DPOC Project reflections

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


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

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

 

People are constantly being undervalued in favour of technological solutions

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

 

Research and time to learn isn’t encouraged enough

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

 

Community and collaboration are everything

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

 

Do something, no matter how small

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

 

So what is next?

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

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

Digital Preservation at Oxford Open Days

Oxford Fellow, Sarah, describes the DPOC team’s pop-up exhibition “Saving Digital,” held at the Radcliffe Science Library during Oxford Open Days #OxOpenDay. The post describes from the equipment and games the team showcased over the two days and some of the goals they had in mind for this outreach work.


On 27 June and 28 June, Oxford ran Open Days for prospective students. The city was alive with open doors and plenty of activity. It was the perfect opportunity for us to take our roadshow kit out and meet with prospective students with a pop-up exhibition called “Saving Digital”. The Radcliffe Science Library (RSL) on Parks Road kindly hosted the DPOC team and all of our obsolete media for two day in their lounge area.

The pop-up exhibition hosted at the RSL

We set up our table with a few goals in mind:

  • to educate prospective students about the rapid pace of technology and the concern about how we’re going to read digital data off them in the future (we educated a few parents as well!)
  • to speak with library and university staff about their digital dilemmas and what we at the digital preservation team could do about it
  • to raise awareness about the urgency and need of digital preservation in all of our lives and to inform more people about our project (#DP0C)

To achieve this, we first drew people in with two things: retro gaming and free stuff.

Last minute marketing to get people to the display. It worked!

Our two main games were the handheld game, Galaxy Invader 1000, and Frak! for the BBC Micro.

Frak! on the BBC Micro. The yellow handheld console to the right is Galaxy Invader 1000.

Galaxy Invader 1000 by CGL (1980) is a handheld game, which plays a version of Space Invaders. This game features a large multi-coloured display and 3 levels of skill. The whole game was designed to fit in 2 kilobytes of memory. 

Frak! (1984) was a game released for the BBC Micro in 1984 under the Aardvark software label. It was praised for excellent graphics and game play. In the side scrolling game, you play a caveman named Trogg. The aim of the game is to cross a series of platforms while avoiding dangers that include various monsters named Poglet and Hooter. Trogg is armed with a yo-yo for defence. 

Second, we gave them some digestible facts, both in poster form and by talking with them:

Saving Digital poster

Third, we filled the rest of the table with obsolete media and handheld devices from about the last forty years—just a small sample of what was available! This let them hold some of the media of the past, marvel over how little it could hold, but how much it could do for the time. And then we asked them how would they read the data off it today. That probably concerned parents more than their kids as several of them admitted to having important digital stuff either still on VHS or miniDV tapes, or on 3.5-inch disks! It got everyone thinking at least.

A lot of obsolete media all in one place.

Lastly, an enthusiastic team with some branded t-shirts made to emulate our most popular 1st generation badge, which was pink with a 3.5-inch disk in the middle. We gave away our last one during Open Days! But don’t worry, we have some great 2nd generation badges to collect now.

An enthusiastic team always helps. Especially if they are willing to demo the equipment.


A huge thank you to the RSL for hosting us for two days—we’ll be back on the 16th of July if you missed us and want to visit the exhibition! We’ll have a few extra retro games on hand and some more obsolete storage media!

Our poster was found on display in the RSL.

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

Advocating for digital preservation

Bodleian Libraries and Cambridge University Library are entering into the last phase of the DPOC project, where they are starting to write up business cases for digital preservation. In preparation, the Fellows attended DPC’s “advocacy briefing day” in London.  Policy and Planning Fellow, Edith, blogs about some of the highlights and lessons from the day.


This week I had the pleasure of attending DPC’s advocacy training day. It was ran by Catherine Heaney, the founder of DHR Communications, and a veteran when it comes to advocating for supporting digital heritage. Before the event I thought I had a clear idea of what advocacy means in broad terms. You invite yourself into formal meetings and try to deliver measured facts and figures which will be compelling to the people in front of you – right?

Well… not quite it turns out. Many of these assumptions were put on their head during this session. Here are my four favourite pieces of (sometimes surprising) advocacy advice from Catherine.

Tip 1: Advocacy requires tenaciousness

The scenario which was described above is what communications professionals might call “the speech” – but it is only one little part of effective advocacy. “The digital preservation speech” is important, but it is not necessarily where you will get the most buy-in for digital preservation. Research has shown that one-off communications like these are usually not effective.

In fact, all of those informal connections and conversations you have with colleagues also come under advocacy and may reap greater benefits due to their frequency. And if one of these colleagues are themselves talented at influencing others, they can be invaluable in advocating for digital preservation when you are not there in person.

Lesson learnt: you need to keep communicating the message whenever and wherever you can if you want it to seep in to peoples’ consciousness. Since digital preservation issues do not crop up that often in popular culture and the news, it is up to us to deliver, re-deliver… and then re-deliver the message if we want it to stick.

Tip 2: Do your background research

When you know that you will be interacting with colleagues and senior management, it is important to do your background research and find out what argument will most appeal to the person you are meeting. Having a bog-standard ‘speech’ about digital preservation which you pull out at all occasions is not the most effective approach. In order to make your case, the problem you are attempting to solve should also reflect the goals and the challenges which the person you are trying to advocate to are facing.

The aspects which appeal about digital preservation will be different depending on the role, concerns and responsibilities of the person you are advocating to. Are they concerned with:

  • Legal or reputational risk?
  • Financial costs and return on investment?
  • About being seen as someone at the forefront of the digital preservation fields?
  • Creating reproducible research?
  • Collecting unique collections?
  • Or perhaps about the opportunity to collaborate cross-institutionally?

Tip 3: Ensure that you have material for a “stump speech” ready

Tailoring your message to the audience is important, and this will be easier if you have material ready at hand which you can pick and choose from. Catherine suggested preparing a folder of stories, case studies, data and facts about digital preservation which you can cut and paste from to suit the occasion.

What is interesting though is the order of that list of “things to collect”:

  1. Stories
  2. Case studies
  3. Data and facts

The ranking is intentional. We tend to think that statistics and raw data will convince people, as this appeals to their logic. In fact, your argument will be stronger if your pitch starts with a narrative (a story) about WHY we need digital preservation and case studies to illustrate your point.  Catherine advises that it is then when the audience is listening that you bring out the data and facts. This approach is both more memorable and more effective in capturing your audience’s attention.

Tip 4: Personalise your follow up

This connects to tip 2 – about knowing your audience. Catherine advised that, although it may feel strange at first, writing a personalised follow up message is a very effective tool. When you do have the chance to present your case to an important group within your organisation, the follow up message can further solidify that initial pitch (again – see tip 1 about repeated communication).

By taking notes about the concerns or points that have been made during a meeting, you have the opportunity to write personalised messages which captures and refers back to the concerns raised by that particular person. The personalised message also has the additional benefit of opening up a channel for future communication.


This was just a small subsection of all the interesting things we talked about on the advocacy briefing day. For some more information have a look at the hashtag for the day #DPAdvocacy.