SPRUCE Mashup London 2012 - A Practitioner's Tale

Having sat at the back of the hall at the Annual Archives and Records Association conference at the end of August listening to Ed Fay and his colleagues from LSE talk about digital preservation and – like the other friends and colleagues with me – gibbered with fear at the very thought of attempting any digital preservation it was with some trepidation that I crept in through the door at this September’s SPRUCE Mashup.  

Fortunately it would appear that neither practitioners (and I was not sure at this stage whether I could truthfully call myself this) nor developers appeared to bite and as each practitioner stood up to deliver their pitch I started to relax a little:

How can we preserve digital video clips (thinks:  yes – we’ve got some of those)

How do we sort through a mass of unsorted unindexed text files (thinks: yes, we’ve got some of those too)

How do we deal with a born digital archive with mixed open/closed content (thinks: yes that’s soon going to be an issue for us)

How do we identify and fix corrupted digital image files (thinks: yes we’re probably going to have that problem at some point)

I soon realised that any digital content comes with a set of issues which are likely to be common across the board (you can see the complete list of issues – together with solutions! - here)

However feeling a little bit like I was in a therapy session I stood up (last) and said “Help – I’ve got digital content and I don’t know how to manage it”.

We were all then divided up and “paired” with developers.  I suspect that any of the developers could have offered solutions for my datasets which were a range of digital images from the archive of a Birmingham photographer, Vanley Burke, with a greater or lesser amount of associated metadata.  It has to be said that there was a bit of rush to be paired up with a colleague from the National Media Museum with his archive of video games (I wonder why), although my collection is great too – you can see some of Vanley’s work in this exhibition on at the moment in Birmingham

I was lucky enough to be paired with Peter May from the British Library who started off by helping me be more specific about the kind of solutions I might be looking for.  We worked out that what I really needed to do was begin an audit of my digital collections (of which I had brought a sample) and find out what types of files there were and what metadata they had associated with them, to then make a start on assessing how much work had to be done.

Whilst Pete and the other developers worked on writing code to provide me with a tool for this, I worked on building up a business case, a stake holder analysis and a skills audit for what would be required to implement a digital preservation strategy in my own institution.   We wrote them up straight away on the SPRUCE wiki  which means we could compare each others and share best practice 

Whilst Pete and the other developers worked on writing code to provide me with a tool for this, I worked on building up a business case, a stake holder analysis and a skills audit for what would be required to implement a digital preservation strategy in my own institution.   We wrote them up straight away on the SPRUCE wiki  which means we could compare each others and share best practice.

We were also encouraged to participate in the Libraries and Information Stack Exchange

I’ve already had an answer to my question!

The key themes coming through were of sharing and collaborating and it gave me a great opportunity to actually talk to a developer who understood what I was trying to achieve. 

At the end of the three days I had a real solution to a real problem – a program which extracts metadata from a series of files and then gives statistics about file type and how complete or incomplete the metadata is.  The technical description is here:

 

http://wiki.opf-labs.org/display/SPR/Distinguishing+Files+with+Descriptive+Metadata

 

but what I understand is that I now have a tool which will help me plan a workflow to organise and manage my digital files.

It’s my first step into digital preservation and it’s one I don’t feel I’m taking on my own.

 

 

 

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