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Posts Tagged ‘personal digital archives’

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.

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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.

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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.

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