Louise Lawson

Louise Lawson

Last updated on 30 January 2018

Louise Lawson, Patrica Falcao, Chris King and Ana Ribeiro, Time Based Conservation Team, Tate

We have been looking at different aspects of digital preservation for over 10 years now and looking back it is quite exciting to see how far as an institution we have come on our digital preservation journey.  This is now coming to a head, as we establish our archival digital storage infrastructure and continue the development of the open source web-application Binder for managing our digital repository.  We have set-up a test environment and work with Binder will continue over the coming months, so do watch for future updates. 

In parallel with these larger projects, of establishing our archival storage and developing Binder, we have also continued to take smaller steps looking closely at the processes and tools to support our workflows. For instance setting up our workstation with a write blocker and ensuring that our temporary storage, or Interim Storage, meets the minimum requirements for storage of high value digital assets. As part of our digital storage infrastructure we have felt the need for a storage server where we can quickly back-up any digital files provided by an artist before we start any of the selection, quality assessment and archival storage processes that make up our acquisition process.  In 2017 our Information Systems department set-up our “Interim Storage”.   This is meant to be a first port when a hard-drive arrives to us from an artist, so we can create a copy immediately before we need to make any decisions.  As part of that workflow we want to ensure, when accessing hard-drives, that we don’t change them, or unduly delete them.

To accomplish this we chose to use hardware write-blockers. A choice that initially seemed very simple turned out to prove quite complex and time consuming to put in practice. This is often due to the environment we (and the artists we collect) work in, which is mostly based on Mac systems, while most write-blockers are intended to work in digital forensics workflows, and within Linux or Windows work environments.  When we initially tested a few different write-blockers we discovered that there were compatibility issues with some key aspects, namely:

  • The power supply to the drives- the main type of hard-drive we use for storage required a higher power input than the one provided by the write-blocker.
  • Not all the write-blockers would allow access to the files in some of the hard-drives supplied by artists.

After the tests we chose to use a Tableau T35689iu, which we re-housed into a portable caddy containing an extra PC power supply and a USB 3.0 hub. After this work our setup now provides us with a solution for the majority of the media we work on. 

Even though the Interim Storage is used as temporary storage only, it is still important to monitor files for deletion and integrity. With that in mind we are in the process of testing Fixity, an open-source and free tool developed by AV Preserve (https://www.avpreserve.com/products/fixity/) which can be set to monitor specific folders or partitions and then store and send reports to pre-defined e-mail addresses.

We have also  done a lot of work in refining our workflow for video, which makes for a large percentage of the digital assets under the care of time-based media conservation. We have been adapting it from our original tape-based workflows as our work environment and collection changed, and in February we worked with Agathe Jarczyk, from the Atelier fuer Videokonservierung (http://videokonservierung.ch/) to refine and better describe them. 

As a team we ended 2017 on a high by hosting the Significance and Authenticity: A Briefing Day at Tate in conjunction with the Digital Preservation Coalition. This was a great success and provided an opportunity for digital preservation practitioners from many different backgrounds to come together to discuss the topic.  This allowed a moment for us to present on our work relating to time based media art and it was a great way to end the year with colleagues.

We very much aspire to end this year on a similar high note as we continue our endeavours and watch much of our hard work come to fruition!



#1 Jenny Mitcham 2018-01-25 13:16
Thanks for this post Louise - I'm really interested to find out what "minimum requirements for storage of high value digital assets" you used? Hope you can share.
#2 Patricia Falcao 2018-01-30 11:47
Hi Jen, the wording "minimum requirements for storage of high value digital assets" can be translated to "look at the NDSA levels and see what is quickly achievable/ low resource and apply it ASAP".
In the specific case of our Interim Storage, where we store files for no longer than 1 year before going into Archival Storage, this means:
- There are 3 copies of all the data and 1 is in a different location. Infrastructure is managed by our IS department, so they run the back-ups and have admin rights to the server.
(will continue in next post)
#3 Patricia Falcao 2018-01-30 11:48
post 2/2

- We check file fixity on ingest, my colleagues Chris King and Claudia Roeck did a lot of work in finding and setting up our write-blocker.
-With Fixity we get a list of the contents and can then monitor file deletion and corruption. (We have done only preliminary testing, and have no experience with it over time so don't see this as a recommendation!)
- Access is pw controlled and limited to a few members of staff.

I hope this is helpful!

Scroll to top