On Thursday 22nd March, a beautiful spring day, three members of the PrePARe team headed to London for a knowledge exchange event with other projects in the Digital Preservation stand. The event was kindly hosted by folk at the LSE library (never knowingly undercatered it seems!) who work on the DICE project and there were also representatives from the SHARD and DataSafe projects.

We started off by outlining what progress we’d made in each of the projects, and it was immediately clear that, although we had used different evidence-gathering methods, we were coming up with similar findings. What’s good about this is that any training materials each project produces should find potential for re-use at other institutions, and even with different target audiences (the DataSafe project focuses on working with admin staff rather than academic researchers, but many of the fundamental issues remained the same). So there was a lot of useful discussions around the whys and wherefores, including the ever-important subject of choosing appropriate language to talk about digital preservation of research data (tip: don’t use ‘data’. Or ‘digital preservation’).

We also talked about potential ways to work together to produce meaningful training outputs, so we will stay in contact with each other to continue our discussions on that.

Following on from this meeting the other projects have been added to our blogroll, as there are a lot of interesting findings to read about.

March update

We have now interviewed twenty researchers which concludes our fieldwork. We will blog on the interview process shortly.

Currently we are busy writing up our findings and debating the outcomes. We are looking forward to the Knowledge Exchange Event next week (22nd March at LSE). Our advisory group will review our recommendations on the 29th March after which we will circulate what tools and resources we have decided to develop.

I’ve already blogged about how I started work on the project’s literature review.  Here, I’d like to highlight some of the areas covered by the review.

The way we think about what digital preservation – what it involves and who it is done by – will influence the information we are likely to find about it.  Particularly, if I were a researcher interested in digital preservation searching for how to go about doing it on my own research data, I might very easily think that actually it wasn’t anything to do with me and that ‘digital preservation’ was something done by information professionals.  This makes me wonder if over time, we’ll come to use a range of terms more widely used to reflect the different aspects of preservation and the roles of different practitioners (researchers, archivists, repository managers etc).  If you have any ideas on this, please let us know in the comments!

I was very interested in finding out more about Personal Digital Archiving (PDArc), as this was an area that had much more practical advice for the novice.  I think there’s a lot that can be repurposed for providing advice on research data preservation.  Another benefit that I think may be worth exploring is whether using PDArc in training/guidance materials can help avoid a lot of the issues with making discipline-specific materials.  Almost everyone will have reasonably extensive personal digital material in a range of data types (documents, images, videos, audio, spreadsheets, etc) and many of those also form part of research data.  Of course, such an approach will not be suitable for everyone, but it may provide a helpful starting point which can then be built upon in relation to more disciplinary-specific or individual needs.  I also wonder if it will be easier to get people’s attention on this area and so it might actually help dissemination.

It was also important to consider archiving digital records.  UK HEIs seem to produce more guidance on this area than on preserving digital research materials, but it also seems that some institutions include research data in their definition of digital records; this might not be an obvious link for researchers seeking information on long-term storage of their research data.

I was very conscious that most of the resources were available online, and realised that there were three main reasons for this.  One was the ease: I literally did not have to leave my desk.  A second was that this helped me find resources outside Cambridge University, and so gave a better idea of what was available to other academics, both in the UK and internationally.   But the third, and probably best, reason was that I wanted the most up-to-date information on what was available, and however recent a print publication, it is likely to refer to many sources that are several years old.

The literature review is available at the PrePARe project website:  http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/preservation/prepare/litreview.html.

The literature review for the project has three main areas of interest:

1.            Identify and review relevant existing preservation literature;

2.            Research and assess current engagement practices;

3.            Look into the existing training provision available in Cambridge.

The starting point was the literature review from the EPIC project.  Although that was focussed on preservation planning, it contained references to sources on preservation in general and some information on available training provision.

Because of my follow-up work based on the Incremental project, I know that ‘language matters‘ and so it would be important to define ‘digital preservation’, not just to be able to communicate effectively with our target audience of academic researchers but also to help us define the scope of the project.  I was particularly interested in the concept of ‘sheer curation‘ which seemed to me to be particularly suitable approach for active researchers.

As we also expect that a lot of researchers would use the internet to find relevant information, it seemed sensible to see what sort of resources I could find using generic search terms (such as ‘digital preservation’ and ‘digital archiving’) in Google.

Other University Library projects provided inspiration; the recent opening of the Cambridge University Digital Library brought the importance of personal archives to the fore, and also raised a lot of questions.  What resources were out there for the management and preservation of personal digital resources and outputs?  What can we re-use or learn from?  Is personal digital archiving ultimately a good approach to take in order to produce guidance that is applicable to everyone without being generic?  I also decided to look into support and guidance on preserving digital records to see if there were useful resources that we could build on.

So a big part of getting started on this literature review has been thinking about the scope of digital preservation and what different communities understand by the term.

January Update

January has been a busy month for the PrePARe project team.  We’ve welcomed our new Project Officer Fiona, who has been busy setting up interviews, and she and Barbara attended the project kick-off meeting in London.  Meanwhile Anna’s been working on the desk research and looking into existing support on digital preservation.

Together the team has also had several meetings to discuss the interview questionnaire.  Because the interviews are semi-structured we don’t want to be too rigid, and so our discussions focused on making sure that our questions were open, not leading and would cover our main areas of interest: what people know about digital preservation and where they want to go to get more guidance.  As we’ve carried out a few interviews, we’ve also been able to make some assessment about which questions work and refine questions which maybe don’t work so well.

December update

We have been successful in recruiting a Project Officer and expect our new team member to start in January. This will allow us to kickstart the interview rounds among researchers.

We have started on our desk research and are currently identifying potential participants within the University  to interview about their current preservation practices.  We are also finalising the interview questionnaire and will be talking to a couple of volunteers this week.

Project Introduction

PrePARe is a 9 month JISC funded project (Nov 2011-Jul 2012) which aims to  improve the digital preservation and information management skills of the academic community at the University of Cambridge.  It is led by the DSpace@Cambridge team, based at Cambridge University Library, and will build upon the outputs from previous projects relating to the digital lifecycle, such as Incremental, DataTrain and EPIC.

Our activities will include the investigating how (if at all) preservation activities currently fit in with researchers’ workflows, studying what aspects of preservation and information management are particularly relevant to academics and investigating what modes of guidance or training the community would find most appealing and valuable.

We are aiming to develop and repurpose relevant content on preservation actions based on these findings and to provide skills development materials and guidance (as appropriate) in ways that will be accessible and useful.

We will work closely with JISC and other relevant parties in disseminating our findings and when possible sharing our outputs.