Providing access to a digital archive

Since it's establishment in 1826, the Library has collected material documenting life in New South Wales from the earliest times to the present day. The question we must now consider is how do we continue to collect, preserve and provide access to our digital heritage.

A Write Blocker ensures read-only access to data storage devices

Library staff us a write blocker when going through the checking process  as it is a tool that permits read-only access to data storage devices without compromising the integrity of the data.

The Library’s collection development policy considers  the potential long term research value of collections regardless of the formats. This research potential is balanced against the likely costs involved in acquisition, arrangement  and long-term preservation of the material. The same criteria is applied to born digital collections. These digital archives can include text, manuscripts, emails, audio recordings, visual material and content from social media platforms such as Pinterest and Facebook..

Now that more and more collections exist in digital form - how do we provide access to a digital archive?

Once a digital collection is securely transferred to the Library the material undergoes a checking process to ensure that the material has not been altered or damaged  in any way and that it contains the correct data before it is copied into the digital repository..

Traditionally a cataloguer with a manuscript or pictorial collection would create a detailed catalogue record by assessing the physical item. This can be a time-consuming process, requiring physical handling of the material. The analog collection would be catalogued, housed and then assigned a call number and marked for future digitisation if it is considered significant or fragile.

What differs in the management of a born digital collection is that minimal records can be automatically generated from information available in supporting documents  including the acquisition report and content lists provided through the acquisition process  as well as from the owner of the collection. A record will include two elements; the information about the collection, the title, creator, date of creation and  access rights. This is the descriptive metadata. The access rights enable the Library to meet the requirements of researchers worldwide and ensure the collection is used according to the request of the creator. Technical metadata is the second element which describes the creation of the information including the format, the device used to capture the content and  file types.  

Born digital collections can include text, manuscripts, emails, audio recordings, visual material and social media accounts

Born digital collections can be made up of  text, emails, audio recordings, images, moving image and social media accounts 

In the long term - how do we maintain access to an archive?

Future developments in information and communication technology will directly impact our digital collecting and collections. Apart from the physical deterioration and the technical obsolescence of a collection, we must also think of how future users will locate and interact with our collections and whether they have the resources and equipment required to access and use our digital content.

Ensuring the sustainability and long term preservation of these digital assets requires careful management of the archived information. This requires regular monitoring of the digital asset and periodic migration in to the latest formats to  ensure long term access.

Suzette Brunati, Librarian, Data Quality & System Standards team