Previous section | Contents | Next section

5. Summary and recommendations - meeting and outcomes

5.1 Preamble

As an intended result of this project, a discussion meeting on the "Preservation of Digital Materials: Policy and Strategy Issues for the UK" was held on 13th December 1996, at the British Library. The material presented in sections
4.4 and 4.5 was made available as a web page to participants prior to the meeting and at the meeting. Participants had been selected to represent a wide range of interested parties and organisations and for their interest in and knowledge and experience of digital preservation and related matters. A list of participants is given at Appendix A. No comment or criticism of the issues for consideration (4.4) or the initial prioritised actions (4.5) was received, as requested before the meeting.

At the meeting, after outlining the aim and objectives of the project (see section 2), the following presentations were made:-

These presentations were well received. Rather than discuss issues (see 4.4) which had already been covered in the presentations, the participants at the meeting requested focused discussion on the initial prioritised actions given in 4.5. After two sessions (see 5.3 and 5.4) a final set of prioritised actions was arrived at.

These prioritised actions were subsequently listed on a web page and put before participants at the meeting, for correction or clarification. The final prioritised actions that follow (see 5.5 below) were thus agreed at the meeting and confirmed later by means of the web page.

5.2 Introduction to the meeting

Graham Matthews of the Project Team began with a few general comments under six key headings: change, preservaton versus digitisation, selection, common language, participation and colloboration and costs.


My first comment of a general nature is that the theme which pervades this report (and indeed, that of the
Warwick Workshop), is:

sustained change and flux

This change is pervasive, the legal environment is in change, as is the technical one. Digitised objects themselves are dynamic. As Denise Lievesley commented at the Warwick Workshop:

"The challenge facing data archives is how to anticipate the new whilst continuing to provide a service." (p.20)

Preservation v Digitisation

My second comment goes beyond the report and that is that there appear to be two ways of approaching Preservation and Digitisation. On the one hand there are those who are digitising or promoting digitised materials primarily from the point of view of ACCESS and where preservation is not a factor, or one of low priority; on the other there are those who are concerned that preservation does not appear to be a major consideration of such activities, and that insufficient knowledge is available about the preservation of digital materials and indeed, the use of digitisation as a preservation method.

This was certainly underlined not just by speakers but from the floor at the National Preservation Office Annual Conference in September this year (Preservation and digitisation: principles, practice and policies. The National Preservation Office Annual Conference, University of York, 3-5 September 1996).


This links into my third comment - and I here I draw on my views on the preservation of library materials in general - that SELECTION is vital. We cannot preserve everything, nor should we. We must not confuse digitisation and preservation where they are both not applicable, ie we must not get hung up about preservation where digital materials are not intended to be retained. But we may need to consider preservation in a different way. In libraries, preservation tends to automatically be perceived as long term or forever. If more material is available in digital form then maybe we need to revisit that and look at it more like a records manager might do with short, medium and long term preservation, relegation and discard policies and practices. Equally, where digitised materials are deemed to be worth retention, especially for long term preservation, then preservation must be a central consideration.

Common Language

And fourthly, following on from this: we need to develop and speak a common language - there are parallels here with the use of the terms preservation and conservation in the 1980s. The CPA/RLG report, for instance, tries to make clear the distinction between digital libraries and digital archives. We need to understand this just as clearly as what we mean by metadata and migration and so on.

Participation and collaboration of as many stakeholders as possible

All the stakeholders involved need to try to collaborate and coordinate where possible.


And, lastly, what's it all going to cost? Do we need more studies on this?

This will be vital for policy decision-making. There is a need for UK cost models - 'richer, more detailed'.

I would end with another quote from the Warwick Workshop which underlines the key issues I feel are central in the analysis of the CPA/RLG report and subsequent activity in the UK. And here I quote Mirjam Foot:-

"Planning for long term preservation of electronic material is made even more difficult because of the rapid changes in technology and the impossibility of predicting what the state of technology will be, even in the medium term." (p.45)


"... we must also endeavour to make the best possible use of the available resources; we must ensure that we do not duplicate efforts; we must combine to work together ... and we must be selective the context of a national or international preservation strategy" (p.45)

But, we need to make a start ...

5.3 Discussion session 1 (12:00-1:00)

5.3.1 National Digital Preservation Officer

On the issue of appointing a National Digital Preservation Officer, Lynne Brindley commented that the natural home for such a position was the
National Preservation Office (NPO).

In response, Vanessa Marshall said that it was anticipated that a post was to be created to start on 1st April 1997 to take a central lead and to coordinate projects. The post would cover surrogacy issues. The job description would include microfilming as this is still an important issue. In response to a request for information about the NPO and its role, Vanessa summarised its aims and activities, including the development of a national preservation policy, on which little progress has been made.

Bridget Winstanley noted the difference between digitising materials and material already in digital form, commenting that there was a huge amount of material which has never been on paper. Would one person have the time to deal with all this? Several participants voiced this same concern. The Mellon Microfilming Project will continue; digital preservation is a different issue and needs to be carried out at a different level. The meeting felt that dealing with the Mellon Project and digital preservation was too big for one person and that there needed to be a high level focus on digitisation in the NPO. The meeting requested that Vanessa Marshall seek funding from British National Bibliography Research Fund to draw up a proposal for the appointment of an officer to deal solely with digital preservation. It also urged that she seek funding for general support of the NPO from commercial enterprises.

5.3.2 Collaboration/Cooperation

Vanessa Marshall said that the only way to move forward is to form partnerships and collaborate extensively. There was a consensus on this issue. Peter Fox noted that all of the deposit libraries have foreign material in their collections. Reg Carr noted a high level point of international contact is required, and raised the question of who should have this role. Richard Blake noted that there was a meeting organised by the European Union looking at document management the following week. The NPO, the Public Record Office (PRO), and The Data Archive agreed to collaborate and share information.

There was also a lack of knowledge about other organisation’s activities in digital preservation. Peter Fox commented that projects to date are largely non-commercial. It was important that future projects should involve libraries and publishers, for example. There was general agreement that it was essential for the British Library’s position on legal issues to be clarified and for it to be more open about what experiments are going on in digital preservation. A seminar was proposed for all stakeholders in digital preservation to attend. Lynne Brindley also said that the JISC would be willing to offer money if the PRO would take on the responsibility of organising it. Vanessa Marshall offered to liaise with the PRO.

5.3.3 Costs/Funding

It was generally felt that costs could only be established once a working model was begun i.e through practical experience. Dan Greenstein pointed out that projects could be started now as there is much non-copyright material available. Anthony Watkinson said that even with copyright material, publishers are willing to allow its use in studies.

Ian McGowan said that this was not pointing to a central monolithic archive but to a distributed system of archives with shared costs. The Arts and Humanities Data Service has five service providers and so may be a useful example.

Chris Rushbridge pointed out that different projects/methods would lead to different cost models and comparisons could be made.

On the issue of funding, Lynne Brindley noted that there are many stakeholders who could potentially buy into the NPO. The British National Bibliography Research Fund Committee could be approached to provide funding for making a case for another post at the NPO. Richard Blake noted that across industry there is interest in preservation. Pharmaceutical companies for example need to keep their records indefinitely and could possibly be persuaded to buy into digital preservation research.

5.3.4 Standards

On the issue of standards, some work of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) on British standards on open systems has been largely ignored. If a big company, such as Microsoft, was ‘on board’ there would be more chance of the standards being used universally. If this is not the case there is a danger of creating standards that noone is interested in. Dan Greenstein backed up this view and pointed out that the ‘trend-setters’ had not been invited to the meeting.

Companies like Microsoft are beginning to take initiatives, what is important is how the library and archive world is going to latch onto this. The feeling of the meeting was that the needs of business and not libraries would be driving standards for digital preservation. Bearman had produced an article on this in the Journal of the Society of American Archivists ( Bearman).

Anthony Watkinson pointed to the problem that there is a need for all parties to be aware of the kind of products that are actually on the market. The Canadian work looks at SGML, scientific publishers use pdf and the PRO is looking at pdf and postscript. There was a general consensus that the question of what degree of functionality needs to be preserved is important. Should material be reduced to a common format (i.e ASCII text) or should elements of functionality (i.e structure) be preserved?

5.4 Discussion session 2 (2:00-3:00)

5.4.1 National Preservation Body

There was general agreement that there should be a national body for digital preservation, a working group of the NPO, responsible to the NPO management committee. The timescale for its implementation would be before the next financial year. It was felt that this body should be representative of all stakeholders.

5.4.2 Models/Projects

On the question of models and pilots, the joint JISC/Publisher’s Association Working Party will identify 2 or 3 models of collaborative publisher/university digital archive projects. The PRO is currently undertaking a number of projects, looking at the practicalities of digital archiving, especially varying degrees of access to different users. Alison Worthington said that it may be easier to archive data if it were deposited as ‘data’ rather than the finished product. She advised that Chadwyck-Healey would be prepared to participate by depositing an archive file with a library and leaving it with the library as an experiment in controlling access etc.

The publishers agreed that to do this would cost them very little. Anthony Watkinson said that publishers are generally unaware of what libraries want, it is in their interests to find out.

5.4.3 Definitions

Lack of agreement on terminology was seen as an obstacle. Bridget Winstanley noted that the definition of ‘publication’ is unclear. The issues of typology and definitions were discussed.

The British Library proposal for legal deposit of non-print materials contains an attempt at definitions (Proposal for the legal deposit of non-print publications: to the Department of National Heritage from the British Library. London: British Library Board, 1996).

One of the studies on the JISC list of future projects is concerned with typology and a BLRDD report (Martin, David. Definition of publication and associated terms in digital publications. London: British Library Research and Development Department, 1995. BLRDD 6243) has looked at this issue. The need for some definitions was recognised but some present felt that there was a danger of making things too formal.

5.4.4 UK Web Site

The possibility of creating a UK web site and discussion list was introduced. The creation and maintenance of a database was suggested, but it was felt that a more informal system of communication was more relevant. The web site could be a useful starting point. Dan Greenstein said that people in strategic positions should talk to each other and the outcomes of their work be put on the web site. There also needs to be an analytical overview with a focus on commonality. Nancy Elkington suggested that it would be useful to make reporting findings of studies a condition of funding. Lynne Brindley felt that this was something JISC would look into

5.5 Final Prioritised actions

5.5.1 Appoint National Digital Preservation Officer (NDPO)

Vanessa Marshall advised that such a post was anticipated starting April 1997 at the NPO and this would cover surrogacy - to include digital material. The general feeling of the meeting was supportive of this but that the focus had to be on digital materials. Meeting urged Vanessa Marshall to:-

1. approach the British National Bibliography Research Fund for financial support to make a case for a post solely concerned with digital preservation.

2. seek external general funding for the NPO from stakeholders, in particular, industrial ones e.g pharmaceutical industry

5.5.2 Establish National Digital Preservation body

This will be representative of all stakeholders, as a working group of the NPO, responsible to the NPO Management Committee, to work with and support the activities of the National Digital Preservation Officer. Vanessa Marshall to establish by the start of the new financial year.

5.5.3 Investigate current and proposed digital archival practice and policy in the UK.

The meeting agreed that Ian McGowan as Chair of the NPO Management Committee should write to the British Library, Public Record Office and the Data Archive to request details of digital preservation (existing activities, experimental projects and future plans). The PRO is to organise a seminar funded by JISC with speakers from those organisations with digital archiving/preservation experience, such as PRO, BL, the Data Archive, the Arts and Humanities Data Service to share experience and outline potential pilot projects. The seminar would be open to all kinds of publishers of digital material to attend. Vanessa Marshall will liaise in the first instance with Helen Forde.

5.5.4 Identify good practice and gaps in knowledge

This is to be achieved through research and/or pilot projects, looking at issues such as selection, metadata, standards, certification. Dan Greenstein noted that the Arts and Humanities Data Service was looking at different organisations and tasks and was hoping to come up with a number of models. JISC will promote models as part of practical pilot schemes (to derive better knowledge of costings, standards etc). The JISC Committee on Electronic Information will be asked to consider pilot studies for digital preservation. The joint JISC/Publisher’s Association Working Party will consider models for projects involving publishers working together with libraries to preserve publisher's products.

5.5.5 Devise guidelines on practice and a digital preservation policy

The PRO is working on this now, as is the NPO. These organisations are to liaise through Vanessa Marshall and Helen Forde.

5.5.6 Raise awareness

The web site for this project should act as a starting point for a national digital preservation web site in the UK. This will serve as a central information resource showing 'who is doing what'. Vanessa Marshall is to liaise with the Project Team about maintenance and development of the web site. The web site should then be publicised, especially in print media.

The Project Team is to establish and maintain a UK (-based) discussion list, "Digpres", to enable informal discussion of activities, problems and issues. Following the appointment of the National Digital Preservation Officer, the NPO is to host the web site and discussion list.

5.5.7 Promote education and training

This effort should be targeted at the broad range of stakeholders in digital preservation. The Research Libraries Group is producing a curriculum for a 3 day workshop on digital reformatting and will hold talks with the NPO about producing a parallel project on digital archiving. Vanessa Marshall is to liaise with Nancy Elkington.

5.5.8 International cooperation

Vanessa Marshall is being nominated for membership of RLG's Preservation Advisory Council and through this will be involved with colleagues in Australia, Canada and the United States. Representatives of the PRO have various international and European Union contacts. The meeting felt informal and formal international contacts were in place and could be cultivated.
Previous section | Contents | Next section

Web version of this report by Alan Poulter