Photo: Carmen Heister, Francesca Chrystall, Carly Lenz and Joshua Ng (Archives New Zealand digital preservation team members) expressing what their digipres work means to them on Public Service Day 2018.
In observance of this year’s World Digital Preservation Day on 29 November, Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga felt that spotlighting the digital preservation team and the work that we regularly undertake would be informative and suitable. As defined by the American Library Association, the practice of digital preservation, or digipres for short, combines “policies, strategies and actions to ensure the accurate rendering of authenticated content over time, regardless of the challenges of media failure and technological change” -- so what sorts of tasks does this work entail, exactly? Though the underpinnings and challenges of digipres have more universal bearing, digital preservation programmes themselves can vary significantly between institutions.
At Archives New Zealand, managing the Government Digital Archive (GDA), providing ingest support, assisting in the digital transfer process, dealing with preservation issues, offering in-house and external advice, and conducting research are examples of ongoing activities, to name a few. Every day, however, prompts a different approach, problem, or investigation.
Arranging and describing a day in the life of a member of the digital preservation team at Archives New Zealand by the hour is no simple task, so in lieu of a nebulous outline, this blog hopes to elucidate some of our prominent responsibilities and expectations.
As the digital preservation analysts and process administrators we are tasked with the maintenance, monitoring, and configuration of the Government Digital Archive (GDA), which is Archives New Zealand’s repository for digitised and born-digital materials. We check on the system first thing every morning to make sure that any digital items submitted, (or ingested, in digipres lexicon), the day before have made it through to the permanent repository without error. Sometimes we come across items that were halted in the process due to technical inconsistencies, like incorrect file format identification or failed metadata extraction. In these cases, we investigate the problematic files and resubmit them for ingest. We often receive requests from archivists, digitisation team members, or operational support to fix or change inconsistencies that they find within the digital archive. For instance, sometimes items were ingested with pages in the wrong order, or a multipage PDF needs to be generated as an online access copy. In addition, we collaborate with these teams to craft and implement new workflows when planning for special digitisation and ingest projects.
Between cups of coffee and tea, we work with in-house applications and tools to carry out business-as-usual activities, like creating and validating checksums, submitting digital items for ingest, identifying file formats within datasets, and analysing potential digital transfers. Our ability to test these different softwares and become familiar with them is integral when we are looking to optimise pre-existing workflows or to offer advice to public sector organisations that are ready to transfer their born-digital collections to Archives New Zealand.
There are multiple projects that we are involved in collectively and individually based on our personal interests and strengths. For example, in the digital archaeology workstream, Carmen Heister, Francesca Chrystall, and Joshua Ng are assessing Archives New Zealand’s magnetic media holdings and the resources required to safely extract data from these carriers. Additionally, Carly Lenz, Jan Hutar, and Mick Crouch are working on elevating the Government Loans Service so that it is digitally fit-for-purpose for organisations. In some cases, we are called upon by other project groups to give advice or to offer a different perspective on the problem that needs to be solved.
We keep an active eye on the digital repository by reading through server logs, treating files with technical errors, and viewing how records appear to the public in Archway, our archives management system. While these are all important actions, they reflect a very current snapshot of the state of Archives New Zealand’s digital preservation; we need to also take our long-term vision into account. Preservation planning is a conceptual framework that we aim to be proactive about using various techniques, including risk analysis, file format migration, and resource assessment. There are many moving parts at play when measuring which actions are best, and ultimately feasible, for an institution’s digital preservation programme, and decisions that were once the most sensible may need revisiting in a year’s time.
Digital preservation is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour, unfortunately, which means that many questions related to the practice remain unanswered. Because of this, we dedicate some time to getting involved in the digipres community by participating in working groups and catching up with our digital preservation colleagues across the road at the National Library. Having access to an abundance of open environments where we can exchange information and offer/receive advice is confirming, educational, and even entertaining, especially when flat whites are included. Furthermore, the constantly evolving nature of digital preservation allows for exciting research opportunities that we are all keen to take on, like emerging technologies and database archiving.
Much like the field itself, the work involved in digipres is increasingly dynamic; no day is the same and there is always something new to learn, test, or investigate. We are excited by the work that we do for Archives New Zealand and our team strives towards digital continuity every day.