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Thursday, 6 July 2017

The UK Archivematica group goes to Scotland



Yesterday the UK Archivematica group met in Scotland for the first time. The meeting was hosted by the University of Edinburgh and as always it was great to be able to chat informally to other Archivematica users in the UK and find out what everyone is up to.


The first thing to note was that since this group of Archivematica ‘explorers’ first met in 2015 real and tangible progress seems to have been made. This was encouraging to see. This is particularly the case at the University of Edinburgh. Kirsty Lee talked us through their Archivematica implementation (now in production) and the steps they are taking to ingest digital content.


One of the most interesting bits of her presentation was a discussion about appraisal of digital material and how to manage this at scale using the available tools. When using Archivematica (or other digital preservation systems) it is necessary to carry out appraisal at an early stage before an Archival Information Package (AIP) is created and stored. It is very difficult (perhaps impossible) to unpick specific files from an AIP at a later date.


Kirsty described how one of her test collections has been reduced from 5.9GB to 753MB using a combination of traditional and technical appraisal techniques. 

Appraisal is something that is mentioned frequently in digital preservation discussions. There was a group talking about just this a couple of weeks ago at the recent DPC unconference ‘Connecting the Bits’. 

As ever it was really valuable to hear how someone is moving forward with this in a practical way. 

It will be interesting to find out how these techniques can be applied at scale of some of the larger collections Kirsty intends to work with.


Kirsty recommended an article by Victoria Sloyan, Born-digital archives at the Wellcome Library: appraisal and sensitivity review of two hard drives which was helpful to her and her colleagues when formulating their approach to this thorny problem.


She also referenced the work that the Bentley Historical Library at University of Michigan have carried out with Archivematica and we watched a video showing how they have integrated Archivematica with DSpace. This approach has influenced Edinburgh’s internal discussions about workflow.


Kirsty concluded with something that rings very true for me (in fact I think I said it myself the two presentations I gave last week!). Striving for perfection isn’t helpful, the main thing is just to get started and learn as you go along.


Rachel McGregor from the University of Lancaster gave an entertaining presentation about the UK Archivematica Camp that was held in York in April, covering topics as wide ranging as the weather, the food and finally feeling the love for PREMIS!


I gave a talk on work at York to move Archivematica and our Research Data York application towards production. I had given similar talks last week at the Jisc Research Data Network event and a DPC briefing day but I took a slightly different focus this time. I wanted to drill in a bit more detail into our workflow, the processing configuration within Archivematica and some problems I was grappling with. 

It was really helpful to get some feedback and solutions from the group on an error message I’d encountered whilst preparing my slides the previous day and to have a broader discussion on the limitations of web forms for data upload. This is what is so good about presenting within a small group setting like this as it allows for informality and genuinely productive discussion. As a result of this I over ran and made people wait for their lunch (very bad form I know!)


After lunch John Kaye updated the group on the Jisc Research Data Shared Service. This is becoming a regular feature of our meetings! There are many members of the UK Archivematica group who are not involved in the Jisc Shared Service so it is really useful to be able to keep them in the loop. 

It is clear that there will be a substantial amount of development work within Archivematica as a result of its inclusion in the Shared Service and features will be made available to all users (not just those who engage directly with Jisc). One example of this is containerisation which will allow Archivematica to be more quickly and easily installed. This is going to make life easier for everyone!


Sean Rippington from the University of St Andrews gave an interesting perspective on some of the comparison work he has been doing of Preservica and Archivematica. 

Both of these digital preservation systems are on offer through the Jisc Shared Service and as a pilot institution St Andrews has decided to test them side by side. Although he hasn’t yet got his hands on both, he was still able to offer some really useful insights on the solutions based on observations he has made so far. 

First he listed a number of similarities - for example alignment with the OAIS Reference Model, the migration-based approach, the use of microservices and many of the tools and standards that they are built on.


He also listed a lot of differences - some are obvious, for example one system is commercial and the other open source. This leads to slightly different models for support and development. He mentioned some of the additional functionality that Preservica has, for example the ability to handle emails and web archives and the inclusion of an access front end. 

He also touched on reporting. Preservica does this out of the box whereas with Archivematica you will need to use a third party reporting system. He talked a bit about the communities that have adopted each solution and concluded that Preservica seems to have a broader user base (in terms of the types of institution that use it). The engaged, active and honest user community for Archivematica was highlighted as a specific selling point and the work of the Filling the Digital Preservation Gap project (thanks!).


Sean intends to do some more detailed comparison work once he has access to both systems and we hope he will report back to a future meeting.


Next up we had a collaborative session called ‘Room 101’ (even though our meeting had been moved to room 109). Considering we were encouraged to grumble about our pet hates this session came out with some useful nuggets:


  • Check your migrated files. Don’t assume everything is always OK.
  • Don’t assume that just because Archivematica is installed all your digital preservation problems are solved.
  • Just because a feature exists within Archivematica it doesn’t mean you have to use it - it may not suit your workflow
  • There is no single ‘right’ way to set up Archivematica and integrate with other systems - we need to talk more about workflows and share experiences!


After coffee break we were joined (remotely) by several representatives from the OSSArcFlow project from Educopia and the University of North Carolina. This project is very new but it was great that they were able to share with us some information about what they intend to achieve over the course of the two year project. 

They are looking specifically at preservation workflows using open source tools (specifically Archivematica, BitCurator and ArchivesSpace) and they are working with 12 partner institutions who will all be using at least two of these tools. The project will not only provide training and technical support, but will fully document the workflows put in place at each institution. This information will be shared with the wider community. 

This is going to be really helpful for those of us who are adopting open source preservation tools, helping to answer some of those niggling questions such as how to fill the gaps and what happens when there are overlaps in the functionality of two tools.


We registered our interest in continuing to be kept in the loop about this project and we hope to hear more at a future meeting.

The day finished with a brief update from Sara Allain from Artifactual Systems. She talked about some of the new things that are coming in version 1.6.1 and 1.7 of Archivematica.

Before leaving Edinburgh it was a pleasure to be able to join the University at an event celebrating their progress in digital preservation. Celebrations such as this are pretty few and far between - perhaps because digital preservation is a task that doesn’t have an obvious end point. It was really refreshing to see an institution publicly celebrating the considerable achievements made so far. Congratulations to the University of Edinburgh!

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