Welcome 2019 – digital preservation promises

Today, when people are starting to phrase good intentions for the New Year, it is a nice moment to draw the attention to a report that was published in October last year. Oya Y. Rieger from ITHAKA S+R wrote an “issue report” about the “The State of Digital Preservation in 2018. A Snapshot of Challenges and Gaps”. The purpose of the report was “ to survey the preservation landscape within the context of evolving research workflows and the scholarly and cultural record”. So looking back and looking forward. She interviewed 21 digital preservationists from all over the world and discussed with them 5 questions related to what is working well so far and which challenges we need to solve in the future. As was also the conclusion in the panel at iPRES 2018 we have achieved a lot since the last 20 years: more community building, better collaboration, shared standards, availability of preservation systems and a willingness to share experiences, to name just a few.

But there are still issues that need to be solved. Based on the interviews the report describes an overview of various issues, varying from the increasingly unclear role of research libraries in an university environment (I wonder, is that also the case in Europe where they have a role related to implementing the FAIR principles? ), the ambiguity of roles and preservation responsibilities in libraries, the impact of cloud storage both from a financial perspective as well as the facilities they offer, the interaction between preservation systems and digital asset management systems. But also the (limited) use of web archives by researchers and the concerns about the usability of research data are issues that are a risk for digital preservation in general. Reading these issues I was wondering, could one say that we think digital preservation is now mature, but that we still need to find the right role in the world in which we operate?

These and other similar interesting issues led to three potential research areas. These areas are not new and in various discussions people have talked about them. Although we have reached a lot and “awareness raising” is less necessary, we still need to find a general acknowledgement of the role of digital preservation. The increasingly complexity to preserve digital material in context requires us to collaborate more and in a structured way. “what seems to be missing is a cohesive and compelling roadmap to guide the international community in knitting together the advances made and addressing the gaps based on the characteristics of the new digital realm”. Two years ago Richard Whitt suggested a similar approach . But we also need to have a better insight in the roles and responsibilities related to preserving digital material of all the stakeholders involved in digitial preservation, both from the creators perspective as well as of the preserving organisations. And last but not least we need the “story”, or to cite the report a “strong set of value propositions (both from the public good and economic viability perspectives) and articulate the risks involved in potential loss”. Related to this last point I welcome your stories on the Atlas of Digital Damages.

We have another 365 days ahead of us to work on this! Happy New Year!

Open Preservation Foundations new Strategy

There are several member organizations active in digital preservation. Knowing their position in the preservation landscape will help preservationist to decide which of them fits best to their needs and which to join. The Open Preservation Foundation (OPF) launched recently their new Strategy (2018-2021) and shows the plans for the next coming years. The vision of OPF  “Open sustainable digital preservation” is accompanied by a new mission, thanks to the influence of the new director Martin Wrigley, and states


Enabling shared solutions for effective and efficient digital preservation; the Open Preservation Foundation leads a collaborative effort to create, maintain and develop the reference set of sustainable, open source digital preservation tools and supporting resources.

This set of tools (including software and standards) enables organisations to evaluate, validate, document, mitigate risk, and process digital content to be preserved in line with desired policies and community best practice.

One of the core values of OPF is the focus on serving the [currently 26] members with tools they need and to foster their effective and efficient preservation activities. The  OPF members were involved in shaping this strategy during their annual meeting in Tallinn in spring 2018. But as two other values are “openness”  and “collaboration” a larger group of preservationists will benefit from the OPF activities.

At the heart of the planned activities is the OPF Reference Toolset. In general there is a wide range of tools available for various preservation tasks (see Coptr) and of different maturity and robustness. OPF want to improve this situation so that members can be supported in choosing the right tool for their purpose. This will be done by creating a OPF Reference toolset, the development of which will be influenced by the OPF members.  The OPF Reference Toolset will not just being a set of useful tools, but is more. “The reference toolset includes software, standard test data sets (or “test corpus”), other standards and best practice (including policies), and may rely on external components that have a robust support mechanism.” 

As Knowledge exchange and Collaboration are still part of the action plan for the next coming years, the larger preservation community can be part of these development, but as nothing is free, an increase in members will certainly contribute to achieving the goals sooner. More details about the planned activities and a more extensive explanation of the OPF Reference Toolset can be found in the Strategy.

Is it useful to know who is using which preservation system?

My organization is, as are many others,  looking for a replacement of the current digital preservation system. So I’m curious what is on the market and what other national libraries are using. Websites of commercial vendors like Preservica, Ex Libris and Libnova offer sometimes information about their customers. The websites of the library organizations themselves inform us about their infrastructure. Last year a group of Portugese researchers (Rosa, Carlos André (2018): OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE FOR DIGITAL PRESERVATION REPOSITORIES: A SURVEY) investigated the currently available open source software for digital preservation repositories.  Some of these open source communities have a list of implementations. Combined with suppliers websites we could have a nice overview of what is available and who has implemented which preservation system. Create a list on google docs, use Gephi to make a graph and you have a nice overview. I started with this exercise but was a bit reluctant to continue.

Firstly,  I thought, there is a risk with such a list: terrorists and hackers might plan to use this information to destroy important cultural heritage resources so perhaps it is best not to centralize this information (likewise: nobody should mention anymore the place of their preservation copies in public, like we did in the past when we were proud of what we had achieved).

But, secondly, even if we had information about who is using which system, we still have an incomplete picture because we do not know whether we share the same concepts, despite our shared OAIS language. I realized this when I saw a Dutch survey report.

The Digital Heritage Network in the Netherland started a survey (sorry folks, only in Dutch) to get an overview of the digital preservation systems in use in the Netherlands. Not only out of curiosity, but also to investigate the need for developing generic services and to promote more collaboration between organizations. The researchers Joost van der Nat and Marcel Ras plan to create a map of digital preservation services in the Netherlands and this survey will give the first ingredients. 50 organizations were selected for this survey, 44 of them responded. 27 of them said to have a digital preservation solution in place , although the impression is that not every respondent meant the same with having a “digital archive” so it is more safe to say that 50% has a digital preservation solution (this was based on the answers they gave on other questions). A third of these 27 organizations did the development of the digital archive themselves (9), but amongst the respondents were early adopters that started years ago when there was hardly any system on the market. The other respondents implemented Preservica (2) and Archivematica (1) or a solution created by a 3rd party provider like Data Matters (1) or Picturae (3). In the Category “others”, systems that were mentioned were Islandora, arQive, DSpace, De Ree and Adlib Filemaker (which are not all long term preservation systems in the OAIS sense). A new iteration of this survey will show a different overview, as there are for example more implementations of Preservica and Archivematica in the Netherlands.

Most of the respondents were familiair with the OAIS functional entities. 10 Organisations had all 6 entities implemented (Preservation Planning is absent in most organizations), but 6 respondents out of 27 did not know which functionalities of OAIS were present in their system, although they said to have a preservation system implemented! And despite the explanation given in the survey.

And here I realized that although people were familiar with OAIS concepts, the answers in the survey showed that they did not have the same definition of a digital archive. Although every question was accompanied by an explanation of the survey creators, respondents still gave answers that were for me beside the point.  And that it might not help me either to have an overview of who is using what digital preservation system. It is the way it is implemented and the organization around the digital archive, that matters. But these things cannot be shared in lists.

So perhaps the old fashioned way of picking up the phone and meeting people is still the best way to get your knowledge. However… for that you need a “phonebook” to know who to contact. So a list might be handy after all.

Software preservation in series of webinars

Last week the 5th episode in a series of webinars on software preservation was launched. The series is organized by the Software Preservation Network in the USA and the Digital Preservation Coalition in the UK.

Although preservation of software was already a topic in digital preservation for years, several developments in the last few years made the topic more pressing.

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Fixity practices in the preservation community

The National Digital Stewardship Alliance conducted a survey in 2017 about the fixity (best) practices in the preservation community and recently published their results. The survey was intended to get an answer to two questions: (1) what common practices exists for fixity checking and (2) what are the challenges institutions face when implementing a fixity check routine? Lees verder