Last updated on 18 July 2018

Dave Heelas is the Archivist and Records Manager for Unilever Art, Archives & Records Management

I have been in my role as an Archivist and Records Manager here at Unilever Art, Archives & Records Management (UAARM) for three months now, the focus of my role is to lead on the Digital and Audio Visual collections. We are taking stock of our current digital preservation practices and in order to determine what challenges we may encounter in the future and how we can develop our current approach to digital preservation.


Some of the big challenges on the immediate horizon for our digital preservation practices are aspects that many readers will be familiar with -  email, audio visual material and complex digital collections. In this particular post will be looking at ‘Complex Digital Collections’, with other posts to follow on email and audio visual material.

Complex digital files

Recently we undertook a project to work on the accession, catalogue and ingest a mobile app ‘Port Sunlight Illuminated’ which was developed from records we hold here in our collections. This is the first time that with a project like this that we could guarantee that we had sight off all the documentation relating to a particular ingest from production to promotion and a complete set of the digital files too. This app and associated documents consisted of well over 40,000 individual items and was a real opportunity to test the whole process of archiving digital content. It was surprising that for the most part it really wasn’t unlike a normal cataloguing process and everything did work surprisingly smoothly, giving precedence to that phrase “Digital isn’t different”.

The biggest question mark encountered was in relation to arrangement, most of these files were kept on the cloud in a single folder and the decision was made to maintain this structure as much as possible. But where as a catalogue has a fixed arrangement clearly with a simulated folder structure on a computer the order of the folders at the same level could be changed in an instant. From alphabetical to date created or many more beyond, just because the folder is listed in alphabetical order doesn’t mean that how it was used and won’t represent the ‘original order’ of the files. Through discussions with colleagues in this case the decision was made to make deliberate choices in regards to the order represented in the catalogue as long as the series (folders) were kept at the same level within the catalogue. So I feel like the above phrase needs a tiny caveat “Digital isn’t different, except for when it is”.

Was this the right choice? I feel like in the future I may look back and disagree with the decision I made in this instance, but that is similar to normal cataloguing and ultimately you can only make the best call you can in a given situation to make a collection as discoverable as possible.


Although this is not an exhaustive list of the challenges that may be encountered with these issues in the future, it is the ones that have most immediately impacted my work here. Every day brings new considerations to light while working with digital collections and I am very interested into how as an organisation we will continue to develop and work with future archives.

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