Templates v3.0: DONE (after a 7 year journey)

Life has become a little more relaxed in the last few days as I completed the 2021 digital preservation maintenance exercise on my PAWDOC document collection. I cracked on through the most onerous parts of the of the project – converting 1000+ old Word documents to XLSX format, and 300+ old Excel documents to XLSX format – such that I finished some two weeks earlier than planned.  I guess I just really wanted to get it out of the way and was able to spend the time getting it done. However, those reasons are probably irrelevant. The key in these exercises is to be able to avoid running over the timescales you have planned – which, of course, is dependent on making realistic plans in the first place. Chicken and egg I know – but I do think its preferable to make a plan that’s doable and beat it, than to make a plan that’s iffy and fail to get there. Of course, that’s why I set great store in doing a lot of  pre-work in digital preservation exercises, so that, when it comes to creating a project plan, you have a clear idea of what is to be done and how long it will take.

Anyway, I’ve now been through two cycles of preservation exercises with my large PAWDOC collection of 105,00 files; and also two cycles through much smaller collections of photos (18,000 files) and mementos (800 files); so I’m now pretty familiar with what has to be done and am simply following the maintenance plan documents that I have in place. That, of course, was the purpose of starting this Preservation Planning work in 2014 – to  gain clarity on how to do it. That clarity is now encapsulated in the four template documents that I have developed and refined; and which are now issued as final fit-for-purpose versions:

The documents steer the user through the process steps that need to be taken, as well as providing the clarity of written reference text describing what a particular collection consists of, what has been planned and what has taken place.

Having completed the refinement of these templates, my own journey into Digital Preservation has come to an end; I am now settling into the regular maintenance cycles for my various collections. However, before I do, here’s a couple of suggestions for anyone reading this who wants to find out more about the topic: a) take a look at the Digital Preservation Coalition’s (DPC) website which has a wealth of useful information; and b) consider subscribing to the JISC Digital Preservation Mailing List which provides a window onto the numerous digital preservation activities going on around the world. I have found both extremely useful over the last 7 years, and thank both organisations.

Towards final versions of Templates

The first scheduled Preservation Maintenance operation on the large and complex PAWDOC collection started on 1st September. Well, actually, it started a bit before then in early August when I started to investigate the items in the ‘Possible Future Issues’ section of the PAWDOC Preservation MAINTENANCE PLAN. There were 15 such items; most relating to files that had proved inaccessible in the initiating preservation exercise three years ago, but four concerning CDs with numerous contents, that had been included in the collection. Two of these proved particularly demanding: one is a disk that was distributed with the April 2001 issue of PC Magazine; and the other is the Nautilus disk – a 1991 attempt to issue a technology magazine with lots of software, advice, news, and multimedia files on disk. I couldn’t get either to open; and without an interface there’s no way of knowing what they contain or whether the contents still work; so I decided to try and create guides to the discs by going through all the contents. It was a laborious process (the PC Magazine disc had over 1000 files and the Nautilus disc had 540+), but I did get a result, and guides to both disks now reside alongside the zipped up contents.

The challenge presented by the huge volume of files on CDs, as illustrated above, was also manifested in the maintenance process proper that I started at the beginning of September. The process requires that an inventory is made of all files in a collection (which I achieved by using the National Archives’ DROID tool); and that an attempt is made to open two or three files of each type. Problems identified in this investigation stage can then be addressed. The CDs in the collection (now all residing alongside the rest of the collection in Windows folders) comprise a large proportion of the overall collection, and this overloads the analysis and investigation process. However, many of the CDs are installation disks for the collection’s document management software (no longer used) and for old versions of its indexing software. In subsequent maintenance operations, all such sets of files will be excluded from the DROID analysis: I have decided that the mere presence of such material in the collection is sufficient to signal its previous inclusion – there is no need for it to actually work going forwards. Perhaps this is an example of a sort of additional decision that may have to be made with a digital collection as compared with collections of physical objects. Digital collections are very different animals.

The culmination of the investigation phase is to produce a Project Plan with tasks which are specific enough to enable effort and elapsed duration to be reliably estimated. I got to this point yesterday, and, as per the first task, I have started converting 28 Help files from the old .HLP format to the HTML based .CHM format. The plan prescribes a finish date of 3rd December. After that I shall be producing the final updates to the Preservation Planning templates which I have been refining since 2015, and which are published in the Website of the Digital Preservation Coalition.

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.