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Thursday, 22 November 2012

The first accession!


I am pleased to report that last week I accessioned the first files into the digital archive here at the Borthwick Institute!

This may sound like a rather grand claim at the moment. I will admit that we do not have a 'digital archive' infrastructure in place yet and we are still in the very early stages of considering how best to treat digital material. 'Accessioning' of digital data is not the formal process that I would like it to be, but I am setting up some basic procedures to tide us over until a more cohesive system of managing digital archives alongside their analogue friends and relations is established.

It has been said many times that with digital preservation there is no point waiting for the perfect solution because this may be a long time coming. If we keep on waiting, the problem will get bigger and crucially, data loss may occur ...so this is the methodology I have established so far.

Once I have checked that the media is readable and free from viruses, my first priority is to ensure that new digital data deposited with us is copied on to our digital archive server storage space (and securely backed up). This is of utmost importance and is the first step to ensuring longevity of digital data. If data exists only on one device (whether it is a floppy disc, a DVD or a hard drive) we can not assume it will still be readable or usable next time we need to access it. Ensuring we have more than one copy of the digital data is a key step towards preserving that data.

The next step is to find out exactly what we have. File identification and characterisation tools such as DROID are really helpful here. Running DROID over the files will produce a list of technical metadata about each file. This will include the file name and file size alongside a checksum (we can use this over time to check that a file hasn’t corrupted or been accidentally altered). DROID also tries to identify the exact file type and version of your files. Very useful information as this can provide a starting point for making decisions about future file migrations.

It is also important to maintain a record of the digital deposit process and the provenance of the data. Keeping copies of relevant correspondence about the process and any other documentation submitted which describes the data is crucial as it is hard to recreate this if not captured at the time of deposit.
This is the just the starting point for me - the first steps towards preserving the material. However, the small steps we can take now should ensure that the files can be more easily incorporated into a fuller digital archiving solution in the future.

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