Helen Dafter

Helen Dafter

Last updated on 6 November 2023

Helen Dafter is Archivist at The Postal Museum in the UK

The Postal Museum recently reached a significant step in its digital preservation journey, with the purchase of Preservica. I am celebrating this achievement, and thinking about what we need to do next to get it fully up and running. We wouldn’t have been able to reach this stage without the support and cooperation of many others along the way.

As is typical in any archive project, including digital preservation, I began by speaking to others using digital preservation systems to learn more about how these systems worked in the real world and any particular aspects I should be aware of. This also helped me build a case for a digital preservation system - pointing to other organisations and the benefits they had experienced.

I have previously blogged about our work with students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Working collaboratively - Digital Preservation Coalition (dpconline.org)). This bought valuable technical skills in testing how different systems performed. Based on the recommendations arising from this project we began to focus on Preservica as our preferred system. As well as performing well in the research, Preservica is used by several business archives which meant I could provide reassurance to Royal Mail and Post Office Limited, whose records we care for.  I continued benchmarking – focussing specifically on organisations using Preservica and asking about their lessons learned and what they would do differently if they could start again.

The benchmarking and WPI project fulfilled our due diligence to allow us to go ahead with the purchase of Preservica.

As mentioned, The Postal Museum cares for the archives of Royal Mail and Post Office Limited. Therefore, it was extremely important that they were happy with any proposed digital preservation system – there was no point getting a system if we don’t receive digital records to put in it! This involved working with existing information management contacts, and new contacts in cyber security to explain our project and provide any necessary reassurances. When working with new contacts, such as those in cyber security, it is important to remember that you may need to explain the archive and its relationship to the businesses before you get into the specifics of digital preservation. These discussions have been positive, and we have the support of both businesses. 

This project has involved staff from across The Postal Museum. Preservica will be used to care for both archive and museum collections, therefore the input of museum colleagues has been very important. Also, I have worked closely with other members of the archive team to get different points of view on my approach. The support of our IT Manager has been valuable in offering a technical insight – especially when working with cyber security colleagues from the businesses. It has been important to remember that all these colleagues have different levels of experience in digital preservation and may require more explanation of the general concepts before exploring how these work in the context of Preservica. Colleagues with less experience can also be useful in asking the ‘obvious’ questions that I may have overlooked when focussing on the details.

We are still at the early stages of our Preservica journey and have lots of questions, especially around what access will look like. We need to think about different types of access, including by The Postal Museum staff (both collections and the wider organisation), Royal Mail and Post Office Limited expectations, and the needs of researchers. We have done some early research into this area – including with an existing researcher, and The National Archives. As our ideas are more developed, we will continue to work with users and potential users to inform our access provision.

This is only the first milestone on our project to build our digital preservation capacity, but we couldn’t have reached it without the generous support and advice from colleagues across the digital preservation community. The support of the Digital Preservation Coalition, including the Procurement Toolkit, advice on our requirements document, and providing forums where I made useful contacts, is also much appreciated. A huge thank you to the generosity of the community and all those who shared their experiences with me. I am of course always happy to pay it forward, so do get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of this in more detail.

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