Blog / 10 Jul, 2019

What ancient bat rituals taught me about data preservation in the digital age

I think bats are beautiful creatures. So my eye was immediately drawn to an article on the stunning Mafra Palace Library in Portugal stating “At night, bats patrol this magnificent 18th-century space in search of book-eating pests.” Intrigued, I read on. This magnificent library was completed in 1755 and holds leather bound books dating from the 14th to the 19th centuries. At night, a colony of bats swoops across the library shelves to hunt any book eating pests, such as bookworms, moths and other insects, to keep these ancient books preserved. These nocturnal visits have taken place every night for centuries, perhaps even since the library was established in the mid-18th century. As with anything though, this method has its drawbacks. Namely the extra daily cleaning of the bats’ excreta. Though it seems the pros are thought to outweigh the cons in this scenario and the tradition is upheld.

 

Library of the National Palace of Mafra, Portugal

Library of the National Palace of Mafra, Portugal

 

This situation reminded me that for digital data preservation too, although there are some benefits to having unusual (usually bespoke or home-grown) methods to keep your assets safe, there are always drawbacks to weigh up – though admittedly, they rarely involve cleaning up after bats!

 

Digital libraries are not without their own set of issues.

 

Digital libraries

 

Digitised collections and born-digital objects need to be safeguarded and preserved in a way that protects them from degradation while maintaining their usability over time. It’s also important to consider how the digital objects are going to be used. For example, a digital library may contain a number of books that are treated as single objects, i.e. a user wants to download and read a single book. However, how this book is catalogued is critical to the user being able to find the right book in the first place. Associated metadata needs to capture things like the author, genre of book, if it’s part of a series and so on. Traditional hierarchical data organisation models can sometimes be restricted in how you organise your digital collections and assets, particularly when you wish to associate the asset with multiple catalogues or collections.

 

 

Some of the issues to watch out for:

 

Metadata

 

One problem our customers often have is they have a collection they know they want to preserve for the future. However, they’re not quite sure what they have and where to start. A good way to get going on preserving these assets is to ingest the data and get it under management so it is all in one place and you will be able to access the basic metadata which is automatically extracted upon ingest. You can then go back and add your own metadata to further enhance the description and context which will make it even easier to search your digital collections in the future.

 

Search

 

You might have a wonderful collection but if it’s not easily searchable it can be very difficult to get the full value from it and make it easy for your users to find what they’re looking for. And if your users don’t find it easy, they will look elsewhere.

 

User authentication for access

 

Providing user access to your digital library creates an added layer of complexity. How do you ensure the right people are accessing the right items at the right time? All while making it as easy as possible so you can collaborate with others and provide an enjoyable user experience to your communities.

 

Digital Preservation

 

Digitisation of physical assets is not the same as digital preservation. Digital preservation is the process of managing digital assets and their associated metadata in such a way that they are guaranteed to be accessible, usable and searchable in the future, whenever that is, read our digital preservation 101 blog to find out more.

 

You might also be interested to hear that we have recently partnered with EBSCO Information Services to bring safeguarding, preservation and discovery together for libraries. Read the full announcement here.

Emma Davenport

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