Saturday, April 18, 2015

One Year In: a Retrospective

Welcome back, readers! Previous posts have provided an overview of the Bentley Historical Library and University of Michigan Library's "ArchivesSpace-Archivematica-DSpace Workflow Integration" project and given some background on digital preservation and curation efforts at the Bentley.  In this post, I would like to give an update on what's been accomplished thus far and where we're going.

Unexpected Challenges

As with most endeavors, our project has faced some unexpected challenges, the first of which related to staffing.  Per our proposal, we originally intended to hire a software developer for a two-year term position at the University of Michigan Library to handle the technical aspects of integrating ArchivesSpace, Archivematica, and DSpace in a digital archives workflow.  This approach was selected during the planning phase so that the developer could share knowledge and expertise with other Library Information Technology (LIT) staff through daily interactions.  However, given the improving economy and the unique 'chaos to order' skills/experience required by the position, we were unable to secure any candidates after three months of intensive recruiting.

Rather than extend the posting for a fourth month and risk further delays, our team began to explore the possibility of contracting directly with Artefactual Systems Inc. for the necessary development work.  We soon realized this strategy would reap immense benefits for the project, due to the company's expert knowledge of Archivematica, extensive experience with the agile development of open source software  for libraries and archives, and large network in the archival and digital preservation communities.  Staff members at Artefactual Systems were also highly familiar with the project, as President Evelyn McClellan and Director of Archivematica Technical Services Justin Simpson were in regular communication with us since the planning stages of the grant in the summer of 2013 and staff had already been tapped to provide consulting services for LIT developers.  After completing the budget reallocation process, we finalized this arrangement in December 2014.

We faced even greater adversity with the illness and loss of our dear friend and colleague Nancy Deromedi.  The grant's original Principal Investigator, Deromedi pioneered the collection and preservation of digital and web archives at the Bentley, as outlined in my previous post.  As head of the library's Digital Curation Division from 2011-2014, she was incredibly supportive of my work developing the AutoPro ingest and processing tool and was a great advocate for open access to born-digital archives.  Upon being named Associate Director for Curation during the Bentley's 2014 reorganization, Deromedi asked me to unify our paper and digital processing procedures to ensure the standardization of descriptive practices and empower processing staff to handle all types of archival materials, regardless of format.  The move was typical of her progressive vision, dynamic leadership, and willingness to take risks.

Deromedi had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late 2013, but continued to work on the grant proposal and numerous other projects while undergoing rounds of treatment through early 2014.  In March 2014, she underwent major surgery, but after only three months of recovery and rehabilitation she was back at the Bentley, full of enthusiasm and determination to see the grant project to a successful outcome.  She provided leadership on the early stages of the budget reallocation process, but doctors discovered a recurrence of her cancer in September and on October 13, 2014 she passed away.
Nancy M. Deromedi
Nancy Deromedi was a skilled and knowledgeable archivist, a great mentor and leader, and a dear colleague and friend.  Our work on this grant is very much a tribute to her vision and record of achievement.

Moving Forward

While the delay in hiring a developer was vexing, Nancy Deromedi's illness and death posed very serious obstacles to progress.  Nevertheless, project staff made steady (albeit slow) progress on a number of fronts through 2014 to the present. These include:

  • Digital preservation policy review: Archivists undertook a review of current digital preservation policies and procedures.  While a final document is still in draft form, the exercise helped confirm preservation strategies (such as the creation of preservation copies of content in at-risk file formats) as well as approaches for handling sensitive personal information.
  • Software review and evaluation: While archivists had experimented with sandbox versions of Archivematica and ArchivesSpace, a more thorough review of each system was undertaken, which included local implementations of each platform.  In addition to understanding basic features and functionality, this work helped project staff identify development needs.  Future posts will provide more information about these undertakings.
  • Hiring additional staff: In January 2015, the Bentley hired Assistant Archivist for Digital Curation Max Eckard and Project Archivist Dallas Pillen.  Max currently devotes 100% of his time to the grant and Dallas is likewise fully engaged with the project, with exceptions for some weekly reference shifts and technical support for the Bentley's implementation of the Aeon registration and circulation management system.  Look for future posts from both Max and Dallas!
  • Artefactual Systems site visit: The Bentley hosted Evelyn McLellan and Justin Simpson from Artefactual Systems from January 13-15, 2015.  These were three days of nearly nonstop activity, which included:
    • An overview of the Bentley's existing digital backlog and its collections in Deep Blue, the University of Michigan's DSpace repository.
    • A thorough review of current Bentley procedures and workflows for the accession, ingest, and description of digital archives.
    • Analysis of current features and functionality of ArchivesSpace and Archivematica, with discussion of areas for future development and integration.
    • Meetings with LIT systems administrators about Michigan's current DSpace implementation and plans for the move to Hydra.
    • Archivematica demonstration for archivists, librarians, administrators, and IT staff from the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan Library, Clements Library, and Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.
    • Review of Archivematica installation and maintenance for LIT staff and installation of a local Archivematica instance.
  •  UML workflow diagrams: Artefactual Systems prepared a basic workflow diagrams that were reviewed by project staff at the Bentley Historical Library and University of Michigan Library.  After five revisions, staff at Artefactual Systems and Michigan arrived at a version that will serve as a foundation for development work (but which will continue to be refined).  While a better version will be made available on the Archivematica wiki, a copy of version 4 is available here.
  • Consultation Final Report: Based upon the site visit and follow up telecons , Artefactual Systems prepared a final consultation report for the Bentley, which identified key development tasks and time estimates, an updated workflow diagram, and suggested strategies for moving forward with the integration work.  The main areas of development will include:
    • Developing a new appraisal/arrangement dashboard tab in Archivematica.  Here's a mockup of this tab, displaying the transfer backlog and associated reports (an additional ASpace archival object pane would also be available in the finished tab).
    • Archivematica-ArchivesSpace integration:​ notably the ability to create archival object records associate content, thereby creating Archivematica SIPs and ArchivesSpace digital objects.
    • AIP repackaging​: the Bentley will be providing access to AIPs (as opposed to DIPs) in its repository, to avoid redundant storage of content and ensure that researchers have access to original materials.  As part of this approach, the Bentley needs to be able to package multiple files and/or folders into zip files to simplify patron access to and archival management of content.  See an example of how we do this with our A. Alfred Taubman collection.
    • DSpace/Deep Blue integration​: including the ability to automatically upload data and administrative/descriptive metadata from ArchivesSpace as well as the ability to update file URIs in ASpace digital object records with DSpace handles.
    • External tools integration​: integration​: Ability to review transfer contents using BulkExtractor; ability to generate PREMIS rights information from BulkExtractor reports; addition of other external tools for analysis and file viewing.
  • Agile development sprints: After prioritizing and refining the proposed development tasks, we recently kicked off agile development cycles, in which we will use weekly telecons to identify priorities, review current work, and plan next steps.  As part of this effort, Bentley archivists are creating user stories to identify potential features and functionality.  In addition, the Archivematica wiki will feature development requirements, images of design features, our telecon meeting agendas, and other relevant information.  A page for the appraisal and arrangement tab is currently up.
Suffice it to say, a lot has been going on!  Stay tuned for more news and updates and, as always, feel free to drop us a line or leave a comment.

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