Lizzie Richmond

Lizzie Richmond

Last updated on 26 September 2019

Lizzie Richmond works at the University of Bath

It has been 2 years since our last blog. We would like to be able to report giant leaps in digital preservation at the University of Bath, but the truth is there haven’t been any. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress; there has. It’s just that sometimes it can feel like the small steps aren’t really moving you forward.

I saw the film ‘First Man’ recently and it reminded me (again) just how mind-blowingly amazing it is that the 1969 moon landing ever happened. So much innovation, ingenuity, perseverance and pure blind faith to arrive some place no one had ever been. So many failures, trips back to the drawing board, recalibrations and adjustments.

So OK, our endeavours to build and launch a fully operational digital preservation programme may not be very like humankind’s first visit to the moon, but for an archivist more at home with parchment than pixels it can feel like preparing to travel into an awful lot of unchartered territory. We know where we want to go. It’s a long way off, but we can see it.

We have shared our vision with our employer. We’ve completed the self-assessment exercise, made the speeches, written the business case and convinced people to get on board. Meetings have been crashed, connections have been exploited, favours called in, obstacles negotiated, and potential supporters ambushed. Funding has been secured. We’ve done our homework, equipped ourselves with the right tools, and taken our first steps. So far, so good. It may not be NASA, but it’s not too shabby.

All this took effort and time, lots of time. And during this time things have changed around us. Our proto digital preservation programme is institutional in scope, but the fact is we’re a very small part of a huge organisation. Recent developments at a corporate level have resulted in a shift of priorities and focus. This isn’t a bad thing, but it was entirely beyond our control and has required that we pause and regroup. We’ve had to seek out new partners, align ourselves with a new, institution-wide agenda and adapt our approach. Small steps backward to go forward.

The lapse of time has also brought about changes in our relationship with commercial providers. This is inevitable as technology advances, businesses evolve and wider political and social trends come into play. But each small adjustment has involved a steep learning curve as we navigate rules of engagement that seem to shift in ways we can’t always anticipate. Managing a relationship with an external third party is not a straightforward issue when it also requires managing relationships with a number of internal teams.

We have been reminded of the value of staying well informed and up to date both within our organisation and outside it. We have learned that flexibility is indispensable. We have learned that knowing how to set up a commercial contract and negotiate fit-for-purpose service level agreements in a field where technical solutions are still being trialled is just as important as understanding file format constraints and bit rot rates. We have learned that, above all, we must be pragmatic. Each setback has made us better able to solve the next problem. We are building resilience into our working methods and it is teaching us to be brave. We have been tested, but we are not broken. We have faced challenges, but our determination is undiminished. We are pioneers in pursuit of digital preservation and, on a clear night, when we look up into the sky, we see the moon.


#1 Anna Riggs 2019-09-30 16:05
Great post!

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