MLA East of England has published the report on Phase 2 of its Digital Preservation Regional Pilot Project (DARP 2). The report is available as a PDF here. Phase 2 was carried out by Bedfordshire County Council over the period September 2007-June 2008.

The project is of great use to UK local authority record offices, such as the one I work for, because it assesses the real world situation where outside organisations create digital records and then deposit them with local archive services. This is a different situation from that experienced by national archive organisations, which by and large deal with fewer record-creating organisations, and which therefore have more say over the sorts of records created. A UK local authority archives service typically deals with thousands of separate organisations and individuals, and has little or no say over file formats.

The aim of the DARP 2 project was therefore to survey a sample of these “typical depositors” to establish the reality behind this concern. Are organisations creating large numbers of electronic records for long term preservation, or are they still reliant on paper? How are they using digital records?

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives Service surveyed a range of organisations, including Parochial Church Councils, magistrates courts, town councils, parish councils, state and independent schools, and some businesses and charities. The survey was carried out with a questionnaire and with a follow-up interview.

Summary of DARP 2’s interesting results

“The overall picture was one of all or nothing in terms of understanding.” This is probably just as true of colleagues within the archives sector… Digital preservation sadly is not a subject which people can pick up a working knowledge of in their day to day activities, nor does it crop up very often in the media. You are either interested in it (in which case you will read up lots) or you are not (in which case you will know nothing). It is not like (say) gardening, where there is a whole spectrum of levels of involvement, from just weeding right through to plant breeding.

Most organisations still use paper. Some bodies stated that this was due to issues concerning the admissibility of digital records in court. Other organisations depend entirely on volunteers using home computers, using unsophisticated filing systems on old equipment. At least one organisation stated that electronic records were kept purely as backup for paper. Certainly it seems that many organisations regard paper as the best long term solution: more than half of all respondents archived their emails by printing them out and filing the hard copies.

The report itself states that “paper is still the medium of choice for record keeping – 85% of the bodies surveyed are printing out digital files… although computers offer very creative means of generating ways of populating and decorating the blank page, they are tending to be seen as tools for manipulating and storing documents not as the final means of storing and managing records.”

Only ten replies (out of 26) responded to the question concerning migration, and three respondents even stated that they did not understand the concept.

There is a problem with digital record keeping in state schools. It is remarkable that DARP found it difficult even to state schools in the project, or even to work out who at a school was responsible for record keeping.

No organisation thought that the record office would fail to deal with digital records.

The most popular backup medium was CD-R, closely followed by memory stick.