Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Practical First Steps

Last week I helped organise a training day on born-digital archives for the East of England Regional Archive Council. I was joined by Chris Hilton from the Wellcome Library, Ellie Robinson from LSE and Grant Young from Cambridge University Library. The day followed a similar pattern to an event hosted in Hull last November. There were four main elements to the day:

Institutional Overview
The four of us gave a brief overview of the development of digital preservation in our respective institutions and included Chris’s now legendary simplification of OAIS to "Get Stuff - Put stuff somewhere - Keep stuff safe & Show stuff to people".  Ellie talked through the development at LSE from a risk analysis perspective to get institutional backing to then moving on to actually doing it - the latter sentiment being one of the mantras for the day. Grant talked about his work with digital content - much of it digitised rather than born-digital but now occupying an eye-watering 67TB (both LSE and Hull have about 120GB of born-digital material).

Practical First Steps
The four of us then gave a short presentation offering some practical tips; I looked at conducting a survey to identify material already held in the archives and how this often meant the media had been accessioned but not the contents! Chris shared the experiences at Wellcome of 'Dealing with depositors', Ellie looked at 'Handling born-digital material' including accessioning, virus check and other stages at LSE and Grant talked about 'Issues around File Formats' highlighting a number of challenges and suggesting strategies that could be adopted.

Questions and Answers

The day also included two question and answer sessions designed to get delegates talking about the particular aspects and issues of concern to them. Questions touched on a range of topics including depositors, DRAMBORA, how to approach hybrid collections and depositor agreements. We also heard of work being conducted in a number of local authority archives and hopefully they will share their work and experiences with colleagues in the near future.

Delegates were split into four groups and given demonstrations on using Karen's Directory Printer, DROID and also using FTK Imager with a write-blocker to read a PC hard drive (from my garage) the fourth diversion was a look at two different born-digital scenarios for delegates to consider how they might respond.

There was common agreement on the need to do something, and widespread acknowledgement that there wasn't a single solution or approach. Wellcome, LSE and Hull were all looking at the issue of bulk-ingest into repositories whilst retaining the relationships between files as represented through an often complex series of folders. It so happens that at Hull one of our developers is looking at this very issue so I hope to have an update on this in the next few weeks.

A key theme of the day was collaborating and helpline colleagues and in this spirit all of the presentations are now available on the Hull History Centre born-digital archive pages - thanks to all of the speakers for making this an interesting and informative day.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Not a typical week

At the end of the AIMS project I returned to my post as Senior Archivist with digital archives added to my todo list alongside public searchroom duty, working with paper collections, responsibilities for maintaining our website and online catalogue, managing staff and volunteers etc etc.

This week has not been typical.

Accession two recent deposits including a small set of floppy disks created between 1995-1999 using a Psion (I think judging by some of the data visible using FTKImager).  The other item was a CD with minutes created in the last couple of years by a charity – so nothing to worry about in terms of formatting but it did highlight issues around filename consistency. I contacted the depositor and they were happy to receive suggestions about future naming conventions which will be a great help. I was also able to ask about material that reflected the complete range of activities of the charity and hope that further material will be forthcoming.

One of the outcomes following the publication of the AIMS White Paper has been to share experiences with colleagues in other institutions. On Tuesday our guests were Nancy McGovern and Kari Smith from MIT and it was a great opportunity to share experiences and discuss aspects surrounding processes, workflows and tools. As always I came away with a list of other tools to try and research papers to look out for! We were joined by my colleague Chris Awre who talked about the work at Hull using Fedora for our institutional repository and in particular Hydra and the opportunity this offered for sharing development work.

Spent some of Wednesday preparing for a one day workshop at Cambridge about born-digital archives next week. The day is designed to encourage colleagues to take the first steps and will include colleagues from LSE and the Wellcome Library and will feature demonstrations of write-blocker hardware and tools including Karen’s Directory Printer and DROID.

Received an email out of the blue from a colleague working in Vancouver, which was really nice – they had been following the AIMS Blog and wanted to ask some questions and I was happy to clarify a few aspects that had been mentioned. In replying I also sought more information about their own experiences and whether we had tackled email. Whilst we haven’t tackled this explicitly (yet) I have had a play with the MUSE tool which gives a unique perspective on the stuff with-in an 'mbox' file and offers a sentiment graph that instantly grabs you.

What better for a Friday afternoon than a quick spell of taking photographs of the floppy disks I accessioned on Monday. It took longer than it should have done due to lack of practice and the need to find something to prop up the disk so we could capture the information written on the edge of the disk – our conservator Christine found a small clear display stand that is ideal and this has been requisitioned for future photographic needs.

This hasn't been a typical week – I have probably done more in the last five days than the preceding two months - but then things rarely are in archives – and for many working in the profession the range and variety is one of the best parts of the job.