Blog / 27 Sep, 2019

Can digital preservation be automated in the real world?

Why automate digital preservation?

Digital preservation is defined by the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University as: “The formal activity of ensuring access to digital information for as long as necessary. It requires polices, planning, resource allocation (funds, time, people) and appropriate technologies and actions to ensure accessibility, accurate rendering and authenticity of digital objects.”

It can involve a lot of activities including:

  • Appraisal as to worthiness of preservation.
  • Identification.
  • Integrity verification.
  • Characterisation of content.
  • Sustainability assurance.
  • Authenticity verification.
  • Access allowance and logging.
  • The addition of metadata about the preservation process.
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Source: Techtarget

Many of these are labour intensive, so one might assume that automation of such processes would be a positive addition.

Within many organisations, a small number of people are expected to do all these things. Therefore, automation can help lower the burden on these small teams of people and help them focus on a set of core activities rather than trying to do everything at once.

Benefits of automation in digital preservation

There are many benefits (as well as a good number of pitfalls) to automating processes in digital preservation:

  • Reducing costs – especially those associated with staff. This doesn’t mean making staff redundant of course, it means getting more done with the same staff and the same budget.
  • Getting more done – this is important because many organisations struggle to keep up with the amount and complexity of the digital content they need to keep and provide access to.
  • Getting the right things done – allows these staff to focus on interesting and challenging areas of digital preservation, for example selection, appraisal and curation rather than having to do more mundane stuff like checking fixity or analyzing file formats.
  • Reduce errors – people can make mistakes so automating tasks can help reduce the number of these – and in the digital preservation world this can mean lower long-term risks that content will be lost or won’t be accessible or usable.
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But I’m not about to claim that automation is a silver bullet. It doesn’t solve all digital preservation problems – in fact the scope for true automation can sometimes be quite limited.

Where should I start?

There are a number of considerations you should make before embarking on an automation journey:

  • Consider all the activities that form part of DP and which of these are candidates for automation.
  • Consider the types of content that need preserving.
  • Consider your level of digital preservation maturity and the processes you currently have
  • Consider what software tools are available to you
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Arkium CTO Matthew Addis hosted a webinar on this subject, he explored the benefits, pitfalls and ideas of where to start in your journey to automate some of your digital preservation processes.

View the recording here:

View the recording

Emma Davenport

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