Taking the first steps to implement or work with a new technique or technology can be a challenge, particularly when you do not know how, or even where, to start. This section offers practical tips to help digital preservation practitioners move forward, as well as case studies demonstrating how others have tackled the challenge.


Circumstances will vary widely in terms of the resources and technical skills available to an organization as well as in the type of material they are hoping to provide access to. However, the following ideas should provide a useful starting point for further exploration, whatever your circumstances. These '23 things' focus on actions aimed at both individual practitioners and at organizations, though of course there will be some overlap and you are encouraged to consider all points.

Steps for an individual practitioner
  1. Do something! It is easy to be overwhelmed by the possibilities available, but the best way to learn is to experiment. For example, if you can safely do so, consider making a small dataset available and seeing how people use it.

  2. There are great free resources available to learn more about computational techniques – use these to build your capacity. Good places to start are the Programming Historian or Library Carpentry. There are links to more resources at the end of this guide.

  3. Talk to people you do not normally talk to. A computational access project will benefit from a multi-disciplinary approach, and the more people with different perspectives you can talk to about it, the better. This could include people within your organization or in the wider community.

  4. Scope out your project meaningfully. While it might be tempting to just say ‘I want all the data’, that would not work in an 'analogue' project and will not work in a digital one either.

  5. Check the licences and terms of access that apply to the material you are working on, collate these in a document so you know, and can share, what users can legally do with your content.

  6. Look for existing datasets you can use to enrich the data you will be working with. For example, you might work in an organization that has catalogue entries you could incorporate into your project as metadata.

  7. Familiarize yourself with the various approaches to computational access discussed in this guide. They might all be useful to different types of user, but there are implications for the skills and resources you need for your project.

  8. Computational approaches and their outputs can lend work an aura of ‘objectivity’ that should be treated with caution. Keep in mind that your outputs might look more authoritative than perhaps they should, so think about how you can explain and qualify them. Make your assumptions and processes transparent to the user if you can.

 Steps for an organization
  1. Consider how computational access may align with, or support, organizational strategy. Being able to demonstrate a link may help you to make the case to explore new methods of access and gain the support of colleagues.

  2. Apply an active outreach approach. Speak to your users, set up user groups, conduct interviews. Try to help them articulate what they want (or might want if they knew about it) from computational access.

  3. Consider your own colleagues as a user community for computational access. While you might aspire to attract a new group of external users, computational access can also be of great benefit internally, by, for example, increasing your own understanding of your collections.

  4. A good way to generate ideas is to create a single dataset in a familiar format such as CSV, and host an internal hackathon, giving staff time to play with the dataset and see what they come up with.

  5. Think carefully about where the expertise to guide service provision for computational access lies in your organization, and how you can engage the right people. Bear in mind that expertise and responsibility might not always go together.

  6. Consider sustainability from the start. Remember that users may come to depend on the services you are planning to deliver, and you have a responsibility to think about how you will sustain them. Consider the resource commitment you will need and the environmental impact of your project. Though not specifically focusing on computational access, the article Towards Environmentally Sustainable Digital Preservation discusses the need for a paradigm shift in archival practice and touches on the environmental impact of mass digitization and instant access to digital content.

  7. Make documentation an integral part of your project from the very beginning. Part of the appeal of computational access is that others can build on your work in new and unexpected ways. A well-documented service, ideally with worked examples, will help facilitate this.

  8. Consider funding or empowering other users to approach your collections in new computational ways. For example, you could run a content hacking competition or workshop for postgraduate students and/or community practitioners to imagine potential uses of your content.

  9. Find a public domain or CC0 ‘No Rights Reserved’ collection, dataset or set of metadata and publicly release it. This can serve as a trial run to work through your processes, and as a way of engaging with users and working out what to do next.

  10. Search for existing standards you can use. Do not reinvent the wheel if other organizations have done already done similar work. For example, if you adopt similar data output forms to other organizations, it will make it easier for users who are already familiar with the standard.

  11. Ask lots of awkward questions during the procurement of any system. This might feel uncomfortable but will save problems in the long run. Engage expert colleagues to help you with this if needed.

  12. When testing your system, and when you are in production, be sure to question your results – are you able to identify and describe bias in the results? Do not take the computer's answer as right! The following article is an interesting reflection on selection and technological bias of the Living with Machines project: Living with Machines: Exploring bias in the British Newspaper Archive.

  13. It is important that users can contact you with questions or to request further data from your collection, so provide a primary contact or a contact form as part of your project.

  14. Make sure you have a defined plan to transition discussions of ethics to concrete actions in systems, processes, and collaborations.

  15. Going forward, embed computational access in your day-to-day collection accessioning and processing. New methods of access may require adjustments to organizational policy, accessioning and appraisal workflows and conversations or agreements with donors and depositors. The Reconfiguration of the Archive as Data to Be Mined is a helpful article which discusses changing practices brought about by the move to online digital records.


Further practical tips for getting started can be found in '50 things' which has been published as part of the Collections as Data framework and inspired this section of the guide. Though 50 things is not aimed specifically at digital preservation practitioners many of the tips and ideas are helpful and their key message "start simple and engage others in the process" is great advice!

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