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KeepIt course 1: digital preservation, repositories and institutions

Welcome to the first module of the KeepIt course that between now and the end of March 2010 is introducing repository managers to a range of digital preservation tools.

This is a digital preservation course with a difference. It is aimed at institutional repositories, and can therefore make assumptions about the working environment, and select appropriate tools. In each module two or more tools will be investigated in depth based on presentations and group work guided by expert tutors, many who designed the tools themselves. These tools will be presented in a structured way as the course progresses; it is not expected or required that repositories adopt them all.

KeepIt course module 1, Southampton, 19 January 2010
Tools this module: DAF, AIDA
Tags Find out more about: this module KeepIt course 1, the full KeepIt course
Presentations and tutorial exercises course 1 (source files)

[slideshare id=2996279&doc=keepit-course1-100126092357-phpapp02]

In these simple opening slides I briefly introduce today’s two tools, and outline the underlying aim of the project to produce exemplar repositories covering all data types that we might find in the future institutional repository: research, data and teaching materials across all disciplines including arts as well as sciences. We are working with a select group of repositories as our core exemplars, but all repositories participating in this course and selecting appropriate tools can exemplify good preservation practice. We can all be exemplars.

The course is structured to begin, in this module, with the institutional framework within which preservation strategies and decisions will have to be made. We feature a specific and influential factor in preservation planning – costs – in module 2. By module 3 we may be on more familiar ground for many participants, metadata, in particular metadata to inform preservation. It’s not until module 4 that we get to what strictly and technically might be called digital preservation, looking at a joined-up workflow to manage file formats and storage using interfaces provided in familiar repository software. We end the course by looking at the issue of trust, which is often considered prematurely but not for preservation repositories that have been implementing elements of the course this far.

At this point participants in this module introduced themselves. They come from universities and colleges across southern England, London and the Midlands, with one also from the north-west and two from Wales. We heard Twitter-length descriptions of their repositories and interest in digital preservation. For some, 140 characters proved a malleable target!

Before we begin in earnest it is necessary to unpack the terms that underpin the course: digital preservation and institutional repositories. Neither are well defined or understood in this context, particularly when joined together.

What is preservation? At best it is a set of achievable objectives allied to a set of processes. At worst it is wishful and idealised thinking.

Recently the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable in the USA produced a report with a series of recommendations┬áaimed at research funders, including this one on preservation: “Polices should address the need to resolve the challenges of long-term digital preservation”. Broadly such statements can be helpful in this high-level context, but it is quite a typical line and┬áI’ll leave the reader to decide where this form of words fits between the extremes of preservation by considering whether the verbs represent doing or hoping, and noting the ratchet-effect of using ‘long-term’ with preservation.

Typically advocacy for┬ádigital preservation uses worthy surveys (for example, “Long-term preservation is an issue which urgently needs to be addressed within the industry.”┬á91% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement; no-one disagreed. Who could disagree, but where’s the action?), and scare stories about an impending black hole where all digital content will disappear without effective preservation. This may be OK when you don’t have answers to current practical questions, but digital preservation has made remarkable progress in recent years and has a better story to tell. That story is the tools that this course will work with.

What is a repository? Essentially it is a set of interfaces designed to accomplish a range of tasks – primarily content deposit, management and access – using some underlying services. It’s software that runs on a server, and may be best known by the type of software used: DSpace, EPrints and Fedora are the most widely used for institutional repositories. But even taking this narrow technical view, the infrastructure of repositories is changing, from a local implementation towards one based on a managed network of services, perhaps in the ‘cloud’. How this affects preservation we will see in module 4.

It’s┬áwhen the repository tries to become institutional that it gets trickier. That’s why the the focus of much of this first module is the institution. Institutions of higher education, which are served by IRs, are large and complex organisations. The repository must serve both top-down requirements driven by senior managers (policy, objectives, etc.) and a bottom-up role for a potentially large and diverse group of authors and users (measured by growing content deposit and usage). This inevitably throws up opportunities and constraints. How effectively is the institution able to support the repository? We will explore this question using AIDA, Assessing Institutional Digital Assets, produced by the University of London Computer Centre.

We also want to consider the institution as a content generator. How much do we know about the range of digital content produced in an institution? How much of that content could be managed and in scope of the IR? We will try and answer these questions using the Data Asset Framework (DAF).

Tools this module: DAF, AIDA

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