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National Archives aims to create digital preservation ‘ninjas’


Mark Say Managing Editor

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National Archives has revealed a plan to create a cohort of ‘ninjas’ in the field of digital preservation.

It is an element of its newly published strategy for building digital capacity in its sector, Plugged In, Powered Up, which focuses on engagement, access, preservation and the development of digital skills.

The organisation said it is delivering the project of over 20 strands, some of which are already underway.

It highlighted the Novice to Ninja programme, run with the Digital Preservation Coalition, which will make training in online digital preservation available free of charge to practitioners from later this year. It is aimed at equipping learners with the skills to implement a simple and proactive digital preservation workflow within their organisation.

The training has been developed by experts in the digital preservation community.

The move has been prompted by the results of a survey of 300 archive professionals, carried out with education technology provider Jisc easily last year, which suggested that many archiving professionals are not in a position to meet new demands. It found that 73% had not carried out any activities to engage the public with their digital collections, 62% had never run any event with a digital focus, and 72% had no idea how to run a crowdfunding campaign.

Need for proficiency

The strategy document says that archive professionals need to become much more proficient with digital systems, able to speak the language of digital formats and methods, and to make informed judgements on the providers.

Emma Markiewicz, head of archive sector development at National Archives, said: “Although awareness of the need to preserve ‘born digital’ materials is high, the recent survey with Jisc identified a lack of confidence surrounding digital preservation.

“Novice to Ninja and the other strands of our Plugged In, Powered Up strategy aim to provide archival practitioners with the skills to take proactive steps towards digital preservation, access and engagement.”

Among the initiatives outline in the accompanying action plan are a series of grants to support digital engagement, the development of an engagement toolkit and pilots on cataloguing digitised records through crowdsourcing. The latter will involve existing platforms and commissioning new guidance.

It also calls on public archive bodies to work with groups such as data mills, code clubs, citizen science projects and charities, to create digitally focused opportunities for volunteers, and to give their audiences more input into decisions around digitisation and cataloguing.

Additional plans

Other planned steps by National Archives include working with vendors to improve archive models, developing training in user centred design for the sector, exploring metadata presentation, developing a short course in digital preservation, producing guidance on the use of open source presentation tools, and publishing details of preservation workflows and infrastructures.

It also wants to work with public sector IT association Socitm and the Local Government Association on raising the profile of digital preservation in local government.

In addition, the strategy document points to the challenges facing the sector, saying that roughly one in four archives have said they have not recruited in the past three years, four in 10 have found recruitment challenging, and that their professionals have little day-to-day control over their IT infrastructure.

Image from under Open Government Licence v3.0


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