University of Brighton Design Archives

The University of Brighton Design Archives (UoBDA) is currently in the early stages of its digital journey, procedure mapping the work it needs to do over the next 12 months, with the Archive Service Accreditation process acting as a key driver. With the support of colleagues in the sector and using available resources and training, the archive has been able to make a clear business case to persuade decision makers to support digital preservation.

Sue Breakell, Archive Leader of the University of Brighton Design Archives, describes her organisation’s path to digital preservation.

What’s your role in your organisation?

My role involves managing the archives, including leading on the first phase of our digital preservation project launched in 2019, which involves getting the support of senior management. As a Senior Research Fellow, I also work with students and researchers and produce my own research, which engages with archive studies as well as the history of art and design.

What kinds of records do you keep?

The University of Brighton Design Archives (UoBDA) holds the most significant body of material relating to post-war design organisations in any British university, alongside the archives of designers whose work those organisations championed. The Design Archives’ goals are centred around collections, research-informed stewardship, collaboration, research, teaching and engagement.

How many people are in your team?

I lead a team of three which sits within the School of Humanities, though we work with many different areas of the university. Our collections come mostly from outside the university, and digital preservation efforts sit alongside our collection development work.

Describe your path to digital preservation

We have been aware of digital preservation and its importance for the future of our collection for a while now and have been making steps to progress it within the organisation. Thanks to our efforts, we now have a good handle on our situation, as well as the next steps. Our path to digital preservation is in its early stages – we are now in phase one which is about scoping the work, developing the knowledge and getting senior management support. The Archive Service Accreditation process has been a huge help.

The key thing we have done is put together an assessment of where we are in the form of an interim policy, plan and procedure mapping the work we want to achieve over 12 months. The document is currently internally-facing but we are looking into making it external after phase one is complete. The scale of the initial work is contained by the fact that it’s a relatively small body of records, which has helped us focus our thinking about what we needed to do and how to achieve our objectives.

To gain the support of senior decision makers, we wrote and shared a document for discussion in meetings. As digital preservation might be perceived as a new concept, good communication was critical to explain its advantages, how it sits within a broader frame and how important it is for the Archive Service Accreditation process. The document needed to be appropriate to the concerns and perspective of senior managers , and to outline strategic relevance and resource implications.

It was important for us to make sure our pitch was realistic and achievable, setting out clearly the issues at stake and the benefits of investing in digital preservation for the long term. Accreditation has been an important driver of our advocacy efforts as it is a measure of success that our institutions is keen to support us to achieve. Another benefit that we put to them was showing that for the future development of the Design Archives we need to have capacity for future preservation of records in digital and paper formats, allowing for our continuing development.

What have been the barriers to digital archiving and how have you overcome them?

As for many archives, it is a question of the resources involved because the costs of digital preservation can be very high. It is also about raising awareness of what digital preservation actually means as there is often a view that having things saved on servers means that you have them kept safe, but there is a longer lifecycle management needed.

How do you engage people with your digital archives?

As we are still in the early stages of the work, access to our digital records has not yet been rolled out. Giving access to people through a dedicated terminal in our reading room is an avenue that we are exploring. However, we do have some digital surrogates available to public audiences through our catalogue as well as digitised resources on our website. We have broken our conception of digital records down into three areas: records of our own activities, digitised collections content, and born-digital collections content. Our goal is the long-term preservation of all these categories of records.

As an archive within the Higher Education sector, our core audience is academic and we reach them through:

  • our website and resources
  • our online catalogue
  • in-person visits and teaching sessions
  • events and conferences
  • academic publications in the archive and design history sectors
  • exhibitions
  • provision of digital images for publication

What tips do you have for other organisations on their digital archive journey?

Leverage NDSA levels of digital preservation

We have turned to cost-effective steps, tapping into different resources such as the National Digital Stewardship Agency (NDSA) levels of digital preservation. They have been incredibly helpful because they allowed us to identify where we are within a recognised framework and also the risks associated with the management of our current holdings.

Network and collaborate within and outside your community

Engaging with the digital preservation community and archivists in other institutions involved in collaborative projects has played a huge role in our journey so far. For example, we are part of the Brighton and Sussex Digital Preservation Group alongside institutions such as the University of Sussex that are working towards the same goal as us and that are at different stages of the digital preservation journey. We meet face-to-face every couple of months to exchange best practice and give updates on how far along we are – it is a great forum for sharing information.

We also contributed to The National Archives-run Safeguarding the Nation’s Digital Memory project to develop a digital preservation risk model. As one of the contributing partners, we were able to contribute archival expertise even from our early stage in the digital preservation process, and have learned much in the process, adding value to our existing work.

Get involved in your community

Attending sector and network meetings is very important and this has allowed me to discuss with colleagues and get recommendations about people who might be helpful. Get stuck in and don’t be afraid to get people on your side and gather as much information as you can. I am involved in the Higher Education Archive Programme (HEAP) for example.

Collaborate with your colleagues

We have been working in tandem with the University’s Information Services department, working together to develop knowledge on digital preservation and making sure our interim policy is aligned with their objectives. We have also been raising awareness within the institution, identifying colleagues who might be able to contribute to the work. That has allowed us to win institutional support over the past 18 months.

Take it one step at a time

Digital preservation can be daunting, but we broke it down into elements to ensure it feels more manageable, mapping a journey through objectives, strategies and procedures. That has allowed us to overcome challenges and explain every step logically to our colleagues.