A view from the basement – a visit the DPC Glasgow

Last Monday, Sarah, Edith and Lee visited the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) at their DPC Glasgow Office on University Gardens. The aim of the visit was to understand how the DPC has and will lend support to the DPOC project. The DPOC team is very fortunate in having the DPC’s expertise, resources and services at their disposal as a supporting partner in the project and we were keen to find out more.

Plied with tea, coffee and Sharon McMeekin’s awesome lemon cake, William Kilbride gave us an overview of the DPC, explaining that that they are not-for-profit membership based organisation who used to mainly cater for the UK and Ireland. However, international agencies are now welcome (UN, NATO, ICC to name a few) and this has changed the nature of their program and the features that they offer (website, streaming, event recording). They are vendor neutral but do have a ‘Commercial Supporter’ community to help support events and raise funds for digital preservation work. They have six members of staff working from the DPC Glasgow and DPC York offices. They focus upon four main areas of:

  • Workforce Development, Training and Skills
  • Communication and Advocacy
  • Research and Practice
  • Partnerships and Sustainability

William explained the last three areas and Sharon gave us an overview of the work that she does for developing workforce skills and offering training events, especially the ‘Getting Started in Digital Preservation’ and ‘Making Progress’ workshops. The DPC also provide Leadership Scholarships to help develop knowledge and CPD in digital preservation, so please do apply for those if you are working somewhere that can spare your time out of the office but can’t fund you.

In terms of helping DPOC, the DPC can help with hosting events (such as PASIG 2017) and provide supporting training resources for our organisations. They can also help with procurement processes, auditing as well as calling on the wealth of advice gained from their six members of staff.

We left feeling that, despite working as a collaborative team with colleagues we can already bounce ideas off, we had a wider support network that we could call on, guide us and help us share our work more widely. From a skills and training perspective, the idea that they are happy to review, comment and suggest further avenues for the skills needs analysis toolkit to ensure it will benefit of the wider community is of tremendous use. Yet this is one such example, and help with procurement, policy development and auditing is also something they are willing to help the project with.

It is reassuring that the DPC are there and have plenty of experience to share in the digital preservation sphere. Tapping into networks, sharing knowledge and collaborating really is the best way to help achieve a coherent, sustainable approach to digital preservation and helps those working in it to focus on specific tasks rather than try and ‘reinvent the wheel’ when somebody else has already spent time on it.

IDCC 2017 – data champions among us

Outreach and Training Fellow, Sarah, provides some insight into some of the themes from the recent IDCC conference in Edinburgh on the 21 – 22 February. The DPOC team also presented their first poster,”Parallel Auditing of the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford’s Institutional Repositories,” which is available on the ‘Resource’ page.


Storm Doris waited to hit until after the main International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC) had ended, allowing for two days of great speakers. The conference focused on research data management (RDM) and sharing data. In Kevin Ashley’s wrap-up, he touched on data champions and the possibilities of data sharing as two of the many emerging themes from IDCC.

Getting researchers to commit to good data practice and then publish data for reuse is not easy. Many talks focused around training and engagement of researchers to improve their data management practice. Marta Teperek and Rosie Higman from Cambridge University Library (CUL) gave excellent talks on engaging their research community in RDM. Teperek found value in going to the community in a bottom-up, research led approach. It was time-intensive, but allowed the RDM team at CUL to understand the problems Cambridge researchers faced and address them. A top-down, policy driven approach was also used, but it has been a combination of the two that has been the most effective for CUL.

Higman went on to speak about the data champions initiative. Data champions were recruited from students, post-doctoral researchers, administrators and lecturers. What they had in common was their willingness to advocate for good RDM practices. Each of the 41 data champions was responsible for at least one training session year. While the data champions did not always do what the team expected, their advocacy for good RDM practice has been invaluable. Researchers need strong advocates to see the value in publishing their data – it is not just about complying with policy.

On day two, I heard from researcher and data champion Dr. Niamh Moore from University of Edinburgh. Moore finds that many researchers either think archiving their data is either a waste of time or are concerned about the future use of their data. As a data champion, she believes that research data is worth sharing and thinks other researchers should be asking,  ‘how can I make my data flourish?’. Moore uses Omeka to share her research data from her mid-90s project at the Clayoquot Sound peace camp called Clayoquot Lives. For Moore, benefits to sharing research data include:

  • using it as a teaching resource for undergraduates (getting them to play with data, which many do not have a chance to do);
  • public engagement impact (for Moore it was an opportunity to engage with the people previously interviewed at Clayoquot); and
  • new articles: creating new relationships and new research where she can reuse her own data in new ways or other academics can as well.

Opening up data and archiving leads to new possibilities. The closing keynote on day one discussed the possibilities of using data to improve the visitor experience for people at the British Museum. Data Scientist, Alice Daish, spoke of data as the unloved superhero. It can rescue organisations from questions and problems by providing answers, helping organisations make decisions, take actions and even provide more questions. For example, Daish has been able to wrangle and utilise data at the British Museum to learn about the most popular collection items on display (the Rosetta Stone came first!).

And Daish, like Teperek and Higman, touched on outreach as the only way to advocate for data – creating good data, sharing it, and using it to its fullest potential. And for the DPOC team, we welcome this advocacy; and we’d like to add to it and see that steps are also made to preserve this data.

Also, it was a great to talk about the work we have been doing and the next steps for the project—thanks to everyone who stopped by our poster!

Oxford Fellows (From left: Sarah, Edith, James) holding the DPOC poster out front of the appropriately named “Fellows Entrance” at the Royal College of Surgeons.

DPC Student Conference – What I Wish I Knew Before I Started

At the end of January, I went to the Chancellor’s Hall at the University of London’s Art Deco style Senate House. Near to the entrance of the Chancellor’s Hall was Room 101. Rumours circulated amongst the delegates keenly awaiting the start of the conference that the building and the room were the inspiration for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Instead of facing my deepest and darkest digital preservation fears in Senate House, I was keen to see and hear what the leading digital preservation trainers and invited speakers at different stages of their careers had to say. For the DPOC project, I wanted to see what types of information were included in introductory digital preservation training talks, to witness the styles of delivery and what types of questions the floor would raise to see if there were any obvious gaps in the delivery. For the day’s programme, presenters’ slides and Twitter Storify, may I recommend that you visit the DPC webpage for this event:

http://www.dpconline.org/events/past-events/wiwik-2017

The take away lesson from the day, is just do something, don’t be afraid to start. Sharon McMeekin showed us how much the DPC can help (see their new website, it’s chock full of digital preservation goodness) and Steph Taylor from CoSense showed us that you can achieve a lot in digital preservation just through keeping an eye on emerging technologies and that you spend most of your time advocating that digital preservation is not just backing up. Steph also reinforced to the student delegation that you can approach members of the digital preservation community, they are all very friendly!

From the afternoon session, Dave Thompson reminded those assembled that we also need to think about the information age that we live in, how people use information, how they are their own gatekeepers to their digital records and how recordkeepers need to react to these changes, which will require a change in thinking from traditional recordkeeping theory and practice. As Adrian Brown put it for digital archivists, “digital archivists are archivists with superpowers”. One of those superpowers is the ability to adapt to your working context and the technological environment. Digital preservation is a constantly changing field and the practitioner needs to be able to adapt and change to the environment around them in a chameleon like manner to get their institution’s work preserved. Jennifer Febles reminded us that is also OK to say that “you don’t know” when training people, you can go away and learn or even learn from other colleagues. As for the content of the day, there were no real gaps, the day programme was spot on as far as I could tell from the delegates.

Whilst reflecting on the event on the journey back on the train (and whilst simultaneously being packed into the stifling hot carriage like a sweaty sardine), the one thing that I really wanted to find out was what the backgrounds of the delegates were. More specifically, what ‘information schools’ they were attending, what courses they were undertaking, how much their modules concerned digital recordkeeping and their preservation, and, most importantly, what they are being taught in those modules.

My thoughts then drifted towards thinking of those who have been given the label of ‘digital preservation experts’. They have cut their digital preservation teeth after their formal qualifications and training in an ostensibly different subject. Through a judicious application and blending of discipline-specific learning, learning about related fields they then apply this learning to their specific working context. Increasingly, in the digital world, those from a recordkeeping background need to embrace computer science skills and applications, especially for those where coding and command line operation is not a skill they have been brought up with. We seem to be at a point where the leading digital preservation practitioners are plying their trade (as they should) and not teaching their trade in a formal education setup. A very select few are doing both but if we pulled practitioners into formal digital preservation education programmes, would we then drain the discipline of innovative practice? Should digital preservation skills (which DigCurV has done well to define) be better suited to one big ‘on the job’ learning programme rather than more formal programmes. A mix of both would be my suggestion but this discussion will never close.

Starting out in digital preservation may seem terribly daunting, with so much to learn as there is so much going on. I think that the ‘information schools’ can equip students with the early skills and knowledge but from then on, the experience and skills is learned on the job. The thing that makes the digital preservation community standout is that people are not afraid to share their knowledge and skills for the benefit of preserving cultural heritage for the future.

Data reproducibility, provenance capture and preservation

An update from the Cambridge Fellows about their visit to the Cambridge Computer Laboratory to learn about the team’s research on provenance metadata.


In amongst preparing reports for the powers that be and arranging vendor meetings, Dave and Lee took a trip over to the William Gates Building which houses the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory. The purpose of the visit was to find out about the Digital Technology Group’s  projects from one of their Senior Research Associates, Dr. Ripduman Sohan. 

The particular project was the FRESCO project which stands for Fabric For Reproducible Computing. You can find out more about the strands of this project here: https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/research/dtg/fresco. The link to the poster is especially useful and clearly and succintly captures the key points of the meeting far better than my meeting notes.

Cambridge Computer Laboratory - FRESCO Poster

FRESCO Poster. Image credit: Cambridge Computer Laboratory.

The discussion on provenance was of interest to me coming from an recordkeeping background and hearing it discussed in computer science terms. What he was talking about and what archivists do really wasn’t a million miles apart – just that the provenance capture on the data happens in nanoseconds on mind blowing amounts of data.

Rip’s approach, to my ears at least, was refreshing. He believes that computer scientists should start to listen to, move across into and understand ‘other’ domains like the humanities. Computer science should be ‘computing for the future of the planet’ and not a subject that should impose itself on other disciplines which creates a binary choice of the CompSci way or the highway. This is so they can use their computer science skills to help both future research and the practitioners working with humanities information and data.

The things we find…

Sarah shares some finds from Edith’s Digitized image survey of the Bodleian Libraries’ many digitization projects and initiatives over the years.


We’ve been digitizing our collections for a long time. And that means we have a lot of things, in a lot of places. Part of the Policy & Planning Fellow’s task is to find them, count them, and make sure we’re looking after them. That includes making decisions to combat the obsolescence of the hardware they are stored on, the software they rely on (this includes the website that has been designed to display them), and the files themselves so they do not become victim to bit rot.

At Oxford, Edith has been hard at work searching, counting, emailing, navigating countless servers and tape managers, and writing up the image survey report. But while she has been hard at work, she has been sharing some of her best finds with the team and I thought it was time we share them with you.

Below are some interesting finds from Edith’s image survey work. Some of them a real gems:

What? a large and apparently hungry dragon from Oracula, folio 021v (Shelfmark: Barocci 170) Found? On the ODL (Oxford Digital Library) site here.

What? Toby the Sapient Pig. Found? On the Bodleian Treasures website. Currently on display in the Treasures gallery at the Weston library and open to the public. The digital version is available 24/7.

What? A very popular and beautiful early manuscript: an illustrated guide to Oxford University and its colleges, prepared for Queen Elizabeth I in 1566. This page is of the Bodleian Libraries’ Divinity School. Found? On the ODL (Oxford Digital Library) site here.

What? Corbyn in the early years (POSTER 1987-23). Found? Part of the CPA Poster Collection here.

What? And this brilliant general election poster (POSTER 1963-04). Found? Part of the CPA Poster Collection here.

What? Cosmographia, 1482, a map of the known World (Auct. P 1.4). Found? In Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts here.

What? Gospels, folio 28v (Auct. D. 2.16). Found? Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts here.

There are just a few of the wonderful and weird finds in our rich and diverse collections. One thing is certain, digitized collections provide hours of discovery to anyone with a computer and Internet access. It is one of the most exciting things about digitization–access to almost anyone, anywhere.

Of course providing access means preserving the digital images. Knowing what we have and where we have it, is one step to ensuring that they will be preserved for future access and discovery of the beautiful, the weird, and the wonderful.