Blog

Do you want to be preserved forever?

By: Anna Namuren, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 01 Jan 2014

No alcohol required - the specimens we’re maintaining are documents, photographs and emerging forms of media and data.

Conchological staff of the Australian Museum

 © Courtesy of the Australian Museum

If you’ve ever stored receipts in shoeboxes; decided which photos to keep or delete from your laptop; or moved your music collection from vinyl to CD to MP3 and streaming formats, you’ll have some idea of the strategies and effort required to manage the Australian Museum’s 180 years of records.

The Archives and Records Unit works with other teams in the Museum to preserve, in other words, to sustain or futureproof the administrative, scientific and cultural records of our institution for the public.

So where to start?

For physical objects, if you want to repair paper damaged by insects, treat mould on photos or carry out more complex preservation procedures, the Materials Conservation and Analytical Resources Unit provides some excellent step-by-step conservation tips.

For all records, the framework issued by NSW State Records sets the rules and provides guidance on creating, organising and managing official records, which are increasingly in digital format. Their Future Proof blog delivers practical advice on how to deal with transient new forms of communication and business systems: interactions on social media, Outlook calendars, documents scanned on photocopiers, and mass volumes of data in various forms – these are all records which may need to be preserved for future communities.

To give the work you produce in 2014 a better chance of surviving the next 100 years, consider this:

1. Get organised

  • Decide what’s important and keep the files which have value. You know it’s not practical, nor cheap to keep everything.
  • Give your file a meaningful title, the name of the creator, the date and any other descriptive information which will make it easy to find and authenticate. Sometimes this metadata is created automatically when the file is saved. Pelican with fish 2001.jpg is more relevant than DSCF7573.jpg if it’s not attached to any other contextual information.
  • Organise how and where you save your files. Decide on a consistent system, this could be a directory defined by a series of activities.

At the Museum we use HP TRIM, a records management system which stores files securely, classifies files in a consistent way and helps simplify the process for the thousands of operational records created and managed by staff each year.

2. Make it accessible

  • Don’t use obscure file formats as you will want your files to be opened by many software readers. Don't compress the original version to ensure that the quality of the file will be maintained when it is copied or re-versioned. And do regular spot checks of any files which you’ve migrated to a new storage space in case they get corrupted.
  • Consider assigning a Creative Commons (CC) licence to allow others to access, share and distribute your work, so that it’s transmitted across different servers and devices.

At the Museum our photographers and DigiVols Unit save original images in lossless file formats such as RAW, DNG and TIFF. Transcriptions of notebooks and manuscripts are saved in the database for future export in CSV and other formats. The editor of our scientific publications section assigns a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) to every publication to ensure that irrespective of any changes to our website and the metadata, the document can always be located.

3. Think of a future without Google, Microsoft, Adobe…

  • In Archives our records include lantern slides, microfiche, heliographs, Betamax videotapes, WordPerfect documents and floppy discs. In the past 100 years these were popular means by which to create, store and read indexes and documents, view images, and play movies and audio. At the time, there was no reason to think that they would become obsolete or replaced by newer formats. The challenge is to anticipate change and create a strategy for regular upkeep and digital continuity.

And so we will continue to explore the best processes for ensuring the Museum’s operational, scientific and heritage records are able to be retrieved, made readable and usable for now and long into the future.