In my previous post I set out the context for addressing legacy material held by The Postal Museum. I outlined how I approached the issue of getting content off removable media and work to analysis the file formats. In this post I explain how I am using this experience to plan migration pathways for inaccessible formats, and applying this experience to other material in our collections.

Stage 3 Migration?

From the stamp artwork material discussed in my previous post, there were only 22 files (of a total 136) which I wasn’t able to open. These were all Quark Xpress files and I turned to the digital preservation jiscmail list to seek advice on next steps and potential migration pathways. The consensus was that Adobe InDesign could be used to convert these files and export them to PDF. I don’t have Adobe InDesign on my laptop but colleagues in other teams (including the IT team) do have it. I have raised a request with IT to carry out this work. This hasn’t been completed yet, as it has been agreed we should appraise the material before carrying out the conversion and this requires the availability of the IT Manager (who has the relevant software), a philatelic curator (who has the subject knowledge relevant to this material), and myself. One issue I have found during this process trying to identify what significant properties we wish to maintain in the migration process. Colleagues in the philatelic team have the subject specialist knowledge, but not necessarily the understanding of digital preservation processes or the inevitability of some changes. This requires a good level of communication skills. At present we have a better understanding of what we have, where the potential issues are, and a preliminary plan for next steps which is progress on where we were a year ago.

Using the processes and experience gained from working with the stamp artwork I then turned my attention to the rest of the legacy digital records in the archive. I focussed my attention of records from 2017 and earlier and excluded those I already have a reasonable understanding and level of confidence with. Age isn’t the only risk factor for digital preservation but  I have been developing our workflows and documentation procedures for digital preservation since 2017 and would hope that any potential issues with more recent acquisitions would have been identified at the time of transfer.

To date I have carried out DROID reports on 7 of 29 deposits. I am listing the formats as I go and cross referencing with PRONOM and Library of Congress documentation. As with the stamp artwork I am also creating local copies of the deposits to check what can be opened. At this stage most of the files that require further exploration or consideration are system files. These files are likely to require some input from IT to determine whether they are required. This is one of the main bottle necks for digital preservation activity at The Postal Museum. I am very lucky to have a supportive IT Manager who understands the importance of this work. However, we have an IT team of one to support all staff and a visitor attraction. It’s not surprising that even the simple digital preservation requests take lower priority.

As part of this process I have also identified a number of duplicate files. These require further investigation to determine their significance and whether there are any contextual or technological dependencies which may justify their retention. Alongside this I need to consider the resource (financial, staff time, and environmental) implications for retaining, migrating, and storing these duplicates.

I have not yet begun to consider migration pathways for any of this content. My plan is to carry out an initial file format analysis of all 29 deposits so I can identify common problematic formats and apply a consistent approach to these materials.

Stage 4 What next?

I need to complete the file format analysis, The next step will be to liaise with IT regarding both the system files, and any required migrations. As noted above this will be dependent on the capacity and availability of the IT Manager.

Longer term I also need to consider how to continue to monitor file formats and address issues as they arise. We do not have a digital preservation system, so file format information is currently recorded in a) a DROID report stored on the server, and b) the condition note field in CALM. This ensures a good link between the documentation and the content it relates to but makes it more challenging to locate all the records of a particular format. Digital preservation is the responsibility of one member of archive staff who also has other analogue archive responsibilities. This raises a question of how sustainable it will be to continue to monitor file formats and migrate on an ongoing basis. On the other hand, I am learning more about our collections and technological issues along the way. This knowledge and experience may be used to streamline work in future, or to create a case for more automated processes.

This is very much a work in progress (prompted somewhat by needing to have something to blog about!) and I welcome questions, comments, and feedback.

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