From one small remit…to one giant project

Yesterday I had the pleasure of talking to a crowd of fellow professionals in the heritage sector at the first ‘Edinburgh Preserves‘ event, which I blogged about previously. Hosted by the National Library of Scotland, and forming part of a planned series of similar get togethers, it was a great opportunity to publicly communicate the University of Edinburgh Library’s plans to tackle the thorny issue of preserving our digital cultural heritage. Coming hot on the heels of Vint Cerf’s widely publicised comments on the threat of not being able to interpret and understand what is created today in digital form long into the future and how we need to take action if we are going to avoid the ‘digital black hole’, it was an evening where passionate professionals demonstrated how they are taking that ‘action’.

Following a series of lightening presentations on various topics from working as a trainee in digital preservation to the National Records of Scotland’s 12 point strategy, I introduced Edinburgh University Library’s 5 Phase approach to dealing with its digital preservation problem.

Edinburgh University Library's Digital Strong Room plan

Edinburgh University Library’s Digital Strong Room plan

Over the course of the next 3 years we’ll develop a preservation system, at the core of the project, to manage digital objects selected for long term preservation, and add layers around that core to satisfy other elements integral to a seamless and systematic preservation process. These layers, in sequence, will tackle:

  1. PHASE 1 – ‘preservation’ by understanding our digital collections and the risks they face, developing our essential and desirable criteria and establishing our workflows, then evaluating options and implementing a solution.
  2. PHASE 2 – ‘acquisition’ by identifying records series for preservation and working with record creators (both internal, and where possible externally too) in a pre-custodial sense to ensure that content comes ‘archive ready’ to the repository, but with minimal additional workload on the part of the creator.
  3. PHASE 3 – ‘access’ to content, which will require integration with our new, soon to be launched archive catalogue.
  4. PHASE 4 – ‘governance’ of digital preservation within the university in the form of a ratified policy, a long term digital preservation strategy, along with sustainability of the digital archive from a succession and financial perspective.
  5. PHASE 5 – ‘certification’ whereby the university will work through the EU framework for trusted accreditation to ultimately attain ISO 16363 status.

It is an ambitious project and as I said at the event last night ‘whatever comes our way we will roll with the punches’, that is all we can do. As I keep hearing at many events on the subject of digital preservation, it is far better to do something, no matter how rudimentary, than to do nothing at all.

More to follow…

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