialists.

It was also clear that we all needed to get our hands dirty working on some ‘live’ digital collections. Fortunately we have just received the green light to move forward on developing systems for our digital deposits – so the archives team will definitely getting their digital hands dirty this year!

Decoding the digital

July 29th, 2010 by Nick White, Assistant Archivist

On Tuesday I attended the conference, “Decoding the Digital: a common language for preservation”, at the British Library. The event was arranged by the Preservation Advisory Centre and the Digital Preservation Coalition. The talks included a mixture of technical information regarding digital preservation and presentations on users’ needs. Highlights of the conference included:

Gareth Knight from CeRch talked about significant properties and pointed to research carried out by InSPECT (Investigating significant properties of electronic content). He highlighted the point that there isn’t a definitive list of significant properties of particular electronic resources. Instead individual institutions need to decide what the important parts of such resources are (both technical and informational), based on the needs of their users and other stakeholders – bearing in mind that these needs may change over time. InSPECT’s final report is available on their website. At LSE Archives we’re just beginning to seriously look at preservation of born-digital material, so reports such as these should prove invaluable as we get to grips with appraising such material and deciding what preservation strategies/formats we should use.

Catharine Ward spoke about the Incremental project at the University of Cambridge. The project aims to understand the needs of researchers in relation to management of their data, including practicalities such as file-naming and directory structures, data-sharing and long-term preservation. The team has interviewed researchers across a range of disciplines and discovered that many of them had difficulties knowing how to manage their data effectively. This included problems in finding the support and training their university offered them. The project team is making its findings publicly available, and updates can be found on their blog. Working out researchers’ needs was also the point of a presentation from Michael Jubb (of the Research Information Network). Researchers are both producers and consumers of research, and research methods across topics are very different, so working out their needs can be difficult. But, Michael pointed out, it is essential to find out those needs in order for libraries and archives to allocate resources effectively. Both presentations highlighted the need for us to know more about the work of researchers here at LSE.

Alexandra Eveleigh (UCL) talked about her previous role at the West Yorkshire Archive Service, and her rather heroic role in saving the digital archives of Yorkshire MLA (which closed in 2008). This was a practical talk, which was useful as I could compare her methodology with the types of procedures we’re developing here, as we start to develop procedures for accessioning digital archives.  It was also useful to see some of the tools she used for transferring data from the depositor’s server to the archive (for example using FTK Imager Lite for checksums and recording directory structures). She also provided us with a list of positives and negatives which she experienced when doing this work (such as the potential helpfulness of the depositor’s IT support or not to undervalue the time it may take to transfer material from a server).

Brian Hole (British Library) introduced the Life3 (Life cycle information for e-literature) project, which is developing an online tool to help estimate costs of digitisation projects. This should prove invaluable here at LSE as we develop new digitisation projects, particularly as much of the funding for this comes from depositors and other sources.

This was an informative day, and events such as these are particularly useful as we get to grips with digital preservation here at LSE, for digitised and born-digital resources. At the moment there are many different digital preservation tools and projects, so it is often difficult to know where to start! What is the essential reading? What tools are likely to be most useful for our needs? Hopefully, over the next few years, some of the findings of the various digital preservation projects can be brought together, and any event which encourages this would be a great help.

The presentations for this event are now available online on the Preservation Advisory Centre website.

The Mist is Clearing: practical approaches to electronic records

May 26th, 2010 by Sue Donnelly, Archivist
Early morning mist over the Firth of Tay

Early morning mist over the Firth of Tay

The challenges of dealing with born digital archives is high on the agenda in Archives this year – so last Friday I spend a day in Dundee at the Centre for Archives and Information Studies at a seminar Practical Approaches to Electronic Records: the academy and beyond . The subtext of the day was doing digital archives on a shoe string.

The day began with Ian Anderson of HATII at Glasgow University, and Malcolm Todd, Digital Archives Advice Manager of the National Archives putting digital archives into a strategic context. Both emphasised the need to make the case for the value, both legal and cultural, of maintaining digital archives. As the amount of digital data continues to increase without any end in sight, the archivist’s skills of appraising the value of records, organising and describing them so that they can be easily located will become of increasing significance. They  also the need to develop more working collaborations with other information and technology colleagues.

William Kilbride of the Digital Preservation Coalition aimed to debunk some fallacies about the expense and difficulty of digital preservation – making the case that organisations often spend considerable effort, staff and money on maintaining other cultural assets. The biggest challenge is making the management of digital assets part of ‘business as usual’ and  it was a useful reminder to us that not everything needs to be fixed at once.

In the afternoon we had two sessions on developing practical ingest tools illustrating two very different levels of support for digital archives. Viv Cothey of Gloucestershire Archives Service outlined their low cost approach of advocacy, demonstration and practise based learning. Using readily available free and open source tools and repository software linked with simple purl scripts they have developed GAip - a tool which supports archivists in accessioning digital materials and transferring them to secure storage. Viv is aware of the limitations of the system but asserts that it is better to act with what you have rather than do nothing. The Bodleian Library is taking a similar appraoch though with rather more resources as part of the FuturArch project funded by Andrew W.Mellon Foundation. Once again the aim is to take a modular approach to identifying tools for particular tasks eg authentication or cataloguing and linking them together, allowing the system to develop and grow easily as new tools are developed. An interesting archival aside was that they are considering keeping details of any viruses identified as a record of particular activity in a file – rather like not removing the coffee stain on the diary.

Dr. Susan Belovari of Tufts University outlined her experiments in using the PLANETS project PLATO took for creating digital preservation plans. PLANETS has focussed on the requirements of the larger national libraries and archives and the planning process is very detailed and lengthy and works best for homogenous collections rather than the varied content of some of our personal collections. Susan suggested that it was possible for smaller institutions to use the tool but that different approaches might be needed such as creating a preservation plan for different formats – but with each plan taking about a week to create that is a lot of work if you are a one man band!

The event rounded off with Chris Prom giving a final update on his research project Building an Electronic Archives Programme on a Shoestring. Chris has spent a useful 10 months at Dundee as a Fulbright scholar and his work has brought to the fore the need for approaches which small archives and libraries with limited resources can use.  Chris has been working on two digital archive collections from an individual and an organisation and is very aware of the issues surrounding deposited collections, in particular the lack of influence the archivist might have the selection of software and dates of deposit. Chris’s suggestions include:

  • Look at your current resources and work with them to build advocacy for future developments.
  • Develop a programme statement to support your work.
  • Create a digital deposit policy and agreements for transfer.
  • Work on a digital preservation plan
  • Decide the essential elements of your archival information package for taking items into the archive – a scaled down version of OAIS.
  • Build some kind of repository using existing file structures and information.

But above all get involved and start learning. Chris hopes to continue his work once he is back at work in the University of Illinois and develop the Practical E-Records site into a community resource.

I came away convinced that archivists need to  developing a real awareness and confidence with technical issues and solutions alongside their archival skills but re-assured that many of the ‘baby steps’  suggested were feasible and that the approaches we are taking at LSE are sensible and useful.

There’s another report of the day by Simon Wilson, Digital Archivist at Hull in the Born Digital Archives Blog.

It was my first visit to Dundee and I was lucky enough to enjoy an evening walk in warm sunshine. The views across the Firth of Tay from the hotel were amazing – especially in the morning mist -  and there were some fine nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings to admire in the evening sunshine.