Digital Preservation, Eh?

by Alexandra Jokinen

This post is the third post in our series on international perspectives on digital preservation.

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Hello / Bonjour!

Welcome to the Canadian edition of International Perspectives on Digital Preservation. My name is Alexandra Jokinen. I am the new(ish) Digital Archives Intern at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I work closely with the Digital Archivist, Creighton Barrett, to aid in the development of policies and procedures for some key aspects of the University Libraries’ digital archives program—acquisitions, appraisal, arrangement, description, and preservation.

One of the ways in which we are beginning to tackle this very large, very complex (but exciting!) endeavour is to execute digital preservation on a small scale, focusing on the processing of digital objects within a single collection, and then using those experiences to create documentation and workflows for different aspects of the digital archives program.

The collection chosen to be our guinea pig was a recent donation of work from esteemed Canadian ecologist and environmental scientist, Bill Freedman, who taught and conducted research at Dalhousie from 1979 to 2015. The fonds is a hybrid of analogue and digital materials dating from 1988 to 2015. Digital media carriers include: 1 computer system unit, 5 laptops, 2 external hard drives, 7 USB flash drives, 5 zip disks, 57 CDs, 6 DVDs, 67 5.25 inch floppy disks and 228 3.5 inch floppy disks. This is more digital material than the archives is likely to acquire in future accessions, but the Freedman collection acted as a good test case because it provided us with a comprehensive variety of digital formats to work with.

Our first area of focus was appraisal. For the analogue material in the collection, this process was pretty straightforward: conduct macro-appraisal and functional analysis by physically reviewing material. However, (as could be expected) appraisal of the digital material was much more difficult to complete. The archives recently purchased a forensic recovery of evidence device (FRED) but does not yet have all the necessary software and hardware to read the legacy formats in the collection (such as the floppy disks and zip disks), so, we started by investigating the external hard drives and USB flash drives. After examining their content, we were able to get an accurate sense of the information they contained, the organizational structure of the files, and the types of formats created by Freedman. Although, we were not able to examine files on the legacy media, we felt that we had enough context to perform appraisal, determine selection criteria and formulate an arrangement structure for the collection.

The next step of the project will be to physically organize the material. This will involve separating, photographing and reboxing the digital media carriers and updating a new registry of digital media that was created during a recent digital archives collection assessment modelled after OCLC’s 2012 “You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run” research report. Then, we will need to process the digital media, which will entail creating disk images with our FRED machine and using forensic tools to analyze the data.  Hopefully, this will allow us to apply the selection criteria used on the analogue records to the digital records and weed out what we do not want to retain. During this process, we will be creating procedure documentation on accessioning digital media as well as updating the archives’ accessioning manual.

The project’s final steps will be to take the born-digital content we have collected and ingest it using Archivematica to create Archival Information Packages for storage and preservation and accessed via the Archives Catalogue and Online Collections.

So there you have it! We have a long way to go in terms of digital preservation here at Dalhousie (and we are just getting started!), but hopefully our work over the next several months will ensure that solid policies and procedures are in place for maintaining a trustworthy digital preservation system in the future.

This internship is funded in part by a grant from the Young Canada Works Building Careers in Heritage Program, a Canadian federal government program for graduates transitioning to the workplace.

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Alexandra Jokinen has a Master’s Degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management from Ryerson University in Toronto. Previously, she has worked as an Archivist at the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto and completed a professional practice project at TIFF Film Reference Library and Special Collections.

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