A Brave New (Digital) World Part Two

Following on from Part One

3. Preserve
Unfortunately, there are no eternal digital media. CDs break, floppy disks have become obsolete, hard drives fail, and cloud networks can be hacked. So how do we make sure our digitised files stay safe? Just like with physical objects, there are some safety measures we can take to protect and preserve them.

During ingest, one of the pieces of metadata which is produced is called a checksum. This is a string of numbers and letters unique to each file. If the file changes – even just a single character! – the checksum changes. These checksums are recorded so that over time, we can analyse the files and make sure they are not degrading, or have not been altered. We always keep multiple copies, as well. There should be at minimum three copies of any digital content, on three different devices. Two copies can be kept on site, whilst one is stored at a different geographical location. This ensures that despite accidental or malicious damage, one copy will survive. These copies are checked every three years to make sure no natural degradation of the hard drives is occurring. The hard drives themselves are replaced every five years.

4. Access
We also have a strict list of who is able to access each copy! This prevents accidental overwriting and deletion, and prevents any malicious destruction. It also protects privacy and copyright of the materials. Lower quality copies of the archival masters are made available to the public via the website or the online catalogue. These same files are also available to staff to manipulate for posters, events, learning activities, and social media. It is important to note that some digital material may not be accessible to the public for legal reasons – but the metadata will be! So even if we cannot post a photo online because it is still under copyright, you will be able to find it in the catalogue and request to see it in-person.

As you can see – there is a lot to do, and that’s just half of the job! The other half is the digitisation of information. We have a lot of information on the objects in our collection that is currently in written form – in accession registers, object entry forms, and on catalogue cards. Handwritten metadata, if you will! This information is also in the process of being digitised. In this case, it is a manual transcription which occurs – first into spreadsheets, then these spreadsheets are uploaded into our digital catalogue. For many objects, this metadata and description will be their entire digital footprint until we can find the time to photograph them all!

In the end, the main goal of digitisation is access. It’s no good to have all this information if no one is able to see it, research it, or use it! In that vein, we are excited to announce that our online catalogue is currently undergoing a complete overhaul, which will make it easier to navigate and discover your favourite objects. We are working hard to get as many online as we can – keep an eye out when it launches in 2021!