Ailie O'Hagan

Ailie O'Hagan

Last updated on 2 November 2023

Ailie O’Hagan is the Digital Preservation Officer at Queen’s University BelfastShe attended the iPRES 2023 Conference with support from the DPC Career Development Fund, which is funded by DPC Supporters.

Starting with Digital Preservation is like making stone soup – the more we come together and pool our resources, the better we can sustain our staff and collections needs. 

When we preface our roles with the title ‘Digital Preservation –’ we take on the mantle of subject authority (albeit to varying degrees). But sometimes these job titles seem to create a false expectation that we operate in a closed circle of expertise. At iPRES 2023, discussion around the role of communities in digital preservation gave pause for thought on the unintended exclusivity of our digital preservation teams. Are we creating a club that ranks our knowledge above the potential for others to help? Many of us are musicians, designers, artists, advertisers first, who fell, curiouser and curiouser, down the rabbit hole of digital preservation. Speaking at iPRES, Sherry Williams, a former postal worker turned community archivist, and founder of the Bronzeville Historical Society, inspired us to ‘unlearn’ how, or rather, who, we define digital preservationists. Tamar Evangelista Dougherty also challenged us to ‘look outside the circle of digital preservation people’, with both urging us to share our knowledge and resources to encourage and equip others to be actively involved in preserving their histories. Very often, the appetite for digital preservation is there, but pressures on time and resources prevent us from taking action.  

When we widen the invitation to our table, it can be surprising who turns up. Getting started with digital preservation at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), meant reaching out to people across departments, interests, and skill sets (usually, when presented with a puzzle). A requirement to receive files from a large digitisation project with an external partner, for instance, brought Digital Transformation and Library Systems together to explore options for deposits and robust file transfer. The QUB Cyber Security team were keen to be involved and support us – offering to integrity check new deposits and review weekly reports from our digital preservation system. In Special Collections we introduced a workflow on Teams for notifying each other of updates to the digital archive so changes could be reflected in the preservation system, and more recently, Library Assistants have become involved with updating digital asset registers, and helping with pre-ingest file prep.

There are many facets to digital preservation, and sharing practices that enable our colleagues to take part in ways that work for and with them, improves our capabilities to manage our collections. Together with our Open Research and Research Data Librarians, and a Digital Transformation Architect, we developed an automated template from our primary Digital Asset Register, branching across Microsoft Lists, for anyone in the QUB Library to keep track of their digital assets and feed into. Demonstrating tools like Teracopy, DROID, VeraPDF, or JHOVE with my colleagues, means others managing sensitive materials, or whose collections are not of immediate priority for preservation ingest, can safely move, and check their files for bit rot.

Together, we are building momentum. The web development team are now experimenting with ingests to archive the University Website, and by reflecting on Library Systems projects, we have been able to reframe our development needs, so they no longer compete but are aligned with current Systems priorities.

In September, I presented an update on our digital preservation activities to my wider library peers, which piqued yet more interest. Understanding breeds confidence to be creative. Colleagues have been coming up with ideas – for obsolete file format costumes, a raspberry pi to play retro video games, or – anyone for a byte of cake?   

Of course, we have our Digital Preservation team – a sub-group that sits within Open Research, for managing the governance of our digital preservation activities. But, like the tale of stone soup, the more people come together to pool resources, the more sustainable and far reaching our digital preservation practice becomes. 

The Career Development Fund is sponsored by the DPC’s Supporters who recognize the benefit and seek to support a connected and trained digital preservation workforce. We gratefully acknowledge their financial support to this programme and ask applicants to acknowledge that support in any communications that result. At the time of writing, the Career Development Fund is supported by Arkivum, Artefactual Systems Inc., AVP, boxxe, Ex Libris, Iron Mountain, Libnova, Max Communications, Preservica, Simon P Wilson, and Twist Bioscience. A full list of supporters is online here.

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