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Acting on repository preservation objectives

project-objectives Recently each of the KeepIt project’s four exemplar repositories detailed objectives for their part in this work. Admittedly, when they were first asked to do this the reaction of the repository managers was one of surprise and perhaps consternation. They were probably thinking, as you are, why now, some way into the project, are we being asked to define objectives? In this post we will answer that question, and summarise the findings of the exercise.

EdShare logo The original project proposal elaborated a series of objectives, and the since the exemplar repositories were co-signatories of that proposal it could reasonably be assumed that they supported those objectives. No doubt the repository managers were looking to the project for expertise on digital preservation – one of the reasons they had joined – so they hardly expected to have the agenda turned back on them. There is a difference, however, between the project objectives and the objectives of each repository within the project. It became clear that we had not really considered the latter when defining the former.

NECTAR logo To simplify the project’s objective, it is, through a mixture of training and development, to transform the repositories to exemplify good digital preservation practice that others can follow. The original proposal mapped out how we would do this, and included an outline training plan. Meanwhile, I had a Damascus-like conversion about designing your own repository preservation training course. Without some input from the repositories, how could we be sure we would be serving their needs? These repositories, as we discovered from the original profiles provided in this blog, are each quite different in terms of content and approach. That’s one attraction of working together.

University of the Arts London logo So why now? We have been constructing a more detailed training and development programme for the exemplars, and others, with the course structure and schedule to be announced soon on this blog and elsewhere. We met with the repository managers in October, when they were first asked to think about objectives, which were then consolidated in the blog. That meeting, the repository objectives, and consultations with experts in the field, have since shaped the design of our training course. We believe the course will be distinctive because we now know and can target the needs of a specific group of users – repository managers – needs that are not being fully met for this group by digital preservation training courses elsewhere.

eCystals logo So what did the repository objectives tell us? They surprise and challenge, although we shouldn’t really be surprised given the first reactions. There are three common themes:

  1. Tools, in particular for managing file formats and preservation workflow. This appears in the objectives for all repositories, surprisingly because file formats, perhaps the most technical of preservation practices, are a perennial focus for specialists and so might be expected to be of less interest to others.
  2. Costs of preservation. Two repositories are concerned about costs, one for the purposes of business planning, another to enable researchers to include preservation costs in grant applications.
  3. Organisational issues. There’s something on this from all repositories, but to be honest this is my catch-all term, and it covers a variety of issues, from institutional and user concerns, within the repository support team and beyond. This covers advocacy at an institutional level, extended team training, and published guides and documentation.

Item 3 is the most challenging, and in its direct extension to the wider academy is probably beyond the scope of this single project, but it reminds us of the need to adapt the outputs, especially from training, for multiple purposes and audiences as far as we can. It’s not just about a training course, stop, but about extending that to other repository stakeholders, probably through the repository managers and their support teams.

There was only one mention in the various objectives of a core foundation of preservation: policy. There must be ways of tackling policy, but perhaps not in training, especially in a course such as the one planned. Preservation policy has to be part of repository policy, and for an institutional repository it therefore has to be part of institutional policy. On this basis training for policy would embrace influencing skills and management. That is for others. What we can do is document examples of preservation policy that are part of wider policy constructs, and not simply examples of wishful thinking.

It should be noted that the repository objectives are a work-in-progress, that the repository managers can choose to update their objectives at any time in response to their work with the project. It’s one way we have of measuring the effectiveness of how the project is serving its own objectives.

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