Why is digital preservation documentation important to you and your organisation?

Since releasing the first version of our digital archiving workflow in 2021, we have engaged in an ongoing effort to formalise our digital preservation service: from identifying the stages in our digital archiving practice and articulating the processes, through which each stage is initiated and completed; to creating guidelines for completing these processes and providing a common terminology across all University areas involved in digital preservation. 

Documentation is instrumental in this effort, both as an expression of work systematisation and as a shared source for guidance and review of digital preservation practice. It helps us communicate our work horizontally and vertically within the University and across many stakeholders – an otherwise challenging endeavour in a large institution like the University of Glasgow.


What tools or platforms do you use to create and provide access to your documentation? What works or doesn’t work well with these tools or platforms?

We are currently using SharePoint pages to create and provide access to our documentation within the University. For public documentation, we use open platforms as much as possible – our digital archiving and archival forensics workflows are available on Community Owned Workflows (COW), which is part of COPTR.

SharePoint is a convenient platform for sharing resources with colleagues, managing access permissions for viewing and editing, and for maintaining version history. As a platform managed by the University’s IT Services, there is reassurance around availability, maintenance, support and uptime. What’s more difficult in SharePoint is exporting the documentation in formats that are suitable for migration in another environment and for preservation – we do need to preserve our own digital preservation documentation! 

There are workarounds, such as printing the SharePoint pages as PDF via the browser or copying the content in plain HTML, but these inevitably come with caveats. Open platforms like the wiki-based COW and COPTR facilitate exports and preservation of contents, but their sustainability and maintenance relies on the community and not-for-profit organisations.

When do you create documentation and how often is it reviewed and updated?

We create and review/update documentation in three ways: planned, proactive and reactive.

Planned documentation creation is commonly included in larger digital archiving and preservation projects, where the outcomes need to be documented and shared with colleagues both within Archives & Special Collections and across the University. For instance, we recently created guidelines for the quarantine and conservation of computer storage media that we acquire as part of collections. The guidelines form part of a wider project to review and streamline conservation and quarantine procedures for new acquisitions.

We proactively create documentation when we anticipate that it will be required for forthcoming digital preservation activity. And sometimes, we need to reactively create documentation for activities already undertaken or for activities whose completion relies on undocumented staff expertise or “tribal knowledge”.

Equally, we have planned review cycles – all documentation below version 1.0 is reviewed every six months (if not sooner), and yearly after that. Proactive and reactive reviews follow a reasoning similar to documentation creation. Our aim is to update documentation with changes post-review as soon as possible, within a month as a ballpark, before it gets buried under other priorities!


What is the update process and how do you manage versions?

The update process depends on the nature of the documentation and the stakeholders involved in its creation and application. For instance, we are currently working on guidelines for ingest of digital materials into our digital preservation environment – these are created and updated by the digital preservation team in Archives & Special Collections. Conversely, the digital preservation risk assessment and risk register are updated as a collaboration among units across the University – specifically as an action of our Digital Preservation Working Group.

For resources on SharePoint, we use the built-in version history and document version control tools. For all digital preservation documentation, we use the good practice and information guidance on version control produced by the University’s Records and Information Management Service (RIMS).


Do you have an example you can share with us? (even just as a screenshot if not publicly available)

Our digital archiving workflow documentation includes eight sections:

  • Minimum requirements, an outline of the base-level processes and actions required to complete a workflow stage.

  • Mandatory processes, a detailed definition of these processes and actions – we aim to keep process definition succinct and, where possible, defined as a set of step-by-step instructions.

  • Optional processes, a definition of any additional processes that are complementary to mandatory processes.

  • Dependencies, any relationships between the processes of one workflow stage and others. These generally align with the dependencies/connections/relationships specified in the digital archiving and archival forensics workflows.

  • Tools and forms, any software, tools, apps and forms that are necessary to complete mandatory and optional processes.

  • Definitions, an optional section where definitions to specific terminology are necessary to increase clarity and understandability of the documentation across different stakeholders.

  • External resources, a list of links to any external documents, guides, policies etc. used as reference material.

  • Document history, a table where we record the current version number, staff member(s) who created, updated and approved the documentation, and dates of creation and last update.

Here’s an example, showing the guide for the Acquisition stage of the digital archiving workflow:


What is next for digital preservation documentation at your organisation?

We are currently working on a series of guides to document processes and activities required to complete each stage of our digital archiving and archival forensics workflows. It’s a substantial piece of work that will hopefully be completed by the end of 2023.


Are there any resources or examples that have been really useful to you in creating your own documentation?

The Digital preservation at TIB guides, maintained by the German National Library of Science and Technology, were an excellent starting point – both in terms of content and structure. We also used digital preservation resources created by The National Archives and OCLC research as inspiration for structuring and presenting our own digital preservation documentation.


What tips do you have for people starting out on documenting their digital preservation activities?

  • Preparation is key – collect all relevant resources and liaise with stakeholders as necessary to gather content. It’s generally easier to create good documentation in the first place, rather than constantly amend.

  • Best is the enemy of good – it’s great to aim for the highest possible quality of documentation, but not if this deters or prevents from creating the documentation in the first place!

  • Keep it succinct and meaningful – long, convoluted, unclear documentation kind of defeats the purpose. There are much better chances that documentation will be followed and implemented, if it provides all the essential information in clear language, with step-by-step instructions wherever possible. Nothing wrong with bullet points!

  • Structure and presentation are important – a well-presented, well-structured documentation helps with clarity and allows readers to focus on or navigate to specific sections of interest.

  • Cross-reference – it becomes cumbersome to follow documentation when references to other parts, guides, external sources etc. are not linked.

  • Who’s the audience? – we can’t expect everyone to be the ultimate digital preservation guru – even digital preservation experts! Documentation needs to be thorough enough for people of different levels and expertise to understand. It can also play a significant educational role – new staff, students, trainees, newcomers to digital preservation can all benefit and learn from good documentation.

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