PASIG 2017: honest reflections from a trainee digital archivist

A guest blog post by Kelly, one of the Bodleian Libraries’ graduate digital archivist trainees, on what she learned as a volunteer and attendee of PASIG 2017 Oxford.

Amongst the digital preservation professionals from almost every continent and 130 institutions, myself and my 5 traineeship colleagues were amongst the lecture theatre seats, annexe demos and the awesome artefacts at the Museum of Natural History for PASIG 2017, Oxford. It was a brilliant opportunity at just 6 months into our traineeship to not only apply some of our new knowledge to work at Special Collections, Bodleian Libraries, but we were also able to gain a really current and relevant insight to theories we have been studying as part of our long distance MSc in Digital Curation at Aberystwyth University. The first ‘Bootcamp’ day was exactly what I needed to throw myself in, and it really consolidated my confidence in my understanding of some aspects of the shared language that is used amongst the profession (fixity checks, maturity models…as well as getting to grips with submission information packages, dissemination information packages and everything that occurs in between!).

My pen didn’t stop scribbling all three days, except maybe for tea breaks. Saying that, the demo presentations were also a great time for myself and other trainees to ask questions specifically about workflows and benefits of certain software such as LibNova, Preservica and ResourceSpace.

For want of a better word (and because it really is the truth) PASIG 2017 was genuinely inspiring and there were messages delivered so powerfully I hope that I stay grounded in these for my entire career. Here is what I was taught:

The Community is invaluable. Many of the speakers were quick to assert that sharing practice amongst the digital preservation community is key. This is a value I was familiar with, yet witnessing it happening throughout the conference in such a sincere manner. I can assure you the gratitude and affirmation that followed Eduardo del Valle, University of the Balearic Islands and his presentation: “Sharing my loss to protect your data: A story of unexpected data loss and how to do real preservation” was as encouraging to witness as someone new to the profession as it was to all of the other experienced delegates present. As well as sharing practice, it was clear that the community need to be advocating on behalf of each other. It is time and resource consuming but oh-so important.

Digital archives are preserving historical truths. Yes, the majority of the workflow is technological but the objectives and functions are so much more than technology; to just reduce digital preservation down to this is an oversimplification. It was so clear that the range of use cases presented at PASIG were all driven towards documenting social, political, historical information (and preserving that documentation) that will be of absolute necessity for society and infrastructure in future. Right now, for example, Angeline Takewara and her colleagues at UN MICT are working on a digital preservation programme to ensure absolute accountability and usability of the records of the International Criminal Tribunals of both Rwanda and Yugoslavia. I have written a more specific post on Angeline’s presentation here.

Due to the nature of technology and the digital world, the goalposts will always be moving. For example, Somaya Langley’s talk on the future of digital preservation and the mysteries of extracting data from smart devices will soon become (and maybe already is) a reality for those working with accessions of archives or information management. We should, then, embrace change and embrace the unsure and ultimately ‘get over the need for tidiness’ as pointed out by John Sheridan from The National Archives during his presentation “Creating and sustaining a disruptive digital archive” . This is usually counter-intuitive, but as the saying goes, one of the most dangerous phrases to use is ‘we’ve always done it that way’.

The value of digital material outlives the software, so the enabling of prolonged use of software is a real and current issue. Admittedly, this was a factor I had genuinely not even considered before. In my brain I linked obsolescence with hardware and hardware only. Therefore,  Dr. Natasa Milic-Frayling’s presentation on “Aging of Digital: Managed Services for digital continuity” shed much light on the changing computing ecosystem and the gradual aging of software. What I found especially interesting about the proposed software-continuity plan was the transparency of it; the fact that the client can ask to see the software at any time whilst it is being stabilised and maintained.

Thank you so much PASIG 2017 and everybody involved!

One last thing…in closing, Cliff Lynch, CNI, bought up that there was comparably less Web Archiving content this year. If anybody fancies taking a trainee to Mexico next year to do a (lightning) talk on Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive I am keen…



Validating half a million TIFF files. Part One.

Oxford Technical Fellow, James, reports on the validation work he is doing with JHOVE and DPF Manager in Part One of this blog series on validation tools for auditing the Polonsky Digitization Project’s TIFF files.

In 2013, The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Library) joined efforts in a landmark digitization project. The aim was to open up their repositories of ancient texts including Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and incunabula, or 15th-century printed books. The goal was to digitize over one and half million pages. All of this was made possible by funding from the Polonsky Foundation.

As part of our own Polonsky funded project, we have been preparing the ground to validate over half a million TIFF files which have been created from digitization work here at Oxford.

Many in the Digital Preservation field have already written articles and blogs on the tools available for validating TIFF files, Yvonne Tunnat (from ZBW Leibniz Information Centre for Economics) wrote a blog for the Open Preservation Foundation regarding the tools. I also had the pleasure of hearing from Yvonne and Michelle Lindlar (from TIB Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology) talk at IDCC 2017 conference on this very subject in more detail when discussing JHOVE in their talk, How Valid Is Your Validation? A Closer Look Behind The Curtain Of JHOVE

The go-to validator for TIFF files?

Preparation for validation

In order to validate the master TIFF files, firstly we needed to retrieve these from our tape storage system; fortunately around two-thirds of the images had already been restored to spinning disk storage as part of another internal project. When the master TIFF files were written to tape this included MD5 hashes of the files, so as part of this validation work we will confirm the fixity of all the files. Our network storage system had plenty of room to accommodate all the required files, so we began auditing what still needed to be recovered.

Whilst the auditing and retrieval was progressing, I set about investigating validating a sample set of master TIFF files using both JHOVE and DPF Manager to get an estimate on the time it would take to process the approximate 50 TB of files. I was also interested to compare the results of both tools when faced with invalid or corrupted sample sets of files.

We setup a new virtual machine server in order to carry out the validation workload; this allowed us to scale this machine’s performance as required. Both validation tools were going to be run on a RedHat Linux environment and both would be run from the command line.

It quickly became clear that JHOVE was going to be able to validate the TIFF files a lot quicker than DPF Manager. If DPF Manager is being used as part of one of your workflows, you may not have noticed any real-time penalty when processing small numbers of files, however with a large batch, the time difference with the two tools was noticeable.

Potential alternative for TIFF validation?

During the testing I noticed there were several issues with DPF Manager, including the lack of being able to specify the number of threads the process could use, which I suspect resulted in the poor initial performance. I dutifully reported the bug to the DPF community GitHub and was pleased to see an almost instant response stating that it would be resolved in the next monthly release. I do love Open Source projects, and I think this highlights the importance of those using the tools being responsible for improving them. Without community engagement, these projects are liable to run out of steam and slowly die.

I’m going to reserve judgement on the tools until the next release of DPF Manager. We will then also be in a position to report back on our findings from this validation case study. So check back with our blog for Part Two.

I would be interested to hear from anyone else who might have been faced with validating large batches of files, what tools are you using? what challenges have you faced? Do let me know!