Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson

Last updated on 9 February 2022

Paul Wilson is a retired IT consultant who worked for 28 years for the global Systems House Computer Sciences Corporation; and prior to that for the UK National Computing Centre.

In April 2016, I created a set of document templates to support the digital preservation of my personal document collection, and it was published for general use in the DPC website. Since then, the document set has been tested through a complete lifecycle of subsequent maintenance exercises. The learnings from those experiences have been incorporated into a final set of templates which are again provided for free and general use in the DPC web site.  To give you an idea of what sort of collections the templates might apply to, and what sort of digital challenges they might help to address, the background to their development is summarised below.

In 1981, I was working at the UK National Computing Centre and I set out to investigate what it would be like to work in an electronic office; so, I started keeping all my work documents, gave each one a serial Reference Number, and managed them with an index [1]. Just about everything was kept – letters, internal memos, reports, articles, marketing brochures, training courses, overhead slides,  35mm slides, conference proceedings, video cassettes etc. etc. Initially, it was mostly hardcopy, but, as time went by, there was more and more digital content. In 1996 I acquired a Document Management System (DMS) and started digitising both all new hardcopy and all the legacy hardcopy files [2].

By 2014 I had a big problem. Most things were digitised, but with 174,000 scanned pages, 40 CDs, and around 13,000 digital files in some 26 different formats (some dating back to 1986 or earlier), a proportion of the collection was becoming unreadable. In looking for an answer, I discovered Digital Preservation – but couldn’t find any step-by-step guidance for a private individual like myself. However, the DPC kindly gave me its 12-step questionnaire that it used on its training courses; and, from this, I developed the notion of SCOPING the work, undertaking a PRESERVATION PROJECT, and putting in place a MAINTENANCE regime. I tried it out on two trial collections of photos (17,000 files) and Mementos (800 files), and then on my collection of work documents. The documentation drove the process; so, I created Templates and a Case Note which were shared on the DPC website. Since then, the templates have been refined through the following processes:

  • Separate maintenance exercises on each of the Memento, Photo and Work Document collections three years after the initial preservation work was done.

  • A trial of using the Maintenance Plan template instead of the Scoping template, to undertake initial Digital Preservation work on a small collection of 840 jpg, pdf and MS Office files. It proved to be very successful and the template guidance was updated to offer this route through the process.

The document set has helped me work methodically through many and varied digital preservation challenges at a scale which is challenging for an individual. Some examples are provided below:

  • The use of the National Archives DROID tool to analyse the files in the work document collection has been invaluable; however, the report it produced for 189,000 + files was daunting to investigate. Diligence and rigour were required to categorise issues and pursue problem types.

  • The DMS was complex to manage and had an uncertain future, so a major element of the initial preservation project was to move all the files it contained into Windows folders labelled with the relevant Reference Numbers.

  • Many files were very old or would no longer open with my current software, for example, early Word, PowerPoint, Visio, and Lotus 1-2-3 files. I used the online Zamzar service to successfully convert around 370 such files to updated, accessible, formats.

  • Many files were in very old formats but were still readable with my current software. I converted large numbers of these to newer formats (around 600 in the initial preservation work, and around 1300 in the recent maintenance exercise).

  • Several large MS Help files (which Microsoft stopped supporting in 2006) were converted to MS HTML Help (CHM) using a tortuous but workable process defined in a website I found on the net.

  • A disk conversion service was used to access the contents of old 5.25 disks and 3.5 disks; and a video conversion service was used to convert old VHF videos to MP4 format.

  • CDs containing hundreds or thousands of files have proved particularly demanding. In two cases the interfaces wouldn’t open, but the individual file contents could be seen and accessed. For these CDs, I created guides in Word documents, embedding the relevant files where appropriate.

  • Despite trying in both the original preservation exercise, and in the maintenance activity three years later, I have been unable to convert the following types of files: CaseWare and CaseWise, ScreenCam, Lotus Organiser v2, NOA (cell phone video), and a variety of EXE files.

The key features of the document set and templates are:

  • They are aimed primarily at individuals with their own digital collections; but might also be useful to apply to any relatively small, self-contained, collection residing within an organisation or institution.

  • They are designed to first determine the scale of work required so that a Project Plan with realistic effort and timescales can be produced.

  • They ensure that all the information that will be needed in the next planned maintenance exercise, is recorded; and that the next maintenance plan is produced.

  • Throughout the documents, comprehensive, deletable, guidance on what to include in each section is provided.

Having put the documentation through a full three-year maintenance cycle, I believe the templates to be fit for purpose, and am not planning to publish any further refinements. In the meantime, I continue to seek a permanent repository for my work document collection which is a working illustration of the potential and pitfalls of digital filing; and which may be useful as a research resource for investigating the initial impact of Office Automation, or as a digital preservation teaching resource. Further information about my Preservation Planning and Personal Document Management activities is to be found in 

[1] Wilson P A, Ergonomic aspects of Computer Supported Personal Filing Systems, Ergonomics Society Conference proceedings, Leeds, 3-6 April, Taylor & Francis 1990, pp 92-97

[2] Wilson P A, 20 years in the life of a long-term empirical personal electronic filing study, Behaviour & Information Technology, 2001, Vol. 20, No. 5, pp 395-409

Scroll to top