Guest post by Gillian Oliver, co-author of Digital Curation, 2nd edition
As with any love story with a happy ending, a successful relationship with data will take effort and commitment. Here are five practical ways to ensure the course of true love runs smoothly:
1. Data by design
Unlike human relationships you can specify your ideal characteristics and so make sure you’re working from the best possible starting point. It’s never too early to begin design, project planning should incorporate awareness of data requirements from the perspectives of the stakeholders involved. If you need convincing, remember that up-front awareness and being proactive will greatly assist in reducing the overall costs involved in data curation. The types of features to think about are likely to include choices relating to open or proprietary file formats, metadata schema and workflows, naming conventions and storage requirements.
2. Learn from others
Learn from others. Don’t try to go it alone – there’s a wealth of experience out there and much of it is freely accessible to make use of. Here are just two examples of websites which can be mined for practical advice: The Digital Preservation Coalition contains many useful reports, especially the Technology Watch series. The Digital Curation Centre has an astonishing wealth of content, ranging from basic explanations of core definitions to very practical tools and guidance.
3. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel
This is further emphasising the point above, which can’t be repeated often enough. There are many standards available, such as the Open Archival Information System standard which provides ahigh level conceptual model for digital archives, or the Dublin Core schema for descriptive metadata. These standards have been developed by international and cross-disciplinary communities, and are subject to ongoing review.
4. Don’t be a loner, get out and socialise
There are plenty of opportunities to collaborate and work together with people grappling with the same problems which can only enrich your relationship with your data. Sharing your knowledge will help continue to build and grow the worldwide community of practice. Socialising can be face to face, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to take advantages of the many conferences, workshops and events that take place around the world, or online. The Open Preservation Foundation provides a central hub for tools, advice and knowledge exchange – particularly useful are the blogs which provide insight into current activities, both successes and failures.
5. Never give up
Good relationships can be established at a much later stage, unappreciated and unloved data need not be rejected if there are signs that there is potential for a fulfilling and positive future. But you will need specialist advice if you need to go down this track. BitCurator provides a gateway to digital forensics tools and methods in the cultural heritage context. Brown Dog is a project that seeks to bring the long tail of data into the light – the focus of their efforts is past and present uncurated data.
So, what are you waiting for? Love your data, starting today!
Gillian Oliver is Associate Professor at Monash University and the co-author of Digital Curation, 2nd edition (Facet 2016) and Records Management and Information Culture (Facet 2014), the co-editor of Engaging with Records and Archives (Facet 2016) and a Co-editor in Chief of the journal Archival Science.
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The No-nonsense Guide to Archives and Recordkeeping is ideal for professionals involved in the management of archives and records, especially if they are just starting out or without formal training.
The book covers all aspects of recordkeeping and archives management. It follows the records’ journey from creation, through the application of classification and access techniques, evaluation for business, legal and historical value and finally to destruction or preservation and access in the archive.
Based on the internationally renowned training days run by the author and her business partner, the book deals with records and archives in all formats. It utilizes checklists, practical exercises, sample documentation, case studies and helpful diagrams to ensure a very accessible and pragmatic approach, allowing anyone to get to grips with the basics quickly.
The book is divided into four main work areas:
- current records: including creation, filing, classification and security
- records management: including aims, risks, planning, preparation and delivery
- archives management: including collecting policies, intellectual property rights, appraisal, digitization and outreach
- archival preservation: including policy, disaster prevention and repositories.
Author Margaret Crockett said, “managing records and archives is really interesting and rewarding but it is also really important: if we can’t tame our paper and digital mountains into manageable documentation which tells the story of our lives, our organisations and our societies we cannot prove the things we need to prove and lose our memory of the past. My book aims to set out clearly all you need to know to understand the basic principles and concepts which underpin this often underestimated but crucial activity”.
More information: http://www.facetpublishing.co.uk/title.php?id=048552#.VlRCwXbhDcs
Sample chapter: http://www.booksonix.co.uk/facetpublishing/9781856048552.pdf
This presentation takes you chapter-by-chapter through Caroline Brown’s new edited collection, Archives and Recordkeeping: Theory into Practice.
This presentation takes you chapter-by-chapter through the new textbook from Facet Publishing, Records and Information Management.
Picture a scene: in a county record office somewhere in England, a young archivist is looking through the morning post. Among the usual enquiry letters and payments for copies of documents is a mysterious padded envelope. Opening it reveals five floppy disks of various sizes, accompanied by a brief covering letter from the office manager of a long-established local business, explaining that the contents had been discovered during a recent office refurbishment; since the record office has previously acquired the historic paper records of the company, perhaps these would also be of interest? The disks themselves bear only terse labels, such as ‘Minutes, 1988-90’ or ‘customers.dbf’. Some, the archivist recognizes as being 3.5” disks, while the larger ones seem vaguely familiar from a digital preservation seminar she attended during her training. On one point she is certain: the office PCs are not capable of reading any of them. How can she discover what is actually on the disks, and whether they contain important business records or junk? And even if they do prove of archival interest, what should the record office actually do with them?
Meanwhile, a university librarian in the mid-west USA attends a faculty meeting to discuss the burgeoning institutional repository. Introduced a few years ago to store PDF copies of academic preprints and postprints, there is increasing demand from staff to store other kinds of content in a much wider range of formats, from original research data, to student dissertations and theses, teaching materials and course notes, and to make that content available for reuse by others in novel ways. How, the librarian ponders, does the repository need to be adapted to meet these new requirements, and what must the library do to ensure the long-term preservation of such a diverse digital collection?
Finally, in East Africa, a national archivist has just finished reading a report from a consultant commissioned to advise on requirements for preserving electronic records. The latest in a series of projects to develop records management within government, he knows that this work is crucial to promoting transparency, empowering citizens by providing them with access to reliable information, reducing corruption and improving governance through the use of new technologies. The national archives has achieved much in recent years, putting in place strong records management processes and guidance. But how to develop the digital preservation systems necessary to achieve the report’s ambitious recommendations, with limited budgets and staff skills, and an unreliable IT infrastructure?
Practical Digital Preservation is intended to help these people, and the countless other information managers and curators around the world who are wrestling with the challenges of preserving digital data, to answer these questions. If the book had been written only a few years ago, it would first have to explain the need for digital preservation at length, illustrated no doubt with celebrated examples of data loss such as the BBC Domesday disks, or NASA’s Viking probe.
Today, most information management professionals are all too aware of the fact that, without active intervention, digital information is subject to rapid and catastrophic loss – the warnings of an impending ‘Digital Dark Ages’ have served their purpose. Hopefully, they are equally alive to the enormous benefits of digital preservation, in unlocking the current and long-term value of that information. Instead, their principal concern now is how to respond in a practical way to these challenges. There is a sense that awareness of the solutions has not kept pace with appreciation of the potential and the problems.
Such solutions as are widely known are generally seen as being the preserve of major institutions – the national libraries and archives – with multi-million pound budgets and large numbers of staff at their disposal. Even if reality often doesn’t match this perception – many national memory institutions are tackling digital preservation on a comparative shoestring – there is no doubt that such organizations have been at the vanguard of developments in the field.
The challenges can sometimes appear overpowering. The extraordinary growth in the creation of digital information is often described using rather frightening or negative analogies, such as the ‘digital deluge’ or ‘data tsunami’. These certainly reflect the common anxieties that information curators and consumers have about their abilities to manage these gargantuan volumes of data, and to find and understand the information they need within. These concerns are compounded by a similarly overwhelming wave of information generated by the digital preservation community: no one with any exposure to the field can have escaped a certain sense of despair at ever keeping up to date with the constant stream of reports, conferences, blogs, wikis, projects and tweets.
Practical Digital Preservation demonstrates that, in reality, it is not only possible but eminently realistic for organizations of all sizes to put digital preservation into practice, even with very limited resources and existing knowledge. The book demonstrates this through a combination of practical guidance, and case studies which reinforce that guidance, illustrating how it has already been successfully applied in the real world.
‘Records and information are the living history of how a financial institution steers its course in a brutally competitive market. This outstanding volume has achieved something important: the editors deliver a resource that provides reliable and trustworthy navigation through the diverse challenges of global banking and financial services and the rigour of specific national rules. Balanced, thorough, accessible – an essential tool for any professional.’
The book was also endorsed by Randolph Khan, the award winning author of Information Nation, who said:
‘Managing Records in Global Financial Markets is a great resource chock-full of useful information’
The book is the latest in Facet’s Principles and Practices in Records Management and Archives series. More information including the table of contents and a free sample chapter can be found on the Facet website.