DPOC Project reflections

Outreach and Training Fellow, Sarah, shares some of her reflections about the DPOC project as it draws to a close. Note: she wrote this post on a sunny day in September, before she left for maternity leave. She wants everyone to know things may have changed a bit by now.


It’s a sunny, cool autumn day in September. It is my last day before maternity leave. The project will continue on for another three months, but for me this feels like the end. By the time this is posted, it will be a cold winter day in December and the future of DPOC might have changed. I hope the next few months will bring more announcements, more ideas and more changes.

It seems like just yesterday we were picking a name for the project. Suddenly I am depositing datasets and publications as we begin a massive self-archiving component of the project. Things are starting to wrap up and it feels a little strange. So, I am going to take some time to reflect on what I have learned during the project not just from Oxford, but the wider digital preservation community.

 

People are constantly being undervalued in favour of technological solutions

It is so easy to just run to technology to solve a digital preservation problem. After all, our collections are digital so the solution must therefore be digital. This means that people are constantly being undervalued, overlooked and not given the opportunity to learn in a field that is always advancing. Technology has a place of course; they are our tools. But that’s just it, they are tools. Tools do not use themselves to their own ends. We need people to use them, to check them and to maintain them. Even in digital preservation, people have a place and we need to accept that. I’m not saying that to ensure we all have a job in the future, I’m saying that because people are the ones that make the decisions, run the quality checking processes and write the documentation. Whatever digital preservation may look like in the future, it needs to have people in it. Technology alone won’t save us.

 

Research and time to learn isn’t encouraged enough

Because of the previous point, it often means that existing staff are stretched to capacity. Not even with digital preservation work necessarily, but any digital work in general. It means there’s no time to advance skills or answer complex questions. Things have to get done and that means that something has to get dropped. Unfortunately, that’s always learning and research. In a field that is always changing, our knowledge and skills have to change to. We expect paper conservators to stay up to date with the current treatments, tools and chemicals. We also expect them to rigorously test and experiment before treating any work on paper. We should expect a similar level of research and care for our digital collections. They can be damaged, altered and lost. Just because they can also be copied easily doesn’t mean they are safe from all of that. A look back into your personal digital life is likely proof enough of that. IT departments are not immune to permanent loss; many of them have yet to adopt good digital preservation practices and so are often at risk.

 

Community and collaboration are everything

In the face of resource constraints, it is always the knowledge of the community that gets things done. It’s the open, collaborative nature of a small group of people that means tools and idea are shared. Work is undertaken collectively and people are generous with their time and expertise. I’m not sure how digital preservation would advance any other way. As it is, it’s a real struggle to get decent investment in it. Even this project was built on collaboration, which underpins that it’s hard to do this in isolation. It’s sad to see that project collaboration coming to a close now; there are so many possibilities for working together in the future. And this is what draws me to digital preservation—knowing there are a lot of smarter, generous people to always learn from.

 

Do something, no matter how small

Decisions around digital preservation might be hard to make, but make them. Sometimes there’s so much to do that conversations can jump from one thing to the next with little or no focus. Pick something and do it. There will always be more to consider—more collections, more processes, more tools, more people. The problem is that sometimes all we see are all of the problems and every one of them feels incredibly urgent. But looking to tackle all of the problems at once will likely bury you. I will point back again to the resource constraints, but also to the practicality that we cannot start off doing everything. If we could, the DPOC project and projects like it would never exist. The point is: we can’t. So be strategic. Look for the most important, the quick wins, the practicable: start there. Just don’t try to do it all; you may end up doing nothing.

 

So what is next?

Now that the project is concluding, the question is: has digital preservation become business as usual at Bodleian Libraries? The answer is: we’re not quite there yet, but we’re still fighting for it. At the time of writing this post, there were are a number of technical projects starting to improve workflows. There will be more collaborative digital preservation work with the GLAM institutions.

But all of it is project work. However, the fact that there are projects still happening at all gives me hope that we can keep advocating for a longer-term, sustainable programme. This message underpins every project and every report we deliver. That is a good place to start.

Devising Your Digital Preservation Policy: Learnings from the DPOC project

On December 4th the DPOC Policy and Planning Fellows ran a joint workshop in London presenting learnings and experiences of policy writing at CUL and Bodleian Libraries. Supporting the event were also Kirsty Lingstadt (Head of the Digital Library at the University of Edinburgh) and Jenny Mitcham (Head of Good Practice at the Digital Preservation Coalition). Kirsty and Jenny talked about their experience of policy writing in other organisational settings, illustrating how policy writing must be tailored to fit specific institutional contexts but that the broad principles remain the same.

In total 30 attendees partook in the workshop which mixed presentations with round table discussions. To make the event as interactive as possible Mentimeter was used to poll attendees on their own experiences of policy writing. Although the survey only represents a small selection of organisations in the process of writing digital preservation policy, the Fellows wanted to share some of the results in the hope that it will facilitate further discussion. Feel free to use the comments section below to let the project team know if the results from the poll seem familiar (or perhaps unfamiliar).


Question: Do you know who to consult on a digital preservation policy (in your organisation)?

Most workshop participants knew who they needed to consult on digital preservation in their organisation and also had a good working relationship with them. This is the first step when starting a new policy – knowing your organisational culture and context.

Being new to their organisations, the DPOC Fellows spent a lot of time of time early on in the project reaching out to staff across the libraries. If you are also new to your institution, getting to know those who have been there a long time is an important starting point to understanding what type of policy will suit your organisation’s culture before you begin any writing.

Question: What barriers can you see to developing a digital preservation policy (in your organisation)?

‘Time’ was identified as by far the largest barriers to writing new digital preservation policy by participants. And it is true that policy development does take a lot of time if you want the resulting document to be more than ‘just a paper’ which is filed away at the end of the process.

To get staff onboard with new policy, allocating resources for policy consultation is therefore crucial and the effort involved is not always appreciated by senior management. For example, it took the Fellows between 1-2 years to develop a new digital preservation policy for their organisations, illustrating why it is important to give staff sufficient time to write policy. While policy consultation took a long time, the DPOC Fellows felt that this was a worthwhile investment for their organisations, as time spent consulting on policy was also a great outreach and learning opportunity for the organisations as a whole.

Question: Does your organisation have a policy template?

Most participants did not have an organisation wide policy template. However, templates are part of policy best practice. A policy template is a skeleton document which outlines high level sections and headlines  which should be included in every organisational policy regardless of topic – from an HR policy to a digital preservation policy, they should all follow the same structure. The purpose of having these standardised headlines is to ensure that staff can easily digest and recognise any policy at a quick glance. Templates can also enforce good document management practices.

If you are interested in finding out more, a high level policy template which was developed for the DPOC project can be requested through the DPOC blog contact form or by emailing the Digital Preservation Coalition.

Questions: Where are institutional policies publishes (in your organisation)?

Once the policy is signed off, it is time to publicise it wider. Among the workshop participants the most common places to publish policies were either on an institutional website or intranet (although there are other options listed in the word cloud).

As a word of caution, make sure that your organisation is consistent in where it publish policies and ensure that documents are versioned. The international digital preservation policy review which the Fellows undertook in 2016 (analysing 50 different policies) found that most digital preservation policies do not use any document versioning. No versioning, in combination with the proliferation of different policy publication routes in an organisation, will soon become a real issue when staff try to locate up to date documents. (Again, if your organisation has a good policy template in place you can better enforce versioning!)

One option which was listed several times in the word cloud is to publish policy in an institutional repository; this is primarily useful if you do not have a reliable records management system in your organisation. Using a repository means that you can assign a DOI to the policy for persistent referencing and also has the added benefit of becoming the clear canonical copy of the policy

Question: How long will it take to…?

Participants were asked how long (using multiples of months) they think it would take their organisations to:

  • Draft a policy
  • Have it approved
  • Begin implementation of the policy
  • See real impact and benefits in the organisation

As seen from the chart, the drafting of a policy document is only one small aspect of policy and planning work. This is important to remember if you want to avoid your policy becoming just another ‘piece of paper’ that is filed away and not looked at again after its been written. Advocacy, communication and implementation plans continue for years to come after the original document has been drafted. 


Where next…

To find out more about policy writing during the DPOC project have a look at this recent blog post from CUL’s Policy and Planning Fellow Somaya Langley and at the workshop presentation slides available through the DPC. The Fellows are also happy to take questions through the blog and encourage use of the comments section.

Memory Makers: Digital preservation skills and how to get them

The Memory Makers Conference was hosted at Amsterdam Museum in the Netherlands 29th-30th November. Bodleian Libraries’ Policy and Planning Fellow, Edith Halvarsson, attended.


The Memory Makers conference in Amsterdam brought together training providers from the private, higher education and continuing education sector to discuss digital preservation skills, how to get them (and how to retain them).

In my experience, research on skills development is often underrepresented at digital preservation conferences, and when such talks are included the attendance tend to be lower than for technology based strands. However, taking a 1.5 day deep dive into this topic is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking activities I’ve done this year and I am happy that NDE and DPC decided to highlight this area by giving it its own conference. So in this blog I wanted to summarise some of the thoughts that have stayed with me since coming back from Amsterdam

The expectation gap

‘The expectation gap’ is something which we have discussed in a roundabout way among the Fellows over the past years, but it was a presentation by Dr Sarah Higgins which really put words onto this phenomena for me. The notion of an ‘expectation gap’ also nicely frames why we need to think seriously about lifelong learning and competency frameworks.

Sarah has been teaching Information Management to Masters Students at Aberystwyth University (Wales) for almost a decade and has been observing both the development of the programme and the career trajectories of students graduating into the field. In this time there’s been a growing gap between what employers expect of students in terms of digital preservation skills and what certified MA programmes can offer.

The bodies which certify Information Management courses in the UK (CILIP and ARA) still only require minimal digital skills as part of their competency frameworks. This has made it challenging to argue for new and mandatory digital preservation related modules on UK MA programmes. MA programmes have definitely shifted to begin meeting the digital preservation challenge, but they are still at an early stage.

So while UK Information Management courses continue to frame a lot of teaching around physical collections, the expectations of digital skills from organisations hiring recent graduates from these programmes has skyrocketed. This has made the gap between reality and fantasy even larger.  There has been a growing trend for organisations to hire new graduates and expecting them to be the magic bullet; the readymade lone experts in all areas of digital preservation who do not require any further development or support ever again. Many of Sarah’s graduates who began working on digital preservation/curation/archiving projects after graduation were essentially ‘set up to fail’ – not a nice or fair place to be at in your first job.

Dr Natalie Harrower: https://twitter.com/natalieharrower/status/1068124988358709254

Developing skills frameworks

To meet the challenge of unclear competency expectations, Sharon McMeekin (Head of Training and Skills at DPC) called for continued development of skills frameworks such as DigCurV. While DigCurV has been immensely valuable (we have for example drawn on it continuously in the DPOC project), the digital preservation field has matured a lot over the past couple of years and new learnings could now be incorporated into the model. A useful new addition to DigCurV, Sharon argued, would be to create more practitioner levels which reflects the expected skills progressions over 1-10 years for new graduates entering the field.

If such frameworks were taken on by certifying bodies, it could potentially temper both unrealistic job descriptions and help staff argue for professional development opportunities.

Lifelong learning

In her talk, Sarah strongly argued that we should expect recent Information Management graduates to also require more workplace based training after graduation. A two-year MA programme is not the endpoint for learning, especially in a quickly moving and developing field. This means that ongoing learning opportunities must also be considered by hiring organisations.

It was refreshing to hear form the British Library who strongly subscribe to this idea. The British Library team teach introductory courses on digital preservation and drop in lab sessions for all library staff on a yearly basis.

Micky Lindlar: https://twitter.com/MickyLindlar/status/1068155027108306944

But the digital preservation team also engages with a wide range of training opportunities that are perhaps not considered traditional Information Management skills. Maureen Pennock (Head of Digital Preservation at the BL) argued that skills for digital preservation are not necessarily unique to the field, and can be acquired in places which you may not initially have consider. Such skills include project management, social media management, presentation delivery, and statistical analysis. Although it should be noted that Maureen also strongly stated that no one person should be expected to be an expert in all these areas at the same time.

Learning collaboratively

Another set of presentations which I really enjoyed was focused on “collaborative learning”. Puck Huijtsing (Netwerk Oorlogsbronnen) challenged why we are so attached to lecture style learning which we are familiar with from school and higher education. She argued that collaborative learning has been shown to be a successful model when training people to take on a new craft (and she believes that digital preservation is a craft). Puck went on to elaborate on Amsterdam’s strong history of craft guilds and how these taught and shared new skills, arguing that it could potentially be a more accessible and sustainable model for workplace based training.

A number of successful training models presented by the Netherland Institute for Sound and Visions then illustrated how collaborative hands-on workshops can be delivered in practices. In one workshop series delivered by the institute, participants were asked to undertake small projects which focused on discreet digital collection material which they had a pre-existing relationship with. The institutes research indicates that this model is successful in aiding retention and uptake of digital preservation and archiving skills. These are workshops which we are also keen to test out at Bodleian Libraries next year to see if they are received well by staff.

Summary

It is clear from the Memory Makers conference that there are a lot of people out there who care about learning and professional development in the digital preservation field. This blog only summarises a small section of all the excellent work that was presented over 1.5 days, and I would encourage others to look at presentation slides and the Twitter hash for the event (#MemoryMakers18) if this is a topic which interests you as well.