November 13, 2019, by S Colborne
Digital preservation of Students’ Union materials
As a collections archivist with Manuscripts and Special Collections (MSC), I work closely with people who donate their materials to the University to ensure that the right material is preserved. At the University we have an ongoing relationship with services and departments who have recognised the importance of passing records to the archive. We already had a large collection of Students’ Union files that had been passed to us in the 1960s but the recent work on the Portland Building prompted them to get in touch about the many filing cabinets that had accrued over the years containing files that had been labelled as being worth keeping for the archive. Also present were many CDs and DVDs, most thankfully had been labelled! Once this material was transferred to MSC, we set about ensuring it was stored correctly in suitable preservation packaging to keep it safe for the years/decades/centuries to come.
For the printed papers this involved repackaging into acid free boxes and folders, but the CDs and DVDs present an entirely different challenge. We started by labelling them and putting them in preservation specialist storage wallets, but the preservation of the information on the discs requires particular processes. We use specific software tools to analyse the content of discs which enables us to find out when they were written or burnt, the size, and the formats, etc. Technical analysis of the discs can be done at a fairly quick pace but producing a proper catalogue description of the information contained on the discs means taking the time to open individual files, which is (hopefully) the fun bit. Many of the discs from the Students’ Union contained photographs from events or promotional activities and one, labelled Tiger ‘09, turned out to contain a very amusing video created by the SU for their Easy Tiger safe sex and alcohol awareness campaign.
While we are busy cataloguing the material that has already been passed to us, we continue to work with the Students’ Union to investigate the best method of capturing their website, which changes frequently as new officers are recruited and new societies are added. We are also looking into establishing a digital equivalent of the collecting box which the SU have placed in the Portland Building to make it easier for student societies to transfer paper and digital items to MSC.
We are delighted that the SU has formed an archive policy to ensure sustained and long-term management of the records of their activities and achievements and our new digital preservation system will enable us to preserve a wide range of born digital records going forward.