Lorraine Murray

Lorraine Murray

Last updated on 21 November 2018

Lorraine Murray is Archivist at Inverclyde Council in Scotland

During my masters course where I studiedInformation Management, Digital Preservation and Archives at the Department of Information Studies (or as I knew it at the time; HATII!) at The University of Glasgow, I came to realise how useful it was to create and use digital content with the aim of making historical information and original source material more widely accessible. However, the successful curation, management and preservation of any digital object is an absolutely essential part of this process.

I was lucky enough to get a job just around the time when teaching ended. As I started my new job as a local authority Archivist for Inverclyde Council, I was also thinking about what to write about for my masters dissertation. Being in this position allowed me the opportunity to create policies and procedures about various things such as what we collect, how we appraise our records, how we deal with transfers and accessions and so on. But the one thing I was keen to look at was how we deal with our digital records both currently and in the future.

In 2014, the National Records of Scotland published their digital preservation strategy; “The National Records of Scotland and born digital records – a strategy for today and tomorrow“. In an attempt to meet the objectives of this strategy, they formed a five year digital preservation programme with the primary aim to acquire a digital repository.

As a member of ASLAWG (the Archivists of Scottish Local Authorities Working Group), which is a sub group of the Archives and Records Association, I began to realise that most - if not all - of the 32 Scottish Local Authorities would be in a similar position as the one I worked for; and would be facing similar challenges. The NRS, ASLAWG and the Scottish Council on Archives began a discussion about the possibility of collaborating to form a joint digital repository to house born digital and digital surrogates that reside within our Scottish local authority collections.

The NRS began working on a digital preservation guidance and capacity planning project and recruited two Skills for the Future trainees Penny Wright and Ruth Marr to carry them out. Initially, the projects were scoped during a day long workshop at New Register House in July 2016, led by Susan Corrigall and Tim Gollins from the NRS. As local authority Archivists and record-keepers were identified as stakeholders in this project, we were invited to attend a day long workshop to help plan and structure the project to help meet their needs in advance of its commencement in autumn 2016.

Local Authority Archivists and record-keepers became an integral part of the consultation process and the trainees met with us to introduce the project at an ASLAWG meeting in Kirkintilloch in August 2016. Following this, a survey to identify the number and types of digital holdings within each local authority was distributed for completion amongst ASLAWG members; the results of which highlighted the need for record keeping professionals within local authorities to have access to training and resources in this area.

The project outcomes were delivered at two launches; one in Glasgow in July 2017 and another in Aberdeen in August 2017. The trainees also delivered presentations at other events including the Edinburgh Preserves meeting in August 2017.

Around the same time, I had begun work on the Digital Preservation Coalition’s student project “Solving the PDF Preservation Problem” in conjunction with the veraPDF Consortium. The objective of this was “to apply preservation tools, analyse what they report, investigate preservation risks and develop best practice”.  I concentrated my analysis on one file type; the portable document format (PDF) which I found to be considered a fairly robust file type and one which is often preferred for ingest by many repositories, and certainly one which was found in abundance within Inverclyde Archives.

So I had my dissertation project!

I was able to use the findings from the NRS projects and my own work on the DPC student project to inform my paper and apply the results to make recommendations about best practice within my own local authority Archive, which I believed could be also be applied to others. I hoped this practical analysis would provide evidence which could be used as a means to advocate for resources to help record-keeping professionals meet our statutory and legislative obligations.

The NRS projects identified several issues, however, I believe the main challenge overall is budget constraints within our organisations. This means that often resources are limited; a lack of staffing and storage are important concerns which often limit local authorities being able to successfully care for their digital holdings, despite it being a requirement under several pieces of legislation. It has been argued by Osbourne and Gaebler in Richard Cox’s ‘Archives and Archivists in the twenty-first century: what will we become?’ that “Most public organisations are driven not by their missions, but by their rules and budgets.” In the case of Scottish local authorities, I believe this to be true.

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