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Friday, 29 November 2013

COPTR: It's short for "Making my Thursday much easier"

This is a guest post from Nathan Williams, Archives Assistant.
For four days of a working week I can largely be found on the front desk of the Borthwick Institute assisting people with their research, fetching up documents within our vast holdings, and assisting people with interpreting the materials they have in front of them. Part of the role of an Archives Assistant is one of providing researchers with the tools of discovery.

On the fifth day of a working week I don a different cap altogether, for on Thursday I head on up to Jen Mitcham’s office to help with a different challenge altogether: digital preservation.

So it was somewhat of a pleasant surprise when I received an email circulated through the jisc-digital-preservation list regarding the beta launch of COPTR or the Community Owned digital Preservation Tool Registry. Ok, so my title is silly, but here’s why it really should stand for “Making my Thursday much easier”:

  • As an institutional repository with strong University, Research, Diocesan and local and national collections of import, we have varying and ever-increasing demands on our ability to manage digital objects.
  • We don’t currently have an overarching OAIS-compliant preservation system, but we still have to take action on digital objects both in our care and yet to be created.
  • We have to act but resources are limited and the correct tools, used properly, can help us to act now instead of risking our digital assets.
  • Sometimes finding those tools, especially for the entry level practitioner, isn’t easy - COPTR should help to make it easy.
COPTR is not the first such ‘tool registry’ to exist but its aim is to collate the contents of five previously used registries (amongst them those present via the Digital Curation Centre and Open Planets Foundation to name just two).

Here are just a few potentially great things about it:


  1. It’s working to collate all the information that’s currently out there into one place.
  2. It’s managed by us.
  3. It’s browse function already looks really promising - show all the tools, or tools by functional category, or even tools by content they act upon. I don’t think it can be overstated how useful this is for the entry level practitioner!
  4. It brings together advanced and entry level practitioners and allows for collaboration across the digital preservation spectrum.
  5. User experiences go beyond just descriptions but actually provide use cases and general experiences from people who have used a tool. These sections will hopefully get a lot more material added to them as time goes on.
  6. There is already quite a bit to get your teeth into and entries are added to all the time - the activity log already looks promising.
I’ve already found some potential tools for investigation for my second look at finding us a temporary fixity solution. It’s also great to just browse and see what else is out there. What tools will you discover through COPTR?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Fund it, Solve it, Keep it – a personal perspective on SPRUCE

Yesterday I attended the SPRUCE end of project event at the fabulous new Library of Birmingham. The SPRUCE project was lauded by Neil Grindley as one of the best digital preservation projects that JISC has funded and it is easy to see why. Over the 2 years it has run, SPRUCE has done for a great deal for the digital preservation community. Bringing together people to come up with solutions for some of our digital preservation problems being one of the most important of these. The SPRUCE project is perhaps most well-known for its mash-up events* but should also be praised for its involvement and leadership in other community based digital preservation initiatives such as the recently launched tool registry COPTR (more about this in a future blog post).
Library of Birmingham by KellyNicholls27 on Flickr

SPRUCE can’t fix all the problems of the digital preservation community but what it has done very effectively is what William Kilbride describes as “productive small scale problem solving”. 

This event was a good opportunity to learn more about some of the tools and resources that have come out of the SPRUCE project. 

I was interested to hear Toni Sant of the Malta Music Memory Project describing their tool for extracting data from audio cds that was made available last week. I have not had a chance to investigate this in any detail yet but think this could be exactly what we need in order to move us forward from our audit of audio formats at the Borthwick Institute earlier this year to a methodology for ensuring their long term preservation in line with the proposed 15 year digitisation strategy as described last month. Obviously this deals only with audio CDs so its scope is limited, but being that audio CDs are a high priority for digital preservation this is an important development.

Another interesting tool described by Eleonora Nicchiarelli at Nottingham University allowed them to put XMP metadata into the headers of TIF images produced by their digitisation team. This avoids the separation of the images from the contextual information that is so important in making sense of them.

It was also good to hear Ray Moore from the Archaeology Data Service talk about the ReACT tool (Resource Audit and Comparison), the proposal for which I wrote in my last few weeks at the ADS. A simple tool written in VBA with a friendly Excel GUI capable of automatically checking for the presence of related files in different directories. Originally created for those situations where you want to ensure a dissemination or preservation version of a file is present for each of your archival originals, it could have many use cases in alternative scenarios. As Ray articulated, “simple solutions are sometimes the best solutions”. Thanks due to Ray and Andrew Amato of LSE for seeing that project through.

Chris Fryer of Northumberland Estates described some great work he has done (along with Ed Pinsent of ULCC) on defining digital preservation requirements and assessing a number of solutions against these requirements. He has produced a set of resources that could be widely re-used by others going through a similar process.

When I attended the first SPRUCE mash-up in Glasgow early last year participants did a bit of work on defining the business case for digital preservation in the context in of their own organisations and roles. At the time this seemed barely relevant to me, working as I was at the time within an organisation for which digital preservation was its very reason for being and for which the business case had already been well defined using the Keeping Research Data Safe model. Since Glasgow I have moved to a different job within the University of York so it was useful yesterday to have a reminder of this work from Ed Fay who was able to summarise some of the key tools and techniques and highlight why a business case is so important in order to get senior buy in for digital preservation. This is something I need to go back to and review.  The recently published Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit should be a great resource to help me with this. 

The need to have a well prepared elevator pitch to persuade senior managers that more resources should be put into digital preservation has also become more real for me. The one I wrote at the time in Glasgow was a good start but perhaps needs to be a little bit less tongue in cheek!


* as an ex-archaeologist I see SPRUCE mash-ups as being the digital preservation equivalent of Channel 4's Time Team but without the TV cameras, and with Paul Wheatley ably taking on  the role of Tony Robinson. Instead of 3 days to excavate an archaeological site we have 3 days to solve a selection of digital preservation problems and issues.