End of project

We have come to the end of the project. All documentation and outputs are listed on the PrePARe project pages.  They are also made available through the University Library’s data management pages and Jorum.

There is also a report about the project on the Cambridge University Research News website.

Thanks are due to the JISC Digital Infrastructure Programme Manager, Neil Grindley, for his support throughout the project. We would also like to thank Malcolm Raggett (from the DICE project at LSE) and Patricia Sleeman (from the SHARD project, with the Institute of Historical Research) for a fruitful collaboration on some parts of this project.

We are also very grateful for support received from our colleagues in Cambridge.  We would like to thank staff from Cambridge University Library, CARET, CRASSH, the Graduate Development Programme and the Medical Library for providing feedback on drafts and resources.  Particular thanks go to Emma Coonan, Research Skills & Development Librarian for allowing us to run our training modules within the course Research Skills Programme.

We would like to give special thanks to the researchers, students, and support service staff who contributed to the requirements gathering phase, provided feedback to materials that we created and who attended the training courses that we piloted.

Comments on this blog are now closed.  If you have any questions, please contact the DSpace@Cambridge team: support@repository.cam.ac.uk.


PrePARe checklists

Our interviews showed that some researchers would like guidance in the following areas:

  • IPR (particularly journal publishers’ agreements and funders’ requirements for deposit)
  • Sharing data (particularly social media, personal and sensitive data)
  • Selection of material for disposal or retention.

Some researchers said they have little time to attend training and would prefer brief written resources – including online.  There is already a wealth of information on the Incremental project Data Management website, so the PrePARe project wanted to point to and increase use of this resource.

We have developed three new checklists to help with the areas listed above and to prompt readers to check the Data Management site for more information.  Each checklsit takes a slightly different approach:

Advice has been sought from specialists at the University of Cambridge, including the Solicitor / Copyright Officer, Information Compliance Officer, Deputy Keeper of the University Archives and the Research Skills Librarian.  The drafts have also been evaluated by a small number of researchers and revised in line with their comments.  We are very grateful to everyone for their very useful suggestions – and positive comments.

In the PrePARe project, we were particularly interested in how members of the research community would like to receive additional information and training.  Many interviewees said they were not likely to attend training courses on digital preservation.  However, many digital preservation issues fit in well with areas where training courses do exist, such as Information Management, Reference Management or Project Management.  In discussion with other projects in the same JISC funding strand, it was proposed that rather than producing a single training course we would produce short training modules which can be slotted into other related courses which are run at the University.   We selected four key areas of digital preservation:

  • Storage (‘Store It Safely’)
  • Documentation and metadata (‘Explain It’)
  • Data sharing and re-use (‘Share It’)
  • Planning (‘Start Early’)

For each module, we prepared slides, and detailed explanatory notes that could be used as a script, which provide more examples and context.  While the intention was that each module should last around 5 minutes, they run closer to 10 minutes.  Each module is designed so that it can be used independently of the others.  A further module (‘What is data?’) provides a brief introduction to data to give some additional context.

We piloted the modules during the Managing your Information workshop at the University Library in June 2012.  The workshop consists of two 2-hour sessions.  Attendees came from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, including Arts, Social Sciences and Sciences.  For the pilot, our aims were:

  1. To test the concept of having distinct modules embedded into an existing course, from both delivery and participant perspectives.
  2. To gather feedback on the content of the modules from participants.

Overall, the modules integrated well with the main workshop, and the feedback on the modules was positive.

The modules will be deposited in Jorum and are currently available on Slideshare:

These modules complement a leaflet ‘Sending your Research into the Future’ produced in collaboration with the LSE and University of London, coming soon!

Saving it for the future – The first PrePARe seminar was held last week on 13 June 2012 in CRASSH’s new premises (Alison Richard Building). We chose the topic of  “Personal Digital Archiving” because we thought it might have a broad appeal. This seemed to be right – we had 30 or so attendees from a range of disciplines including Engineering, the Judge Business School,  as well as the Humanities and Social Sciences. The speakers were chosen to approach the subject from two differing perspectives – Professor Alan Macfarlane is an emeritus Professor or Anthropological Science and Life Fellow of Kings College, recently retired from the University of Cambridge who through his lifetime has been interested in what role digital media can play in his discipline and life. He described the creator’s perspective, outlining his experience of managing and looking after his digital legacy tracking back to the early 1970s (when he had to wait for one year to store his 71MB project until the Computing Service had bought more memory). What made his talk particularly relevant to the audience was that he composed it around the reasons “why not to do it” – the lack of incentive to produce digital outputs, the lack of recognition (when they are produced), the  fear of abuse or work being used out of context, cultural possessiveness over a researcher’s data (seeing intellectual assets as private property). All of these resonated with us but seeing the amazing work that he has created throughout his life and seeing that he has successfully saved it for the future, I think,  has shown that it might be worth to overcome these obstacles. You can see an expansion of his talk on youtube.

Dr Jeremy Leighton John, Curator of eMSS (electronic manuscripts) at the British Library and Principal Investigator for the Digital Lives Research Project, took  the curator’s perspective describing what happens to personal digital archives when they reach the British Library.  He explained how material can be looked at and worked on by curators without leaving a trace using digital forensics and how  privacy can be ensured when the material is being viewed by third parties, for example, when readers in the British Library reading room can roam through the ghosted version of someone’s personal computer (a facility, we are told, that will be available soon). It was very interesting, I thought, that he reported that increasingly depositors of literary archives started discussing their deposits during their life giving them better control over what material can and should be made accessible in future and allowing the curator to understand the material in more detail. For more information on his work see Digital Lives – an initial Synthesis.

The lenghy discussion at the end showed that there were many more questions to debate and I hope we will!

“A very interesting seminar. I found out about things I had long wondered about – and more” (anonymous). It certainly got us all thinking about digital preservation.

Throughout June, the PrePARe project team at DSpace@Cambridge will be tweeting digital information and preservation tips.  There will be one a day for the whole month (including Bank Holidays).  Please get in touch through twitter or leave a comment on this blog if you’d like more information on any of the issues that we cover.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Follow DSpace@Cambridge on twitter!

The interviews

Between December 2011 and March 2012 we conducted interviews with 20 academics from PhD students to Professors across 10 departments of the University.  We are very grateful to all the interviewees for their time and constructive input to the project.

The key areas we wanted to focus on were:

  • What do people know about digital preservation?
  • Are people already preserving digital material?
  • Would they like more help and if so, in what format?

Early in the project we decided to carry out face-to-face interviews rather than using an online questionnaire.  Although interviews would make analysis more complex, we felt they would give context and help gauge the interviewees’ level of knowledge more accurately than relying on self-assessment.

All interviewees were happy to be audio-recorded and the interviews (which varied in length from 22 to 72 minutes) were transcribed by an audio typist.

A key feature of this research was that the team was as interested in gaps in interviewees’ answers as much as in their stated preferences. So an interviewee may say that they have everything sorted and do not need any training or support – while the same person’s response to the questions on digital preservation may have revealed some lack of understanding.

However, the main lack of understanding was this particular interviewer’s – of the work the interviewees are engaged in – and in the geography of Cambridge…  I learned a huge amount and am extremely grateful to everyone for their patience.

We have now completed our survey of digital preservation practices among the academic community of the University of Cambridge. Here is the summary of our findings.

The project team surveyed a small subsection of the academic community interviewing 20 researchers (3 PhDs, 7 Research Associates, 6 Readers/Lecturers, 4 Professors) from a variety of departments covering four of the six Cambridge Schools.

Interviews were conducted in a semi-structured way with an interview questionnaire used as a guideline. We will blog about the interview process later.

Finding 1: Digital preservation actions are not currently part of researchers’ workflows.

There is a general lack of awareness of data management and digital preservation issues. The most common understanding of digital preservation was “long term back-up”.  Most interviewees did not appraise their material but kept everything.

Finding 2: Back-up procedures outweigh preservation issues.

A general lack of description and organisation of research material meant that access to data was often restricted to the data owner and/or creator.  Without active management of issues around format and obsolescence, there are concerns about long term access.

Most of the researchers interviewed did not think there was significant demand for their material to be re-used, and in some cases did not think that re-use was possible without the risk of it being misinterpreted.

Finding 3: Whilst this lack of digital preservation skills is commonly acknowledged, improvement is not a priority.

Most senior researchers felt that they were not in a position to prioritise training in this area over other activities.  Some, particularly supervisors on behalf of PhD students and students themselves, agreed that a better understanding of information management and digital preservation issues at the beginning of one’s research career would be beneficial.

With respect to the method of delivering support, no single approach suited all of our target audiences.  By and large, students preferred face-to-face training.  More experienced researchers did not feel that they had time to attend training sessions and preferred online support.


Within the project scope we suggest we respond to the project findings in four ways:

  1. Creating and delivering training modules on digital preservation to graduates and early career researchers.  These will supplement our existing training programme on data management.
  2. Expanding on our online guidance for all members of the University.  This will include FAQs to give answers to specific questions.
  3. Promoting the new and existing resources.
  4. Organising a cross-departmental lunchtime seminar series.

Our findings and recommendations were approved by the Advisory panel in our meeting on 29 March 2012.