The Levels of Digital Preservation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Raegan Swanson (left) and Melissa Knapp in Saskatoon for the Saskatchewan National Event.

The following is a guest post from Raegan Swanson, Archivist with Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute. Reagan contacted members of the NDSA group working on the levels of digital preservation with her thoughts and comments and we were excited to offer her the opportunity to share her comments on the utility of the levels with a broader audience here on the blog. 

In this post I briefly describe the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the value that the NDSA levels of digital preservation provided in helping me think through how to best to prioritize our work to ensure long term access to the records of the commission.  The following represents my own personal views and experience working with the NDSA levels, not those of the TRC itself.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established in 2008 with a 5-year mandate to gather information relating to Indian Residential Schools in Canada.  These government and church-run schools date back to the 1870s, and over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were placed in over 130 schools across the country, with the last school closing its doors in 1996.  Part of the TRC’s mandate is to collect testimonies from Residential School Survivors.  Unlike other large Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, such as South Africa’s, the oral statements are collected exclusively as digital audio and video recordings.  Some of the statements at larger events are streamed live online, while others are recorded in a private setting.

Statement Gathering

TRC Saskatchewan National Event – June 21-24, 2012

Statements are given by survivors, the former students, as well as former teachers, staff and families of survivors.  Statement gathering has taken place in every province in the country and statement gatherers visit both small Inuit villages as well as large cities.  The accessioning process for archivists is quick, as recording equipment must be promptly returned to the field.  Some events could net over 1TB of video a day, plus back-ups.  The Canadian TRC quickly became one of the largest collections of digital material in the province of Manitoba, and there were few resources for a “living” digital endeavour this large.

NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation

In November 2012, we at the TRC saw the post about NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation on this blog.  We began to analyse our digital holdings using the levels over the next three months.  Our holdings were complex and heterogeneous, as we held material that we ourselves had created (statements from survivors) as well as material from the Government of Canada and several different Church entities.  For each of the different types of holdings we were able to determine the level which the collection fit in.  Since we didn’t hold the original material for many of the records, we had to take into consideration the holdings of other institutions as well as our copies.  It gave us a great opportunity to review and clarify where all our projects stood.  For us, the levels document was usable far beyond thinking about preservation.

Usability of the Levels

We were impressed with the simplicity and usability of the levels.  However, I believe that we struggled with dealing with items that were not born-digital, and in cases where physical copies still remained.  We knew that the levels were created with the intention of working on digital preservation, but the originals still played a part in our collection.  At this point, we were digitizing for researcher access, not for preservation.  Because the commission is coming to an end in 2014, the project provided a great opportunity for our archivists to prepare a document to be handed over with a full account of semi-active records ready to be moved into archival storage at a National Research Centre.  The levels provided a great “here is everything you need to know” type of document.

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

Since working with the TRC, I have moved to the town of Oujé-Bougoumou in Northern Quebec, to a small community-run archive within the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute.  I plan to continue using the levels document as we start up a digitization program for the archives and as well as for use with our corporate records.  We have neither the means nor the need to fulfill all the levels, but I plan to use the levels as a guideline for our needs.






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