Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cloud-supported preservation of digital papers: A solution for special collections?

Cloud-supported preservation of digital papers: A solution for special collections? Dirk Weisbrod. Liber Quarterly. January 2016.
     A problem for Special Collections is that in many cases digital media have replaced paper for many writers. Digital papers are "difficult to process using established digital preservation strategies, because of their individual and unique nature". The article suggests that document creators should be involved in the preservation process, and that special collections should look at the cloud as a way to solve the problem.

The relatively short durability of digital media is in contrast to the durability of paper. An example in the article shows that data were lost from an Atari computer after a short period of time. Both paper and digital media can be destroyed or damaged, but the potential loss of digital media is much higher since there are many software and hardware components that can fail. The computer skills of the writers can also influence the degree of preservation of the personal digital documents. "To minimize those risks is the task of digital preservation".

A writer’s archive of digital objects (documents, email correspondence, texts, photos, and such) may be scattered over a variety of social networks and web services. This will affect the acquisition of the content by an archive, which would have a problem of identifying and acquiring the digital objects, including accessing the online services, which may be passworded. 

Archives and special collections need to manage these processes for digital preservation and develop a preservation strategy that "matches with the characteristics of digital papers". This needs to change from a “custodial” to a “pre-custodial” view and work with writers and their lifelong personal archives. Writers should contribute to the digital preservation of their own works. Some approaches to consider:
  • Regular captures of the creators’ digital data by preservation specialists to be transferred directly into a managed digital repository.
  • The periodic transfer of data from old hardware and media to a special collection.
  • Have preservation specialists help writers maintain their digital materials
  • Provide self archiving of email archives
  • IT-supported self-archiving and automated data transfers. The solution could includes services such as
    • email archive, like Mailbox
    • data storage, like Dropbox 
    • website hosting
These approaches could help solve the problem of ongoing archiving while the original objects remain on the creator’s computer and continue to be updated. Another potential problem if writers use cloud services is that accounts may be cancelled if inactive. Archives and Special Collections should consider the cloud not as a problem but as an opportunity to work with authors. "By establishing a cloud, special collections get an instrument that provides writers with a reasonable working environment and, at the same time, enables the preservation of their personal digital archives. The time span between an object’s creation and its preservation, this critical factor of digital preservation, reduces to a minimum."

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