Planning is a verb

In her DPC webinar on October 19, Nancy McGovern (MIT Libraries) spoke about ‘Preservation Planning and Maturity Modelling’. Maturity models are a great way to measure our progress as we look to solves some of our institutions’ digital preservation issues. Without them, digital preservation would be an unending task with no benchmarks, no goals. And one of the things that stuck out in the talk were some words of wisdom from Nancy:

Planning is a verb, it is not something you can do once and you’re done.

This is something that I think sits at the heart of digital preservation: this is not something we “do” and we’re done. Technology is constantly changing and requires continual monitoring for new tools, applications, and obsolescence. This constantly shifting environment means there is no single, one-time solution to digital preservation. It is a coordinated effort between “technology, decision-making, and people.” None of these things remains constant, but are ever-changing. Decision-making tools (such as policies) and people (skills) are also the hardest part of digital preservation, because there is no one-size fits all for either one. In comparison, technology is relatively easy to manage and plan for.

Having maturity models provides the stepping stones for developing technology, decision-making, and people. If viewed all at once, the task of implementing a sustainable digital preservation programme seems unlikely, but following steps makes it manageable ad measurable. One such maturity model is The Five Organizational Stages of Digital Preservation (from Kenney & McGovern):

  1. Acknowledge: Understanding that digital preservation is a local concern;
  2. Act: Initiating digital preservation projects;
  3. Consolidate: Segueing from projects to programs;
  4. Institutionalize: Incorporating the larger environment; and
  5. Externalize: Embracing inter-institutional collaboration and dependency.

(this is just one of many maturity models available, but it was referenced in the webinar)

And when Nancy spoke about this maturity model, she stressed the importance that your organisation might reach a level 5, but it might not stay a level 5 forever. The loss of an integral staff member, a shift in technology, or even starting a new digital collection or department would shift the balance again. This discussion only further reinforced for the that digital preservation is not something you can “set and forget,” but an on-going process.

Planning is also an important function in the OAIS reference model (preservation planning sits over the entire model). It is about monitoring external environments and recommending revisions or changes where necessary. Planning is essentially the “safeguard against a constantly evolving user and technology environment” (Lavoie, 2014). Meaning that where people and technology are involved, we are facing an ever-changing future; we must continually monitor and plan in order to provide long-term access to our digital assets.

After all, planning is a verb isn’t it?

What do you think? Is digital preservation a solution you can do once and be done with or does it require ongoing support and development? Or something else entirely? Join the discussion below:

Reflecting on knowledge and skills

From the Outreach & Training perspective at iPres2016, the work of the NDSR competencies has given us much thought towards both the content and methodology of our skills and knowledge needs survey. Jaye Weatherburn’s award nominated iPres poster also reinforced our present thinking. In the poster it stated that

digital preservation is not just a system. It’s about the people, the culture, and the support networks that provide the expertise to build the robust infrastructure required to safeguard digital assets into the future to ensure reuse and reproducibility.

It was great to see that culture and organisation were included in their four distinct areas of focus for digital preservation alongside the perceived established areas of policy and infrastructure.

One of the draws of the Polonsky project was that there were three distinct roles, one of which focussed purely on engagement with its immediate designated communities and the the wider digital preservation world, which had a particular focus on people and organisational culture.

Sustainable digital preservation is not just about tools running from command lines, workflows and deep knowledge of file formats (although that is a massive component of it and are skills that can be learned!) it’s also about an awareness of the working environment and contexts in which the preservation of digital assets is needed. To make this happen, we need the people in our cultural institution to be aware of looking after these digital assets for the long term. Our particular task is to make it accessible and relatable to colleagues. Digital preservation is not something to be afraid of and we hope to strike a chord with them that perhaps this digital preservation thing isn’t as abstract as they might have first thought and is something that they already have the relevant transferable skills and attributes.

We’ll avoid the use of digital preservation buzzwords where possible but through constant review and in consultation with our institutional HR teams we’ll see what specific terms and requirements stand the test of time and what terms become a passing fad. However, until we find out what our colleagues do know and what they can do, can we then begin to give them training, support and confidence with their needs when they think about preserving cultural digital objects.

To do this, we’ve been working on a skills survey which has so far reviewed skills frameworks like DigCurV and DigCCurr, competency frameworks like CILIP and ARA as well as our own institutions and projects and papers such as PARADIGM and the follow up work done by The University of British Columbia.

When the survey template is complete, we will share with you here first on our Resource page which we’d love to get feedback on. We won’t be sharing the results of the survey until we get permission to publish an anonymised summary. If you feel moved to contribute to this discussion on what attributes, skills and competencies are needed to work in digital preservation, please get in touch or leave us a comment.

The Fellows’ routes into digital preservation

One of the important thoughts that we took away from iPres2016 is that we are not alone in trying to implement a digital preservation programme at Oxford and Cambridge: we are part of a helpful, collaborative digital preservation community. We were also struck by the variety of backgrounds conference attendees had that brought them to the digital preservation field.

Leaving a debate on the definition of digital preservation aside (we will be blogging on this in the future!), the variety of backgrounds got us thinking firstly about the skills, knowledge and competency survey that we have been tasked with. Secondly – and more importantly for this blog – about the backgrounds and experiences of the Polonsky team and what attributes each one brings to the project team. We put the following two questions to the Fellows:

  1. What background and experience do you bring to the project?
  2. What particular skills, knowledge and attributes do you bring project?

These are their thoughts:


I have worked in IT systems design and development for 20 years, recently graduating with a PhD in Information Science. I have worked with museums and archives on digitisation projects. I have knowledge of Information Retrieval that is applicable to the discovery aspects of digital preservation, but I have plenty of expertise of working with data more generally, too.


I come from a background in the Social Sciences and Archives, which has given me experience in collecting and interpreting evidence. This was the path which brought me into Digital Preservation, as I enjoy constantly learning, problem-solving and of course lovely big chunks of data.


I have a professional background in records management, archives and UK information compliance with over a decade of experience. I enjoy explaining ideas and systems to people, demystifying seemingly abstract concepts to help people develop their own skills and interests.


I bring to the field a strong background in photography, alternative processes and the management of photographic collections, physical and digital. Being in that field drew me to digital preservation; the question of “now what?” came up regularly when looking at managing born-digital and digitised photographs over time. I believe important attributes that I to bring to the field are an eagerness for life-long learning and a tenacity towards problem-solving. I’ve found that being willing to learn something new and tackle a problem logically (and with the help of Google or by asking people). Also, just “giving it a go” can go a long way when working in digital preservation.


I have a background in the arts and music and have spent over 20 years working at the nexus between creativity and technology. I am a (somewhat lapsed) sound/media artist and have worked in a number of cultural institutions across the GLAM sector in Australia. I’ve worked in a production and tech capacity in Australia and Germany on festivals and events as well as live-to-air national radio broadcasts. This has given me considerable experience in problem-solving technical issues in short time-critical situations. Basically, I’m a jill-of-all trades, mistress of none and I learn something new every day.

To draw these together, we made a word cloud to see if there were any common attributes.

Word cloud from the Fellows' thoughts.

Word cloud from the Fellows’ thoughts. Courtesy of

Apart from ‘digital’ and ‘preservation’ (as we would expect) some of the largest words in the cloud are:

  • problem-solving
  • people
  • information
  • archives
  • years

To address digital preservation in a sustainable way within our respective institutions, it would seem that a team that has the collective ability to enjoy solving problems, interacting with people as well as having varying, yet complementary, professional backgrounds and experience is a great starting point. We realise that in many organisations, assembling a team may not be practical nor have the resources available and we know that this project is very lucky in this regard. However, if you can problem-solve, interact with people in your organisations and the wider digital preservation community (they are very helpful!) you are well equipped to at least begin tackling your digital preservation challenges.

Come Join the DPOC Team!

The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford are looking for the third Polonsky Fellow (Technical Officer/Research Software Engineer) to join the team! 

As a Technical Officer/Research Software Engineer at Oxford you will undertake research and training to build upon your expertise in the technical issues surrounding digital preservation and your awareness of the tools, systems and projects that seek to address these issues. You will also develop and/or implement digital preservation applications and services within the Bodleian Libraries, contribute to the development of a business case and sustainability plan for digital preservation operations, disseminate the key findings of your work to at least one conference and submit one journal article per year based on your work in collaboration with colleagues.

If you’re interested in joining this project and want more information, apply here.

*Remember you get to work with these great team members at Oxford and Cambridge!


iPres 2016: the burning bush – audit and certification trends

Attending iPres 2016 has been a great experience and resource for the DPOC project as we begin to approach repository self-auditing activities at the University of Cambridge and Oxford. The following blog is by Policy and Planning Fellow Edith (Oxford).

It is clear from the discussions at iPres that self-auditing and certification is still a dividing issue within the community. I choose here to paraphrase another participant who likened the discussion to “a burning bush” best not touched. While hoping to not get myself too burnt in the process, I will attempt to summarise some of the themes and common experiences which emerged this week from talks, posters and informal discussions.

  • Is OAIS certification recommendations agnostic? This concern came out of the OAIS panel session from several directions – including NESTOR and the Dutch Collation on Digital Preservation. In the current manifestation of OAIS (ISO 14721:2012) the only certification standard referenced is ISO 16363. There are many ways to work towards OAIS conformance, but will this bias skew uptake of a particular path? Hearing these concerns, I tend to agree that the next OAIS version should strive to be more agnostic in its reference to certification.
  • How do we interpret (intentional) gaps in audit and certification criteria?Certification criteria should be sufficiently general to stand the test of the time and to be applicable to a variety of organisations who care for digital content. However, this results in the need to tease out what the criteria mean in our particular context before beginning auditing activities. Some interesting questions were posed by Devan Ray Donaldson from Indiana University talking about the slippery concept of “security” in current Trusted Repository Criteria. Devan’s research is very much at a planning stage – but DPOC will make sure to look out for future updates from Indiana. [Link]
  • Certification processes are by nature open to variation. It has been eye opening to hear about the challenges that colleagues who have previously worked on behalf of certifying bodies, have had in assessing organisations in a consistent manner. I look forward to hearing more about the experience of those newly trained in ISO 16919 (Requirements for Bodies Providing Audit and certification of candidate trustworthy digital repositories) over the next couple of years. How will this experience change as a result? (Perhaps a talk for iPres 2017 in Kyoto?)
  • Certification and auditing tends to result in A LOT OF documentation – you may love it or hate it. Regardless of the value that attendees put on audit and/or certification, the experience and challenges of creating extensive documentation was shared pretty much across the board. However, even among the staunchest critics of auditing and certification, there was a general consensus that documenting procedures is good for consistency and self-reflection. For me this shows that more ‘selective’ self-auditing activities continue to have strong merits as an alternative to certification.

That is me for iPres 2016. I hope to add more items to this list in a few months’ time, reflecting back on our own experiences of self-auditing at the University of Cambridge and Oxford.

iPres 2016: outreach, competencies and training

iPres 2016 in Bern, Switzerland was an excellent opportunity to talk to practitioners and managers in the digital preservation field and begin to talk about the DPOC project. Here is a round-up of useful ideas from the Outreach and Training Fellows, Lee (Cambridge) and Sarah (Oxford).

iPres was an excellent opportunity to share ideas and ask questions; we have made great contacts and returned to the UK full of new ideas to trial in the project. Here are some of the best outreach, training and skills-related learnings that we got out of iPres 2016:

  • In-house training: Keep it short and refresh it regularly. Before the conference even started, we sat down to dinner with some colleagues from the British Library and chatted about their in-house training programme. They were full of useful tips about the value of running shorter awareness training sessions. We’re hoping to have the opportunity to see some of their training in action someday.
  • Research data stewards: find the gaps and helping them understand the value of preserving unique research data. Jeremy York (University of Michigan) delivered a paper on measuring the stewardship gap in research data management. His research can be seen here. The most interesting result was the disparity between the importance of the research data and the intention to preserve it–research data was deemed of high value, but there were no plans to preserve the data beyond the project. The question we must ask ourselves is: what training and support can we offer to help researchers understand how (and why) to preserve valuable research data?
  • Technical skills in digital preservation: important or role specific? Previous NDSR residents undertook a project to establish core competencies for a digital steward. The core competencies outlined from the findings were: technical skills, professional output responsibilities communication skills, research responsibilities, project management responsibilities and knowledge of standards and best practices. The research concluded that while those were the core competencies, skills were niche and role-specific, especially technical skills. It was interesting that communication skill and knowledge of standards and best practices were two competencies often viewed as essential where technical skills were not–soft skills still matter in digital preservation. The research can be accessed here.
  • Outreach and training: changing office culture to promote digital preservation. Jaye Weatherburn’s (University of Melbourne) poster got Lee and I talking about the importance of creating the right office culture when starting a digital preservation programme. Getting the message out about the importance of safeguarding digital assets, translating current expertise into future roles and the importance of using different messages for faculty and students. Jaye said in her poster introduction that “it’s about migrating the attitude as well as the bits.”


  • Outreach: it’s an ongoing task. Workshop 12 on writing a business case had interesting discussions on outreach during breakout groups. One comment was that outreach doesn’t happen once in an organisation, but it happens all the time, forever; it happens upwards, sideways and down. Another comment was about getting staff to commit to digital preservation through showing them the value of a hybrid (physical and digital) archive; many of the skills are the same. And rather than having them in opposition, they should work together to augment each other. Many people who work with physical material (such as Conservators) will still have an important role to play with digital objects.

We’re looking forward to taking some of these learnings and applying them to our training needs assessment over the next few months. We’ll also be continuing with our outreach efforts (after all, it is always an ongoing effort) using some of the ideas suggested.

Stay tuned for more conference discussions from the Policy & Planning Fellow, Edith.