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!