USING PRESERVICA FOR DIGITAL CONTINUITY
In this age of information superhighways and instant access to data on the internet, we’ve grown accustomed to expecting instant information on demand 24/7 and that it will always be there at our fingertips whenever we need it. We take for granted the idea of preservation and assume that, provided we lock something away securely enough it will still be there to look at for years and decades to come. While to some extent, that’s possible with information written on traditional paper or parchment, such as old letters, wills, or even conventional photos and maps; in the case of digital information, nothing could be further from the truth.
In the digital world, the act of ‘saving’ a document or photo to a hard drive (however secure) just isn’t enough when you’re talking about keeping something for a very very long time, ideally forever!
The East Riding Archives are responsible for safeguarding and making available the documentary heritage of the East Riding of Yorkshire, and it oversees a vast collection of records dating from 1185 right up to the present day. As you can imagine, with over 400,000 historic items, most of it is based on paper, parchment, and other traditional methods of manuscript recording, but over the past 25 years or so, the way that society tends to record information has changed dramatically.
Ever since Bill Gates and Microsoft brought Windows 95 to the masses in the 1990s we’ve become more and more dependent on our devices and the creation and storage of information electronically. This is a great thing, we can create, store, and access more information than ever before, but unlike conventional records the language used to document digital information is binary code, and needs to be read by machine technology, which translates the data into something our human brains can interpret on a screen e.g. an image, video, sound recording, document, map etc. Digital technology is rapidly and constantly evolving (just look at how much the world has changed in less than 30 years). You can’t guarantee that technology will still be current in the next 5, 10, 20 years’ time and, when you’re in the business of ensuring information survives well beyond the human lifespan for future generations, this becomes a very big problem.
Thankfully, East Riding Archives are tackling the problem head-on and have just selected an automated digital archiving solution called Preservica. Not only can the system actively curate incoming digital items by converting them into the most suitable file formats for preservation, it also comes with an online access module that links to the archive catalogue, opening up our digital content to local history researchers like never before.
Preservica is the leading solution in digital archive preservation and has been adopted worldwide by prestigious organisations such as Yale University, HSBC, The National Archives, BT, and Transport For London. Now, East Riding Archives is proud to announce itself as the first local authority archives in Yorkshire to launch its public interface through Preservica.
It will transform the service’s ability to preserve digital archives to international standards, giving users access to a limited range of so-called ‘born’ digital material online for the first time. Without systems like Preservica, there’s a real danger that the data we store away in our vaults for posterity will become obsolete and unreadable over very long periods of time, resulting in a digital ‘Black Hole’ in the story of our society. If you think about it, the ‘Dark Ages’ are known as such because very little written information survives about this time in history, so we know very little about the culture and society of this time as a result. The work being done now by places like East Riding Archives is going to be vital if we want to avoid the story of our own society becoming a digital mystery.
For the new public Digital Archive see https://eastriding.access.preservica.com/
For more information about Preservica, see https://preservica.com/
by Sam Bartle
Digital Archivist & Editor