Garth Stewart

Garth Stewart

Last updated on 29 August 2017

One of the really nice things about working in digital preservation is the community’s friendly, open attitude. Practitioners regularly come together in formal and informal contexts – both invaluable – to share ideas, reflect on challenges, and learn from one another. It’s a testament to our collective benevolence that these gettogethers, often attended by colleagues from highly varied backgrounds and organisations, are consistently provide confidence and inspiration in what we do.

Such exchanges can work locally, too, and Edinburgh Preserves is one example of this; a local group that brings together a merry band of practitioners from across the greater Edinburgh area (and beyond!) who work in digital preservation, for informal discussion and networking.

Originating in Auld Reekie in 2014, we meet roughly on a quarterly basis (often fuelled by the wondrous treats of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery café), to chat through mutual successes, challenges and common interest. These little meetings (we average about 5-10 people each time) are always useful, and have led to direct collaboration between organisations on pre-ingest processing and digital imaging standardisation. If you work in digital preservation in or around Edinburgh, please get in touch via our Twitter account or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

We are much more than just tea, cake and chat however! Edinburgh Preserves also reaches out to wider professional and research circles via an annual public event. We held our first of these in 2014 at the National Library of Scotland, and last year, courtesy of the support of Lloyds Banking Group Archives, we were in the wonderful surroundings of the Museum on the Mound.

This year it was the turn of National Records of Scotland and, as chance would have it, our ‘Athol Murray Suite’ events space in West Register House (where our Digital Records Unit is based), was newly refurbished and in need of a proper inauguration. This being the third public event for Edinburgh Preserves, and sticking with our ‘jammy’ theme (you may have noticed our logo on Twitter by now), we christened this event ‘The Third Batch’.  The date was agreed, the Eventbrite created (and quickly sold out), the tweets were shared, the drinks were poured, and the snacks were being chomped: the stage was set!

Really pleasingly, our speakers for The Third Batch all offered something very distinctive yet highly mutually interesting to attendees – a perfect testament to the diversity and value of Edinburgh Preserves. Ably compèred by NRS’s very own Tim Gollins, who couldn’t resist throwing in some newly-announced winning jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe to get us going, we were ready to roll!

First on the agenda was Sean Rippington from University of St Andrews Library, who has been comparing third party digital repository systems for research data preservation. As Sean observed, the costs of in-house development and maintenance of preservation systems are often impossible for organisations to bear, leading many to procure a commercial solution – but which one to choose? Ultimately this comes down to the organisation’s context and needs, but Sean gave an excellent, balanced account of two he had been exploring as part of the JISC RDSS project: Preservica and Archivematica. There were pros and cons on each of these; where one solution provided a slicker product which resembled the Windows Explorer user experience, the other had a stronger community of practice and open culture. Sean will be continuing his work in collaboration with Lancaster University over the next year, and the themes he plans to touch on will be of major interest to the wider digital preservation community.

Next up was Prof. Lale Ozdemir from Marmara University in Turkey. Lale, who held previous posts in The UK National Archives among others, led us on a compelling journey through the world of archives and records management in modern Turkey. Turkey does not yet have legislation governing public records. Instead, rather uniquely, advice on archives is issued in collaboration with government departments, academics and the archives themselves. Perhaps because of this, the national archives in Turkey does not yet have a strategic view on digital, yet the recordkeeping environment it operates in is fascinating: since 2008 all Turkish government departments have been obliged to use EDRMS systems, in line with a significant e-government initiative. The question for the archives will be then, once digital transfer begins, has this created the well-ordered, easily understood records these systems are meant to provide for? Time will tell.

Following Lale we had a joint presentation from NRS’s Skills for the Future Trainees, Ruth Marr and Penny Wright, on the tools they have developed to help local authorities in Scotland get started in digital preservation.

Ruth created a digital capacity tool, to allow local authorities to better understand how many born digital archival records they should expect to receive, and the preparations they should make for this. Sounds complicated right? It many ways this is, but Ruth cleverly designed her tool to be as intuitive, simple and familiar (it’s in Excel) as possible.

Penny has produced a high-level piece of guidance on digital preservation aimed at local authorities, to give a focused entry to this nebulous subject. Ruth and Penny shared many valuable insights, including:

  • Local authorities’ preparedness for digital preservation differed a lot! From IT readiness, prior knowledge, access to senior management etc. Consequently, they needed to tailor their messages very carefully.
  • Try and keep messages as non-technical as possible.
  • The testing phase of the projects with end users was utterly essential to their success.

Penny and Ruth have delivered award-winning products; keep your eyes peeled for the publication of these tools in the very near future.

 

 

 

Last but certainly not least, Dr. Elspeth Haston from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh provided a fitting finale to proceedings by taking the audience through their work in creating URI stable identifiers for their archival collections of herbarium specimens. A world-first premiere of RBGE’s promotional video on this (online soon) set the scene for an inspirational talk. Some key messages included:

  • The Garden’s commitment to the preservation of every specimen means assures the stability of each URI linked to each specimen.
  • The most wonderful thing about URIs are that they’re so simple and effective, as the link immediately gives the user context on the resource’s provenance, and provides a unique ID for that individual object.
  • If done well, collections physically dispersed can be elegantly brought together for online access, saving users incalculable time and travel costs. For an example, see the Wallich Catalogue

This was mesmerising stuff, with Tim concluding it was one of the most powerful pieces of work in this space he had seen for a very long time. I think Hania, AKA Edinburgh Preserves Twitter, summed it up perfectly 😊

Further networking ensued, bringing a close to a highly successful and action-packed event. The Twitter Storify is available here, and please get in touch for further info on Edinburgh Preserves. Keep jammin’!


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