Every year on the first Thursday of November, those that work with digital objects and are committed to their longevity gather from around the world to celebrate World Digital Preservation Day.
The 2022 theme for World Digital Preservation Day continues from the iPres 2022 conference “Data for All, For Good, Forever: Let Digits Flourish.”
While I’m not creative enough to participate in the make, bake, craft and sing and dance categories for celebration, (the entries are very creative), I thought I could take the time to highlight how digital preservation practices and discussions align with the strategic goals of the church.
Embolden Justice – Archives Reconciliation Framework
In November 2021, Kelly Stewart of Artefactual Systems wrote a blog post on the role of digital preservation in reconciliation efforts in Canada. In the post, Stewart writes “It’s especially obvious to those of us in the digital preservation domain that the best way to ensure that there is a continued awareness of the past is through the preservation of evidence in a system that is trustworthy, reliable, and authentic. That system includes not just technology but also policies, processes and management.”
Stewart statement rings true for us at the Archives. Over the last 5 years we have been building our digital preservation program to prepare and support the long term informational needs of the church. The systems and processes we have developed will help us support the strategic objectives laid out in The United Church of Canada strategic plan and the work to be completed as part of the Archives Reconciliation Framework.
How do our digital preservation process, policies and systems support the work?
In early 2021, hard drives containing thousands of digitized archival material from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began to fail. What snapped into action at that point was a full fledge migration process of the records. However, without the hardware infrastructure in place and the migration processes implemented, saving the church’s investment and records of high value, would have not been successful.
In the wake of the aforementioned event, the Archives implemented a more robust hardware infrastructure, produced a digital contingency document to help us identify and mitigate risk and data loss, and developed a training curriculum to train staff on digital preservation and processes. We also rolled out our digital preservation software Archivematica to help us mitigate data loss.
Why is this important?
The infrastructure, policies and procedures developed now mean that objectives identified by the Archives as part of the Reconciliation Framework, which align with the church’s strategic plan can now be supported in a way that would not have been possible 5 years ago.
It means that content digitized as part of the Digitization of Indigenous Records project will have a place to live in a secure, monitored, geo-redundant environment. An environment that will facilitate continued and fast access for staff and Indigenous communities to those records.
It means that the digital files as the outcome of the oral history program that is slated for development will have a place to live in a secure, monitored, geo-redundant environment. Enabling greater and continued access to Indigenous voices.
It means that community packages put together for Indigenous communities trying to find information and get answers can continue as the Archives will have access to the digital content in the longer term and in a more timely manner.
How these digital files are preserved will be the subject of another post.
It is also important to note that The United Church of Canada Archives is not the only repository to identify the importance of digital preservation and digital infrastructure for the reconciliation process. At the iPres 2022 conference in Glasgow, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation was awarded the Research Data Alliance Award for the Most Outstanding Digital Preservation Initiative in Commerce, Industry and the Third Sector for its work on developing digital infrastructure and a work plan to preserve over 4 million digital objects related to residential schools.
Digital preservation work does come at a cost and that cost is never just financial in nature. As a process that relies heavily on technological infrastructure to succeed, it is not surprising that the community is studying and noting the effect that digital preservation has on the climate crisis. The analysis of the effects started in earnest in the last two years with more blog posts, scholarly articles and conference presentation focused on the issue.
While there isn’t a concrete way forward, as of yet, to address the climate related impact of the work, some authors are asking archivists to start thinking critically about how we do archival work and what can change to mitigate climate risk.
A deep dive into the literature won’t occur until 2023. At that point, using suggestion presented in resources, an analysis of our digital workflows will be undertaken to review how we can improve and limit our carbon footprint.
This blog post provides you with a glimpse of the digital work undertaken by the Archives. Stay tuned for more posts in the new year about specific digital projects and digital preservation basics!