“Participation in the KeepIt Project has provided us with an excellent practical grasp of the realities of preservation and brought an apparently enormous and daunting area into the realms of approachable and practical possibilities.”
We have developed an approach which will enable others to make a start and to develop their own routes through preservation in their own ways.
EdShare, as the institutional learning and teaching repository of the University of Southampton, has grown from an engagement process across the institution, intended both to support educational excellence and a cultural change in approach within the institution. Our developmental work in the early stages of the JISC-funded EdSpace Project had its roots in early work for elearning led by senior academics and change agents across the University.
At the beginning of the EdSpace Project, we were already in a position to draw on processes similar both to the Data Asset Framework (DAF) approach (an outcome of the School exemplars we had identified and engaged with for our HEAcademy elearning benchmarking work in 2007/08) and the philosophy of Assessing Institutional Digital Assets (AIDA), itself similar in approach to the eMM toolkit approach we had utilised in our work for the whole elearning benchmarking activity.
This work provided additional support for working with both of these tools in module 1 of the innovative and highly successful KeepIt Course on Digital Preservation Tools for Repository Managers. This course has constituted a really significant aspect of the work of this project.
Module 2 covered the Keeping Repository Data Safe (KRDS) method and I blogged back in February providing an educational resources perspective on this.
Module 3 was a Primer on Preservation Workflow, Formats and Characterisation – the most technical of the training sessions we had covered so far. Steve Hitchcock’s introductory session made the day both accessible, engaging and interesting. In this technical area I could begin fully to appreciate both the complexity and scale of the task ahead, as well as the benefit of identifying strong technical specialists available in a large, research intensive university. Indeed, one of the great advantages of working in such a large institution is the relatively easy access we have here to advice (at the very least, and sometimes a great deal more!) from technical experts at the forefront of their fields.
“One solution is the provision of integrated services and tools linked to specific repository systems. When EdShare upgrades to version 3.2 of EPrints we will be in a position to take advantage of the newly-developed EPrints preservation apps”
Developing a good awareness and understanding of the scope of the file formats, characterisation and associated preservation issues is a key aspect of the repository manager’s role, but the most cost-effective and sustainable support for these areas must lie with the technical experts and software developers. Where possible, managers should develop good relationships with these people in their own organisations. For smaller institutions, or communities of subject-based educational repositories, an alternative solution may lie in collaborating on sourcing technical advice and support as well as benefiting from the future provision of integrated services and tools linked to specific repository systems. Thus, when EdShare upgrades to version 3.2 of EPrints later in September 2010, we will be in a position to take advantage of the newly-developed EPrints preservation apps to support our ongoing work in this area. In this way, good practice will be accessible to more people and a wider group in the community will be able to benefit.
“multiple format packages providing visual, audio and written presentations – these are not necessarily the everyday, simple learning resource filetypes we had originally anticipated hosting”
The significant characteristics work for module 3 was also a highly relevant element for EdShare: The motivation for many educators in using a specific software application or package when creating learning resources is precisely to take advantage of the functionality offered by that specific resource e.g. Camtasia, Adobe Captivate or Adobe Presenter. Such applications produce sophisticated, multiple format packages specifically to provide clear visual, audio and written presentations for a specific audience – they are not necessarily the everyday, simple learning resource filetypes we had originally anticipated hosting when we launched EdShare.
Nor are these resources straightforward filetype subjects for preservation actions. In terms of offering distinctive approaches to preservation, EdShare’s case was that for reasons of the diversity, richness and variability of filetypes involved, educational repositories (still very much the “overlooked” form of repository compared to research repositories) we provided an excellent exemplar for KeepIt.
In addition, we were interested to explore other aspects of preservation of concern to everyday educators – are they aware of preservation as an issue at all? If so, at what stage in the cycle of repository content, ingest and curation should these issues be raised? Are there concerns for preservation in other areas of the repository landscape: are institutional managers/legal services/senior policy makers concerned about preservation for other reasons?
“The modules neither required nor assumed sophisticated, technical knowledge nor experience. It would be quite unrealistic, particularly in the present climate of financial constraint and staff reductions, to increase the existing and preservational contribution of the manager’s responsibilities”
Module 4 looked at an aspect of these questions by offering an opportunity to develop a preservation plan for the repository. This, in turn, led to the identification of two additional pieces of work for EdShare:
- To investigate the typical or atypical nature of the filetype content in EdShare itself. (I report on this work and its findings in my next blog post.)
- To support the upgrade of EdShare’s underlying software to version 3.2 of EPrints; thereby offering the integration of the new EPrints preservation tools.
As an early example of an institutional educational repository, which has been developed according to the principles of co-design and collaboration with the local user community, a couple of areas of work which EdShare would have been interested in exploring are:
- Policy development for preservation, particularly, for educational repositories
- Identification of the specific role of the repository manager, educational developers, teachers and other stakeholders (established and emergent) in the preservation process.
“By the end of the KeepIt course I had achieved a much higher level of confidence with respect to preservation”
Without a doubt, the KeepIt course modules provide an excellent awareness raising and priming opportunity for the educational repository manager. The modules neither required nor assumed sophisticated, technical knowledge nor experience. Considerable emphasis was given to the advantages of adopting a team approach whereby either local or host technical expertise is drawn upon to provide the appropriate levels and extent of technical expertise required for reliable, preservation processes. In practical terms, this was enormously welcome: providing support for the educational repository is only one role in an increasing range of roles I have as a librarian in the University. It would be quite unrealistic, particularly in the present climate of financial constraint and staff reductions, to increase the existing and preservational contribution of the manager’s responsibilities with a more technical (or any other) role. There are sufficient aspects in which managers can contribute to preservation work in repositories without having to emphasise the technical element of this work.
By the end of the KeepIt course I had achieved a much higher level of confidence with respect to preservation – reassured that the technical capabilities of our software would be enormously enhanced with a software upgrade; confident that the affordances of technology could then support the additional aspirations we were developing in terms of supporting an improved awareness of preservation on the part of teachers and policy makers across the University. Aware that much of what we were already doing as a repository supported an approach which promoted preservation practices and respected the expectations of our content producers that their resources would be cared for and available over the long term for them to access, share and re-mix.
A JISC-sponsored report by Emmerson – Retention of Learning Materials: A Survey of Institutional Policies and Practice – had been an early resource we had drawn on in the EdSpace Project – reflecting both the trend across UK HE of low-awareness levels on the part of institutions to develop and enforce policies and practices, as well as alerting institutions to the potential wastefulness and vulnerability they exposed themselves to in continuing in this way. This area of work has given rise to a stronger focus on one of the additional areas of work for EdShare as identified above: to explore and understand the specific institutional concerns of the University of Southampton in the preservation of resources for learning and teaching. Indeed, this work will align very well with significant ongoing work to develop the “Southampton Learning Environment” – a framework for supporting, delivering and enhancing learning and teaching across the whole University community. We will need to address policy, practice as well as technical and storage implications for this work as we develop more robust institutional arrangements for this important area of work.
To summarise the impact of KeepIt on EdShare:
What we did
- Worked as an exemplar among a community of repository managers and explored common areas of interest;
- Worked as part of the JISC/HE Academy OER Project Programme – EdShare is developing instantiations to host the OER Collections of HumBox and SWAPBox
What we learned
- Digital preservation can be simplified by integrating tools and services with existing digital repository interfaces;
- Preservation is the responsibility of content creators, teachers and others contributing to the educational process and not just the repository manager;
- All the small actions contribute to the process, not just the large scale, ambitious and expensive ones
What others can learn
- Having in place reporting processes for identification of filetypes in a repository is a good starting point for preservation activities. It seems that many existing educational repositories do not have these processes in place.
- Maintaining an awareness of the rapid developments in this field will enable others (not necessarily EPrints users nor experts in preservation) to take advantage of the developments made in the KeepIt project and by the emerging community of practice around preservation work.
What we are doing next
- Upgrading EdShare to version 3.2 of the EPrints software puts us in a good position to take advantage of the work done by technical experts to provide apps which support automated preservation activities.
- From this work, we will implement policies and processes to support decisions on format types for preservation actions.
- Preservation of learning resources in an institution is only one aspect of the work required for the delivery of retention policies and practices required in a 21st Century University. We will work to understand more about this area and to put our own institution in a good position to support both its aspirations and obligations.