Autor: DPP

Digital Archiving - the DPP guide

A Contemplation of Digital Archiving.

The Case for a Digital Archive 

Before we take you into the detail of what a Digital Archive is and how to set one up, we ask you to consider two crucial questions: 

• Why do you want to keep the content in the first place? 
• Why is it worth investing in doing it properly? 

It is more expensive to store digital content than to keep a tape on a shelf – not least because the susceptibility of digital content to re-versioning means there are likely to be more copies of it. It also requires more technology than a physical collection, and technology decisions and investments are rarely trivial for any company or organisation. So it is necessary to have a clear sense of purpose as to why you need to have an archive, and why you need one that is worthy of the name ‘archive’.

The Hoarding Reflex

It’s always tempting to keep everything, particularly in the digital age where files are ‘invisible’ and search systems promise so much.  But this approach used to happen in the pre-digital world too . Many physical archives took an approach to ‘archiving’ that actually meant putting everything aside – and thereby  putting off the awful day when the material needed to be sorted. Anyone who has ever needed to clear out a tape ‘archive’ (aka storage cupboard) will be familiar with how chaotic it tends to be . Much of the problem stems from the fact that material initially labelled for one purpose becomes impossible to identify unless decoded by the original producer or the librarian who set up the collection – both of whom are likely to have left years ago.  But let’s not kid ourselves. It is hard to throw things away. When did you last hear of a technology vendor promoting its fantastic deletion capability? It doesn’t feel overly bold to assert there is no company or organisation that creates or handles content that cheerily throws it all away as soon as it has served its original purpose. 

Hidden Value 

Just as we know there is always a tendency to hoard, we also know that the most common justification made for such a reflex is ‘just in case.’ When it comes to digital media, ‘just in case’ might relate to the possibility of a legal or compliance issue; but more commonly it relates to the possibility the material might have some kind of future value – either for re-use or for sale. Perhaps the greatest potential – but least actual – benefit of digital media is its reusability. Such media is inherently  searchable in a way physical media just isn’t. And the first pre-requisite for reusing or retrieving content is being able to find it. This is the heart of any decision to create to digital archive: we can’t merely delete everything we create; and if we are going to keep any of it, a digital archive makes it possible to find it and extract its value . But just how much value does old digital content have – and is it worth the cost of maintaining it in an archive? This is an impossible question to answer of course: it all depends on the material. If you are lucky enough to be the owner and rights holder of FA Cup footage, then the value will be rather a lot. If you are the proud possessor of hundreds of hours of interviews with people who never made the final cut for a reality show, then rather less (until one of them becomes famous, much later).  This is where the challenges of setting up a digital archive become the greatest benefit of setting up such an archive . Throwing a tape in a cupboard didn’t really entail a decision – which meant you never had to address whether it had any future value or not. But as soon as you make the decision to keep digital media in a form by which it will remain usable and findable, you are forced to make judgements about the worthwhileness of keeping it . This guide will assist you in making those judgements. 

Less is More 

The overall cost of keeping a programme as a tape on the shelf currently remains lower than keeping it in a server or server system – meaning the cost of digital storage is a more important consideration . The reality of making a decision to set up a digital archive is likely to be that you will, over time, actually keep less material than you otherwise would – simply because you now have the capability to make retention and deletion decisions, and because your confidence that you can retrieve the right copy of something will reduce the temptation to keep all the just-in-case copies.  But as may now be apparent, we are making one major assumption: you employ or have the benefit of a person or persons who is qualified to manage a digital archive . Make no mistake: a digital store with a search capability is not an archive. This guide will provide a formal explanation of what you need before you can reasonably describe your collection as an archive – and to be frank you may find the pre-requisites a little daunting. But they become a lot less daunting if you have access to a professional Media Manager or archivist. What may feel complex and offputting to you, will be second nature to them. You might think of them as your best system investment: they will give you something that no amount of technology investment can buy. 

The Human Factor

Just as it’s a simple truth that we find it hard to throw content away, it’s also a simple truth that those who are employed to make content are not going to be as focused on maintaining it. It’s all about priorities, skills and motivation. No-one whose primary function is production (the creation of content) is going to be as focused on archiving (the retention or deletion of content) as someone who is employed for precisely that purpose.  So does every organisation need a specialist role? This depends on the size and complexity of the collection and workflows. The demands of the BBC or ITV Archives for example are very different from a small independent production company or facility house. But you will at the very least need your collection to be getting the benefit of a specialist individual – it’s just that that individual might work for someone else, and be overseeing your material as part of a larger archiving service. If you do decide you need a specialist Media Manager, a sophisticated skillset is now required. Traditional information management skills are still important but should be accompanied by a practical business sense, excellent communication abilities, and particularly good influencing skills: this is the person who will need to articulate the importance of good metadata within the  end-to-end process. In short, the Media Manager will be the person persuading those who might be moving on to another job next week that they should perform tasks necessary for the content they created to be kept for a lifetime – and beyond. 

Digital Archiving: It’s a State of Mind
This is a fitting point to leave you with before we embark on this guide: just as the very decision to create a digital archive forces an organisation into disciplined thinking that can ultimately save money, increase value and improve efficiency, so the employment of a professional Media Manager can change the culture of the workplace.  The presence of a Media Manager will make it much easier to create frameworks for how to work with digital media, to assign roles and responsibilities and to establish policies. It signals ‘we understand what it means to work with digital media.’ And that, after all, is your business. 

Please read the document attached (pdf).Please read the document attached (pdf).


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