It’s archives, Jim, but not as we know it March 4, 2011

(With apologies to Star Trek)

Our last post was the exciting announcement that State Records had finally secured the resources to start on a project to develop and implement a digital State archives. But it’s probably hard, at this very early stage, to really understand what that will mean in reality. So we thought it would be useful to tell you a little bit more about our plans and also touch on some of the exciting work that is being done by others in the preservation of digital records as archives.

Back in 2007, when we launched the Future Proof strategy, we also put out a Discussion paper on the preservation of digital records. This was developed after a lot of research and consultation – particularly by drawing on the experience of some of our sister archives institutions and fellow members of ADRI – the Australasian Digital Recordkeeping Initiative. Following consultation across that community and the NSW public sector, we issued a Policy on digital records preservation.

The policy sets out some principles to underpin an approach to the preservation of digital records – whether this is being done by a public office or an archive. The principles are:
1.    Digital State records should be migrated forward as technologies change.
2.    The content and essential characteristics of digital State records must remain unchanged through preservation processes
3.    Digital State records must be preserved in context
4.    Digital State records must be secure and tracked throughout the preservation process
5.    Digital records preservation programs should be flexible

All of these principles have informed our proposal to implement a digital State archives solution for New South Wales. There is a good explanation of some of our thinking in an article recently published in FutureGov Asia Pacific: ‘NSW embarks on pan-government Digital Archiving’.

What’s happening elsewhere?

One of the benefits of starting this project in 2011 is the greater depth of research and experience in digital preservation that exists now. Digital preservation as a theory, a discipline and a body of practical implementations has grown rapidly over the last decade. Not limited to the needs of preserving digital records as archives, digital preservation initiatives assist the research data sector, libraries and others.

Some of the tools and initiatives that we follow with interest include:

  • PLATO, a preservation planning tool developed by the European PLANETS project. PLATO assists a preserver with identifying and testing a range of digital preservation options for a designated collection of digital objects, taking into consideration the available technology, skills and resources, as well as the requirements for the preserved objects.
  • XENA, a file identification and normalisation tool developed by the National Archives of Australia. Xena converts digital documents from their original format into selected open, fully-documented formats used for archival preservation – bitstream and normalised.
  • PRONOM, from The National Archives (TNA) of the UK,  is a resource containing detailed technical information about the file formats, software products and other technical components required to support long-term access to digital records.  TNA actively seeks the submission of new information for PRONOM, and receives frequent updates from archives and  other contributors all over the world.

One of the great things about the digital preservation world is that many tools are made available as open source – meaning that it is easier for different organisations to benefit from enhancements and additions made by others. This is a community that we certainly plan to engage with as we develop State Records’ digital archives solution.




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