Hi all! Let’s finish up a few remaining points from our discussion of preservation in the last post…
For most of us, it is easier to identify and solve issues that are happening right now. Let’s look at an example:
Problem: “I am processing a collection, and I ran out of archival folders.”
Solution: “I need to order more ASAP.”
It’s a simple example, but you get the point. On the contrary, when it comes to solving issues that are merely “potential” or seemingly nonthreatening at the moment, it can be a bit harder to find the motivation to do something about it. Hence, this is the reason why many archives either lack or struggle to maintain a viable emergency preparedness and response plan.
Emergency preparedness for an archives is not frame of mind or an abstract concept – it is an action plan. It is a written document that identifies various types of potential emergencies and their sources (natural disasters, human/mechanical errors…), explains the procedures for dealing with emergencies, and explains each staff member’s role in protecting the archives and its resources in the event of an emergency. In addition, these plans usually contain lists of first responders, necessary supplies, and diagrams of the building and the physical location of all archival materials. Here are a few nuggets about emergency preparedness courtesy of Mary Ritzenthaler’s book Preserving Archives & Manuscripts:
- Emergency preparedness plans should include…
- List of potential disasters and their sources
- Physical location of all records
- Mapped routes of escape
- Supply lists
- Written, step-by-step procedures for handling an emergency
- Clearly delineated roles among staff members
- List of first responders
- List of exits
- Preventative measures to help lessen the effects of a disaster or even prevent its occurrence all together
- All staff members should read and know the emergency preparedness plan.
- Emergency preparedness plans should exists in various locations, and staff members should know all of these locations.
- Know your vital records and note their locations in the plan.
- HUMAN SAFETY COMES FIRST. I know, it seems obvious, but when you’re an archivist, it is easy to forget that!
- Have conversations with your first responders (security guards, firefighters, local police, etc.) in order to forge positive relationships with them and to keep them informed about archives and the type of protection they need. Remember, first responders may not know much about archives, so it’s good to educate them.
- Consider options for 24/7 alarm systems.
- Push for regular facility checkups so potential building issues can be identified early on.
Remember, an emergency preparedness plan is not the same as a disaster recovery plan. The latter is a plan for rebuilding once a disaster has already occurred. The former is about being ready for a disaster that may come one day and making plans that will hopefully mitigate its effects.
Digital preservation means taking action to ensure that digital objects persist into the future. Identifying and implementing the proper steps for digital preservation is quite a challenge for archivists, largely because technology is constantly evolving. This blog post will not even come close to scratching the surface when it comes to discussing digital preservation, but hopefully it will provide a few things to consider.
Digital objects come in many forms. Here are a few of the most common…
- Digital photos
- Digital documents
- Harvested web content
- Digital manuscripts
- Static and dynamic data sets
- Digital art
- Digital media publications
- Social media content
- Digital video and audio
Digital objects are unique because their structure is so complex. In order to render digital objects and interpret them, we have to understand them as physical objects, logical objects, and conceptual objects. The physical object is what we can hold on our hand. It contains the inscription of signs on a physical medium (ex. file written on a flash drive or DVD). The logical object refers to the bitstream that is recognized and processed by software (. The conceptual object is the object as it is understood by humans, usually in a GUI-type of environment. In order to experience a digital object, we must use a physical object to express a logical one. This involves both hardware and software.
Main methods for handling digital preservation:
Migration – changing a digital object currently depending on an obsolete environment into a new object suited to a new environment
- Media migration – moving bits from one media to another (no change in bits)
- File format migration – taking a set of bits and transforming them into a new representation
Emulation – creating a new process in hardware and software that mimics an obsolete process to render a digital object without modification
- Original system emulation – creator of content provides the original environment (ex. an obsolete software) and the archivist recreates this environment using disk images
- Emulation as a service – creating a more generalized emulated environment using vintage data (ex. FreeDos was created as an emulated environment for programs that used to use MS-DOS)
Metadata is the last thing I’m going to mention. Metadata takes on a whole new meaning and importance when we are dealing with digital items because digital material is extremely vulnerable to losing context. Metadata may be created by the record creator, the donor, the archivist, and sometimes the machine or software rendering the digital material. There are many metadata standards and schemas for preserving digital material. Some include Dublin Core, METS, MODS, and PREMIS.
As I close my discussion on preservation, I’d like to share some great materials that might be of use when studying for the ACA exam, or in the future, managing preservation in an archival program. A few of these I’ve mentioned already, but some I have not…
- Preserving Archives and Manuscripts by Mary Ritzenthaler
- Northeast Document Conservation Center leaflets
- Photographs: Archival Care and Management by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Diane L. Vogt-O’Connor
- Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses
- “Defining ‘Born Digital’” by Ricky Erway
- OAIS Model
- Becoming a Trusted Digital Repository by Steve Marks
- Countless articles in the American Archivist, Archival Issues, Archivaria, Archival Science, and others that talk about preservation
Again, these are just a few of the many resources available regarding preservation!