On World Digital Preservation Day, archivist Eve Wright (below right, with NRS digital capacity planning lead Joanne Watson) tells us how NRS is working to record Scotland’s records for the future – both records that are created on paper and in other formats…

Today marks World Digital Preservation Day where institutions around the world advocate the importance of the actions we need to take to keep digital records safe and accessible for future generations.

As part of our contribution, we blog here to reflect on our recently revised guidance, in support of NRS’s digital archiving service.

Our context

Where once archives conjured the image of scrolls, ledgers and letters, the archive of today would reflect the increasingly digital ways we create and digest information in emails, spreadsheets, websites and many other types of digital format.

In order to support our collecting responsibilities, NRS must obtain and preserve digital records where these have been selected as a part of Scotland’s national archive. NRS’s Digital Records Unit support our colleagues in Archives Depositor Liaison by managing the transfer of born digital material into our collections and have been accepting digital records since 1998.

There are many things to consider when depositing digital records into an archive, and clear guidance and robust procedures are key. Our core guidance document on this is our newly-revised ‘Depositor Guidance for the Transfer of Archival Born Digital Records’.

What our guidance contains

This document has been written as a practical guide for depositors who are planning on depositing digital records at NRS for permanent preservation, and aims to make the transfer process as simple as possible.

Depositors can find out:

  • How to plan for the transfer of their digital records by letting NRS know what recordkeeping system and file formats they use.
  • How to put together a manifest file to include contextual information on the records themselves.
  • How to prepare records for transfer to NRS, and what is required following transfer.

Variety in Formats

We are conscious that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to digital archiving. Since the Digital Records Unit (or eRecords Unit as it was formerly known) was first established, we have accepted a vast variety of file formats.

As it stands today, we have 1,547,355 individual born digital files in our repository, made up of  hundreds of different file formats. These vary from simple Microsoft Office formats to larger video and audio files.

Variety in our Customers

Likewise, NRS accepts archival records from a wide variety of depositors: from public authorities and courts of law to churches and charitable organisations.

The ways in which these depositors create records varies significantly: some may use highly elaborate business systems to create complex digital records, with arrays of associated metadata. Others may simply not require this level of complexity.

NRS can accept records from the full range of depositors but to ensure we can manage transfers from any type of depositor, consistency in the way records are packaged for deposit is critical.

To guide our depositors on this point, we’ve made our manifest requirements (see section 4.1 in guidance) as simple as possible.  We recommend a spreadsheet as the basis of this, being a widely understood and utilised format. This not only keeps things straightforward for our depositors but benefits us as future cataloguing becomes a much simpler process if metadata is saved in a consistent way.  

Simplifying with Software

Another update we have made to simplify records transfer, is to recommend the use of the software DROID to assist the creation of the manifest. DROID was developed by The National Archives (UK) specifically to obtain essential contextual metadata from digital records which is needed for digital preservation.

There are step-by-step instructions for how to use DROID in Appendix 1 in the depositor guidance.

Open for business

Beyond the guidance document, the Digital Records Unit will work with your client manager to answer any questions regarding digital transfers to NRS. Even if the records for transfer are mainly paper based, it is always worth checking that there is no digital media (such as CDs or floppy disks) hiding in files or boxes. If we don’t know the digital files are there, we can’t put the specific actions in place to ensure they are preserved in the long term.

We are expecting the amount of digital records we receive at NRS to significantly increase over the next few years as modern archival digital records are much more likely to be digital than before.

We are very much prepared and excited for the digital side of our collections to increase over time and we are here to help with any technical support required. The sooner we start to have conversations about depositing digital records, the richer the archival record is likely to be. 

If you have any questions regarding born digital records, please contact us by email.

Eve Wright

Digital Records Archivist

National Records of Scotland

One thought on “We Don’t Just Do Paper: Depositing Digital Records

  1. Is anything happening to provide and preserve school records? I suspect there will be decade – long gaps from late 20th century to early 21st.

    Like

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