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.

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