Kieran O'Leary

Kieran O'Leary

Last updated on 29 April 2021

Kieran O’Leary is the Digital Preservation Manager at the National Library of Ireland.

I have been working within the Digital Collections department of the National Library of Ireland for close to eight months now. We are working on many exciting born-digital pilot projects, and I look forward to going into more detail on them in a future blog. For now, I just wanted to share some observations on terminology and communication that I've noticed in my Digital Preservation roles over the years, but also within our community as a whole. I specifically want to focus on the terms:   File and Ingest.

In a digital collections department,- one might expect to find a mix of Archivists, Librarians, IT professionals, and people like me who're not quite anything but let’s go with digital preservation specialist for now. Much is often made of GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) efforts to communicate needs with IT professionals, but issues around definitions and namespaces are equally difficult for GLAM workers when talking amongst ourselves. 

One of the simplest issues conerns the word "file". It means a very different thing for paper archivists vs a file system. I'm not suggesting that anyone would have too many issues when it comes to differentiating an acid-free cardboard file from a .pdf file on a computer. Where meaning can get lost is when speaking about levels of description. File-level description for someone purely involved with digital files would generally mean that each file gets descriptive or technical/preservation metadata records.  File-level description for an Archivist could still be an aggregate record for multiple items stored in the one file/folder. This is something that I've personally encountered, and it does require clarification when making decisions that involve levels of description.

Another term that gets a bit lost in the shuffle is Ingest, and by extension, pre-ingest. As someone who previously worked in a film archive, ingest usually meant digitising or migrating a videotape. Within an institution like the NLI where we have a digital repository;  ingest refers to the steps that begin with  launching the import of a file into the repository. OAIS has a different definition: "The Ingest Functional Entity (labeled ‘Ingest’ in the figures in this section) provides the services and functions to accept Submission Information Packages (SIPs) from Producers (or from internal elements under Administration control) and prepare the contents for storage and management within the Archive. Ingest functions include receiving SIPs, performing quality assurance on SIPs, generating an Archival Information Package (AIP) which complies with the Archive’s data formatting and documentation standards, extracting Descriptive Information from the AIPs for inclusion in the Archive database, and coordinating updates to Archival Storage and Data Management."

Interestingly, at the very end of the OAIS Magenta Book ( ), you can see a mapping of sorts between what OAIS calls 'Traditional Archives' and OAIS : Accession (traditional Archives): Ingest. I love that the OAIS definition covers a lot of what we often refer to as 'pre-ingest' activities, all the manual processes prior to import (note that I’m not saying Ingest here!) into the digital repository itself.  I read OAIS as saying that as soon as you receive the digital object from a donor, Ingest has begun, and it's a process that results in the creation of archival packages, preservation storage and many more functions. I've seen such interpretations pop up on Twitter from time to time as well.

I could pick many more examples, especially the terms 'Digital Repository' or 'Digital Object', but I guess in the end, there’s a lot to be said for taking a step back for a moment and just making sure that everyone is on the same page. If someone has a different meaning in their heads, it’s just because they’re carrying over their existing definitions into the Digital Preservation realm.

Scroll to top