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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

TRAC: B3.4: Demonstrating effctive preservation planning

B3.4 Repository can provide evidence of the effectiveness of its preservation planning.

The repository should be able to demonstrate the continued preservation, including understandability, of its holdings over a number of years, given the age of the repository and its holdings.

This could be evaluated at a number of degrees and depends on the specificity of the designated community(ies). If a designated community is fairly broad, an auditor could represent the test subject in the evaluation. More specific designated communities could require significant efforts. If judgment must be exercised as to whether adequate efforts have been made, it must be justified in detail.

Evidence: Collection of appropriate preservation metadata; proof of usability of randomly selected digital objects held within the system; demonstrable track record for retaining usable digital objects over time.

There are a couple of different stories we might tell related to this TRAC requirement.

One would be the "proof is in the pudding" story where we might assert that, of course, ICPSR has effective preservation planning:  We still preserve and distribute content that we originally collected decades ago.  In fact, if you spend enough time wandering around the less traveled portions of our collections, you'll likely find content which is very old, but which is still reasonably useful.  (It might be lacking formats for the modern stats packages, and possibly even setups, but there will always be documentation.)  This speaks to the "track record" reference above.

Another possible answer is to point to the regular audits we perform each week where we check the digital signature of each item on disk to the signature in a database.  This allows us to spot problems quickly, and that is a really important factor in allowing us to do a good job in managing problems.  This doesn't really prove usability per se, but it does demonstrate that the content (plain text data and its documentation) has not become corrupted.

And yet another possible answer is to address the collection of appropriate preservation metadata.  Each item (file) has a unique ID (reference); a digital signature (fixity); co-location with its related content (context); and, a MIME type (representation).  And for all of our newer content post-dating the deposit system, we have very good provenance information.  (Older stuff is more of a mixed bag of good provenance information, especially prior to the 1990's.)

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