Concordia tackles the next-generation challenge of archiving at-risk digital materials
John Richan is digital archivist at Concordia’s Records Management and Archives.
Marie-Pierre Aubé, university archivist, is familiar with how new types of digital archives are changing the nature of her work.
“The profession is rapidly evolving as more born-digital archives are arriving at our doorstep,” she says of material originally produced digitally.
That’s why, over the last two years, Concordia’s Records Management and Archives (RMA) has put measures in place to help preserve and make accessible the university’s digital past. These include publishing a Digital Preservation Strategy and creating new internal processes and procedures, as well as acquiring new equipment, a digital preservation system and a web-archiving platform.
In two years, RMA has already received more than 25 terabytes of content and half a million files. Some of the digital gems include a donation from the late Concordia journalism professor Linda Kay, institutional transfers of past convocation videos and thousands of born-digital photos from university events. Working through all of this material is a monumental challenge, Aubé notes.
It’s in this context that RMA is participating in World Digital Preservation Day on November 7. This annual event, organized by the Digital Preservation Coalition based in the United Kingdom, aims to inform the public about digital preservation and at-risk digital materials.
‘A very different challenge’
On a daily basis, archivists are increasingly working to extract, migrate, preserve and make accessible information arriving from a wide range of sources like floppy and ZIP disks, USB keys and optical media. It is quite possible that, in the not-so-distant future, digital archives could include cellphones, tablets and smartwatches.
Throughout World Digital Preservation Day, RMA will be using Twitter (@CU_Archives) to engage with users and send hourly posts highlighting their digital preservation program, the progress made so far and forthcoming plans. The Archives will also publish a blog post on its website about a recent project showcasing born-digital material arriving on external storage media.
The RMA team is increasingly asking how to manage this historically valuable digital content while at the same time mitigating the risk of loss through either “bit-rot” — the deterioration of stored data — or technological obsolescence. Being able to preserve and make accessible born-digital material is a very different challenge from that of paper records.
Enter the digital preservation lab
With these challenges in mind, RMA is set to launch a digital preservation lab in early 2020. Having a dedicated space, equipment and a growing knowledge base will be central to helping preserve Concordia’s digital past for future generations. The lab will also open up new areas of collaboration for the RMA, which has teamed up with Concordia’s digital preservation librarian and the Visual Collections Repository.
Digital preservation awareness is not only a growing trend at Concordia. The RMA team has been able to take inspiration for their digital preservation program and lab from different institutions such as Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the Canadian Centre for Architecture and the recent International Conference on Digital Preservation held in the Netherlands.