Walking in our shoes! Training the trainers in digital preservation

This blog is co-written with our former colleague Laurence Horton (London School of Economics and Political Science). It is based on a workshop presented at Archiving 2014, Berlin and IASSIST 2014, Toronto.

The CESSDA Archive and Data Management Training Center was established in mid-2011 to promote awareness of digital preservation roles and responsibilities and produce more digital preservation experts. One aspect of its activity is a “First steps towards Digital Preservation” course designed for small groups of individuals either beginning to undertake or charged with digital preservation responsibilities.

The course assumes participants have no prior knowledge of digital preservation. Conceptually, it uses the “three-legged stool” approach developed for University of Cornell digital preservation management workshop and tutorials, where the three legs of a stool act as metaphors for technological infrastructure, organisational infrastructure, and requisite resources. All three are integral, related components. The stool would collapse if one leg was missing or defective. Likewise, digital preservation strategies fail — or to stick with the metaphor, you’d be sat on the floor — if one of your infrastructure or resource legs is missing or faulty. However, within the course there is an emphasis on the organisational component over, but not to the detriment of, the technological and resource components. There are two reasons why. First, the organisational dimension tends to be neglected or an afterthought once a digital preservation system or service is already established. Second, although each of the legs of the stool is indispensable, the organisational focus on “policies, procedures, practices, people” provides a framework for digital preservation: defining goals, operating conditions, specifying limitations, and determining procedures for day-to-day routines and non-routine emergency situations.

In designing the course we were aware of the need for flexibility in how it could be taught. Six modules were constructed. Each one is based on a presentation to acquaint participants with the topic, its key messages, and related issues. These are followed (except the introduction) by an exercise designed for reinforcement, self-assessment, or further discussion. For instructors, each module comes with a synopsis of its content, a set of learning objectives, full notes for the presentation slides, and bibliographies for further reading.

Around two hours is required to cover the content of a module. Consequently, the course can be either taught intensively over two days or spread out over a longer period. Modules can be used as standalone resources, although greater value can be extracted if subsequent modules are based on an introduction or basic knowledge of the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model.

  1. What is digital preservation?
    Introduces digital preservation on a conceptual level, including an outline of key digital preservation terminology. The BBC’s Domesday Book project is used as a case study to illustrate challenges involved in digital preservation.
  2. Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model
    The concepts and terminology of the OAIS model are introduced with emphasis on the functional and information model and the concept of Preservation Description Information.
  3. Designated communities
    Defining who you are preserving objects for, establishing their needs and identifying strategies to meet them. Participants are prompted to think about who would use objects from their work and how at 5, 20, and 100 years in the future.
  4. Policies
    Looking at organisational documents necessary to guide digital preservation, how they relate to each other, and their importance as a communication tool. This includes acquisition or collection, preservation, dissemination, and continuity policies. The exercise invites participants to undertake and discuss an acquisitions policy self-assessment.
  5. Licencing
    Presenting the concept of Intellectual Property Rights and illustrating how they affect preservation and re-use. The session looks at licensing as a tool to protect intellectual property in preservation and re-use, restrictions on access and re-use, and issues of enforceability and attribution stacking. A hypothetical scenario asks participants to review a data submission in the context of possible licencing issues.
  6. Trusted digital repositories
    Focusing on the concept of “trust” both within and outside an organisation and its importance to digital preservation, this session goes on to introduce recognised standards of trustworthiness archives and repositories can use to build trust with designated communities and peer organisations.

All course presentations, notes, and exercises are available for free under a CC-BY (3.0) licence from GESIS’s online learning platform (registration required). Readers are encouraged to use and adapt contents (with attribution) to either find out how digital preservation is their job or go forward helping ensure there are more digital preservation experts.