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.

Cambridge University Libraries inaugural Digital Preservation Policy

The inaugural Cambridge University Libraries Digital Preservation Policy has been published last week. Somaya Langley (Cambridge Policy & Planning Fellow) provides some insight into the policy development process and announces a policy event in London, presented in collaboration with Edith (Oxford Policy & Planning Fellow) to be held in early December 2018.


In December 2016, I started the digital preservation policy development process for Cambridge University Library (CUL), which has finally culminated in a published policy.

Step one

Commencing with a ‘quick and dirty’ policy gap analysis at CUL, what I discovered was not so much that there were some gaps in their existing policy landscape but rather that there was a dearth of much-needed policies. The gap analysis at CUL found that a few key policies did exist for different audiences (some intended to guide CUL, some to guide researchers and some meant for all staff and researchers working at the University of Cambridge). While my counterpart at Oxford found there was duplication in their policies across Bodleian Libraries and the University of Oxford, I mostly found chasms.

Next step

The second step in the policy development process was attempting to meet an immediate need from staff, by adding some “placeholder” digital preservation statements into the Collection Care and Conservation Policy that was currently under review. In the longer term, while it might be ideal to combine a preservation policy into one (encompassing the conservation and preservation of physical and digital collection items), CUL’s digital preservation maturity and skill capabilities are too low at present. Focus needed to be really drawn to how to manage digital content, hence the need for a separate Cambridge University Libraries Digital Preservation Policy.

That said, like everything else I’ve been doing at Cambridge, it needed to be addressed holistically. And policy is no exception. Being able to undertake about two full weeks of work (spanning several months in early 2017) contributing to the review of the Collection Care and Conservation Policy has meant including some statements in this policy that will support better care for digital (and audiovisual) content still remaining on carriers (that are yet to be transferred).

Collaborative development

Then in June 2017 we moved onto undertaking policy development collaboratively. Part of this was to do an international digital preservation policy review – looking at dozens of different policies (and some strategies). Edith wrote about the policy development process back in middle of last year.

The absolute lion’s share of the work was carried out by my Oxford counterparts, Edith and Sarah. Due to other work priorities, I didn’t have much available time during this stage. This is why it is so important to have a team – whether this is a co-located team or distributed across an organisation or multiple organisations – when working in the digital preservation space. I really can’t thank them enough for carrying the load for this task.

Policy template

My contribution was to develop a generic policy template, for use in both our organisations. For those that know me, you will know I prefer to ‘borrow and adapt’ rather than reinvent the wheel. So I used the layout of policies from a previous workplace and constructed a template for use by CUL and the Bodleian Libraries. I was particularly keen to ensure what I developed was generic, so that it could be used for any type of policy development in future.

This template has now been provided to the Digital Preservation Coalition, who will make it available with other documents in the coming years – so that some of this groundwork doesn’t have to be carried out by every other organisation still needing to do digital preservation policy (or other policy) development. We found in our international digital preservation maturity and resourcing survey (another blog post on this is still to follow), that there’s still at least 42% of organisations internationally, that do not have a digital preservation policy.

Who has a digital preservation policy?

What next?

Due to other work priorities, drafting the digital preservation policy didn’t properly commence until earlier this year. But by this point I had a good handle on my organisation’s specific:

  • Challenges and issues related to digital content (not just preservation and management concerns)
  • High-level ‘profile’ of digital collections, right across all content ‘classes’
  • Gaps in policy, standards, procedures and guidelines (PSPG) as well as strategy
  • Appreciation of a wide-range of digital preservation policies (internationally)
  • Digital preservation maturity (holistic, not just technical) – based on maturity assessments using several digital preservation maturity models
  • Governance (related to policy and strategy)
  • Language relevant to my organisation
  • Responsibilities across the organisation
  • Relevant legislation (UK/EU)

This formed my approach of how to draft the digital preservation policy, that would meet CUL’s needs.

Approach

I realised that CUL required a comprehensive policy, that would fill the many gaps that ideally other policies would cover. I should note that there are many ways of producing a policy, and it does have to be tailored to meet the needs of your organisation. (You can compare with Edith’s digital preservation policy for the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford.)

The next steps involved:

  • Gathering requirements (this had already taken place during 2017)
  • Setting out a high-level structure/list of points to address
  • Defining the stakeholder group membership (and ways of engaging with them)
  • Setting the frame of the task ahead
  • Agreeing on the scope (this changed from ‘Cambridge University Library’ to ‘Cambridge University Libraries’ – encompassing CUL’s affiliate and dependent libraries‘)

Then came the iterative process of:

  1. Drafting policy statements and principles
  2. Meeting with the stakeholder group and discussing the draft
  3. Gathering feedback on the policy draft (internally and externally)
  4. Incorporating feedback
  5. Circulating a new version of the draft
  6. Developing associated documentation (to support the policy)

Once a final version had been reached, this was followed by the approvals and ratification process.

What do we have?

Last week, the inaugural Cambridge University Libraries Digital Preservation Policy was published (which was not without a few more hurdles).

It has been an ‘on again, off again’ process that has taken 23 months in total. Now we can say that for CUL and the University of Cambridge, that:

“Long-term preservation of digital content is essential to the University’s mission of contributing to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research.”

Which compliments some of our other CUL policies.

What now?

This is never the end of a policy process. Policy should be a ‘live and breathing’ process, with the policy document itself purely being there to keep a record of the agreed upon decisions and principles.

So, of course there is more to do. “But what’s that?”, I hear you say.

Join us

There is so much more that Edith and I would like to share with you about our policy development journey over the past two years of the Digital Preservation at Oxford and Cambridge (DPOC) project.

So much so that we’re running an event in London on Tuesday 4th December 2018 on Devising Your Digital Preservation Policy, hosted by the DPC. (There is one seat left – if you’re quick, that could be you).

We’re also lucky to be joined by two ‘provocateurs’ for the day:

  • Kirsty Lingstadt, Head of Digital Library and Deputy Director of Library and University Collections, University of Edinburgh
  • Jenny Mitcham, Head of Good Practice and Standards, Digital Preservation Coalition (who has just landed in her new role – congrats & welcome to Jenny!)

There is so much more I could say about policy development in relation to digital content, but I’ll leave it there. I do hope you get to hear Edith and I wax lyrical about this.

Thank-yous

Finally, I must thank my Cambridge Polonsky team members, Edith Halvarsson (my Oxford counterpart), plus Paul Wheatley and William Kilbride from the DPC. Policy can’t be developed in a void and their contributions and feedback have been invaluable.

Project update

A project update from Edith Halvarsson, Policy and Planning Fellow at Bodleian Libraries. 


Ms Arm.e.1, Folio 23v

Bodleian Libraries’ new digital preservation policy is now available to view on our website, after having been approved by Bodleian Libraries’ Round Table earlier this year.

The policy articulates Bodleian Libraries’ approach and commitment to digital preservation:

“Bodleian Libraries preserves its digital collections with the same level of commitment as it has preserved its physical collections over many centuries. Digital preservation is recognized as a core organizational function which is essential to Bodleian Libraries’ ability to support current and future research, teaching, and learning activities.”

 

Click here to read more of Bodleian Libraries’ policies and reports.

In other related news we are currently in the process of ratifying a GLAM (Gardens, Libraries and Museums) digital preservation strategy which is due for release after the summer. Our new digitization policy is also in the pipelines and will be made publicly available. Follow the DPOC blog for future updates.

Gathering the numbers: a maturity and resourcing survey for digital preservation

The ability to compare ourselves to peer institutions is key when arguing the case for digital preservation within our own organisations. However, finding up-to-date and correct information is not always straight forward.

The Digital Preservation at Oxford and Cambridge (DPOC) project has joined forces with the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) to gather some of the basic numbers that can assist staff in seeking to build a business case for digital preservation in their local institution.

We need your input to make this happen!

The DPOC and the DPC have developed a survey aimed at gathering basic data about maturity levels, staff resources, and the policy and strategy landscapes of institutions currently doing or considering digital preservation activities. (The survey intentionally does not include questions about the type or size of the data organisations are required to preserve.)

Completing the survey will only take 10-20 minutes of your time, and will help us better understand the current digital preservation landscape. The survey can be taken at: https://cambridge.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_brWr12R8hMwfIOh

Deadline for survey responses is: Thursday 31 May 2018.

For those wanting to know upfront what questions are asked in the survey – here is the full set of Survey Questions (PDF). Please keep in mind the survey is interactive and you may not see all of the questions when filling this in online (as the questions only appear in relation to your previous responses). Responses must be submitted through the online survey.

Anonymised data gathered as part of this maturity and resourcing survey will be made available via this DPOC website.

For any questions about the survey and its content, please contact: digitalpreservation@lib.cam.ac.uk

Policy ramblings

For the second stage of the DPOC project Oxford and Cambridge have started looking at policy and strategy development. As part of the DPOC deliverables, the Policy and Planning Fellows will be collaborating with colleagues to produce a digital preservation policy and strategy for their local institutions. Edith (Policy and Planning Fellow at Oxford) blogs about what DPOC has been up to so far.


Last Friday I met with Somaya (Policy and Planning Fellow) and Sarah (Training and Outreach Fellow) at the British Library in London. We spent the day discussing review work which DPOC has done of digital preservation policies so far. The meeting also gave us a chance to outline an action plan for consulting stakeholders at CUL and Bodleian Libraries on future digital preservation policy development.

Step 1: Policy review work
Much work has already gone into researching digital preservation policy development [see for example the SCAPE project and OSUL’s policy case study]. As considerable effort has been exerted in this area, we want to make sure we are not reinventing the wheel while developing our own digital preservation policies. We therefore started by reading as many digital preservation policies from other organisations as we could possibly get our hands on. (Once we ran out of policies in English, I started feeding promising looking documents into Google Translate with a mixed bag of results.) The policy review drew attention to aspects of policies which we felt were particular successful, and which could potentially be re-purposed for the local CUL and Bodleian Libraries contexts.

My colleague Sarah helped me with the initial policy review work. Between the two of us we read 48 policies dating from 2008-2017. However, determining which documents were actual policies was trickier than we had first anticipated. We found that documents named ‘strategy’ sometimes read as policy, and documents named policy sometimes read as more low level procedures. For this reason, we decided to add another 12 strategy documents to the review which had strong elements of policy in them. This brought us up to a round 60 documents in total.

So we began reading…. But we soon found that once you are on your 10th policy of the day, you start to get them muddled up. To better organise our review work, we decided to put them into a classification system developed by Kirsten Snawder (2011) and adapted by Madeline Sheldon (2013). Snawder and Sheldon identified nineteen common topics from digital preservation policies. The topics range from ‘access and use’ to ‘preservation planning’ [for the full list of topics, see Sheldon’s article on The Signal from 2013]. I was interested in seeing how many policies would make direct reference to the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model, so I added this in as an additional topic to the original nineteen identified by Snawder and Sheldon.

Reviewing digital preservation policies written between 2008-2017

Step 2: Looking at findings
Interestingly, after we finished annotating the policy documents we did not find a correlation between covering all of Snawder and Sheldon’s nineteen topics and having what we perceived as an effective policy. Effective in this context was defined as the ability of the policy to clearly guide and inform preservation decisions within an organisation. In fact, the opposite was more common as we judged several policies which had good coverage of topics from the classification system to be too lengthy, unclear, and sometimes inaccessible due to heavy use of digital preservation terminology.

In terms of OAIS, another interesting finding was that 33 out of 60 policies made direct reference to the OAIS. In addition to these 33, several of the ones which did not make an overt reference to the model still used language and terminology derived from it.

So while we found that the taxonomy was not able to guide us on which policy topics were an absolute essential in all circumstances, using it was a good way of arranging and documenting our thoughts.

Step 3: Thinking about guiding principles for policy writing
What this foray into digital preservation policies has shown us is that there is no ‘one fits all’ approach or a magic formula of topics which makes a policy successful. What works in the context of one institution will not work in another. What ultimately makes a successful policy also comes down to communication of the policy and organisational uptake. However, there are number of high level principles which the three of us all felt strongly about and which we would like to guide future digital preservation policy development at our local institutions.

Principle 1: Policy should be accessible to a broad audience. Contrary to findings from the policy review, we believe that digital preservation specific language (including OAIS) should be avoided at policy level if possible. While reviewing policy statements we regularly asked ourselves:

“Would my mother understand this?”

If the answer is yes, the statement gets to stay. If it is no, maybe consider re-writing it. (Of course, this does not apply if your mother works in digital preservation.)

Principle 2: Policy also needs to be high-level enough that it does not require constant re-writing in order to make minor procedural changes. In general, including individuals’ names or prescribing specific file formats can make a policy go out of date quickly. It is easier to change these if they are included in lower level procedures and guidelines.

Principle 3: Digital preservation requires resources. Getting financial commitment to invest in staff at policy level is important. It takes time to build organisation expertise in digital preservation, but losing it can happen a lot quicker. Even if you choose to outsource several aspects of digital preservation, it is important that staff have skills which enables them to understand and critically assess the work of external digital preservation service providers.

What are your thoughts? Do you have other principles guiding digital preservation policy development in your organisations? Do you agree or disagree with our high-level principles?

The digital preservation gap(s)

Somaya’s engaging, reflective piece identifies gaps in the wider digital preservation field and provides insightful thoughts as to how the gaps can be narrowed or indeed closed.


I initially commenced this post as a response to the iPres 2016 conference and an undercurrent that caught my attention there – however, really it is a broader comment on field of digital preservation itself. This post ties into some of my thoughts that have been brewing for several years about various gaps I’ve discovered in the digital preservation field. As part of the Polonsky Digital Preservation Project, I hope we will be able to do some of the groundwork to begin to address a number of these gaps.

So what are these gaps?

To me, there are many. And that’s not to say that there aren’t good people working very hard to address them – there are. (I should note that these people often do this work as part of their day jobs as well as evenings and weekends.)

Specifically, the gaps (at least the important ones I see) are:

  • Silo-ing of different areas of practice and knowledge (developers, archivists etc.)
  • Lack of understanding of working with born-digital materials at the coalface (including managing donor relationships)
  • Traditionally-trained archivists, curators and librarians wanting a ‘magic wand’ to deal with ‘all things digital’
  • Tools to undertake certain processes that do not currently exist (or do not exist for the technological platform or limitation archivists, curators, and librarians are having to work with)
  • Lack of existing knowledge of command line and/or coding skills in order to run the few available tools (skills that often traditionally-trained archivists, curators, and librarians don’t have under their belt)
  • Lack of knowledge of how to approach problem-solving

I’ve sat at the nexus between culture and technology for over two decades and these issues don’t just exist in the field of digital preservation. I’ve worked in festival and event production, radio broadcast and as an audiovisual tech assistant. I find similar issues in these fields too. (For example, the sound tech doesn’t understand the type of music the musician is creating and doesn’t mix it the right way, or the artist requesting the technician to do something not technically possible.) In the digital curation and digital preservation contexts, effectively I’ve been a translator between creators (academics, artists, authors, producers etc.), those working at the coalface of collecting institutions (archivists, curators and librarians) and technologists.

To me, one of the gaps was brought to the fore and exacerbated during the workshop: OSS4Pres 2.0: Building Bridges and Filling Gaps which built on the iPres 2015 workshop “Using Open-Source Tools to Fulfill Digital Preservation Requirements”. Last year I’d contributed my ideas prior to the workshop, however I couldn’t be there in person. This year I very much wanted to be part of the conversation.

What struck me was the discussion still began with the notion that digital preservation commences at the point where files are in a stable state, such as in a digital preservation system (or digital asset management system). Appraisal and undertaking data transfers wasn’t considered at all, yet it is essential to capture metadata (including technical metadata) at this very early point. (Metadata captured at this early point may turn into preservation metadata in the long run.)

I presented a common real-world use case/user story in acquiring born-digital collections: A donor has more than one Mac computer, each running different operating systems. The archivist needs to acquire a small selection of the donor’s files. The archivist cannot install any software onto the donor’s computers, ask them to install any software and only selected the files must be collected – hence, none of the computers can be disk imaged.

The Mac-based tools that exist to do this type of acquisition rely on Java software. Contemporary Mac operating systems don’t come with Java installed by default. Many donors are not competent computer users. They haven’t installed this software as they have no knowledge of it, need for it, or literally wouldn’t know how to. I put this call out to the Digital Curation Google Groups list several months ago, before I joined the Polonsky Digital Preservation Project. (It followed on from work that myself and my former colleagues at the National Library of Australia had undertaken to collect born-digital manuscript archives, having first run into this issue in 2012.) The response to my real-world use case at iPres was:

This final option is definitely not possible in many circumstances, including when collecting political archives from networked environments inside government buildings (another real-world use case I’ve had first-hand experience of). The view was that anything else isn’t possible or is much harder (yes, I’m aware). Nevertheless, this is the reality of acquiring born-digital content, particularly unpublished materials. It demands both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills in equal parts.

The discussion at iPres 2016 brought me back to the times I’ve previously thought about how I could facilitate a way for former colleagues to spend “a day in someone else’s shoes”. It’s something I posed several times when working as a Producer at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Archivists have an incredible sense of how to manage the relationship with a donor who is handing over their life’s work, ensuring the donor entrusts the organisation with the ongoing care of their materials. However traditionally trained archivists, curators and librarians typically don’t have in-depth technical skillsets. Technologists often haven’t witnessed the process of liaising with donors first-hand. Perhaps those working in developer and technical roles, which is typically further down the workflow for processing born-digital materials need opportunities to observe the process of acquiring born-digital collections from donors. Might this give them an increased appreciation for the scenarios that archivists find themselves in (and must problem-solve their way out of)? Conversely, perhaps archivists, curators and librarians need to witness the process of developers creating software (especially the effort needed to create a small GUI-based tool for collecting born-digital materials from various Mac operating systems) or debug code. Is this just a case of swapping seats for a day or a week? Definitely sharing approaches to problem-solving seems key.

Part of what we’re doing as part of the Polonsky Digital Preservation Project is to start to talk more holistically, rather than the term ‘digital preservation’ we’re talking about ‘digital stewardship’. Therefore, early steps of acquiring born-digital materials aren’t overlooked. As the Policy and Planning Fellow at Cambridge University Library, I’m aware I can affect change in a different way. Developing policy –  including technical policies (for example, the National Library of New Zealand’s Preconditioning Policy, referenced here) – means I can draw on my first-hand experience of acquiring born-digital collections with a greater understanding of what it takes to do this type of work. For now, this is the approach I need to take and I’m looking forward to the changes I’ll be able to influence.


Comments on Somaya’s piece would be most welcome. There’s plenty of grounds for discussion and constructive feedback will only enhance the wider, collaborative approach to addressing the issue of preserving digital content.