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Digital Preservation, Risk Management, and UAL Research Online

KeepIt course module 5, Northampton, 30 March 2010
Tools this module: TRAC, DRAMBORA
Tags Find out more about: this module KeepIt course 5, the full KeepIt course
Presentation referred to in this blog entry DRAMBORA: Risk and trust and Data management (Slideshare)
Presentations and tutorial exercises course 5 (source files)

University of the Arts London logo UAL Research Online is a specialist repository of research outputs in arts, design, and media, operating on a version of EPrints that has been customised to be able to hold, manage and showcase our mainly practice-based research.  The research outputs of our university (University of the Arts London, which consists of London College of Fashion, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London College of Communication, Chelsea College of Arts and Design, and Camberwell College of Art) are rarely text documents. They are exhibitions, paintings, textile designs, events, stage designs, films, costume designsound art, industrial designs, photography, sculpture, installations, etc. This means that our institutional repository is rather different than any other.

Our file formats include:

    Images: jpeg, png, bmp, tiff, gif, pdf
    Audio: avi, mp3, mpeg4, wav, ac3, flac, ogg
    Video: mov, mpeg, quick time, flash, avi, theora/ogg

We are also beginning to include archived websites.

Because of this diversity, our preservation issues are a little more complicated. It will be important for us to use the EPrints extensions (developed by Dave Tarrant of the University of Southampton) that incorporate format recognition, and we will upgrade to the version of EPrints (v3.2) which these tools require, before the end of the summer of 2010.

DRAMBORA logoIn addition to implementing the tools developed within the KeepIt project, based on the KeepIt course modules of the various preservation tools available, I have chosen to work through the online preservation tool DRAMBORA, as it best suits the needs of UAL Research Online at this point in its evolution.

I chose this tool from among the many we discussed during the KeepIt course for the following reasons:

    it is designed for repositories rather than all digital assets of an organisation;
    it can be applied to very new repositories;
    it is a self-assessment exercise;
    it does not require advanced technical knowledge

DRAMBORA stands for “Digital Repository Audit Method Based on Risk Assessment”. It is sponsored by JISC and managed by the DCC, the Digital Curation Centre in the UK.

DRAMBORA defines digital curation as the management of risk. The repository manager establishes the objectives, activities, and assets of the repository, and then assesses the areas of risk – identifying weaknesses and strengths, and then managing the areas of risk.

Essential to DRAMBORA’s approach is the belief that “the job of digital curator is to rationalise the uncertainties and threats that inhibit efforts to maintain digital object authenticity and understandability, transforming them into manageable risks.” DPE Newsletter, Issue 2: September 2007, p.9

DRAMBORA includes the following steps:

  • Defining the mandate and scope of functions of the repository
  • Identifying the activities and assets of the repository
  • Identifying the risks and vulnerabilities associated with the mandate, activities and assets
  • Assessing and calculating the risks
  • Defining risk management measures
  • Reporting on the self-audit

After the DRAMBORA exercise is completed, UAL Research Online should have:

– a ‘comprehensive and documented awareness of mission, aims, objectives, activities and assets.’

– a ‘catalogue of pertinent risks, categorised according to type and relationships, which have been described in terms of ownership, probability and impact’

– ‘internal understanding of shortcomings of the organisation – so that resources can be allocated or redistributed to pressing areas’

We should also be prepared for an external audit, if needed. Compatible external audits are said to include:

– Trustworthy Repositories Audit & Certification (TRAC) – an accreditation of the US National Archives and Records Administration,

– Nestor Catalogue of Criteria for Trusted Repositories, or

– Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) digital repository audit assessment criteria

One of the objectives of UAL’s participation in the KeepIt project  (as defined by my predecessor as manager of UAL Research Online) was to write a series of guides for digital preservation, meant to advise staff about it and to impress the need for it to our senior management. I hope that the DRAMBORA results will feed into this document as well.

So I explored the DRAMBORA site and signed up for the process. I have completed the first stage, in which I defined the functions and scope of the repository. Already I found much food for thought and have several questions I need to ask the senior managers about the specifics of my repository mandate – I can see that DRAMBORA will require me to think through more than just preservation risks, and will be helpful in specifically defining other aspects of our repository.

After I’d done this, we were fortunate to have a visit from Martin Donnelly of the Digital Curation Centre at the fifth module of the KeepIt course, which was held on 30 March at the University of Northampton. Martin gave us a thorough grounding in DRAMBORA and we were able to complete some practice exercises. Interestingly, at the end of the course we were polled for our reactions, and all 15 respondents indicated that DRAMBORA either could be useful, they intended to use it, or they have used it; no one was unlikely to use it.

Martin advised us that our audit scope and purpose must be decided ahead of time, and we must make it clear at which stage of repository development the audit is being performed. It’s important to realise that no repository exists in a vacuum – we are embedded in our institutional management structures and policies, as well as the limitations and possibilities of our IT support provision, the climate of research we function in, and the wider world of UK higher education and funding.  We need to be clear on the repository’s goals: What do we do/What will we do?

Another of the important preliminary steps Martin highlighted was the need to ascribe selected “functional classes” to the repository – for example, metadata management.

We had a workshop session in which we filled out a sample section of the assessment (for reference, this was Stages 4-5-6 on Form T8/T9/T10). Our group looked specifically at T10, entitled Manage Risks. The form asked us to name and describe a possible risk, and then explain its manifestation. Then we classified the nature of the risk, identified the risk owner and stakeholders, listed the risk relationships, probability, potential impact, and from these we calculated its severity. Then we devised a risk management strategy, a risk management activity, and identified the owners of these two. This was a lot of work! and much group discussion ensued. It was a bit difficult to do as a group, because we found our repositories were all quite different, even in terms of the sorts of risks we each thought we’d be likely to face. But it’s clearly a very thorough process.

After trying T10, I  was apprehensive about my ability to think up all the possible risks that the repository faces, but was glad to learn that the DRAMBORA pdf guide includes lots of examples of risks repositories may face. The DRAMBORA website claims: “DRAMBORA Interactive provides a host of real-world risk exemplars which you can use or modify for your own repository’s circumstances.” I think this is a crucial part of the process, and I’ll certainly need to refer to these examples.

A minor concern the emerged during the hands-on experience with T10 is that filling out a lot of these forms will be tedious – I envision that there will be a lot of repetition, e.g., stakeholders will be the same for many risks.  Also, although the fact that DRAMBORA is a self-assessment is one of its good points, I do wonder if I am qualified to assess all these areas.  I don’t see how to independently test my decisions, so how will I know the probability of x happening? DRAMBORA is meant to ‘provide peace of mind’ but if it is based only on my judgement, I wonder how reassuring it will be.

Martin advised that we should allot 5 full working days to the self-audit, and I am not sure where I will find this much time to devote to this, despite my best intentions and awareness of my responsibility as a KeepIt project partner and exemplar.  I will have to put it together in bits and pieces, rather than get immersed in the task for a block of time; the latter would be far preferable. It was suggested that there might be a possibility of a ‘DRAMBORA Light’, that I could put together for myself and report on, for the use of other repository managers that are as busy as I seem to be. There are lots of exciting things going on for UAL Research Online in the next months, including our EPrints software upgrade, the complete restructuring of the university’s research office, adopting the repository to be used for all research reporting functions in the university, and my involvement in three additional projects with their own sets of deadlines, meetings and papers to write. It’s easy to keep putting off getting properly stuck into DRAMBORA, and it’s not just about my own time management – I think this illustrates a common problem for digital preservation generally. We all know that we very much need to assess, manage and minimise risk, but preservation tasks tend to fall into the ‘Important’ category, not the ‘Urgent’ one. It’s easy to spend six months attending to ‘Urgent’ work, and never get to any of the ‘Important’ bits.

Over the last few months the need for a good risk management has been very dramatically demonstrated in the news – I wonder if it would help to post this photo in a prominent place in my workspace?

Deepwater Horizon oil rig fire

Deepwater Horizon oil rig fire
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District External Affairs
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike 2.0.

Stephanie Meece
Institutional Repository Manager, UAL Research Online
University of the Arts London

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