Thursday, 29 January 2015

Reacquainting myself with OAIS

Hands up if you have read ISO:14721:2012 (otherwise known as the Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System)…..I mean properly read it…..yes, I suspected there wouldn’t be many of you. It seems like such a key document to us digital archivists – we use the terminology, the concepts within it, even the diagrams on a regular basis, but I'll be the first to confess I have never read it in full.

Standards such as this become so familiar to those of us working in this field that it is possible to get a little complacent about keeping our knowledge of them up to date as they undergo review.

Hats off to the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) for updating their Technology Watch Report on the OAIS Reference Model last year. Published in October 2014 I admit I have only just managed to read it. Digital preservation reading material typically comes out on long train journeys and this report kept me company all the way from Birmingham to Coventry and then back home as far as Sheffield (I am a slow reader!). Imagine how far I would have had to travel to read the 135 pages of the full standard!

This is the 2nd edition of the first in the DPC’s series of Technology Watch reports. I remember reading the original report about 10 years ago and trying to map the active digital preservation we were doing at the Archaeology Data Service to the model. 

Ten years is quite a long time in a developing field such as digital preservation and the standard has now been updated (but as mentioned in the Technology Watch Report, the updates haven’t been extensive – the authors largely got it right first time). 

Now reading this updated report in a different job setting I can think about OAIS in a slightly different way. We don't currently do much digital preservation at the Borthwick Institute, but we do do a lot of thinking about how we would like the digital archive to look. Going back to the basics of the OAIS standard at this point in the process encourages fresh thinking about how OAIS could be implemented in practice. It was really encouraging to read the OCLC Digital Archive example cited within the Technology Watch Report (pg 14) which neatly demonstrates a modular approach to fulfilling all the necessary functions across different departments and systems. This ties in with our current thinking at the University of York about how we can build a digital archive using different systems and expertise across the Information Directorate.

Brian Lavoie mentions in his conclusion that "This Technology Watch Report has sought to re-introduce digital preservation practitioners to OAIS, by recounting its development and recognition as a standard; its key revisions; and the many channels through which its influence has been felt." This aim has certainly been met. I feel thoroughly reacquainted with OAIS and have learnt some things about the changes to the standard and even reminded myself of some things that I had forgotten I said, 10 years is a long time.


Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist

Friday, 16 January 2015

The first meeting of Archivematica UK users (or explorers)

Last week I was happy to be able to host the first meeting of a group of UK users (or potential users) of Archivematica here in York

There are several organisations within the UK that are exploring Archivematica and thinking about how they could use it within existing data management workflows to help preserve their digital holdings. I thought it would be good to get us in a room together and talking about our ideas and experiences. 

Of the institutions who attended the meeting, most were at a similar stage. Perhaps we would not yet call ourselves 'Archivematica users', but having recognised its potential, we are now in the process of testing and exploring the system to evaluate exactly how we could use it and what systems it would integrate with. 

Each of the nine institutions attending the meeting were able to give a short presentation with an overview of their experience with Archivematica and intended use of it. I asked each speaker to think about the following points:

  • Where are you with Archivematica (investigating, testing, using)?
  • What do you intend to use it for - eg: research data, born digital archives, digitised content?
  • What do you like about it / what works?
  • What don't you like about it / what doesn't work?
  • How do you see Archivematica fitting in with your wider technical infrastructure - eg: what other systems will you use for storage, access, pre-ingest?
  • What unanswered questions do you have?
By getting an overview of where we all are, we could not only learn from each other, but also see areas where we might be able to put our heads together or collaborate. Exploring new territory always seems easier when you have others to keep you company.

Over the course of the afternoon I took down pages of notes - a clear sign of how useful I found it. I can't report on everything in this blog post but I'll just summarise a couple of the elements that the presentations touched on - our likes and dislikes.

What do you like about Archivematica? What works well for you?

  • It meets our requirements (or most of them)
  • It uses METS to package and structure the metadata
  • It creates an Archival Information Package (AIP) that can be stored anywhere you like
  • You can capture the 'original order' of the deposit and then appraise and structure your package as required (this keeps us in line with standard archival theory and practice)
  • There is a strong user-community and this makes it more sustainable and attractive
  • Artefactual publish their development roadmap and wishlist so we can see the direction they are hoping to take it in
  • It is flexible and can talk to other systems
  • It doesn't tie you in to proprietary systems
  • It connects with AtoM
  • It is supported by Artefactual Systems (who are good to work with)
  • It is freely available and open source - for those of us who don't have a budget for digital preservation this is a big selling point
  • It is managed in collaboration with UNESCO
  • It has an evolving UK user base
  • The interface mirrors the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) functional entities - this is good if this is the language you speak
  • It allows for customisable workflows
  • It has come a long way since the first version was released
  • It fills a gap that lots of us seem to have within our existing data curation infrastructures
  • As well as offering a migration-based strategy to digital preservation, it also stores technical metadata which should allow for future emulation strategies
  • It is configurable - you can add your own tools and put your own preservation policies in place
  • It isn't a finished product but is continually developing - new releases with more functionality are always on the horizon
  • We can influence it's future development

What don't you like about Archivematica? What doesn't work for you?

  • It can be time consuming - you can automate a lot of the decision points but not all of them
  • Rights metadata can only be applied to a whole package (AIP) not at a more granular level (eg: per individual file)
  • Storage and storage functionality (such as integrity checking and data loss reporting) isn't included
  • Normalisation/migrations of files only happens on initial ingest but we are likely to need to carry out further migrations at a later date
  • Upgrading is always an adventure!
  • Documentation isn't always complete and up-to-date
  • It doesn't store enough information about the normalised preservation version of the files (more is stored about the original files)
  • It is not just a question of installing it and running with it - lots of thought has to go into how we really want to use it
  • You can't delete files from within an AIP
  • There is no reporting facility to enable you to check on what files of each type/version you have within your archive and use this to inform your preservation planning

A Q&A session with Artefactual Systems via WebEx later in the afternoon was really helpful in answering our unanswered questions and describing some interesting new functionality we can expect to see in the next few versions of Archivematica.

All in all a very worthwhile session and I hope this will be just the first of many meetings of the Archivematica UK group. Please do contact me if you are a UK Archivematica user (or explorer) and want to share experiences with other UK users.

Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist