Welcome to the third Third Thursdays Monthly Appraisal Conversation! With this regular conversation series, we hope to spark regular, continued discussion among section members and interested others about the fundamental archival action of appraisal.
The questions for this month are:
- What are the challenges you face appraising and working with donors of born-digital materials?
- What software or tools help you appraise born-digital content?
- What are the top two or three resources that you would recommend for others who want to start or continue learning about appraising born-digital materials?
Thank you to those who may have already responded to our questions – and it’s not too late! Please read and join the conversation in the comments section below – we hope to keep the conversation moving today (May 19) from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm Central Time!
[Note: we did not require respondents to sign their name, so for the sake of clarity, unsigned comments are numbered.]
Mat Darby, Richard B. Russell Library, University of Georgia One of the the bigger challenges I’ve encountered is getting donors to think about and identify the kinds of born-digital materials they may have. Frequently, donors don’t even consider born-digital materials when thinking about their papers. Homing in on the records we as the archives are interested in can be time-consuming, but it is worth sitting with donors at their device of choice to get an overview of their computing environment, thinking about not only content and file structures but commonly used software, hard drives or cloud storage use, etc. This also provides an opportunity to get at how the donor’s born-digital materials relate to the paper records and vice versa.
Another challenge we’ve encountered is the perception of some donors that, because these materials are born-digital, that they are immediately going to end up online, which raises questions of privacy, potential for identity theft, and other concerns. So it becomes a matter of talking openly with donors and educating them about how we manage, process and preserve born-digital records, while also balancing any restrictions the materials require with making the records accessible to researchers in a reasonable amount of time.
When dealing with organizational records, the challenges multiply –shared drives, multiple email accounts, multiple filing systems (or none at all), etc. But as with traditional paper records, this means understanding organizational structure, identifying individuals in key organizational roles, being selective about the types of records you accept, etc.
Archivist #1: Explaining to donors that not everything should be kept – conveying archival value, or enduring value is difficult to discuss, as some donors seem to shudder at the thought that we don’t keep everything. Likewise, convincing donors that their content has value and should be preserved is a challenge.
To me, the most useful tool is TreeSize Pro. It allows you to quickly get a sense of file formats, age of files, and structure.
Practical E-Records blog has reviews of many tools that can be useful in appraisal; also, the recently-published DPC Personal Digital Archiving report is a great guide that can help archivists talk to donors about the value of their files.
Archivist #2: One big challenge is that donors don’t always know what they have. Because the files are not visible in the same way as photos, or books, they don’t necessarily have a sense of what is there.
The DROID profiling tool, which allows an export in order to get a sense of the directory structure. This allows me to adapt my appraisal approach to the files at hand.Once files are identified that need to be weeded out (for various reasons), then Preservica as a digital preservation system.
Check out the Paradigm project. Maybe also the Digital Curation Centre and the Digital Preservation Coalition.