Tagged: digital archives

3 Preservation Questions: Walker Sampson

Next up in our series of author interviews for Preservation Week, we have Walker Sampson, co-author of the brand new book, The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content.

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cc image ‘Preservation Hall Bass Drum’ by Flickr user Infrogmation of New Orleans https://www.flickr.com/photos/infrogmation/

1. In your view, why is preservation awareness so important?

I think there’s an assumption for many that we know about everything we’ll ever know about the past, both near and distant. Preservation, both incidental and purposeful, is a fundamental part of how our past is discovered anew and rewritten.

2. What are some ways that libraries and archives can reach out to communities about the importance of preservation?

Often, communities will be interested in telling their story – furnishing the evidence and documents needed to recount a narrative – and I think that is vital. However, there may be groups and communities that aren’t confident on their story yet, or fear they need to have a “good” story to tell first. For these groups, I would encourage them to preserve their materials in spite of uncertainty. Someone else may come along to tell your story, and it will be better told with more preserved materials, not less.

3. Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats are prone to obsolescence. What are some current or proposed digital collection initiatives from cultural institutions that give you hope for the future?

One project I’m really excited to see progress is bwFLA (Baden-Württemberg Functional Long-Term Archiving and Access), a project to develop an open framework for emulating software online. This would allow users to access vintage software, and the documents created from them, in their original environments – directly from a browser. Preservation of “look and feel” has arguably been relegated to the most valued of digital objects because of cumbersome logistics, and this project really promises to deliver contextual authenticity to many more users, for many more digital objects.

Walker Sampson is the Digital Archivist at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries.9781783301959 He earned his MS in Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin before beginning work at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2011.

Find out more about Walker’s book (co-authored with Heather Ryan), The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content here.

Follow Preservation Week on Twitter using the hashtag  and look out for our other author interviews that we will be releasing throughout the week.

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Entry-level guidance for managing born-digital content

Facet Publishing have announced the release of Heather Ryan and Walker Sampson’s The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content.

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Libraries and archives of all sizes are collecting and managing an increasing proportion of digital content. Within this body of digital content is a growing pool of ‘born-digital’ content: content that has been created and has often existed solely in digital form. The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content explains step by step processes for developing and implementing born-digital content workflows in library and archive settings and includes a range of case studies collected from small, medium and large institutions internationally.

Authors Heather Ryan and Walker Sampson said,

Our book is for librarians and archivists who have found themselves managing or are planning to manage born-digital content and who may feel somewhat unsure of their ability to take on a task that by all appearances demands a high level of technological expertise

The book covers the basics of digital information; selection, acquisition, accessioning and ingest; description, preservation and access; methods for designing and implementing workflows for born-digital collection processing; and strategies and philosophies to move forward as technologies change.

Trevor Owens, Head of Digital Content Management at the Library of Congress said,

Librarians, archivists and museum professionals need to collectively move away from thinking about digital, and in particular born-digital, as being niche topics for specialists. If our institutions are to meet the mounting challenges of serving the cultural memory functions of an increasingly digital-first society the institutions themselves need to transition to become digital-first themselves. We can’t just keep hiring a handful of people with the word ‘digital’ in their job titles. You don’t go to a digital doctor to get someone who uses computing as part of their medical practice, and we can’t expect that the digital archivists are the ones who will be the people who do digital things in archives. The things this book covers are things that all cultural heritage professionals need to get up to speed on.

Heather Ryan is the Director of Special Collections, Archives & Preservation and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. She earned her PhD in Information and Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Walker Sampson is the Digital Archivist at the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries. He earned his MS in Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin before beginning work at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2011.

Extract from Practical Digital Preservation

This is an extract from Adrian Brown DPC Preservation Award-Winning book Practical Digital Preservation. A link to a PDF of the full chapter can be found at the end of this post.

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Image source: Flickr cc pic by Walraven

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.

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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.

Find out more

This is an extract from the first chapter of Practical Digital Preservation.  You can read the full chapter here, for free.

Find out more information, browse the table of contents and purchase the book here.

About the author

Adrian Brown is the Director of the Parliamentary Archives and has lectured and published widely on all aspects of digital preservation. He was previously Head of Digital Preservation at the National Archives where his team won the International Digital Preservation Award in 2007.

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