Benchmarking digital preservation - a workshop

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© Digital Preservation Coalition

To kick off AWM’s  Digital Progress Programme for 2022, Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan hosted a workshop on benchmarking digital preservation activity for AWM members.  Colleagues from a range of services worked through the assessment tool for the NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation and the Digital Preservation’s Rapid Assessment Model with its visualisation facility.

Although it looked like a tall order to complete both of these in two hours that’s what we did proving how approachable and practical these two tools are.  We worked through each section individually, comparing scores, thinking about the underlying reasons and considering aspirations for future work.

There were common themes for all the attendees:

  1. Most institutions are not doing comprehensive digital preservation. Rather they are undertaking processes on parts of the collection.
  2. Following on from this there is a pattern emerging of institutions being able to undertake work on new accessions but having a backlog of legacy material which is more difficult to tackle, often because of resourcing limitations. We agreed this situation was analogous to the cataloguing backlog that many repositories have always faced.
  3. Many institutions are at the start of their digital preservation journey, undertaking key tasks around ingest.
  4. Working effectively with the IT department is often a major barrier due lack of understanding of the importance of digital preservation, other priorities and turnover of staff. However, attendees were tending to approach IT piecemeal with individual requests for special treatment.  WE agreed that a more effective approach might be to layout the whole landscape of the specialised needs of delivering digital preservation in a discussion document and then approaching IT with a view to having a strategic conversation about digital preservation in its entirety.  However, this approach was more likely to  work if it was supported by a senior decision-maker asking the IT department how it was going to make digital preservation happen.
  5.  Archivists tend to talk down their achievements.  They focus on what has not been done rather than what has been achieved.  Tackling a small part of your collections should be looked at as a pilot.  Piloting activity is a valid way of developing digital preservation activity and should be looked on positively rather than as ‘we’ve only done this bit’. Pilots are an exemplar of what can be done and evidence to take to decision makers
  6. Three years seemed to work as a good timescale target for effecting change to raise individual scores in the NDSA and RAM.

Filling the tools was an important exercise.  It made the services articulate what they had done and clearly laid out that they had actually made progress.  A useful question was to ask attendees what they think their scores would have been three years ago.  This really made them realise that, contrary to their opinion at the start of the workshop,  they had made progress despite very little resourcing and lots of other demands on their time.  It also showed that a service could do a retrospective scoring from say 3 years previously and provide that as a comparator to the current scoring which could then be used in reporting and planning.

The overriding message from the workshop was that the NDSA Levels and the RAM both provide useful benchmarks which a service should consider applying once a year and then leveraging their results to the full for advocacy and proritising those precious resources.

The AWM’s next Digital Progress event will be a workshop with David Underdown from The National Archives demonstrating the Diagram Risk Model on Tuesday 10 May at 10am.  AWM looks forward to welcoming them.

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