DPTP: The Practice of Digital Preservation

Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the new DPTP course run by the ULCC ‘The Practice of Digital Preservation’. This course is designed to follow on from their hugely popular and well respected ‘Introduction to Digital Preservation’.

As an intermediate course it was perfect for me as my basic training in digital preservation, from a theoretical level, was gained through my postgraduate degree at Dundee…now I needed something a little more practical given I’m in the business of ‘doing’ digital preservation.

The course took place over 3 days and was broken down into the following subject areas:

Day One – Approaches to Digital Preservation, Significant Properties, File formats, Preserving email, Assessment and Certification.

Day Two – XML for preservation, Tools for Ingest, METS, PREMIS, Preservation of Databases, Business Planning.

Day Three – Communicating with User Community, Preservation of AV content.

I won’t go into detail what we covered under each of those headings but I will point out what I found particularly interesting or useful, and the new things I learnt…

  • the disambiguation of technical terms and how they are interpreted differently depending on whether you’re an IT specialist or a records manager/archivist…I’m sure everyone can empathise with the confusion that arises when we discuss ‘records’!
  • the notion that ‘obsolescence’ simply doesn’t exist…(this completely flies against what I was taught but it is a fairly valid point as there is more stability in the format landscape than there was 15/20 years ago with well established open source and proprietary formats highly unlikely to become obsolete any time soon! I see Maureen Pennock et al, covered this in a recent paper at iPres 2014 (Sustainability Assessments at the British Library: Formats, Frameworks and Findings)
  • the idea of creating acceptance criteria for the various categories of digital object (based on significant properties)
  • the basic structure of file formats such as TIFF, PDF, Open Office, WAV and AV wrapper formats
  • importance of validation in quality control…obsolescence is not as much of a threat as badly authored files (I recently read about the PREFORMA project to develop validation tools for TIFF and PDF. which will be exciting!)
  • that preserving email isn’t as simple as exporting and preserving the email and its metadata header…attachments are individual objects in themselves and also require preservation in parallel…(this brings up a whole host of questions about preserving context? appraisal? rights and ownership? so much so it makes my head spin…yeah, lets just park that project until we actually have a repository!)
  • about METS and its power to nest structural metadata into one neat, handy, pocket-sized file! I’m quite excited (or at least as excited as you can be about metadata) about the its flexibility and interoperability. I discovered more about METS during this session than all the fruitless searches I’ve undertaken to understand this metadata standard
  • that to preserve AV files you need to identify the codec and preserve the codec too! I was not aware of this but glad I found out as we will be looking at AV preservation soon!

So those are just a few of the gems of information I discovered during the three days. It was an enjoyable and valuable course to attend. With only a small group it made the interactive elements more productive I think, and made the course a bit more personal. I was able to have a chat with Ed Pinsent about the questions I had, which he was more than willing to help with, and with a few of the other delegates too! A great way to meet new people. All in I would highly recommend the course to anyone looking to further their understanding of digital preservation practice!

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