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Integrity Checking on a Budget | Recipient Report – Helena Clarkson and Taylor Harwood

By Ian G Evans, on 27 June 2019

The two of us applied for the UCL DIS Dean’s Strategic Fund 2018-2019 so we could purchase materials for our projects in our optional module Digital Curation, part of our MA in Archives and Records Management. The funds enabled us to purchase Raspberry Pis (very basic computers used for coding projects) along with their associated equipment, so we could implement and experiment with Fixityberry, an existing open source software specifically designed to assist low-resourced archives with fixity scans and fixity checking.

Digital curation and preservation are broad, all-encompassing, and at time daunting subjects for budding archivists. For students like us, without computer science backgrounds, this module was an opportunity to challenge ourselves and to embrace new digital tools. As students with a greater familiarity with the analogue world – both from arts and humanities backgrounds, and limited digital archiving experience – we believe it is important for us to learn, explore, and understand some of the issues and trials that digital archivists face today.

Digital curation involves the management, preservation and adding of value to digital assets throughout their life-cycle. This module aimed to fully engage us with this process, through a mixture of teaching, independent study, and practical exercises.

Thanks to the support of the Dean’s Strategic Fund, we have been able to carry out our chosen digital curation projects based on our research and our interest in the practical aspects of digital curation that the module covered. By purchasing our own Raspberry Pis, we were able to gain experience beyond our assigned reading in a supportive classroom environment, and we will be able to use both that knowledge and the Pis in future projects throughout our careers.

Fixity checking is just one facet of digital preservation, involving integrity management. It consists of the monitoring of bits within digital files in order to check if they remain unchanged or ‘fixed’ over time— not unlike hiring a security guard to make rounds of a physical archive, checking to ensure boxes and materials remain untampered with. Integrity checking, then, is important within the holistic process of digital preservation and in the safe-guarding of our digital assets and information. Pause for a moment to think about all the digital information you have, at home and at work, and you’ll begin to appreciate the importance of keeping it from degrading or being altered. Fixity scans provide reports of the integrity of a digital file, and warn an archivist if degradation has occurred.

Archives can purchase fixity checking software for their digital collections, but what about community archives and other projects on a shoestring budget? Fixityberry was something we read about in class, which was presented as a way for low-resourced archives to meet the standards for digital preservation. We tried it ourselves, to test its viability. With help, we got the software to work, learned as we went, and evaluated the practical application of the software.

Our experiment with the Fixityberry software and foray into the field of digital archiving culminated in two blogs, one of which you can read here. This was where we charted our trials, tribulations and small successes along the way.

The support from this project was vital to us; it allowed us to test and explore the important skills necessary in the development of digital archiving skills, and build our confidence. Setting aside our own personal goals, it also brought into sharp focus the difficulties that archives with low financial and expert resources face, and in turn, the challenges of meeting current preservation standards. It is important for archivists to explore and understand the necessity of devising long term storage solutions, and monitoring that storage when working with digital material.

This experience has brought us greater clarity about the need for a strong digital archiving community and well-documented open source software, as well as the importance of embracing cross-disciplinary relationships (which in our case were a couple of friendly IT gurus).

The funding enabled us to engage with the ever-changing and fast paced world of digital curation and preservation, and expand our understanding of why it is essential for new professionals to work with born-digital content. As emerging professionals, we now have a strong grasp on the importance of working with digitised and born-digital content, which, thanks to this project, has inspired us to advocate for digital literacy within the archives sector, and to bring this knowledge to our chosen careers.

We would like to thank the Dean’s Strategic Funding bid and our tutor Jenny Bunn for their support whilst undertaking our projects.

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