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Digital Archives in Theory and Practice
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Digital Archives in Theory and Practice

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Presentation to RMLG, November 2003

Presentation to RMLG, November 2003

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  • 1. Digital Records and Digital Archives Preservation in theory and practice Richard Davis Digital Archives Department University of London Computer Centre http://www.ulcc.ac.uk http://ndad.ulcc.ac.uk [email_address]
  • 2. What we will cover
    • Preservation options
    • Basic tasks
      • Physical preservation
      • Logical preservation
    • Metadata
    • Organisational issues
  • 3. Why do they need special attention?
    • Digital records require an intermediary
    • They don’t have a fixed form
    • Their carriers are perishable
    • They fall outside records management regimes
    • Computers need “experts”
  • 4. What are the advantages of digital preservation?
    • Ease of copying
    • Ease of re-use
    • No worry about which is “original”
    • Takes up less space
    • Easy to search, even without a catalogue
  • 5. Assumptions
    • You know what digital records exist
    • You know what you want to preserve
    • You have a retention/disposal policy
    • You can separate material for preservation
    • You know what you want to do with it
  • 6. Preservation options
    • Preserve the bits
    • Preserve the data
    • Preserve the record
    • Preserve the experience
  • 7. Preserving the bits
    • Keep the data in exactly the same format
    • Interpretation likely to be a problem
    • Works in some contexts
    • Mostly useful as an adjunct to other strategies
  • 8. Preserving the data
    • Keep the essential data in generic form
    • Don’t worry about presentation and context
    • Better than nothing
    • Often used for databases
    • Reduces long-term utility
  • 9. Preserving the record
    • Keep the information and context
    • The ideal approach
    • Don’t necessarily preserve appearance
    • Balances utility against costs
  • 10. Preserving the experience
    • Keep everything - software, information, forms, etc
    • May require emulators or old computers
    • Expensive
    • Doesn’t support/promote re-use
    • Someone may do it - but not us!
  • 11. Basic tasks in digital preservation
    • Protecting the media
    • Copying to new media
    • Choosing a file format
    • Migrating to new file formats
    • Managing metadata
  • 12. Physical forms
    • Floppy disks
    • Open-reel tapes
    • Tape cartridges
    • Hard disks
    • CD-ROM
    • ZIP, JAZ, etc. disks
    • Punched cards, paper tape
  • 13. Media lifespans
  • 14. Refreshing media
    • The process of copying to new media
      • At end of predicted lifetime
      • At regular intervals
      • After detected failure
    • Lifetime may be number of uses, not interval
    • Maybe the same, maybe different
    • Check all copies
  • 15. Logical preservation
    • Selecting right file format
    • At time of creation or accession
    • No universal solution
    • Preservation format may be different from access format
    • Should include metadata
  • 16. Properties of preservation formats
    • Published standard
    • Stability
    • Good conversion from ingest formats
    • Good conversion to access formats
    • Good representation of structure of information
  • 17. Long-term storage
    • Documents: Plain text, PDF, XML
    • Data tables (DBMS or spreadsheet): CSV, SQL Schema, XML Schema
    • Pictures: TIFF
    • Sound: PCM, AIFF
    • Avoid lossy compression
  • 18. Capturing the record
    • Manual
      • Users must choose what is retained
      • User-driven conversion
    • Automatic
      • System forces capture of record copy
      • Triggers conversion to preservation format
    • Retrospective archiving is manual, by definition
    • ERMS should support automated capture
  • 19. Automated capture
    • Email: central server captures and indexes
    • Documents: EDMS
    • Databases: capture transaction logs and/or regular snapshots
    • Web sites: as databases
    • Custom applications: specify requirements ab initio
  • 20. Migration
    • Frequency is not predictable
    • Usually driven by external factors
      • Changes in IS/IT strategy
      • Software/hardware upgrades
    • Should be automated
    • Check migration does not lose information
  • 21. Metadata
    • Data about data
    • Not specific to digital records
    • Types of metadata:
      • Discovery
      • Access
      • Preservation
      • System
    • Embedded or external
    • Treat with same care as data itself!
  • 22. Typical metadata
    • Author
    • Subject
    • Keywords
    • Abstract
    • Dates of creation/use/retirement
    • Access conditions
    • Retention period
  • 23. Non-digital metadata
    • Most computer systems depend on paper records to be understood:
      • Specifications
      • Manuals
      • Reports
    • Some essential information may only be in people’s heads
    • Especially true for older systems/records
  • 24. Non-digital metadata
  • 25. Preservation and access
    • Preservation systems:
      • Keep information safe and secure
      • Control accessibility
      • Deliver data without interpretation
    • Access systems:
      • Mediate between user and preservation system
      • Format, select and present information
      • Enable user discovery of resources
      • Relate information to context
  • 26. Working with IT departments
    • Style of IT support depends on size/age/type of organisation
    • Central control is easier to work with
    • Try to be involved before records are created
    • Express needs/issues in clear, real-world terms
    • IT developers like simple, reusable formats as well
  • 27. Hints and tips
    • Databases: may have different views
    • Beware of …
      • Password-protected files
      • Automated dates in documents
      • Dynamic documents
      • Linked documents
      • Embedded objects
      • Hybrid assemblies
  • 28. Hybrid assemblies and embedded objects
  • 29. And finally…
    • For now: preserve original bitwise copies and use standard formats
    • Don’t wait for all the answers before you begin
    • Make friends with IT specialists
    • Learn about other initiatives and approaches
    • Remember your Records Management training: digital isn’t that different