A Digital Update from the West Yorkshire Archive Service:
In our last digital update, for World Digital Preservation Day in November 2019, we shared with you our aims for the future and discussed what actions the West Yorkshire Archive Service [WYAS] were taking to ensure the continued reliable storage of and access to our digital collections.
We discussed how we wanted to encourage more born-digital deposits, explore long term storage solutions as well as develop the skills of our employees to empower more staff to get involved with digital preservation projects. We also talked of how we wished to conduct a survey of our digital collections as well as form a strategy to engage users with our collections going forward.
So what have we been doing to try to achieve these goals? Firstly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the current circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and how this has affected development, not just for us but for many services around the country. At the time of writing it has been over two months since most staff have had access to our building, and therefore to essential paperwork, contact details, locally installed software’s and other such necessities. However, there is plenty of work which we can still undertake when working from home.
We hoped to provide access to some of our born-digital collections at our Wakefield office in a designated space designed specifically for viewing this material. We had been in the process of developing this before we closed, in accordance with government guidelines. Although this has been delayed at the current time, our Digital Preservation Working Group, made up of staff who have volunteered their time to meet and discuss how we can progress digitally, have still been able to meet virtually to report back on anything they are currently working on or researching.
Personally, I have started a peer mentoring programme run by the National Archives, called Plugged In, Powered Up, which aims to provide help and assistance with a digital project to someone who would like to develop their skills. Through this, I have been learning how to consider engaging audiences with digital collections as well as conducting research into the confidence of our archive users when it comes to accessing digital collections. I will also be considering how we will provide the best experience for our disabled users in terms of space and possible technology assistance. Of course, we will now also be considering how we offer access to be able to operate safely under COVID-19 restrictions in the future.
As part of our research on user confidence, we have circulated a survey on our social media channels and mailing list. The questionnaire asks for peoples reasons for accessing digital libraries, how they access them, what records they look at the most as well as the type of records they would like to see more available in a digital format. We hope that the results of this research will help us to determine a strategy for encouraging deposits of born-digital material in certain areas, showing whether audiences see any lack of availability of digital records covering certain themes. This will be in line with our collections policy. This will also help us to prioritise what records we might want to work on initially to make available to our users, from those that we already hold.
Our survey can be accessed here if you would like to contribute: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/8YB2NLT
We still have secure remote access to our systems so we are able to continue to survey our born-digital deposits. We have produced a spread sheet which gathers information on themes, format, size, ingest status and access conditions etc. As an archive, as well as considering how we might accession, process, store and preserve a digital record, we must also take into account any conditions set by depositors or any issues of data protection or copyright. Having all of this information together will help us to determine what material we are able to make available to the public initially as well as if we still need to process the digital record from original hard copy to a digital file.
We are still processing some of our collections to go through ingest and archivists at our five offices will be liaising with depositors to discuss any conditions. This may involve preparing two copies of a digital record – an “access copy” which will be made available to the public and a “non-access copy” which will stay in storage and may contain information which the data subject or depositor may not want shared. As well as this kind of behind the scenes work, we will also need to set up hardware and software, and consider any interfaces which the customer might use. Like many archives, we are still in the process of developing how we provide access to our born-digital collections but hope you can see the progress which has been made since our last update.
The WYAS acknowledges that digital preservation requires a collaborative solution and hopes that by sharing our journey, as well as learning from others, we can make steps to providing more digital access in the future.
by Hayley Bruffell