Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Digital Rescue Mission: Operation Warm-up

Some of the floppy disks we have been looking at
My digital archiving intern has started work. His mission is to rescue digital media from the strongroom and prepare it for inclusion into the digital archive.

The first stage of this work has been to search our accessions database and catalogues for any mention of digital media. James has had the rather tedious job of running keyword searches over our finding aids in order to create a list of the archives that contain digital media. This list is pretty much complete now and next week we will start to pull material out of the strongrooms and see what we actually have.

However, in preparation for working with the real archives, we have also been doing a bit of a warm-up exercise on some old digital media found tucked away in people's offices. As well as being a means to hone our skills in this area, and test tools and workflows, this is also a very useful exercise in its own right. As a long-established organisation that has existed over a period of many technological changes, it is not surprising that we have a variety of different digital storage solutions for our administrative files. We are currently establishing a more cohesive strategy for storing all of our own digital material and part of this process is to ensure that any digital files that are important to us are stored in a logical location on a server and regularly backed up.

In the past floppy disks were regularly used to back up files and transfer files between computers. Some of these floppy disks still exist (and most are still readable) so James is currently working through them, virus checking them, running DROID to find out the file formats and opening the files to look at the content. He is creating a list from which we can highlight anything that is important and unique and in need of rescue. Many will be back-ups or earlier versions of things we already have on our shared filestore. Many of the unique files will be of limited value. However, we are expecting there will be other files that will be more interesting, and will be useful in showing the history and development of our organisation.

In terms of file formats, James is finding a lot of Microsoft Word 97-2003, WordPerfect 6.0 and PDF 1.4 files. No major problems with being able to read these at the moment so that is encouraging. A couple of old databases have emerged in Paradox and an early version of Microsoft Access which we are struggling to open. We expect to find earlier data going back to the 1990's as James works through the stratigraphy of the pile of disks on his desk. What better job for a recent archaeology graduate!

After the floppy disks have been tackled we may decide to move on to the CDs in the office. Far more numerous but it could be argued they are equally vulnerable.

Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist

Friday, 4 January 2013

The digital rescue mission begins!

What a great start to the new year to have the opportunity to begin the digital rescue mission that I blogged about back in September!

On Monday next week an intern is starting work here, and between us we have 8 weeks to 'rescue' digital content from the Borthwick Institute's strongrooms.

The first job that I have made a start on is to run various searches on our databases and pick the brains of staff here to create a list of collections that contain digital media. Though digital media has not been a part of our collection policy until recently, occasional CDs, DVDs and floppy disks have been given to us alongside more traditional analogue deposits. With no digital archiving strategy in place for dealing with these items, the digital media have been stored in the strongrooms awaiting the appointment of a digital archivist (that's where I come in). It is a priority for me to gain some control over this material. Locating the material and getting it securely stored and backed up on a server is the first step - some of the finer details about what happens next will be formulated as the project progresses.

On my noticeboard, squeezed between the family photos and Christmas cards (which I really should take down) there is a copy of a the table from 'NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation'. I'm finding this really helpful. When faced with a big task it is useful to break it down into smaller chunks rather than being overwhelmed by the whole. I am first of all focusing on 'Level One (Protect your Data)' and from that sound base can work my way to Level Two and beyond. Level One sets out the foundations of digital preservation. It is all very basic stuff but absolutely essential that this is carried out before anything else happens. There is no point attempting to carry out file migrations for example until you know your data is securely stored.

I'll be blogging more about progress on this over the next couple of months.

Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist