Archives West Midlands (AWM) is a charitable incorporated organisation with 16 members from local authority, university and specialist collections.
AWM is working to develop a regional approach to digital preservation. This has involved a two-pronged work stream featuring hands-on trials of the digital preservation solutions offered by Preservica & Archivematica alongside developing policies, procedures, templates and a model business case for use by services to encourage a consistent approach across the region.
Whilst archival practices remain the same, the tools are changing. Increasingly the requirement is for improved server space, tools to migrate digital material into up-to-date formats, retrieval tools and virus-checking equipment. A survey of AWM members evidenced a clear need to make advances in these areas, however, limited capacity and a skills and knowledge gap meant that progress was limited or stalling for many.
Joanna Terry, Head of Archives and Heritage at Staffordshire County Council explained that the work stream has been incremental and collaborative. The initial survey of AWM members established:
- Current practices
- Existing policies and guidance
- Skills and knowledge gaps
- Ongoing requirements
The results confirmed the need for practical training alongside guidance and toolkits. It also recognised that opportunities for systems testing would need to be factored in so that the group could make informed individual and collective decisions regarding the best platform to provide secure public access to digital records.
Workshops sessions were scheduled to demonstrate two digital preservation solutions. This helped archivists understand the differences between the systems and assess which was the most appropriate for their individual circumstances.
Alongside this work, archivists from member organisations in Birmingham and Worcestershire collated existing policies and guidance in order to develop a suite of template documents.
- As individual services, all members were facing the same challenges, however through AWM they had the ability to pool resources, share information, policies and toolkits and work more efficiently towards addressing this challenge. Another key strength is that AWM can deploy as a network for lobbying around issues
- Drawing on the skills of staff from within the membership has been of real benefit to the project and helped to ensure continuous professional development opportunities
- AWM want all their members to feel the benefits of the work, regardless of their size and scale, so making sure members stay engaged has been crucial. This has been achieved by a programme of workshop events
- Through developing solutions to the challenge of digital preservation, AWM members realised that they would need support from colleagues in IT. This has been vital in raising awareness of the importance of digital preservation, making the case for investment and ensuring relevant expertise is available regarding procuring a solution. To help with advocacy, they presented to SOCITM – the society for IT/digital leaders – and made them aware of the longer term need for archiving records for up to 100 years, explained the challenge of obsolescence and requested their engagement locally as ‘critical friends’ in managing digital records.
Top tip: Achieving buy-in from everyone at each stage of the process is important for collaborative projects. Making sure there are regular communications about progress, with the findings shared at critical points in the process, has helped keep everyone involved and engaged.
Future workshop sessions will share and refine resources developed through the project. This will include:
- digital preservation policies and strategies
- metadata and file format guides
- accession policies and appraisal of digital materials
- guidance for depositors on the care of digital materials
- template business case with options on digital preservation solutions
- funding formula and cost benefit analysis
Preferred preservation solutions may differ across the membership, due to factors such as outsourced IT, however AWM hope to be able to jointly procure a digital preservation system, therefore generating savings through the economy of scale and also supporting the development of the archive workforce across the region.
AWM will also be considering how their work complements that of Archives First who are focusing on the requirement to extract and preserve records of children in care and local government [CF1] .
Having a coherent approach to digital preservation is now a requirement for collections care as part of the Archive Service Accreditation Standard. As such, the suite of template policies and guidance developed by AWM can now be used across the region helping to encourage member services to adopt a consistent approach.
It is anticipated that some services will be able use the model business case to help with advocacy and secure internal investment for a digital preservation solution.
During the course of the project, work was supported by a seconded job share post, which is helping to ensure skills are retained within the network.
Contact the project lead:
Joanna Terry, Head of Archives and Heritage, Staffordshire County Council