Preserve assorted archive collections sustainably with SCALA

Cultural archive institutions are acquiring more and more born-digital collections, such as private law archives. Digital preservation systems are essential for managing and storing these collections sustainably, and ensuring they remain accessible in the long term. But current preservation systems are mostly designed for collections of similar digital files, whereas private law archives, for example, often consist of an assortment of diverse and poorly organised content.

Challenge

Existing digital preservation systems are mostly based on well-organised archive files in the same or similar formats for processing. But private law archives, for example, usually consist of unclear folder structures containing a mixture of assorted file formats, such as text documents, videos, images, PowerPoint presentations, compressed graphics files and so on. Unfortunately, however, more often than not, the time and resources needed to carefully process all this content and ensure it remains accessible in the long term simply aren’t available. The partners in this project are therefore working to develop a preservation system designed specifically for this purpose.

Individual archive institutions generally don’t have enough manpower and resources to set up such a system, which is why a number of them decided to join forces in the AIDA network. AIDA (Automatic Ingest Digital Archives) is an agenda shared by nine institutions. This network of partners is aiming to take concrete steps, in the 2019-2023 policy period, to eliminate the most critical shortcomings for the sustainable long-term preservation of digital collections of private law archives. Resources were allocated to implement the first phase of SCALA in February 2021.

Our role

The Flanders Architecture Institute (VAi) is coordinating the SCALA project in which meemoo is a partner alongside ADVN (Archive for National Movements), Amsab (Institute for Social History), AMVB (Archive and Museum for the Flemish Living in Brussels), AVG-Carhif (Archive and Research Centre for Women’s History), CAVA (Centre for Academic and Liberal Archives), Letterenhuis and Archiefbank Vlaanderen. Together, we want to investigate the feasibility of a preservation system that creates and stores E-ARK containers.

The pilot system will be tested on our infrastructure using the preservation strategy proposed by AIDA. Our role also consists of helping to write up the necessary technical and content-related specifications.

Approach

How can this assorted collection of files be preserved in private law archives? In this project, we’re looking at the role of E-ARK containers in terms of the sustainable long-term preservation of assorted digital archives. The acronym stands for European Archival Records and Knowledge Preservation.

E-ARK is a new pan-European standard for packaging information objects for long-term storage, regardless of software, suppliers or archive institutions. This will ensure that information objects that are created today can remain accessible for decades, even if the institutions or suppliers that originally package the object no longer exist. Want to find out more about this e-archiving building block from the European Commission? Read more here.

The SCALA pilot preservation system is an instrument for creating and managing AIPs (Archival Information Packages) in accordance with E-ARK. Why did we choose E-ARK for the SCALA project? This standard allows different versions of a digital archive to be managed in a uniform way. The archive institutions’ own archive management systems can also be immediately integrated with various structural partners, so we can perform preservation actions step by step and keep the archive and storage history up to date.

This system is being tested on meemoo’s infrastructure using the preservation strategy proposed by AIDA. AIDA partners also want to make optimal use of the various infrastructure solutions that the Flemish heritage sector has access to in the long term. AIDA is therefore aiming to create a broader collaborative model around the use of E-ARK-containers for the preservation of digital archives.

SCALA will involve other infrastructure partners such as LIAS, DAV and FelixArchief for feedback and expertise regarding our implementation of E-ARK. We hope this will encourage them to use the E-ARK containers.

The first steps are to convene the E-ARK working group, start developing over the summer, and continue with active testing in the autumn.

Did you know...

that SCALA refers to the opera house in Milan where AIDA (the opera) premièred? So it’s very meta! It also stands for System-independent Containers using e-ARK, for the Long-term preservation of digital Archives.

The lodges of the Scala opera house in Milan before the start of a performance - 1936

Partners

Do you have a question?
Contact Bert Lemmens
Expertise Officer