Illustration of a laptop showing 3 arrows on the screen that say one, two, and three. This section provides an overview of the recommended steps for designing, building, and maintaining a DAR. Some of the elements covered are examined in more detail in the “More on Information Gathering”, “Template for Building a Digital Asset Register”, and “Hints and Tips” Sections. Use this section to help plan how you will build your DAR. The main steps and activities are outlined in the following:

  1. Identify Your Motivations for Building a DAR
  2. Setting the Scope
  3. Make a Plan for Building Your DAR
  4. Gathering and Adding Information
  5. Using Your DAR
  6. Updating Your DAR
  7. Reviewing Your DAR
1. Identify Your Motivations for Building a DAR

Having a clear understanding of why you are building a DAR, what it will be used for, and who will use it, helps to ensure you produce a register that is effective, functional, and straightforward to maintain. Take time to consider the following questions, and to document the answers, at the beginning of the process:

  • What issues do you hope to address with your DAR?

  • What opportunities do you hope to create?

  • How will the DAR be used?

  • Who will use the DAR?

  • Are there any other interested parties to consider? (e.g. content creators or holders, managers or executives, IT colleagues)

You may wish to answer these questions on your own, or to invite other interested parties to contribute. After answering these questions, you may wish to use the information to develop a set of guiding principles to guide the development of your DAR.

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2. Setting the Scope

Being clear about the scope of the content to be documented in the DAR is essential. Without clear scoping, critical content may not be included, or the DAR may be populated with lots of extraneous information. When setting the scope, it is important to consider what content will be included, as well as what information should be collected about that content. When first building your DAR, you may wish to err on the side of a broad but shallow register to ensure nothing important is missed. The scope can then be tightened, and more detailed information captured as the DAR is updated.

Answering the following questions, and documenting the answers, can help with setting the scope:

  • What content should be included within the DAR? For example:

    • Born-digital content and/or digitized content?

    • Only digital content currently managed by the archive/library/digital preservation team, all digital content produced by the organization that will require preservation. (e.g. records in current use, web content, social media data, etc.), or some other defined grouping?

    • Digital content generated by the organization and/or digital content received from external depositors?

  • How will organizational culture affect your ability to capture information for the DAR?

    • Is there a clear mandate for preservation and/or is it a priority for the organization? If yes, it should be straightforward to engage colleagues in contributing to the gathering of information. No mandate and/or executive and managerial support can be a barrier to information gathering.

  • What resources (time, tools, staffing, and skills) do you have available for undertaking this work? If they are limited, you may need to aim for a tightly scoped DAR.

  • Are there types of content that need to be prioritized as they have a high-risk profile? For example, if they are critical organizationally or they are stored on unreliable/unstable storage media.

  • Are there any “low-hanging fruit” that would be easy to capture information on first? For example, documenting all digitized material because it is relatively homogenous, or all born-digital material as it is stored in a single location.

As with identifying motivations (above), while you may be able to complete a scoping exercise on your own, it may be useful to include interested parties in the process.

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3. Make a Plan for Building Your DAR

Once you have established the motivations and scope for your DAR, you should then develop a plan for how to achieve these aims in practice. At a minimum, your plan should cover the following:

  • Clearly identified roles and responsibilities for designing the DAR, gathering information, ongoing management, and review.

    • It is important to carefully consider who should be involved and when. You should look to balance the advocacy benefits of getting other colleagues involved and the potential complications this may add to the process.

  • The format that will be used for the DAR, and a template design. Ideally, this will also include documenting the various column headings/data elements and defining the information to be captured in each. More detailed guidance on this process is included in the section “Template for Building a Digital Asset Register” later in the toolkit.

    • Make sure to consider potential duplication of information that is held in other systems, and whether or not the inclusion of this information is necessary to facilitate the intended uses of the DAR. For example, some organizations find it useful to gather a small amount of provenance information within their DAR, to ensure it is easy to access and is recorded consistently across digital content. If, however, you already have robust accessioning processes in place that record the information in an accessible register or system, then there is little point in duplicating this in the DAR.

  • The Who, What, When, Where, and How of the information gathering phase:

    • Who will carry out the information gathering and who will they need to talk to/ask for information?

    • What information needs to be gathered?

    • When will the information gathering take place?

    • Where will the information be gathered? Will meeting space be required for interviews? Do you need access to survey and/or characterization tools? Will you gather information in a separate document before processing and entering it into the DAR?

    • How will you gather the information? Will you interview colleagues? Will you circulate a survey? Will you use characterization tools to gather information from various storage areas? Will you need to analyze data from existing systems, e.g. accession records or catalogue records?

It is also important to consider if you will need to gain approval for your plan. Having the plan approved by your line or program manager will provide a mandate for carrying-out the work, which may help to prioritize it. Having the plan approved by a senior manager may also help smooth the information gathering process by providing a directive that will motivate colleagues to participate.

To help with this step,  a DAR planning template is available for you to download.

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4. Gathering and Adding Information

Your plan developed in the previous step should clearly describe your approach to gathering information for your DAR. This will likely be the most time-consuming and intensive step of building it. The following section of this toolkit will examine possible information gathering techniques in more detail, but they might include the following:

  • Extracting information from existing resources, such as deposit agreements, accession records, catalogues, digital repository systems or other documentation. These may be held digitally, but in some cases, you may need to consult paper records.

  • Interviews with colleagues to gather information on digital content they produce and/or manage.

  • Circulating a survey to capture information on what digital content is produced and/or managed across the organization.

  • Using characterization tools to survey digital content currently held on archive drives, shared drives, or other storage areas.

  • Surveying physical media that has been included with deposited content but has not yet been transferred to the organization’s storage.

You may wish to gather information in an intermediary document before processing it for inclusion in the digital asset register. This can be particularly helpful if your DAR is highly structured and utilizes techniques such as agreed lists of terms to be used.

When adding information, try to be consistent in the minimum level of detail included and also adhere to any guidance you have developed. When adding information to your DAR for the first time, you might find yourself updating and refining the initial guidance based on the lessons learned during the information gathering and the quality and completeness of the data that was collected. Continuous improvement of resources is always to be encouraged but do make sure to update the relevant documentation or guidance.

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5. Using Your DAR

Once you have added all of the information to your DAR, you will be able to use it as a core resource to support your digital preservation activities. In particular, there are two key types of activities DARs are used to help with. These are:

  • For planning and collections management. This can include:

    • Documenting where content is stored.

    • Helping to locate content when you need to provide access. This is generally for content prior to its ingest into a repository system. This process may also include checking if there are any reasons to deny or limit access, due to sensitive data or restrictions relating to intellectual property rights.

    • Planning for storage needs by tracking content growth over time.

    • Documenting risks to digital content, including identifying common risks which you should take action to address.

    • Planning and managing the ingest of content into a digital preservation repository. In particular, a DAR can be used for prioritizing content for ingest based on criteria such as risk profile and format types.

    • Managing retention and disposal.

  • For advocacy and reporting purposes. This can include:

    • Producing figures and charts, for example showing progress over time (e.g. content growth, amount of content processed, or changes in the types of content being collected). This information can be useful for tasks such as annual reporting.

    • Making the extent of digital content evident and also aiding with transparency in relation to the amount of digital preservation work being undertaken. Summary visualizations can be particularly effective in highlighting digital content that might otherwise be “invisible” to colleagues.

    • Communicating with colleagues, in particular facilitating discussions with IT colleagues as you will be able to be clearer and more specific about requirements for storage, hardware, software, and other technical infrastructure.

    • Supporting requests for prioritization of digital preservation activities and making the case for additional resources.

The information captured within your DAR may also be useful for activities such as applying for accreditation and measuring capacity and capabilities with tools such as maturity models. Finally, your DAR can be a great tool to help new members of staff joining your team become familiar with your organization’s digital content and the types of digital content they will be working with.

You may find this list of potential uses helpful when considering your motivations for creating a DAR and setting its scope.

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6. Updating Your DAR

It is important that your DAR is kept up-to-date and does not lie dormant. Making a clear plan for updating it on a regular basis will ensure it remains accurate and relevant. How you approach updates will depend on a number of factors including your organization’s type and culture, when and how new digital content is created or received, and how much time and resources you have available to put towards the activity. There is no one correct way to approach updating your DAR, but you may consider a method similar to one of the following:

  • Adding information at the point of acquiring and/or accessioning new digital content or deposit.

  • At a regular time, each week or month, e.g. setting aside a regular afternoon slot for updating the information.

  • As part of a regular content audit process, e.g. a quarterly survey of physical media.

  • At regular points in the year if your organization follows a particular cycle of activity, e.g. at the end of each term in a university context or the end of an exhibition or tour if you work in the arts.

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7. Reviewing Your DAR

It is important to review your DAR from time to time to ensure that it is still fit for purpose and that information is being added in a consistent and suitable manner. If multiple people are updating it , you may wish to identify a person or small group of people to have editorial control of the register to oversee the quality of information captured, with checks carried out on a regular schedule.

Less frequent, but more in-depth reviews are also recommended to revisit the purposes of the DAR, its scope, and structure. These reviews may be triggered by significant changes in digital preservation practice or linked to a policy review or new planning exercise. For these reviews, you may wish to work through a set of similar steps as described in this toolkit for first building a DAR.

Finally, if you reach a point where all of your digital content has been ingested into a repository system, you may find that maintaining a DAR has become redundant. It is likely that all of the information that would be entered into and retrieved from the DAR is now managed by the repository or held in other systems such as those for accessioning and cataloguing. If this is achieved, you can make the decision to cease active use of the DAR. You should also consider at this point whether it would be helpful to retain the DAR as an institutional record and a back-up of information held elsewhere or, particularly if the DAR contains sensitive information, if it should be disposed of.

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