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

 

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.

Post-holiday project update

You may be forgiven for thinking that the DPOC project has gone a little quiet since the festive period. In this post, Sarah summarises the work that continues at a pace.


The Christmas trees have been recycled, the decorations returned to attics or closets (or lofts and cupboards… – ed.), and the last of the mince pies have been eaten. It is time to return to project work and face the reality that we are six months into the DPOC project. That leaves us one and a half years to achieve our aims and bring useful tools and recommendations to Cambridge, Oxford, and the wider digital preservation community. This of course means we’re neck-deep in reporting at the moment, so things have seemed a bit quiet.

So what does that mean for the project at the moment?

Myscreen

A view of my second screen at the moment. The real challenge is remembering which file I am editing. (Image credit: Sarah Mason)

At both Cambridge and Oxford, all Fellows are working on drafting collection audit reports and reviewing various policies. The Outreach & Training Fellows are disseminating their all staff awareness survey and will be compiling the results from it in February. At Oxford, semi-structured interviews with managers and practitioners working with digital collections is in full swing. At Cambridge, the interviews will start after the awareness survey results have been analysed. This is expected to last through until March – holidays and illnesses willing! The Oxford team is getting their new Technical Fellow, James, up to speed with the project. Cambridge’s Technical Fellow is speaking with many vendors and doing plenty of analysis on the institutional repository.

For those of you attending IDCC in Edinburgh in February, look for our poster on our TRAC and skills audits on our institutional repositories. Make sure to stop by to chat to us about our methodology and early results!

We’re also going to visit colleagues at a number of institutions around the UK over the next few months, seeing some technical systems in action and learning about their staff skills and policies. This knowledge sharing is crucial to the DPOC project, but also the growth of the digital preservation community.

And it’s been six months since the start of the project, so we’re all in reporting mode, writing up and looking over our achievements for the past 6 months. After the reports have been drafted, redrafted, and finalised, expect a full update and some reflections on how this collaborative project is going.

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.

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.”

weatherburn-poster

  • 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.

ARA Conference Round up: Day 1

These are some excerpts from Lee’s detailed conference report on the 2016 ARA Conference in London. It ran from 31 August to 2 September and included two full days of sessions devoted to conversations on digital preservation. His full conference report is available for download at the end of this blog post.


It has been three weeks since the last cup of tea was self-served, the last morsel of cake consumed and the sincere goodbyes to fellow colleagues said at the annual ARA Conference, held at Wembley. Many delegates left with minds crammed with new ideas, innovations and practical lessons to use back at work. I left with the strong impression that digital preservation within the recordkeeping community in the UK and Ireland has become part of the ‘mainstream’ in recordkeeping practice across a variety of sectors. The recordkeeping community has moved on from wanting to know what digital preservation is to how it get involved and preserve digital collections for future generations.

Some highlights from the sessions on Day 1 are:

  • Mike Quinn reminded delegates that they needed to remain flexible in relation to digital preservation challenges, nothing is guaranteed: Apple ending support for the .MOV file format demonstrated that.
  • Matthew Addis noted that “apathy is the digital record killer,” so starting from somewhere simple and working from there is the best way to tackle the digital preservation ‘problem’. Addis observed that lots of organisations seem to suffer from a “digital preservation paralysis” and fear getting it wrong. However, he advised those assembled that “doing nothing is the worst choice”.
  • Kristy Lee’s “simple but vital” advice was to understand where your organisation is in terms of digital preservation work and work out what it is you want to do with digital preservation. She found Adrian Brown’s maturity models quite useful for that.
  • The E-ARK project is coming to an end, but has done interesting open source tool development for implementation of specifications that are scalable, modular, robust and adaptable. Find out more about the project and its December conference here.

The afternoon panel session, “Would like to know more” – Digital preservation training and professional development, was a particularly interesting discussion for the Outreach and Training Fellows. It summarised the findings of the ‘Digital Archiving and Preservation Training Needs Survey’ led by the University of London’s Computer Centre (ULCC) in collaboration the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) and the Digital Curation Centre (DCC). Ed Pinsent also neatly presented the findings of the needs survey:

  1. People want to learn about strategy and planning, not exclusively DP theory, not exclusively IT;
  2. People are clear that Digital Preservation training will bring them benefits directly related to their job/organisation/collections;
  3. People want to learn by doing;
  4. Everybody wants to know more; and
  5. Everyone wants to feel confident about digital preservation. ‘Confidence’ was not a word that was used in the wording of the survey, but looking through the qualitative data it was a reoccurring word.

To conclude the session, Stephanie Taylor advised that for digital preservation training, there was no ‘magic answer’ or a ‘right path’ in providing training. You do have to accept that ongoing review and starting from anew is a part of the practice.

For the Digital Preservation at Oxford and Cambridge project, these conclusions and lessons from the ULCC led survey will certainly be interesting to compare once the initial Training Needs Survey has been carried out at the two respective institutions.


Lee’s full ARA Conference write-up can be read here.