Spreading the word at the Northern Collaboration Conference

Collaborating with other delegates at the start of the day
Photo credit: Northern Collaboration Conference, Kiran Mehta
I gave a presentation last week at the 2015 Northern Collaboration Conference. My first trip to this conference which is primarily aimed at those working in academic libraries and proved to be an interesting day.

The theme of the day was 'Being digital: opportunities for collaboration in academic libraries' so I thought our collaborative Jisc Research Data Spring project was a perfect fit. It was great to have a new audience to talk to about our plans to 'fill the digital preservation gap' for research data. Though it is academic libraries that are taking on this challenge, my typical audience tends to be those working in archives.

Slides are available on slideshare.
(epic fail on getting the embed code to work in Blogger)
My slides are available on Slideshare for those who want to see what I was talking about.

I began by making sure that we were speaking the same language. Communication is a big issue for us digital archivists. If we talk in OAIS-speak only other digital archivists will understand us. If however we use terms such as 'archiving' and 'curation' we fall into the trap of the multiple layers of meanings and (mis-) interpretations of these terms. This being not my usual audience, it was best to put my cards on the table at the start and establish basic principles.

Key takeaway message: This is not all about storage*

I then covered many of the questions included in the project FAQs that we produced in phase one of our project. Essentially the:
  • Why are we doing this/ why do we need digital preservation?
  • What does research data look like?
  • What does Archivematica do?
  • What are it's strengths and weaknesses?
  • How can we use it?

I was able to touch on the topic of the value of research data and how it is regarded by different researchers working in different disciplines. 

Researchers at York have different opinions on the value of their
data and the challenges of curating it

The lack of clarity on the value of much of the data we will be looking after is the main reason why we propose the approach we are taking.

I'm inspired by Tim Gollin's paper 'Parsimonious Preservation: Preventing Pointless Processes!' which focuses on the primary need to simply to collect the data and find out what you've got. Crucially the 'knowing what you've got' step can be done with minimum expense through the use of available open source tools. Taking a pragmatic approach such as this is particularly appealing when the value of the data we are curating is such an unknown.

I then spoke briefly about phase two of the project through which we are trying to define our own workflows and implementation plans at York and Hull. I mentioned the development work that we are sponsoring as part of this project. Artefactual Systems are currently working on six different areas of development for us (as described in a previous blog post).

At the end of the session I handed out a short feedback form to try and gauge the level of interest in the project. Though only 6 from a total of 20 questionnaires were returned, respondents unanimously agreed they would go away and read the project FAQs in more detail and expressed an interest in a show and tell event once our proof of concepts were up and running. Most also thought they would download our report and talk to their colleagues about Archivematica and our project.

Quite a good result I think!

* though Archival Storage is still essential to any digital archive

Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist


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