The biggest challenge for small organisations working in an environment of often diminishing resources - is facing up to what (in the case of digital preservation) is both a technological and a financial conundrum.  To us there seemed to be a choice - either wait for the day when a national solution (possibly through TNA) was identified, or try to do something locally.  For archive services, there was also the consideration that if they were not willing to proactively 'grasp the nettle', then some other part of the local authority body may seek to do so.  The key risk here is that paper/hard copy archives become divorced from the digital content and the archive service becomes a historic time capsule with digital matters the preserve of others.

Preservica for Dorset HIstory Centre (DHC) represented a very pragmatic choice - a managed system with technical support.  It is hard to imagine any local authority having the technological support available to it to consider using an open source solution.  

Advocacy a key part of making the case. 

We needed to emphasize the sheer lack of understanding around digital preservation - constantly confused with 'digitisation' - or an assumption that copying material to a hard drive and into a box is going to guarantee the integrity of digital materials in the future.  Making the case for investment also involves an intellectual shift away from physical 'boxes on shelves' to a system that actively preserves digital content - but that this requires funding.  Digital is not 'free' just because it isn't occupying a physical space in a building.  

Small, but meaningful steps to delivering a digital preservation service

Dorset County Council's adoption records (statutory protection) - highly sensitive material with 100 years retention.  DHC were able to provide a solution which guarantees confidentiality of the records and the durability of the digital medium.  Through working with these records and demonstrating competence in their secure management, an opportunity is provided to work with other parts of the local authority sector - e.g. legal and democratic.

In the wider community - with a large cross-section of organisations, DHC is now able to offer preservation of and access to digital materials alongside hard copy.  A good example is our work with and HLF-funded project led by Windrose Rural Media Trust:

They are working to preserve through digitisation some of the 100 years of film and sound material they have collected.  Built into their project from the very outset however was an appreciation of the need to think about the long-term care of the digitised content - and hence a relationship with DHC's digital preservation facility.  This is a model of working that we will seek to replicate in the future.

Through Archives First (AF) it became apparent that services were differently positioned in regard to digital preservation with some wishing to move at a faster rate.  DHC requested expressions of interest from its AF colleagues once it became apparent that Preservica were offering a means for separate services to collaborate and save money.  Starting with three members (Wiltshire and West Sussex alongside Dorset) we hope to grow the partnership and have strong indications that others will join in the near future.  The benefits of the collaboration are not merely financial - there is the mutual support and learning, both with the system, but also with the record types that are to be preserved that the partnership offers, the opportunity for advocacy and promotion which is inherently positive with senior officers and elected members.  We are not geographically restricted, although all three services are based in the south of England - and this provides an opportunity to be flexible about future potential membership.  It may sound trite, but there is a certain camaraderie in knowing that a group of us are doing the same thing and can share experience and knowledge to mutual best effect. 

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