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Keeping Your Digital Stuff

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Author Topic: Keeping Your Digital Stuff  (Read 568 times)
Don't give me Karma!
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« on: January 27, 2009, 04:54:59 pm »

On Saturday 11th September, the National Library of New Zealand held a public seminar titled "Keeping Your Digital Stuff" which I attended - see the thread Seminar on preserving digital files on the General messageboard.  The seminar was chaired by Paul Reynolds (some of you will recall his regular internet slots on National Radio) and was presented by Deborah Woodyard-Robinson who is regarded as one of the foremost experts in the world on the topic of digital file preservation.  Deborah is an Australian who has carried out a considerable amount of work at both the British Library and the National Library of Australia.  She has recently moved to New Zealand to live and resides in Christchurch.  She is still involved with a large number of international institutions as an advisor and consultant.
Attached to this message is a Rich Text File document containing notes taken by someone else who attended the seminar and who has kindly given permission for her notes to be posted here for the benefit of members.  I would recommend that you download the document and save it to your hard-drive, then open it from there.  That way, if it ever disappears from this message, you will have a copy of it.
The National Library of NZ have indicated that they may hold further seminarss in the future dealing with this topic.

Notes from a National Library of NZ Seminar

"Keeping Your Digital Stuff"

Presented by Deborah Woodyard-Robinson, for the National Preservation Office.

We cannot buy off-the-shelf, industry standard software to archive our digital material, so we have to do it ourselves and we have to do it now. To been seen and used, all of our digital images and documents are dependent on technology, and the technology that we use now is not likely to be around in the future. Therefore we need to understand why digital material is hard to keep and what we need to do to make it last.

The biggest problem that make it so hard for us to keep our digital material is compatibility with future computers/software. Other problems that are presented to us are storage media problems, technology changes and poor planning and/or lack of care.

Our Computer media presents problems with chemical stability and fragility. Contributing towards this is age of media, storage environment, plus use and handling. Claims of longevity have not been tested in the field. Do not believe claims of longevity, as they are not correct.

CD's are changing to DVD's and floppy disks are on the way out. This change in technology will keep going on and to ensure that our digital archives last into the future, we must keep up with it. Expect changes in file formats, changes in software and changes in computers. What we use today will be dated in a short time.

Losses through poor planning and lack of care are caused by:

- Lack of organisation/storage area
- No accompanying description or documentation
- Failure to consider change
- Accidental or intentional changes to our images and files
- No backups
- Lack of care and commitment
- Lack of funds

To overcome this and ensure that our digital archives are kept for the future, there are 3 levels of storage that we need to know about, and we need to commit to recording our data at all of these levels:

- Physical Level
- Conceptual/Logical Level
- Intellectual Level

Physical level is all about storage media and discs. Discs do bend and squash, although they are not supposed to. To overcome this;

- Do not store discs near any machinery/electrical equipment, including your computer, stereo or television.
- Handle CD's by outer edge only.
- To write on labels, use a non-solvent felt tip pen only - do not use pen or pencil. - Write out your label before sticking it onto the disk.
- Store CD's upright and never flat, so the spindle can support the disc's weight.
- For long term storage, never store a CD horizontally.
- Always leave in it case or packaging, but undo manufacturer's wrapping as this can stress the CD.
- Only take the CD out of its case when you are ready to use it, as CD's attract dust.
- Store CD's in a cool, dry, dark environment and way from any pollution.
- If you have to clean a CD, wipe from the centre to the outside of the disc, never around it.
- Check the CD surface for damage before writing to it.
- Never touch the surface of a CD.
- Press down on the spindle, and never bend the disc.
- Do not use adhesive labels.
- Do not expose to heat or high humidity.
- Do not write on a CD where the laser is going to read it, write in the centre clear area only.
- The label side of a CD is the thin side, never scratch this side.

Note that CD's will last longer than the machine that they go into - your current computer.

Early CD's are much less stable, so you should consider replacing these with more up to date discs. Re quality, you get what you pay for. The Library of Congress (USA) has been carrying out much testing on CD's. Chances are that properly cared for, your CD will last for 20 years, by which time all data should have been transferred to new media.

The Conceptual Level is the next step. This is deciding what you want to keep and prioritising it. A good system here is to prioritise your files as Gold, Silver an Bronze. To assist with this decision, use a house burning scenario to select what is most important. Realise that it will take future time, money and effort to look after your digital archives. Give gold status and put your time and money into the digital archives that are most precious to you. Once your priority decision has been made, physically write this down and record the reasons for your decisions. Keep this record with your digital archive.

The Intellectual Level is the third step in archiving your digital records. This means knowing exactly what the contents are. As pictures or files on a CD can only be looked at with technology, you must record what is on the disc;

- Files are often given obscure names such as File0065.jpg. Change names to something that is meaningful.
- Label the CD case with a helpful description.
- Set the date in your camera, so all images are dated.
- Fill in the Properties section of all Word documents.
- Keep emails sent to you, as well as outgoing, to retain the context of conversations. Keep emails that you might want to refer to in the future. Emails are a great place to start and get practice with your priority decision making.
- Know what type of file format your files are, i.e. photo, document, email, webpage, etc. Record information about the type of file, and the version number.
- Do not use a file extension as an identification for a file. In 20 years time, people will not know what these extensions mean.

It is important that you create and maintain a written and complete list of all files formats you have - by reviewing this list, you will be able to tell immediately if one of your CD's contains endangered files.

Use only common and popular technology as a standard. This means using things that have a large consumer base. Don't ever use obscure programmes or files. Upgrade your digital archives to new file formats before they are outdated. To do these things, you must be able to recognise what you have and recognise changes in technology.

Know exactly where your digital archives are - dedicate an area to archive your material, both physically and on your computer. Always keep archive copies separate from your working copies. i.e. special places to keep your working discs, backups and archives.

Arrange your discs logically, by date or type of files. Make a backup and give a copy to someone else to archive or you. It is not safe to send an archival CD via the mail, as flexing is risked. Extreme conditions will be met with by airmail. Basically, it is not possible to predict conditions that will be met through any mail system.

Know how to use your stuff! Your data will be a distant memory in a few years time and possibly unknown to those who inherit it. Physically write down and do not lose ;
- Type of PC - i.e. Mac or PC.
- Type of hardware
- Type of software
- Passwords
- Instructions on how to use

Test your backup CD regularly, to check that it still works, and that you can in fact still use it. Backups often fail. Try all file formats listed in your file list. The earlier you detect a problem, the better the chance you have for finding a solution.

Technology is going to keep updating and you will need to keep updating your archival files and storage media. In 50-100 years, there will not be any computers that can read today's stuff. You need to keep doing this - commit to it NOW. Schedule when to update your files/formats on a regular basis and stick to it. A good time to do this is on anniversaries, such as birthdays or celebrations. There is nothing better than on a birthday to look back at and enjoy your old pictures.

The only other choice you have is either to do nothing, or to keep your old hardware. Either way, your digital collection will be lost forever. Forget keeping and using old computers to read and/or store your collection. The only long term strategy is to keep refreshing and renewing your storage media. Get used to migration, which is changing to a new or more stable technology. An example of migration is transferring your files from disc to CD. Emulation is new software which imitates old software or old hardware. Start emulating your digital archives now.

A simple archive system to use for your CD's is as follows:

- small content size.
- mostly simple objects
- mostly manual
- intended for long term storage
- consists of both objects and metadata (metadata - written down)
- objects = pictures, emails, website snapshots etc.
- This is accompanied by essential processes for digital preservation management, which we have covered above.

The National Library of NZ, ATL and other libraries are taking digital archives now, and collecting this with the same vigour as they are with printed material. For them to accept a digital collection, you must follow this set of rules.

For an example of important/archived databases created in Access:

- Handwrite a description of Access database and then give a written description of how to use it, step-by-step.
- Number each CD and use a correspondingly numbered notebook to record the contents and give descriptions of each file on that CD.
- Realise that we live in an analogue and not a digital world.

Archive the complete structure of your database, not just the files. Do not forget to copy the set up. You must have all components of programmes for long term use. Programmers and companies do not care for us or our records, it is all down to money and how much the industry can make. There are no industry standards and this is why we have to archive the complete structure.

w3.org contains standards for internet sites. Understand the concept of these standards. This can be found at:

Keep an eye on standards and what is currently supported. An example was Beta which was the best recorder and used by museums, but it died and the industry went to VHS. The British Museum was caught out, because it recorded all audios on Beta. The museum brought 10 Beta machines to transfer its tapes to the new systems. Technically, there were enough hours left in the machines to do this, but the machines quickly deteriorated because the life of their components was short. In a nutshell, forget keeping any old machines or computers to read your digital archives.

National Archives of UK are using a website by the name of Pronom, where they are trying to record every different type of file type, as well as trying to signal when the software is out of date. Pronom can be found at:

Companies that back up data do not keep a technology watch. No service does this, so we need to take responsibility for it ourselves. The web should not be used as a primary location for storage of digital archives. The web can be used as a spare backup, but that's it.

Note that inkjet ink is not particularly stable, hence the need to handwrite.

Last but not least, do not use zip drives to store your archive material, as these are notorious for failing. The National Library of NZ threw these out. 

Brochures on Care of Family Collections, Care of Books, Repair of Books, Care of Artworks on Paper, and Care of Photographs can be accessed at the National Library's website:

For information on conservators, see the website of The New Zealand Professional Conservator's Group:

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« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2009, 05:00:33 pm »

Understanding digital storage

The Press - The Dominion Post | Saturday, 20 October 2007

Despite being a headache to preserve and keep current, digital archives offer amazing possibilities:

Storage: As bytes get ever cheaper, and pack into even- tinier spaces, there's increasing potential for entire city blocks of boxed archives to be reduced to comparatively small and inexpensive storage devices. Of course, no-one really knows what it's going to cost to keep the volumes up to date.

Access: Storing information digitally allows easy national and even worldwide access through the internet.

Digital search: Converting paper files to digital documents makes painless and instantaneous work of the previously laborious and eye-fatiguing process of skimming reams of paper, or trawling through hundreds of rolls of microfiche.

The National Library recently transferred more than one million pages from 44 newspaper titles dating from 1840 to 1915 from microfilm to digital, and made them searchable online. Within seconds, the National Library's senior innovation adviser, Graham Coe, discovered an ancestor's bankruptcy notice he never knew existed. A colleague unravelled a dark family secret, finding the full story about a great-aunt who had been accidentally killed as a child. At $1 to $2 a page for the newspaper project, conversion is expensive. The danger for New Zealand, says Coe, is that we don't have the funds to keep up with the massive scale of digitisation going on overseas, where organisations are converting 10,000 to 40,000 books a month to digital files. New Zealand's culture runs the risk of being swamped: who will the digital-dependent kids of today choose for their school project when a search on Abraham Lincoln turns up 10,000 reliable sources and a search of Sir Apirana Ngata turns up five?

Digi definitions
Digitisation Conversion of analogue information, like text, sound or images, into strings of 0s and 1s.

Born digital Information or documents that started life electronically as emails, powerpoint presentations, wordprocessing documents as opposed to being a printed book or longhand letter that has been converted to digital.

Digital preservation The digital equivalent of controlling the temperature and humidity of storage vaults to ensure important papers don't get mildewed and moth-eaten. That means constantly updating the way the information is stored so it can still be read or viewed on ever-changing technology, and protecting against distortion and deterioration.

Byte The basic unit of storage for saving digital information; kilobyte 1000 or 1024 bytes, depending on context; megabyte 1,000,000 or 1,048,576 bytes, depending on context (holds text of a typical 500-page book); gigabyte 1,000,000,000 or 1,073,741,824 bytes, depending on context (1 gigabyte is roughly equal to 18 hours of MP3 music, or more than 1000 novels); terabyte 1,000,000,000,000 bytes (Britain's National Archives' collection of 900 years of written history reportedly contains more than 580 terabytes of data).

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bump head benny
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« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2009, 06:35:54 am »

Inneresting..thanx for the info
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