SWORD ARM: Thinking about institutional repositories

I had recently had the opportunity to attend an event organised by the team at the Leeds University RoaDMaP project, another of the projects funded under the JISC Managing Research Data Programme 2011-13. The event brought together staff from the Universities of the White Rose consortium (the Universities of York, Leeds and Sheffield) to discuss their experiences. The three partners are all a slightly different points in developing research data management services and they all had slightly differing experiences to bring to the table.

While I was able to give a brief overview of the SWORDARM project, most of the presentations during the day concentrated on the policies and procedures surrounding engagement with the academic community regarding data management. Both the presentations and the subsequent break out groups gave rise to a number of important issues which face the institutions.

• The size of the challenge

Some participants were concerned by the size of the challenge ahead. While this should in no way be underestimated, there are organisations and institutions that can help. Already the suite of NERC data centres (including the ADS), the UK Data Archive, STFC, the UK Hydrographic Office and GenBank, to name but a few, have between them decades of experience in providing specialist repository functions for research data. Individual institutions don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but they do need to get to grips with a pretty complex landscape of disciplinary based services.

• How open is Open?

I also wondered how institutions would approach the question of access to data held in repositories. How would this be interpreted? Would an institution feel that research outputs should be primarily available to their own research group, more widely within their own institution, or freely available to all? These questions would have to be framed within the expectations of the funding councils, but whatever the outcome it will have an impact on how institutional repositories manage their collections and plan to mediate them with their potential users.

It was an interesting day.

The dark art of costing for digital preservation

For as long as the ADS has existed we have made a charge to some parts of the archaeological sector for the archiving and dissemination services we provide. Until now these charges have been, primarily, for deposits from national agencies (e.g. English Heritage) and the commercial sector (e.g. Rail Link Engineering). We have been fortunate to have benefited from a close working relationship with the holders of AHRC grant funding, and have, due to being in receipt of core AHRC funding been able to offer an archival home for AHRC funded research data with no direct charge to the academic or host institution. As many readers will be aware the AHRC funding from the sister services working under the AHDS umbrella was withdrawn some years ago and, since then, the AHRC have been keen that the ADS look to different funding models to sustain the service after our own AHRC funding ends in 2013.
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SWORD-ARM: the benefits

While undertaking the SWORDARM project work, all the time wondering ‘if we build it, will they come’, we have had time to reflect on what we see as the benefits of such a system.

To us the benefits are quite clear; we hope to receive well formed archive material on which much routine checking has been undertaken, and which employs the appropriate file formats and is accompanied by a good level of documentation and metadata. This makes our job as archivists much easier and quicker, enabling us to slot archival material into our collections management system ready for formal accessioning. This, in turn, makes the process much more efficient and we are thereby able to drive the cost of accessioning the archive down.

But are we not therefore merely shifting the cost of part of the deposition onto the depositor?

Well, yes and no!
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Automated ingest and the SWORD-ARM project: the project aims

The growing dependence on digital data within traditional research environments, and increasingly within the commercial sector of archaeological practice, has seen an associated increase in awareness about the sustainable long-term preservation of these datasets. Additionally, the downturn in the economy has seen an increase in the demand for datasets for reuse within the profession as a whole, thereby encouraging new depositors.

The ADS has a mandate from numerous bodies to provide digital repository services for digital archaeological outputs from the commercial and research communities. With over fifteen years of experience in ingesting archaeological digital datasets in order to preserve them and facilitate their reuse, the ADS is ideally positioned to develop a new system which will allow the user to deposit archives with the ADS online. The system aims to rationalize and partially automate the ingestion process, while helping to capture the associated metadata. We believe that the creation of these systems will benefit researchers, within both traditional research environments and the commercial sector, allowing them to deposit data within the digital archive more easily.

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MRD Meeting Nottingham

On 1st-2nd December I represented SWORD-ARM at the Managing Research Data programme kick-off meeting in Nottingham. For an organisation that has been undertaking digital preservation within a single discipline for 15 years, it was heartening to see that preservation is now high up the institutional agenda for many top universities, with many HE institutions utilising JISC funding to develop their own institutional archiving policies, and many appointing digital archivists. Given that the ADS was, for over 10 years, an integral part of the Arts and Humanities Data Service it was somewhat poignant to see what a number of universities were focussing on the arts and humanities disciplines, but lacked advice on metadata standards or experience of how to engage with researchers. I experienced a strong sense of déjà vu.
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