Sharon McMeekin

Sharon McMeekin

Last updated on 4 February 2021

A yeaPretzel, a small blonde dog wearing a tropical print bandanar ago from the time of writing, the first case of Covid-19 had yet to appear in the UK, and my two biggest worries in life were not pandemic related. How strange now to think that such times existed! My first worry was whether I would be a good “hoomum” to the wee rescue dog I was about to adopt (many of you will have met Pretzel on Zoom calls since…) and the second was whether we would be able to deliver our ambitious first online training project within the tight schedule given.

Despite the worry, both situations ended in successes (well, I hope Pretzel would agree, but he did not care to provide a comment for the blog….) The project, of course, produced the Novice to Know-How learning pathway (N2KH), funded by The National Archives (UK) (TNA). The learning pathway was officially launched in May 2020 and has since been completed by more than 1300 learners from around 40 countries. But, back in January 2020, around halfway through the project, meeting the delivery deadline of 31st March really did seem like an almost insurmountable task.

One of the key reasons we did manage to deliver the project on time was the careful scoping of the learning pathway, focusing closely on pre-ingest, ingest, and bit-level preservation activities. This did, however, lead to the exclusion of an important topic originally slated to be covered: Access. As a topic it was still somewhat amorphous in comparison to the more established practices of the other issues to be covered, therefore, removing it from the syllabus significantly simplified the process of drafting the training materials.

This choice also seems to reflect the realities of practice too. I think we would all agree that in an ideal world providing access to preserved digital content would be at the core of digital preservation activities. But due to the pressing demands of pre-ingest and ingest activities, and the limited resources most of us have at our disposal, access provision is often overlooked or included as an afterthought. But, it could be claimed that providing access to our preserved digital content is the ultimate test of the success of our ongoing preservation activities, so it seems time to give access provision greater attention.

Planning for the provision of access to preserved digital content has no doubt been made exponentially easier in the time since we were planning N2KH with the publication of the Digital Preservation Award-winning “Levels of Born-Digital Access” in early 2020. The Levels provide a consistent and easy to interpret framework for access, making the processes needed seem more coherent and attainable.

An illustration of a machine processing digital informationWith all of this in mind, the DPC was pleased to see a “call to tender” published by TNA in late 2020, inviting proposals for the development of online training covering the issues around providing access to preserved digital content. We were even happier still to be successful in winning the contract for the development of the training content!

With the dawn of the New Year, work began at pace on the new project. The course structure and key learning objectives have been agreed, illustrations to accompany the content have been commissioned (these will be able for others to reuse on a Creative Commons licence), and a draft of the first module has been produced and two more are in progress.

As with the original N2KH learning pathway, the content will be practically focused and draw on the DPC’s considerable experience and knowledge of the digital preservation community. The main aim of the course will be to provide learners with the skills needed to achieve Level One of the Levels of Born-Digital Access, but it will also align with the “Basic” maturity level for “Discovery and Access” in the DPC’s Rapid Assessment Model, and with the beginner’s level elements of the TNA’s Digital Preservation Access Workflow. Modules will cover topics such as Accessibility, Managing Intellectual Property Rights, Users Needs Analysis, Setting Up an Access Workstation, and more.

The course will be added to the original N2KH learning pathway for new learners and offered separately as a “top-up” course for those who have already completed N2KH. It is provisionally scheduled to be available from April 2021. Places will once again be available free of charge and will be prioritized for learners from the UK Archives Sector and DPC members.

We must offer thanks to The National Archives (UK) for once again showing innovative sector leadership and great generosity in the funding of this project, and we look forward to sharing more as work progresses!

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