First steps towards an introductory workshop in digital preservation

Last week, we ran our first ever digital preservation workshop here at GESIS in Cologne, entitled “First steps towards digital preservation”. We will assess the workshop and the feedback we received in more depth in the weeks to come, but we would like to share some initial thoughts on the workshop while the impressions are still fresh in our minds.

Planning the workshop

When we began to think about a course in digital preservation, we decided we wanted to start “at the beginning”. Accordingly, the course was intended as a primer in digital preservation, requiring no previous experience with or knowledge of the subject. Despite our background in the social sciences, we also decided to design the course for a wider audience instead of focusing exclusively on the preservation of social science data. We did so because we thought that the basic principles of digital preservation, its general framework, can be taught largely independently of disciplinary specifics and that at this stage in particular discussions from the perspective of different disciplines can be immensely fruitful.

A second principal decision that we took was to allow the course to strongly lean towards the “organizational leg” of the three-legged stool of digital preservation (see – the question of what to consider before actually beginning to ingest digital objects into a preservation system. This decision was made because it is our conviction (and we keep good company here!) that while good technology will undoubtedly make the life of the digital preservationist much easier, digital preservation will fail if technology is not embedded in an adequate organizational infrastructure of “policies, procedures, practices, people”  (ibid.).

Thus, after a general introduction to the “why and what” of digital preservation and the OAIS Reference Model, we focused the workshop on the following topics:

  • Defining a designated community
  • Defining significant properties
  • Acquisition policies and selection criteria
  • Sustainable digital preservation and cost models
  • Licensing for preservation and re-use
  • Trusted digital repositories and certification.

The last goal that we set ourselves was to create a course that was also “hands on,” which meant that for every topic that we presented we created exercises designed to give participants to apply the theory to a real digital preservation world example.

Digital preservation, analogue presentation.

Digital preservation, analogue presentation.

Lessons taught, lessons learned

Here are some initial thoughts as to how the workshop went and where there might be some room for fine tuning or improvement. The workshop took place between October 23-25 at GESIS Cologne. It was delivered to a small group of participants most of whom had a background in social sciences or educational research, the notable exception being a participant coming from the world of music libraries.

We are very proud to say that the feedback from our first group of participants indicates that the workshop was a success and that we seem to have achieved the goals that we set ourselves. Overall, the participants’ impression was that the workshop covered the ground of “digital preservation 101” in adequate breadth and depth and that nothing vital was missing. Whew! At the same time the feedback shows an interest in covering certain topics in more depth, possibly in a separate workshop or training course rather than in the introductory workshop. Among these topics were persistent identifiers and ingest as well as digital preservation strategies “in practice”.

While the composition of the group meant that discussions veered off in the direction of the challenges of preserving social science research data from time to time, the feedback indicates that we managed to keep the balance between social science/research data specific questions and the discussion of questions relevant to other disciplines and digital object types.

Overall we are very happy how the exercises and discussions of practical examples turned out – we owe a big thanks to our participants here, who did not seem to get tired of all the scenarios and case studies we had in store for them. Yet we have a hunch (and the feedback confirms this) that we should aim to shift the balance between presentations and exercises just an additional notch more towards exercise. Although the time dedicated to exercises was generally deemed sufficient, we could easily have spent more time on these and the related discussion. Moreover, the time required is likely to increase with a bigger number of participants and accordingly we will put some thought into how we can make yet more room for the exercises.

Where do we go from here?

We are planning to run the “First steps towards digital preservation” workshop again in spring 2014, so this will leave us time to adapt and modify the workshop as described above.

In addition, we will also start working on the conception of advanced and more specialized workshops which will cover a single topic in more depth. This will involve contacting experts from the respective areas to see how we can bring in their expertise, both in the conceptualization and delivery of the workshops. So exciting times are ahead and we look forward to taking many more steps towards digital preservation!