World Digital Preservation Day 2019

For World Digital Preservation Day 2019, the West Yorkshire Archive Service [WYAS] would like to take the opportunity to share what we have been doing to ensure the continued reliable storage and access of our digital collections.

This year the WYAS has set up a Digital Working Group made up of staff with a variety of skills and backgrounds; a mixture of Archivists, Archive Assistants, Co-ordinators and Conservators who have all volunteered their time to get involved with our digital preservation mission.

This group has helped us to share ideas and train staff who do not work in digital specific roles to become more familiar with our digital collections and practices which operate in line with our Digital Archives Policy. Digital records are increasingly being offered to the WYAS for archival preservation and there is a great risk of losing this digital heritage due to the continual and rapid development of computing hardware and software. Digital records are also threatened by the growing rate of technological obsolescence, the deterioration of digital storage media, legal barriers to digital preservation activity as well as a lack of resources. The creation of the WYAS Digital Working Group will allow us to push forward with our preservation goals more effectively.

So what is the WYAS doing to preserve our digital heritage and stop this decline? Our aims for the future are to encourage more digital deposits from our users, explore long term storage solutions as well as continue to develop the skills of our employees to empower more staff to get involved and gain valuable skills. We will continue to achieve consistency in the management of our digital records and work towards reducing the loss of our collective digital heritage.

The WYAS already hold a multitude of digital collections but on the whole our records are mostly paper based. We understand that we must move quickly in order to save the digital records that are being created today as well as to assess the ones we already hold.

We are conducting surveys of our collections in order to flag up any “at risk” digital formats which may need immediate care and attention. This will allow us to assess any action which may need to be taken in order to protect and preserve this information more quickly. Once completed we will be able to gain a greater understanding of how much extra storage space we may need as well as the best way to open these records up to a wider audience and enable users to engage with the material.

We have made improvements to our robust ingest procedure guide in order to make it more user friendly for our staff. To begin we will be strict on our methods of deposit in order to establish a workable standard but this may develop as digital deposits increase. As we develop this procedure we will need to engage in a dialogue with the depositor so that they are aware of good records management practice and so that they can create and curate records in a form which meets the requirements of long term preservation. We will appraise and evaluate the digital deposit in line with our Collection Policy and discuss any potential copyright, licensing or other legal issues. We will obtain as much contextual information from the depositor as possible, such as technical details of media and file formats, as well as record provenance.

New staff joining the Working Group are developing skills in relation to vital software. For example, did you know that FTK® Imager is a forensic tool used by the police to acquire data? We will be using this software to create copies of data without making changes to the original record deposited with us. This assures that no data is lost or edited when being transferred to our Digital Archive Store. New staff have also started to familiarise themselves with the seemingly endless amount of acronyms encountered in digital preservation – a glossary is a valuable resource for beginners getting to know their GIFs from their FLACs! The Digital Preservation Handbook provided by the Digital Preservation Coalition is a valuable resource in this respect.

Once we have successfully created an image of the digital deposit using FTK® Imager it will then be quarantined and checked for viruses. At this time we will create the appropriate transfer data to ensure the long term preservation of the deposit. This will involve creating hash sums which are a string of numbers and letters created by a mathematical algorithm, based upon the number of elements within an individual file. Hash sums enable us to keep an eye on the deterioration of the data – if a file has not deteriorated then the value will remain the same but any changes, found during later checks, will indicate a deterioration and will allow us to flag the record for investigation. We will also be creating directory listings and DRIOD descriptions to provide vital details on file types and other technical information.

Unlike paper based records (which can be left alone after ensuring they are stored in the best environment) digital deposits involve a lot more work to maintain the integrity of the data and to ensure no damage or loss occurs over time.  The original digital media formats should be stored in a cool, dry and stable environment and magnetic media should be kept away from strong magnetic fields. Several copies of each digital resource should be made available on different storage media, including off-site backup, and data should be transferred periodically from existing to new formats. This will involve random checks for readability and for signs of damage or deterioration. As well as this, the WYAS will also continue to monitor and assess the digital deposits stored in our Archive Storage network and actively manage these resources to ensure digital materials remain authentic and accessible. At the same time we will undertake further research to develop our understanding of the costs and options involved in providing access to these records, in-house or at a specialist digital repository.

We acknowledge that digital preservation is a shared problem requiring a collaborative solution and we wish to share what works and what doesn’t with other services. Repositories around the country are all at different stages of their digital preservation journey and, until this becomes an established practice, it is vital that we learn from each other in order to achieve the best standards. The WYAS is by no means at the very start of its journey but we must work in conjunction with other organisations to develop our technical strategies and gain essential feedback and knowledge from those working in the field of digital preservation.

Our Digital Archive Policy was issued in 2017 and will be updated and reviewed every 3 years as new research and expertise emerges. In the meantime, the WYAS are ready for your deposits!

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