Training begins: personal digital archiving

Outreach & Training Fellow, Sarah, has officially begun training and capacity building with session on personal digital archiving at the Bodleian Libraries. Below Sarah shares how the first session went and shares some personal digital archiving tips.


Early Tuesday morning and the Weston Library had just opened to readers. I got to town earlier than usual, stopping to get a Melbourne-style flat white at one of my favourite local cafes – to get in me in the mood for public speaking. By 9am I was in the empty lecture theatre, fussing over cords, adjusting lighting and panicking of the fact I struggled to log in to the laptop.

At 10am, twenty-one interested faces were seated with pens at the ready; there was nothing else to do but take a deep breath and begin.

In the 1.5 hour session, I covered the DPOC project, digital preservation and personal digital archiving. The main section of the training was learning about personal digital archiving, preservation lifecycle and the best practice steps to follow to save your digital stuff!

The steps of the Personal Digital Archiving & Preservation Lifecycle are intended to help with keeping your digital files organised, findable and accessible over time. It’s not prescriptive advice, but it is a good starting point for better habits in your personal and work lives. Below are tips for every stage of the lifecycle that will help build better habits and preserve your valuable digital files.

Keep Track and Manage:

  • Know where your digital files are and what digital files you have: make a list of all of the places you keep your digital files
  • find out what is on your storage media – check the label, read the file and folder names, open the file to see the content
  • Most importantly: delete or dispose of things you no longer need.
    • This includes: things with no value, duplicates, blurry images, previous document versions (if not important) and so on.

Organise:

  • Use best practice for file naming:
    • No spaces, use underscores _ and hyphens – instead
    • Put ‘Created Date’ in the file name using yyyymmdd format
    • Don’t use special characters <>,./:;'”\|[]()!@£$%^&*€#`~
    • Keep the name concise and descriptive
    • Use a version control system for drafts (e.g. yyyymmdd_documentname_v1.txt)
  • Use best practice for folder naming;
    • Concise and descriptive names
    • Use dates where possible (yyyy or yyyymmdd)
    • keep file paths short and avoid a deep hierarchy
    • Choose structures that are logical to you and to others
  • To rename large groups of image files, consider using batch rename software

Describe:

  • Add important metadata directly into the body of a text document
    • creation date & version dates
    • author(s)
    • title
    • access rights & version
    • a description about the purpose or context of the document
  • Create a README.txt file of metadata for document collections
    • Be sure to list the folder names and file names to preserve the link between the metadata and the text file
    • include information about the context of the collection, dates, subjects and relevant information
    • this is a quick method for creating metadata around digital image collections
  • Embed the metadata directly in the file
  • for image and video: be sure to add subjects, location and a description of the trip or event
  • Add tags to documents and images to aid discoverability
  • Consider saving the ‘Creation Date’ in the file name, a free text field in the metadata, in the document header or in a README text file if it is important to you. In some cases transferring the file (copying to new media, uploading to cloud storage) will change the creation date and the original date will be lost. The same goes for saving as a different file type. Always test before transfer or ‘Save As’ actions or record the ‘Creation Date’ elsewhere.

Store:

  • Keep two extra backups in two geographically different locations
  • Diversify your backup storage media to protect against potential hardware faults
  • Try to save files in formats better suited to long-term access (for advice on how to choose file formats, visit Stanford University Libraries)
  • refresh your storage media every three to five years to protect against loss of hardware failure
  • do annual spot checks, including checking all backups. This will help check for any loss, corruption or damaged backups. Also consider checking all of the different file types in your collection, to ensure they are still accessible, especially if not saved in a recommended long-term file format.

Even I can admit I need better personal archiving habits. How many photographs are still on my SD cards, waiting for transfer, selection/deletion and renaming before saving in a few choice safe backup locations? The answer is: too many. 

Perhaps now that my first training session is over, I should start planning my personal side projects. I suspect clearing my backlog of SD cards is one of them.

Useful resources on personal digital archiving:

DPC Technology Watch Report, “Personal digital archiving” by Gabriela Redwine

DPC Case Note, “Personal digital preservation: Photographs and video“, by Richard Wright

Library of Congress “Personal Archiving” website, which includes guidance on preserving specific digital formats, videos and more

 

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.

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.

The other place

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The Cambridge team visited Oxford last week. Whilst there won’t be anything of a technical nature in this post, it is worth acknowledging that building and developing a core team for sustainable digital preservation is just as important a function as tools and technical infrastructure.


One of the first reactions we get when we talk about DPOC and its collaborative nature between Oxford and Cambridge is “how on earth do you get anything done?” given the perceived rivalry between the two institutions. “Surprisingly well, thank you” tends to be our answer. Sure, due to the collaborative (and human) nature of any project, there will be times when work doesn’t run parallel and we don’t immediately agree on an approach, but we’ve not let historical rivalry get in the way of working together.

To keep collaboration going, we usually meet on a Wednesday huddled around our respective laptops to participate in a ‘Team Skype’. As a change from this, the Cambridge people (Dave, Lee, Somaya, Suzanne, and Tuan) travelled over to see the Oxford people (Edith, Michael, and Sarah) for two days of valuable face to face meetings and informative talks. The Fellows travelled together; knowing we’d be driving through the rush hour on an east to west traverse, we left a bit earlier. What we hadn’t accounted for was a misbehaving satnav (see below), but it’s the little things like this that make teams bond too. We arrived half an hour before the start for an informal catch-up with Sarah, Edith, and Michael. Such time and interaction is very important to keep the team gelled together.

Satnav misbehaving complicating what is usually a simple left turn at a roundabout. Image credit: Somaya Langley.

Satnav misbehaving, complicating what is usually a simple left turn at a roundabout. Image credit: Somaya Langley.

A team meeting in the Osney One Boardroom formally started the day at 11am. It continued as a working lunch as we had plenty to discuss! We then had a fascinating insight into the developers’ aspects of how materials are ingested into the ORA repository from Michael Davis, followed by an overview from Sarah Barkla on how theses are deposited and their surrounding rights issues. Breaking for a cup of tea and team photo, the team then had split sessions; Sarah and Lee reviewed skills survey work whilst Dave, Edith, and Somaya discussed rationale and approaches to collections auditing.

Thursday saw the continuation of working in smaller teams. Sarah, Lee, and Michael had meetings to discuss PASIG 2017 organisation details. Dave, Edith, and Somaya (later joined by Michael) discussed their joint work before having a talk from Amanda Flynn and David Tomkins on open access and research data management.

Lunchtime heralded the time to board Oxford University’s minibus service to the 14th century Vault Café, St Mary’s Church for a tasty lunch (communal eating and drinking is very important for team building). We then went to the Weston Library to discuss Dave’s digital preservation pattern language over cake in the Weston’s spectacular Blackwell Hall and then on up to the BEAM (Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts) Lab (a fantastically tidy room with a FRED and many computers) to see and hear Susan Thomas, Matthew Neely, and Rachel Gardner talk about, show, and discuss BEAM’s processes. From a recordkeeping point of view, it was both comforting and refreshing to see that despite working in the digital realm, the archival principles around selection, appraisal, and access rights issues remain constant.

View from the BEAM Lab

The end of the rainbow on the left as viewed from the BEAM lab in the Weston Library. Image credit: Somaya Langley.

The mix of full team sessions, breaking into specialisms, joining up again for talks, and informal talks over tea breaks and lunches was a successful blend of continually building team relationships and contributing to progress. Both teams came away from the two days with reinforced ideas, new ideas, and enhanced clarity of continuing work and aims to keep all aspects of the digital preservation programme on track.

We don’t (and can’t) work in a bubble when it comes to digital preservation and the more that we can share the various components that make up ‘digital preservation’ and collaborate, the better contribution the team can make towards interested communities.

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The DP0C team assembled together on day one in Oxford.

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:

Dave

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.

Edith

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.

Lee

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.

Sarah

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.

Somaya

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 wordle.net.

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.