Rowena Loo

Rowena Loo

Last updated on 20 July 2022

Rowena Loo is the Director, Digital Archives Innovation and Research at the National Archives of Australia.

Access – it’s the end goal of all digital preservation activity and the true test of our digital preservation efforts. After all, if no one’s going to access it, why preserve it? If it’s not technically possible to access it, how can we claim it’s been preserved? However, it’s all too easy to focus on the more immediate challenges of transfer, ingest and file format preservation, especially when broader public access can be limited due to statutory closure periods, or the sensitivity of the information involved.

While National Archives of Australia has been actively developing its digital archiving capability over many years, and had integrated access to digitised records into its public search engine, it was acknowledged that access to born-digital records had received less attention.

The Digital Archives Innovation and Research (DAIR) section at National Archives’ had been established with a mandate to work with different business areas to review and help improve practice in all aspects of digital archiving and our Reference and Description Services (RDS) section was keen to take a deeper look at current access processes and opportunities for improvement. There are great resources and standards available, which helped guide us in this work, including the Digital Curation Centre lifecycle model and the Open Archival Information System model, both of which underpin how we understand and talk about digital preservation and digital archiving at National Archives of Australia. As well as more focused guidance such as the Digital Library Federation (DLF) Levels of Digital Access and Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) guidance note on Developing an Access Strategy for Digital Materials.  

DAIR in partnership with RDS undertook a six-month project to review current processes for access to born digital records and make recommendations for process improvements that align to current best practice. This included benchmarking against approaches at similar organisations and against the DLF Levels of Digital Access.  Having this external framework was invaluable to help shape the analysis and pinpoint areas for improvement.

As we do for most DAIR projects, we also formed a reference group to guide the project. This group served two purposes – to bring together expertise on current practices to inform the project; and as a mechanism for sharing new knowledge on standards and practices in other organisations.

In response to one of the key recommendations from the benchmarking and gap analysis report, the project also developed a draft policy on access to born digital records as a vehicle to articulate the principles underpinning National Archives’ future practices for access to born digital records. This focused on forms of delivery, as the process of assessing what content can be released to the public (or not) is comprehensively covered by our legislation, the Archives Act 1983. While technical and system improvements take more time and budget, the research project was a big step forward in helping to build a shared understanding of what access to born digital records at National Archives of Australia should look like.

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