Digital Preservation Diary 2: Getting to know you…

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‘Getting to know you’ is an apt title for what I’ve been up to these past two months. In my previous blog post, I described the importance of getting to know your digital records – understanding what you’ve got and how much you’ve got – and I really feel like we’re getting there at WSRO.

If I said the record office had no understanding of its digital collections before I arrived, I’d be lying. Digital stuff could be identified in a piecemeal manner – staff would search parts of the catalogue for terms like ‘digital’, or track down specific media (CDs, DVDs and floppy disks). What was missing was the coherent view that is synonymous with a central register.

Dick TraceyA few weeks after my last post, I decided to address this problem by tapping into my detective skills. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no hard-hitting Dick Tracy. I’m more of a Columbo character, gently poking my nose into WSRO’s digital business and using perseverance to uncover the information I need. The process has been great fun (I don’t know what this says about my personality) and you’ll be relieved to hear I’ve not encountered a single digital crime.

My aim was to complete a thorough investigation and create a register that contains details of the following:

The volume of digital records

The number of items and the size of the collections.

The broad types

We’ve got this down to four: born digital, digital surrogates (digital copies of physical items), non-WSRO digital surrogates (digital copies of physical items that aren’t held by WSRO) and digital records that arrive at WSRO as part of hybrid collections (a mix of digital and physical records).

Other useful information

A reference number, title and brief description are handy too. Fortunately, I could export these from our existing catalogue. Digital records stored on external media, rather than our servers, are also of interest: these may need transferring from obsolete media to sustainable media. And by adding the accession number (the temporary reference number each collection is assigned at the point of deposit), I was able to create a bridge to further information about the depositor, ownership and permissions.

The location of digital records

My skills in being nosy really came into their own at this point. Once I’d logged the above information, I needed to actually find the records. Most were easy to track down – archivists are a tidy bunch – but the uncatalogued material required advanced detective work (Dick Tracy would have been proud).

In a few more weeks’ time, WSRO’s digital asset register will be complete (hooray!). What, you may ask, am I planning to do with this? In short, I’ll use it to establish what needs ingesting into our new digital-preservation system, Preservica. We’ve already dipped our toes into this phase by engaging in further ‘getting to know you’ activities – my colleagues and I have attended training sessions and tested the software. This has enabled us to begin work on WSRO-specific procedures, and we hope Preservica will be fully up-and-running in the coming months. I’ll update you on our progress in the next digital preservation diary – expect more (tenuous) cultural references!

By Abigail Wharne

Digital Preservation Archivist

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