Sarah Arnold

Sarah Arnold

Last updated on 10 March 2017

Over the last two years, I have been working with our Archivist (I’m the Records Manager) to create a blue-print for digital preservation in the University of Portsmouth.  Our brief is simple… find a solution to the issue of digital preservation, using existing systems (which were not necessarily designed with preservation in mind), whilst carrying on with our usual day-to-day work.  The task of building a solution is, of course, far from simple and it can often feel like we are making very little progress; but now that I reflect upon it for this blog I realise how far we have actually come in laying the foundations.  Our approach has been one of logic with a heavy dose of pragmatism, focusing on what steps we can take towards good practice.

Know what you’ve got…

A big part of my work in recent years has been to take our University Retention Schedule and turn it into an Information Asset Register.  This includes listing where each record is currently held and where it was formerly held, including named IT systems.  This has come in very handy recently during the decommissioning of some very old data systems.

In addition to this, I have added a preservation RAG flag against every record.  Any record marked as being of archival interest automatically gets a red flag for preservation, as does anything I know we have to keep for more than 30 years.  Anything that I know will have a life of less than 10 years gets a green flag.  In this way, we can prioritise our efforts and resources to those records most at risk of obsolescence.

Raise awareness…

As part of our overall awareness campaign for Information Governance, I have been explaining digital obsolescence.  My aim is to try to get colleagues to think about how it might affect them and what they can do to begin to reduce the risk for their records.  Anyone playing business bingo, could get a full house if they listen out for: “store in a secure, shared location”, “avoid using removable storage media” and “create or hold a copy in an open-source, lossless format”, as these crop up in most conversations I have about records management.  It’s even in our Information Governance e-learning package and there is strong evidence that the message is starting to get across.

Get a voice for the future…

I am liaising with colleagues in our Projects and Procurement teams to try to get records management embedded in the processes for procuring and installing new systems.  My hope is that future IT projects will take into account the retention and disposal (and therefore by implication the preservation) of the data that will be held in the new system; not just during the life of the system, but also afterwards when we are storing the historic database, or maybe even just the historic data itself.

Get risk aware…

I’m lucky.  As a Records Manager I am dealing mainly with finite timescales and, although these can be 80-100yrs in some cases, it does allow me to have a greater risk appetite than our Archivist who is dealing in “forever”.  Obviously I don’t want to do anything which will prevent her from taking in and managing digital content in the archive; but understanding the risk to the organisation of losing a record, understanding whether it is the content or the format of the record that needs preserving, and understanding the technical constraints in which the digital content is locked, really helps me focus on what needs to be achieved, rather than what could be achieved in an ideal world.  It gives a clarity to decision making.

Just like building a house, it takes a long time to lay proper foundations and when you are done, the ground is still flat and you still haven’t mortared in a single brick.  I feel like we have almost got our foundations in place and that’s a good start.

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