Two days in the City

Beautiful sunshine in the City: Westminster Bridge (photo: Rachel MacGregor CC-BY)

I was lucky enough to have two days in London last week to attend two separate but linked events: the first was a Jisc sponsored workshop on Digital Appraisal and the second an Archivematica UK User group meet up.  It was a nice balance of activities, Day One was around the theory of how we decide what to keep or what to throw away and Day Two was about sharing experiences of using Archivematica – a digital preservation tool which can potentially help us with aspects of this.

Wednesday was a day at the University of Westminster – founded in 1838  in their beautiful buildings at 309 Regent Street.

Foyer at University of Westminster (Credit: Big Rock Cat / Sabotage1 https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:University_of_Westminster_Foyer.jpg CC-BY 3.0)

This event – kindly sponsored by Jisc – designed to bring together digital preservation practitioners to discuss and explore approaches to the theory and practice of the managing digital archives. Chatham House Rules applied so there was freedom to discuss practice in an open and honest way.  The morning session comprised of two presentations.  The first focussed on the theory of appraisal, that is how we make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.  The second explored practical experiences of the same and reflecting on the change that those who are responsible for managing and looking after records have experienced in the move to the digital age.

For the afternoon session we reflected on what we had heard in the morning and were divided into smaller groups and invited to discuss the approaches we took to appraising both digital and physical collections.  It was a good chance to share experiences of tools which we found useful and difficulties we encountered.

For me it was a great opportunity to meet people out there actually “doing preservation” using a wide variety of tools. Sometimes when people use one software package or another it can have the effect of dividing them into camps.  It’s really important to be able to meet up with and share experiences of others who are in a similar position – as witnessed at the Archivematica Meeting the next day – but it also good to hear a diversity of experience.  There was a strong feeling that any tools, workflows and ways of working are likely to change and develop rapidly, paralleling rapid technological changes, so that anything we opt for now is necessarily only a “temporary” solution.  We have to learn to work in a state of flux and be dynamic in our approaches to preservation.

Day two was the Archivematica UK User group this time hosted by Westminster School.  I’ve blogged before about this group when we hosted here at Lancaster University. Yet another fantastic setting for our meeting another brilliant opportunity to discuss our work with colleagues from a wide range of institutions.

Deans Yard, Westminster (Photo by Rachel MacGregor CC-BY)

The morning session involved the sharing of workflows and in a nice parallel to the previous day’s session, talking about appraisal!

Lunch was back-to-school in the canteen but I’m pleased to report that school dinners have certainly moved on since I remember them!

In the afternoon there were a selection of presentations – including one that I gave to update people on our work at Lancaster as part of the Jisc RDSS to create a reporting tool – DMAonline – which will work with Archivematica to give added reporting functionality.  One of the attractive things about Archivematica as a digital preservation tool, is that it is Open Source so that it allows for development work to happen parallel to the product and to suit all sorts of circumstances.

We also heard from Hrafn Malmquist at University of Edinburgh talking about his recent work with Archivematica to help with preserving the records of the University Court. Sean Rippington from the University of St Andrews talked to us about experimenting with exporting Sharepoint files and Laura Giles from the University of Hull talked about documenting Hull’s year as City of Culture.

We were also lucky enough to get a tour of Westminster School’s archive which gave the archivist Elizabeth the chance to show off her favourite items, including the wonderful Town Boy ledger which you can discover for yourself here.

All in all it was a very useful couple of days in London which gave me a lot to think about and incorporate into my practice.  Having time to reflect on theoretical approaches in invaluable and rarely achieved when the “day job” is so busy and I am grateful to have had the time to attend.

Rachel MacGregor

From Planning to Deployment: Digital Preservation and Organizational Change June 2017

We were very excited to be visiting the lovely city of York for the Digital Preservation’s event “From Planning to Deployment: Digital Preservation and Organizational Change”.  The day promised a mixture of case studies from organisations who have or are in the process of implementing a digital preservation programme and also a chance for Jisc to showcase some of the work they have been sponsoring as part of the Research Data Shared Services project (which we are a pilot institution for).  It was a varied programme and the audience was very mixed – one of the big benefits of attending events like these is the opportunity to speak to colleagues from other institutions in related but different roles.  I spoke to some Records Managers and was interested in their perspective as active managers of current data.  I’m a big believer in promoting digital preservation through involvement at all stages of the data lifecycle (or records continuum if you prefer) so it is important that as many people as possible – whatever their role in the creation or management of data – are encouraged into good data management practices.  This might be by encouraging scientists to adopt the FAIR principles or by Records Managers advising on file formats, file naming and structures and so on.

William Kilbride, Digital Preservation Coalition introduces the event (CC-BY Rachel MacGregor)

The first half of the day was a series of case studies presented by various institutions, large and small, who had a whole range of experiences to share. It was introduced by a presentation from the Polonsky Digital Preservation Project based at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.  Lee Pretlove and Sarah Mason jointly led the conversation talking us through the challenges of developing and delivering a digital preservation project which has to continue beyond the life of the project.  Both Universities represented in this project are very large organisations but this can make the issues faced by the team extremely complex and challenging.  They have been recording their experiences of trying to embed practices from the project so that digital preservation can become part of a sustainable programme.

The first case study came from Jen Mitcham from York University talking about the digital preservation work they have undertaken their.  Jen has documented her activities very helpfully and consistently on her blog and she talked specifically about the amount of planning which needs to go into work and then the very real difficulties in implementation.  She has most recently been looking at digital preservation for research data – something we are working on here at Lancaster University.

Next up was Louisa Matthews from the Archaeological Data Service who have been spearheading approaches to Digital Preservation for a very long time.  The act of excavating a site is by its nature destructive so it is vital to be able to capture a data about it accurately and be able to return to and reuse the data for the foreseeable future.  This captures digital preservation in a nutshell!  Louisa described how engaging with their contributors ensures high quality re-usable data – something we are all aiming for.

The final case study for the morning was Rebecca Short from the University of Westminster talking about digital preservation and records management.  The university have already had success implementing a digital preservation workflow and are now seeking to embed it further in the whole records creation and management process.  Rebecca described the very complex information environment at her university – relatively small in comparison to the earlier presentations but no less challenging for all that

The afternoon was a useful opportunity to hear from Jisc about their Research Data Shared Services project which we are a pilot for.  We heard presentations from Arkivum, Preservica and Artefactual Systems who are all vendors taking part in the project and gave interesting and useful perspectives on their approaches to digital preservation issues.  The overwhelming message however has to be – you can’t buy a product which will do digital preservation.  Different products and services can help you with it, but as William Kilbride, Executive Director of the Digital Preservation Coalition has so neatly put it “digital preservation is a human project” and we should be focussing on getting people to engage with the issues and for all of us to be doing digital preservation.

Rachel MacGregor