Supporting EMBL Archive

Supporting the EMBL Archive on its digital preservation journey

To celebrate World Digital Preservation Day 2020 I wanted to share my experiences of working (remotely) with colleagues at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) Archive to support their digital preservation activities.

The EMBL Archives

Founded in 1974 the EMBL is an intergovernmental organisation and is Europe’s flagship laboratory for the life sciences. Working across six locations in Europe the headquarters are based in Heidelberg, Germany. Work to create the EMBL Archive, which is based in Heidelberg, began in 2015 with the appointment of its first archivist. The Archive, formally inaugurated in July 2018, has a vision to provide “a resource that supports and documents European research, instrumentation and training in the field of molecular biology”.

The EMBL Archivist, Dr Anne-Flore Laloë, identified digital preservation as a priority strand of work for 2020. A draft digital preservation framework had been produced and the EMBL Archivist was seeking advice and support to develop their digital preservation policies and practices. Access To Memory (AtoM) was already being used by the Archives and Archivematica had been installed providing the core technical infrastructure to integrate into workflows.

DPC Rapid Assessment Model

The Digital Preservation Coalition’s Rapid Assessment Model encourages an institution to reflect on its current position but also its future plans and priorities across a range of aspects including organisational viability, policy and strategy. Using the structure of the model allowed specific strands of activity to be identified and drawn together into a plan. Some of the activities that have been undertaken have included:

  • A list of key conservations with various stakeholders about digital preservation to encourage EMBL staff to increase their familiarity and confidence with the language and terminology of digital preservation.
  • Updating the EMBL Digital Preservation Framework and comparing this with other organisation’s digital preservation policies, inspired questions about both current processes and anticipated workflows for the transfer, accession and ingest of born-digital archives.
  • Producing screencasts to ‘show and tell’ how to use DROID and write blockers to fill the identified gaps in the workflow (unidentified gaps are another thing).

Over the summer colleagues from the EMBL archives undertook the DPC Novice to Knowhow online training. This helped to reinforce knowledge and awareness – it also led to many more questions which proved to be an excellent opportunity to discuss and review specific aspects of the workflow.

Friends in IT places 

Making friends in IT has been a key piece of advice I have been advocating for more than 10 years. It is important that digital preservation is seen as an institutional matter and not something confined to the staff and resources of the archives team. Archives and IT are two disciplines divided by a common language (to misquote George Bernard Shaw). At EMBL the archives staff did have a good relationship with their IT colleagues but were keen to strengthen this and to provide some clarification as to exactly why specific hardware and software was needed to support their work. Together we produced The EMBL Archive and IT: needs and use to support this collaborative working.

Looking forward

Working with Artefactual so that AtoM and Archivematica can see each other allowing the physical description and digital object(s) to be linked. Immediate tasks on the todo list include the creation of a forensic workstation, auditing born-digital material that is held and identifying media formats that need to be supported. There is also an interest in the ePADD tool for email. Repeating the DPC-RAM self-assessment exercise at the end of the year will serve to reinforce the huge steps that have been taken to preserve born-digital archives for future generations.

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