Built Legacy: Preserving the Results of Historic Building Investigations

Today we release the findings of our Built Legacy Project (see ADS blog April 2016). The full report can be downloaded here.

It’s long been known that the conservation and built heritage sector have not really engaged with OASIS, the ADS and digital archiving in general. We wanted to investigate why and what could be done about this.

The project aimed to:

  • Establish a state of the sub-sector snapshot of digital archiving practice/awareness
  • Survey practitioners we have not traditionally engaged with – IHBC, RTPI etc. facilities managers, local authority staff, etc.
  • Conduct outreach in terms of event attendance, video, leaflet and training workshop.

Our investigations demonstrated that the commissioning and instruction of projects relating to Historic Building survey is very different from how it happens in the archaeological world, despite the two disciplines now being addressed under the same planning policy guidance. Notable exceptions were where the Local Authority archaeologists were instructing work in the same way for Historic Building survey as for traditional archaeological work. The vast majority of work is still commissioned as part of the planning process or to inform conservation decisions, but the outcomes are largely dependent on the expertise of the practitioner.

Data (drawings, photographs, plans, and reports) are not available in the long term, with most reports being handed over to the client/owner in digital or hard copy. Although the good news was that about a third of respondents to our survey said they sent reports to HERs.

Attitudes and understanding of the need for long-term availability of information vary a lot – one respondent to the survey considered our approach and questions simplistic but it was clear from the majority of respondents that there was little or no understanding of digital preservation, and there was a reliance on submission via online planning systems for ‘preserving’ and ‘giving access to’ data. However, when we surveyed Local Authorities it was clear that consideration of how data will be kept in the long term is far from top of their priorities – and there has already been an instance of data loss in one authority!

The project has given us plenty of food for thought and some useful pointers in the right direction. Our first task is to make more people aware of the possibilities for digital preservation of historic environment data. To this end we have created a video to help raise awareness  of what we might be able to offer.