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Scoring, Not Storing: Digital Preservation Assessment Criteria at #digpres14

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The following is a guest post by Seth Anderson, consultant at AVPreserve.  This is part of an ongoing series of posts to highlight and preview the Digital Preservation 2014 program.  Here Seth previews the session he organized, “Digital Preservation Audit and Planning with ISO 16363 and NDSA Levels of Preservation,” scheduled for Wednesday, July 23 from 10:45-noon.

Seth Anderson
Seth Anderson

The idea of the trustworthy digital repository is now old enough to vote. It has been 18 years since this concept was introduced by the Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information in the 1996 report, “Preserving Digital Information,” (PDF) and during that time, our field has defined and refined what it means to digitally preserve. In 2014, the digital preservation community has now reached a level of maturity that allows us to evaluate preservation environments and services for their “trustworthiness,” thanks to resources, guidelines, and standards such as the international standard for trustworthy digital repositories (ISO 16363) and the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation. These have become go-to resources for myself, my colleagues at AVPreserve, and many others in the field when assessing existing preservation and planning for new or future capabilities.

And yet though our field has matured, these resources themselves are in a way still immature because they have not been sufficiently stress-tested and assessed, and as a result there is little guidance to draw from on how they are best applied. The challenge is compounded by the fact that the application of a standard or guideline is often as unique as the organization using it. In digital preservation, no infrastructure or set of policies is alike, therefore, the way each organization uses tools like ISO 16363 and the NDSA Levels may differ. The preservation approach of an audiovisual archive may vary considerably from a repository for scientific research data. Making the findings of these assessment tools valuable and actionable requires a willingness to bend and adjust their framework to each individual preservation environment while remaining true to the spirit of the guideline.

NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation
NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation

There is currently a significant amount of work being done by NDSA members to develop approaches and recommended practices for the use of criteria to measure trustworthiness and maturity of digital preservation. Next week’s Digital Preservation 2014 conference will feature several of these. Each presentation will provide detail on how these resources are being applied by practitioners in the field, and describe new and creative ways in which they are being used to result in actionable outcomes.

John Faundeen, of the US Geological Survey, will present on his organization’s modification and expansion of the NDSA’s Levels of Digital Preservation to meet the unique needs of their science centers. This organization’s efforts provide an example of the Levels as a helpful, but also dynamic resource, able to scale to the additional needs of diverse organizations.

Bertram Lyons, a recent addition to the AVPreserve team, and part-time digital assets manager for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, will discuss ongoing work to map the Levels of Digital Preservation assessment criteria to the requirements of ISO 16363. Bert’s work examines how the granular approach of ISO 16363 can be correlated with the high-level principles underlying the Levels of Digital Preservation to reveal parallels at their core. In application, Bert’s use of the Levels enables a new view of the ISO requirements, providing an easily understandable overview of the more detailed results of a full-scale audit.

A portion of the Self-Assessment Template for ISO 16363.
A portion of the Self-Assessment Template for ISO 16363.

Finally, my own presentation will cover recent efforts at AVPreserve to reframe the often information-heavy results of ISO 16363 audits into straightforward data points based on scoring criteria with actionable recommendations for achieving compliance. The presentation will include examples of different applications of the standard as a means of assessing developing digital preservation infrastructure and planning for completely new policies and systems. Additionally, extensive work with the standard has revealed inconsistencies and repetitive elements that cause confusion and difficulty in interpreting and applying the requirements of a trustworthy digital repository. I will posit an altered hierarchy, developed with my colleagues at AVPreserve, to address these issues in future versions of the standard, an approach that looks to such documents not as a static, inflexible set of guidelines, but pragmatically as a framework to apply and continually refine as results and technologies change, much like digital preservation itself!

Standards and guidelines can often seem rigid and narrowly applicable upon review, but we all know digital preservation is not a one-size-fits-all set of functionality and policy.  If it were, our jobs would be remarkably less fascinating and satisfying. These presentations argue for creative approaches to using the valuable tools we have in our field. I hope you will join us in Washington, DC and participate in the discussion on how we can improve on our collective understanding of the use of these tools.

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