New version 2.5 of the Maintenance Plan Template

A couple of days ago I completed an experiment to use the Maintenance Plan template to undertake initial Digital Preservation work on a collection instead of using the Scoping document. It proved to be very successful. The collection is relatively small with only 840 digital files of either jpg, pdf or MS Office format, so there were few complications and I was able to proceed through the Maintenance Plan process steps without any serious holdups. The whole exercise took just over a week with the majority of the time being taken up by the inventory check of the digital files and of about 300 associated physical artefacts. I used the structure of the Maintenance Plan to document what I was doing and to keep a handle on where I was up to.

As a result of this exercise I’ve now added the following guidance to the beginning of the Maintenance Plan template, and equivalent text to the beginning of the Scoping document template:

If this is the first time that Digital Preservation work has been done on a collection

EITHER use the Scoping template to get started (best for large, complex collections)

OR use this Maintenance Plan template to get started (can be effective for smaller, simpler collections – retitle it to ‘Initial Digital Preservation work on the @@@ collection’ and ignore sections Schedule, 3, 4 and 7)

This concludes the interim testing and revision of the Maintenance Plan template. It has resulted in some substantial changes to the latest version 2.5 of the document (an equivalent version 2.5 of the SCOPING Document Template has also been produced). The final and most substantial test of the Maintenance Plan template will take in September 2021 when the large and complex PAWDOC collection is due to undergo its first maintenance exercise.

More than a Maintenance Plan?

Yesterday I finished the maintenance work on my PAW-PERS collection and so now have a refined version of the Maintenance Plan template based on two real-world trials. However, before publishing it, I’m going to take the opportunity to see if it could be used to start every Preservation Planning project. I’m able to do this because I have one other collection which has, as yet, had no preservation work done on it. It is the memorabilia that my wife and I have accumulated since we were married, and it is called SP-PERS.

Each of the three collections that I have subjected to Digital Preservation (DP) measures so far, have been through the process of creating a Scoping document followed by the production and implementation of a DP Plan, and finally the creation of a DP Maintenance Plan specifying works a number of years hence. However, my recent implementation of Maintenance Plans has led me to believe they might provide a structured immediate starting point for any preservation planning project.  They do not preclude Scoping documents etc. – indeed they explicitly discuss the possible use of those other tools halfway through the process. So, the opportunity to try using the Maintenance Plan template as a way in to every DP project is too good to miss. I’m starting on it today.

First trial of the Maintenance Plan

Today I completed the first real trial of a Maintenance Plan using the Plan I created for my Photos collection in 2015. It was one of the first Plans I’d put together so is slightly different from the current template (version 2.0 dated 2018). However, both have the same broad structure so the exercise I’ve just completed does constitute a real test of the general approach.

Overall, it went well. In particular, having a step by step process to follow was very helpful; and I found it particularly useful to write down a summary of what I’d done in each step. This helped me to check that I’d dealt with all aspects, and gave me a mechanism to actively finish work on one step and to start on the next. I found this to be such an effective mechanism that I modified the current Maintenance Plan Template to include specific guidance to ‘create a document in which you will summarise the actions you take, and which will refer out to the detailed analysis documents’. It’s worth noting that I was able to include this document as another worksheet in the collection’s Index spreadsheet, along with the Maintenance Plan constructed in 2015 and the Maintenance Plan I have just constructed for 2025. Being able to have all these sub-documents together in one place makes life a whole lot easier.

The exercise also identified another significant shortcoming of the template – it includes no details about the collection’s contents and their location(s). Consequently, an additional ‘Contents & Location’ section has been included at the beginning of the template.

The Photos collection has certainly benefited from the exercise; and the experience has enabled me to make some useful modifications to the template. I intend to tackle the second test of the Maintenance Plan (for the PAW-PERS collection) in the next few weeks, and will then publish an updated version 2.5 of the Maintenance Plan template which will include all the refinements made in the course of these two trials.

Maintenance Plan Template Refinement

The final piece of work in this Digital Preservation work is to test and refine the Maintenance Plan template. I’ll be doing this by implementing the following plans drawn up in earlier stages of this preservation journey:

I’m late in starting the PAW-PERS maintenance work because earlier this year I was focused on completing the ‘Sorties into the IT Hurricane’ book. Now that’s out of the way, I plan to complete the PAW-PERS and PHOTO maintenance during May and to use that experience to update the Preservation MAINTENANCE PLAN Template – v2.0, to version 2.5. The insights gained in the major maintenance exercise on the PAWDOC collection in Sep 2021, will be used to produce version 3.0 of the Maintenance Plan template. Updates to the other templates (SCOPING Document), and Project Plan DESCRIPTION and CHART) may also be made at that point if necessary. I shall offer the revised templates to the DPC for inclusion in their website. These will be the final activities in the Digital Preservation work being documented in this journey.

The PAWDOC Preservation story

In May 2018 the inaugural digital preservation work on the PAWDOC collection was completed. The story of the work that was done, and the lessons that were learnt, are documented in the following paper which can be downloaded from this site subject to Creative Commons conditions:

The Application of Preservation Planning Templates to a Personal Digital Collection

Instances of the populated preservation planning templates that were used to control the work are also provided:

A summary of the work done and the lessons learned has been published as a Blog Post on the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) website.

The preservation planning templates were updated as a result of insights gained in the work and these are available as embedded files in the above ‘Application of Preservation Planning Templates’ paper and also in the DPC website.

March: Long and Plans

It looks like the blog post describing the Digital Preservation work undertaken last year on the PAWDOC collection, will be published next month on the DPC website. It will refer to the full paper describing the work in more detail, which will be published here within pwofc.com. At the same time, the preservation planning document templates will be replaced by updated versions in the DPC website.  The publication of all these materials will be a fitting end to the preservation planning activities that are described in previous entries in this site. However, there will still be one thing to do before the topic can be considered complete and that is to review the effectiveness of the Preservation Maintenance Plan template when an instance of it will be used in the PAWDOC Preservation maintenance exercise scheduled for September 2021.

Clear Blue Calm Water

Unfortunately, the paper summarising the PAWDOC digital preservation work has not progressed in the last few months because the DPC has too much work on at the moment to deal with it. I’m hoping this might change in the early part of 2019.

In the meantime, I have just completed another important aspect of digital preservation work on the PAWDOC collection. I have long been concerned that the collection resides on a laptop running Windows 7 – an operating system for which Microsoft have said they will withdraw support in 2020.  At the same time, the battery in my existing laptop no longer functions so requiring that it be mains-connected at all times. So, about a week ago I acquired a Chillblast Leggera i7 Ultrabook with 8Mb of RAM and a 1Tb Samsung Solid State Drive (SSD). I listed a set of conversion activities and started working my way through attaching peripherals (keyboard, mouse, scanner) and loading software (Anti-virus, Scanning, Filemaker, MS Office, Cloud backup). All went well until nearly at the end when I hit the wall of connecting the external Dell 2405FP monitor which I bought in 2006, and which has worked fine ever since with at least three different laptops.

I had planned to use the laptop’s HDMI port and had acquired an HDMI to DVI adapter to enable an HDMI cable to be plugged into the Dell monitor’s DVI port. Unfortunately, the connection only worked for a few minutes. After that the monitor’s DVI interface went into Power Save Mode and, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it out of that mode. I then tried searching the net for a fix and discovered a huge number of entries about this problem for several different models of Dell monitors stretching back to 2005 – with no definitive fix emerging. I decided to try using the VGA port on the Dell monitor and duly purchased an Amazon next day delivery of an HDMI to VGA converter. Unfortunately, this simply had the similar effect of putting the monitor’s VGA interface into Power Save Mode.

However, a ray of hope did appear when I plugged the VGA lead back into my old laptop, and the Dell monitor immediately came out of Power Save Mode and the screen image was displayed. I was able to obtain the monitor menu while it was attached to the old laptop and returned the monitor back to factory settings – but this didn’t make any difference – everytime I attached the laptop’s HDMI port to either the monitor’s DVI or VGA interfaces they returned to Power Save Mode.

My last ditch effort to resolve the problem was to try using the laptop’s Mini Displayport (MD) port, and, in a state of some depression and resignation, yesterday I duly purchased an Amazon same day delivery of an MD to VGA adapter plug.  It cost £5.99, was ordered around 9am and was delivered around 8pm (really…). With the laptop switched off, I put the adapter into the laptop’s MD port and plugged in the monitor’s VGA cable. The buttons on the monitor went orange (signifying Power Save Mode) and I thought, ‘here we go again’ and switched on the laptop; and suddenly after a few seconds I saw a bright light out of the corner of my eye and, blow me down, there was the laptop screen on the monitor! I used it for a while and then, trepidatiously, tried closing the laptop lid and it kept on displaying on the monitor. Later, I shut the laptop down and subsequently fired it up again – but still no problem – up it came on the monitor. So it looks like this is now working OK. Phew.

This morning I reorganised my physical desktop and placed the new smaller laptop in a new position immediately next to my scanner so that the problem of making the scanner cable reach the laptop port was eliminated. With the conversion process complete and my desk back in some sort of order, I began to feel more in control of things and much more relaxed. I had sailed into clear blue calm water in the sheltered bay of an up to date operating system and a modern laptop.

DPC Publication Plans

A few days ago I agreed a way forward with the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) regarding the publication of the paper describing the PAWDOC digital preservation work: I will create a post summarising the learnings from the work, and the DPC will attach an edited PDF version of the whole paper, as well as the updated templates, to the original Case Note describing how I derived the preservation process that I applied to the PAWDOC collection. I’m hoping this will all be achieved by the end of October.

Under the paper wait

The paper describing the PAWDOC digital preservation work was submitted to the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) on 31st May and the organisation responded saying it was interested in the paper but was currently unable to provide a timescale for dealing with it due to a busy work schedule. I guess it might be several months before hearing whether the DPC will want to publish a version of the paper.

Paper written – Maint Plan test to do

The follow up paper describing my recently completed preservation project, is now ready for submission to the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC). I’m hoping that, since they published my paper describing how I derived the Preservation Planning Templates in the first place, they might be interested in taking a paper describing how they have been used in practice. We’ll see. In any case it’s good to have been able to create a summarised account of what happened while its fresh in my mind.

Writing the first draft of the paper only took about a week. However, that piece of work made me realise that the details of what got done when, appears in five main documents – the paper I was writing, the Scoping document, the Plan DESCRIPTION, the Plan CHART, and section 2 of the Preservation Maintenance Plan (Previous preservation actions taken); and that the base data for all these documents was being derived from the three major controls sheets – the DROID analysis spreadsheet, the Files-that-won’t-open spreadsheet, and the Physical Disks spreadsheet. Although the facts were roughly consistent across the documents, there were several anomalies that would be apparent to readers, and the sheer number of files and types of conversions that had been performed made it difficult to check and make revisions. I decided that the only way to achieve true consistency and traceability across all the documents would be to specify columns in the control spreadsheets for all the categories I wanted to describe, and to have the spreadsheets add up the counts automatically.  This is what I spent the following two weeks doing – and a very slow and tortuous exercise it was. Which is why the paper makes several mentions of the need to set up control sheets correctly in the first place to facilitate downstream needs for control and for statistical information about what’s been done….

I was given a lot of very useful feedback on the drafts of the paper by Ross Spencer, including suggestions to include a summary timeline for the project at the beginning of the paper, to provide more details about the DROID tool, and to include some additional references.  Ross also advised making it clear that this is a personal collection with preservation decisions being made that the owners were comfortable with; and that different decisions might have been made by other people from the perspective of who the future users of the Collection might be. This prompted me to include an extra paragraph in the Conclusions section to the effect that no attempt has been made to convert some files (such as old versions of the Indexing software, or a Visio stencil file) because they don’t have content and their mere presence in the collection tell their own story. However, it’s got me thinking that there is a wider point here about what collections are for, and just how much detail of the digital form needs to be preserved. I’ll probably explore this issue further in the Personal Document Management topic in this Blog.

Writing the paper also prompted me to realise that, unfortunately, my Digital Preservation Journey can’t be completed until I’ve tested out the application of a Preservation Maintenance Plan. It’s one thing to fill in a Maintenance Plan (which was relatively quick and easy), but quite another to have it initiate and direct a full blown Preservation project. Only by using it in practice will it be known if it is an effective and useful tool; and, no doubt, its use will lead to some refinements being made to its contents. I shall explore whether I could use the Maintenance Plans I produced for photos and for mementos which were created in the course of the trials conducted when putting together the first versions of the Preservation Planning Templates. If they won’t provide an adequate test, I’ll have to wait until the date specified in the PAWDOC Preservation Maintenance Plan for the next Maintenance exercise – September 2021.