Helen Fisher

Helen Fisher

Last updated on 21 April 2021

Helen Fisher is the University Archivist at the University of Birmingham.

My last blog post for the DPC ended on a positive note. In March 2020 we were about to recruit to a new post in Library Services with digital preservation responsibilities and we were hoping this would lead to institutional funding for a digital preservation system. Then we moved abruptly to home working and all recruitment was put on hold. Budget cuts mean that the financial landscape is very different as I write this post a year later and there is still a lot of uncertainty about what we might be able to do at an institutional level.

On the other hand, the switch to home working for much of last year gave me the time and space to step back and look at the problem from a different angle, to think about what was in my control and what I could do to ensure that we didn’t lose all the momentum that we had built up. I also had in mind advice from Rachel MacGregor’s presentations and blog posts that it’s better to do something than to do nothing, and so I was determined to make the most of this unexpected change in working circumstances.

One immediate positive was being able to take up a place as part of the first cohort to complete the online Novice to Know How training course in April 2020. I finished the course feeling much more confident about actually being able to do some practical work on digital preservation and to spend some time gathering information and investigating available tools.

As a result of my DPC blog post and subsequent discussion on Twitter I had some useful chats with Rachel, and with Simon Wilson, both of whom kindly spent time talking through low cost and low tech ways in which I could make some progress with digital preservation activities on a small scale.

Simon helped me to think about our current situation, and where we wanted to be, and he advised me to repeat the DPC RAM just for the archive collections at the Cadbury Research Library. He also provided useful advice to enable me to write a specification for a digital preservation workstation to assess born-digital material in existing collections (already identified in our DAR) and to process new born-digital accessions.

Using what I’d learnt from Novice to Know How I spent some time with DROID and thinking through how we would transfer and ingest digital archives. I then drafted some workflows on accessioning and on using DROID. I still need to test these with some actual archives rather than files on my laptop but at least we now have something to work from. So far, I haven’t been able to make any progress in setting up a digital preservation workstation, and we also need to improve our storage options so there are conversations that we need to have with IT. I am hopeful that once we are all working on campus more regularly we will be able to make some changes, despite the financial landscape.

In the meantime, several colleagues have also been able to complete the Novice to Know How course which should help us all to feel more confident about including digital preservation activities in our work. I’ve also benefitted enormously from a regional advice and support group, MidiPres, set up by Rachel MacGregor and Laura Peart last year. As a result of a demonstration at MidiPres I’ve begun very tentative steps in web archiving, looking at capturing University of Birmingham publications which are now published online only.

It has certainly been a challenging year and there is still a long way to go with digital preservation at Birmingham as well as with everything else, but there have been benefits of working at home away from the physical archives for much of the year. Doing something has definitely been better than doing nothing.

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