A collection of women gathered under a banner.

Cropped image of Disarmament Sunday, Yarra Park, Sunday 6 November 1921 / Photographer: unknown / Source: Records of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Collection, State Library Victoria

In Towards a Theory of Digital Preservation, Moore states that ‘a preservation environment manages communication from the past while communicating with the future’ (2008, 63). This simple statement captures the essence of what all collecting institutions have been doing with their physical collections care for decades, and the challenge of how we need to approach caring for our growing digital collections.

State Library Victoria’s (SLV) digital collection falls into three categories: digitised items, born digital objects, and digital objects on physical carriers. Priorities for preservation are born digital objects and digital objects on physical carriers. Our digitised items are an important resource which need to continue to be accessible, but they do not form part of our formal collection. So, in the same way physical collections are zoned for preservation and access, digital collections also need to be zoned.

To give some background, SLV has been digitising its collection and making it accessible since 1991. It has also collected Victorian online publications and websites since the late 1990s, adding them to PANDORA (Preserving and Accessing Networked Documentary Resources of Australia).

The first born digital photographs, a selection of digital images taken by the public at the 2005 Commonwealth Games, were added to the collection in 2006. It also holds a large collection of digital items on physical carriers: including film, vinyl, VHS tapes, audio cassettes, floppy discs, CDs and DVDs. These pose a particular challenge as 2025 approaches because tape-based formats created in the 20th century that have not been migrated by 2025 may be lost forever due to a combination of technological obsolescence and deterioration (National Film and Sound Archive 2015).

While SLV has been developing its digital collection, it has also been managing and caring for it. SLV introduced its first digital object management system (DOMS) in July 2009 as part of the slv21 program to create the library of the 21st century. DOMS allowed the Library to setup processes and workflows to ingest, store and make its digitised collections accessible in a
consistent way. Born digital objects were added once these processes were established.

As the first International Digital Preservation Day [30 November] is held, SLV is half-way through its next major step with the upgrade of its existing DOMS, the ExLibris product DigiTool, to Rosetta. The Rosetta Implementation project has a number of drivers: particularly the introduction of digital preservation functionality. This project’s aims are summarised in the elevator pitch:

The Rosetta Implementation is for current and future users who want to discover, access and use the Library’s growing digital collection. It will support intuitive, powerful and playful digital interfaces underpinned by robust technology, metadata and staff capabilities. Unlike current systems which are at end-of-life and don’t support digital preservation. It’s different because it allows the Library to provide the best possible user experience now and into the future.

Three women

Cropped image of three unidentified women possibly members of the Holloway family or associated with the Tyntyndyer homstead, Swan Hill, c. 1910 – 1930 / Photographer: unknown / Source: Holloway collection, State Library Victoria

This captures SLV’s view that effective digital preservation as more than a technological solution. It also requires staff knowledge, skills and capability, understanding of the vital role metadata plays, and the ability to provide users with access to these objects as they were designed to be seen.

In 2012 National, State and Territory Libraries of Australasia (NSLA) recognised the need to increase understanding about the nature of digital objects, their preservation and access, and created the Digital Preservation Project, and subsequently the Digital Skills Project. These projects have been instrumental in increasing our understanding and confidence in managing born digital collections through a series of programs to increase awareness, practitioner and specialist digital preservation skills. Drawing on expertise from the US, New Zealand and within Australia, these programs have included developing and running Digital Preservation Outreach and Education (DPOE) sessions, Digital Forensics hands-on training, Digital Preservation Internships, and working with data sessions.

As well as introducing technology, and increasing knowledge, skills and capability, SLV is also determining the principles that will guide the digital preservation program. These considerations include determining where born digital objects sit along a spectrum. Is the reason they were collected simply for the information they contain (their content) or is it their significance in both the content and the way the object was created and behaves. Determining where their significance sits along this spectrum will inform preservation actions and access mechanisms, including migration to new formats as old ones become obsolete through to the creation of emulation environments.

The combination of the technology, skills and capability of staff, knowledge of the nature and significance of the digital objects we are collecting, and ability to provide that to current and future users, forms the basis of SLV’s digital preservation program and allows us to ‘manage communication from the past while communicating with the future’.


References

Moore, R. 2008. “Towards a Theory of Digital Preservation.” The International Journal of Digital Curation 3 (1): 63-75.
Accessed May 11, 2017.

National Film and Sound Archive. 2015. “Deadline 2025.” National Film and Sound Archive. October. Accessed November
18, 2017.


This article was originally published in the Australian Society of Archivists 2017 VIC Branch November newsletter.

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