Workshop Recap: Risk Assessment for Digital Collections

The following guest post comes from Elisabeth Stern, a graduate student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College, CUNY. She attended the second workshop in our Digital Preservation Workshop Series and agreed to share her recap here. 

The Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) hosted the second of a three-part informational Digital Preservation Workshop Series on December 16, 2009. Like the first part of this series, this professional development program was led by Liz Bishoff of BCR and Tom Clareson of Lyrasis.  Both are seasoned professionals in the field of library science and have extensive experience with digital library initiatives at the regional, national, and global level. Bishoff is director of Digital & Preservation Services at BCR while Clareson serves as Senior Consultant at Lyrasis.   

This workshop, “Risk Assessment for Digital Collections,” focused on the methods that could be used by institutions to help guarantee the safety of their digital archives and collections.  Bishoff and Clareson stressed the importance of digital preservation risk assessment, and they carefully worked through a template outlining goals and guidelines for assessing risks to digital resources.

This Risk Assessment template covered 9 areas that institutions might examine in order to mitigate risk to their collections:

  • The template advised developing a mission statement for the institution that includes long-term dependability of access to digital items.  This might include a description of what’s being collected, legal mandates, documentation, etc.
  • The importance of having a proper inventory for a digital collection was explained thoroughly; including the consequences involved in having multiple file formats.
  • The template advised institutions to question its organizational fitness.  Bishoff and Clareson stressed the importance of an institution’s non-financial resources; i.e. its staff and training of staff.
  • Finances, however, are always important so the template illustrated the fact that one must figure the amount of financial resources needed from an institution in order the achieve projects pertaining to their digital repository.
  • Legal issues were certainly emphasized.  Bishoff and Clareson explained that there could be severe consequence to a person and his institution if maintaining the contractual and legal rights to control a digital collection is inefficient or incorrect in some way.
After discussing the first five critical first-step areas for assessing risks to digital collections, Bishoff and Clareson defined good methods of preservation and responsibility that might be taken if one’s agency already has digital preservation policy in place:
  • Strong emphasis was put on preservation and quality control.  Bishoff and Clareson explained that an institution must develop goals based on mission statements pertaining to the maintenance of the collection.  Areas to consider when creating these objectives could include file formats, decisions regarding the repository’s infrastructure, rules about emulation or migration, etc.
  • For a digital collection, in terms of preservation and item accessibility, pertinent and accessible metadata may be the most important aspect.  The template strongly advises that institutions compose a statement regarding the role, use and creation of the metadata associated with the items in their institution’s collection.
  • Once a collection has been established, its preservation is impossible without the proper, trained staff working in appropriate positions.  The roles and responsibilities associated with the upkeep of a digital collection must be well-defined and outlined. 
  • Finally, Bishoff and Clareson outlined the need for evaluating and updating a collection.  They explained that monitoring will often show need for updates and revisions in plans, policies, technology, file formats, etc. 
During the question and answer period, people were very eager to share stores about the digital collections where they work and the methods being used at their institutions in attempt to improve organizational procedures, risk management, and disaster planning, for example.  It was extremely remarkable to witness people from all areas of the field talking about such similar issues and the problems associated with them.

When Ms. Bishoff spoke about assessing and managing the risks in one’s digital repository, she discussed conducting an audit of digital collections using DRAMBORA (Digital Repository Audit Method Based on Risk Assessment). DRAMBORA allows an auditor to inspect and review an institution’s digital collection and mitigate its risk. It appears to be an extremely useful tool for institutions interested in executing a self-audit.

During a live display of how DRAMBORA might be implemented, Clareson and Bishoff provided a deep explanation of digital risk assessment and disaster mitigation.  While work in the field is ongoing and mission-critical, it must be noted that Bishoff and Clareson warned that digital risk assessment is still an emerging field whose methods are unfinished and imperfect.  They explained that this is a rapidly changing field with new ideas being put forth daily, and advised staying current with the newest technologies and practices through more workshops, local and national discussion groups/ listservs, and trade journals.

A report from the third workshop in this series, “Digital Preservation Tools, Systems, and Services,” will be forthcoming on this blog.
Tags: techMETRO