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Dutch National Archives repositioning in the digital world

30 december 2011 Gepubliceerd door 3 Commentaren

Recently, Digital Repository Project leader Ruud Yap of the Dutch National Archives explained to a Digital Deposit event in Estonia (15 Nov 2011) how the digital reality is causing the National Archives to reposition themselves within their network. Here is the link to the video (ca. 45 minutes).

Ruud Yap National Archives
The traditional and rather strict boundaries between the different stakeholders in the public records custody chain are no longer tenable in the digital world, Yap explained. Digital objects just cannot be neglected for 20 to 75 years before being transferred to the archive. Therefore, the Dutch National Archives are reaching out to records creators within government agencies and helping them manage semi-current digital files long before the Archives legally take custody after the legal retention period of 20 to 75 years. To this end, a shared digital repository has been established where government agencies can deposit their non-current files. The system is managed by the National Archives, but custody remains with the records creators until the legal retention period has expired and the records flow into the NA’s own digital repository. Management services include a uniform architecture, standardization and preservation watch and services.

In the experience of the National Archives, record producers are not really interested in the fate of non-current files. As the service is not mandatory, the National Archives must make a clear financial case to encourage government agencies to make use of the service.

Yap also described the fundamental impact on the National Archives’ organization. Every staff member and every work process is affected by the transition from paper to digital. Whereas the paper process is rather manual, the digital world is about automation and about formalization. Implicit knowledge and implicit work processes from the analogue era have to be eradicated. Yap stressed that changing the frame of mind of the organization is a huge effort and that the effort is still ongoing – slowly and strenuously. New competencies must be developed as well, such as customer relations management – with regard to record producers. ‘We have to learn to sell our service’, Yap said, and that is an entirely new challenge.

Some of the National Archives’ lessons learned include:

  • physical transfer of records remains necessary, as government agencies’ IT systems are not geared to long-term management
  • even files that were transferred within 10 years after being created contained unsupported file formats and applications
  • record creators have no vested interest in non-current files, you have to “sell” services to them
  • you need shared standards
  • customizing the ingest process is an enormous and time-consuming effort with lots of manual intervention
  • the NA had to lower its metadata requirements to make the system work.

Yap’s final words: “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, dare to make mistakes!!”

National Archives and National Library to merge in 2013

On another note: just before Christmas, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences announced that the Dutch National Archives are to merge with the Dutch National Library (KB). Whether the digital repositories will be merged also, is yet to be decided. The National Archives has implemented Tessella’s Safety Deposit Box whereas the KB has been working with IBM’s DIAS system since 2003, but is presently developing a new architecture to replace DIAS.




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