Ruth Schieferstein

Ruth Schieferstein

Last updated on 25 February 2022

Ruth Schieferstein is a Digital Archive Officer at Historic Environment Scotland. She recently attended the NEDCC Digital Directions Conference 2022 with support from the DPC’s Career Development Fund, which is funded by DPC Supporters.

I had the great opportunity to attend the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) Digital Directions conference thanks to the generous DPC Career Development Fund. The conference was held virtually over three days and was packed full with interactive talks and collaborative breakout sessions. My motivation for attending the conference was to meet fellow digital preservation colleagues and to stay up-to-date with current best practices and standards.

The conference covered a wide variety of topics including standards and specifications for both digitisation and digital preservation, metadata, copyright, selection for digitisation, considerations for audiovisual and born-digital material, digital storage and working with collaborative or consortial organisations.

A lot of the talks covered the basic groundworks of digital preservation, offering great advice to those starting their digital preservation journey and to those that are already on their journey— setting also the scene for the other talks that were more technical and more focussed on specific topics.

I was able to take away something useful from each and every talk and there were a lot of sentiments, ideas and advice that I will be taking back into my role at Historic Environment Scotland (HES) Digital Repository. Sadly, I am not able to list all of them within this blog post, so what follows is only the tip of the iceberg.

Talking us through different storage options in his talk Storage 101, Mike Thuman, Digital Transformation Advisor at Digital Enduro, LLC, also went into detail about cloud storage. Cloud storage is often hailed as the ultimate storage solution and is often little understood. It was good to see a simple breakdown of storage classes available and to hear about some of the challenges that come with cloud implementation. Particularly interesting was the consideration of where the data is stored. As cloud data centres are situated all over the world, your data may not be stored within your jurisdiction which is good for safeguarding it against potential geographic disasters but may pose problems with sensitive data. In HES Digital Repository, we recently implemented cloud storage for one of our archive storage copies and I now feel like I am in a much better position to inform stakeholders about the concept of cloud storage when asked about it.

Katherine Fisher, Head of Digital Archives at Rose Library, Emory University, talked about Born Digital Collections. As I am mainly working with born digital material myself, I was particularly interested in this talk. In 2010 born-digital materials were classed as under-collected, under-counted, under-managed, unpreserved and inaccessible. A daunting observation which is still ringing true to this date with ever larger and more complex collections emerging. However, Katherine points out that many more people are now working on solving this problem and that more and more tools are available and collaborative initiatives resulting in examples and frameworks to learn from and to guide our decision-making processes. In her closing remarks, she reminded us that not everything has to be saved and that documentation is key to managing born-digital material, allowing successors to understand the decisions and actions taken. She also encouraged everyone to embrace “good enough” as most of the time there is no one right answer in digital preservation and to keep learning and to experiment.

This is a concept I am taking back to my role at HES. I am currently learning about born-digital audiovisual material where there has been little consensus in the digital preservation community on file formats and standards so far. In the last few years, more work has been focussing on audiovisual and the DPC Technology Watch reports are great resources, offering a sound starting point. At HES we only have a relatively small collection of audiovisual material, but we need to set out a strategy on how to care for the material and to ensure long term access to the material. With little prior knowledge on the subject matter, it is quite daunting to embark on the task at hand. Embracing the reality that digital preservation is an ever developing field and that what we decide today is not necessarily a final decision never to be reviewed again, gives me confidence in experimenting with tools and file formats and finding what works best for our collection at this moment in time. I will document every step of my journey which should lead to an informed strategy that will evolve with time.

Listening to Bryce Roe, who is the Director of Audio Preservation Services at the NEDCC, was also tremendously helpful and interesting for my work. Her talk Preserving Audiovisual Collections focussed on digitising audiovisual material as analog material is at great risk. The National Recording Preservation Plan, published by the Library of Congress in 2012, predicts the inability to transfer analog materials to digital by 2028. Two things I noted for my work were the emergence of the IASA TC-06 guidance which was published in 2019 and which outlines some international consensus on preserving video recordings. The TC-06 is going to be published in stages which Bryce points out reflects the complexity of the topic and still emerging consensus on best practices. It is expected that future stages will focus on born digital material, so clearly a document to watch out for. The other interesting development Bryce introduced is the FFV1/Matroska codec and wrapper. This is currently in the process of being standardised by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for use as a preservation format as it is non-proprietary and offers lossless compression. I have already come across FFV1/Matroska elsewhere, and it seems to be getting more following in the world of digital preservation which is interesting to note and to explore for HES as well.

Overall, the conference was fascinating and I am tremendously grateful to the organisers and the speakers who were all very enthusiastic, knowledgeable and friendly.

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