Reflections on the 14th International Digital Curation Conference

The International Digital Curation Conference travelled to Australia and the southern hemisphere for the first time this year, hosted by the University of Melbourne from 4 - 7 February 2019. With the theme of collaborations and partnerships in the field of digital curation and preservation, this event highlighted the collaborative nature of the community of practice surrounding this field of work on a global scale. Even as a relatively new professional, I recognised many names and faces ("I follow you on Twitter!") and found the programme engaging. I was fortunate to take part in many aspects of the event, from the pre-conference workshops to the unconference, and along with the excitement of attending the conference itself I was also excited to present at an international conference for the first time.

It all began on Monday morning with Digital Preservation Carpentry - a full day, pre-conference workshop that aimed to trial a hands-on technical lesson for digital preservation processes using the pedagogical teaching style of the Carpentries; and to gather feedback from participants to enhance further development of digital preservation lessons. The idea for the workshop was raised at the inaugural Australasia Preserves event in February 2018, where it was highlighted that there was a lack of training and education in this space within the Australasian context. It was a pleasure to be involved with a team of talented professionals in developing this first iteration. My focus was on the BagIt File Packaging Format and the use of Bagger as a tool. Overall, it was great to see a mix of participants (skill level, background, location etc) in an open and welcoming environment, keen to engage with the content. As organisers, we came away with some great feedback to improve on what we developed, as well as interest from the community in developing further lessons. Where to from here will be explored through Australasia Preserves, so make sure you join the Google Group if you would like to know more. Collaborative notes from the workshop are available here:

My lightning talk was part of the afternoon Parallel Session C - Digital curation & preservation on day one of the main conference and was chaired by Paul Wheatley, Head of Research and Practice at the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC). We were fortunate to have Wheatley also volunteer his time in the Digital Preservation Carpentry workshop where he provided an impromptu thought session on what a manifest is really about in relation to the BagIt File Packaging Format. He highlighted threats to digital objects and noted that we should 'trust nothing, validate everything' and contemplate what minimum information is required for a meaningful, verifiable manifest. This reminded me of Ross Spencer's discourse on file digests, noting that 'understanding how to create a file digest, and what that means, provides a mechanism to ensure that a file transferred from a donor, or from a central government agency, to an archive remains unchanged'.

The lightning talk session included some fascinating talks, from thoughts on the DCC Curation Lifecycle model by Sayeed Choudhury, the use of BitCurator for processing, appraisal and iterative selection of email by Cal Lee and Lachlan Glanville discussing how the Germaine Greer archive drove digital preservation at the University of Melbourne Archives. The session, and day one, concluded with Carolyn Hank's energetic talk 'Dead, Dormant, Zoetic: Modeling the Blog Lifecycle', which made me think of my own blog that has been dormant since early 2018 (until now!). My lightning talk 'Digital preservation at the point of acquisition: Collecting born-digital photographs' aimed to highlight the collaborative process of developing new guidelines and specifications for collecting born-digital photographs and upskilling librarians through a hands-on photography workshop to understand the requirements being asked of donors and vendors. It is available as a blog post via the following link, along with a copy of the specifications and guidelines:


After hearing Cal Lee speak during the minute madness rapid fire poster presentations, I was keen to hear about BitCuratorEdu - a two-year project to study and advance the adoption of digital forensics tools and methods in libraries and archives through professional education efforts. I will certainly be keeping a close eye on this project as one of the outputs includes the production and dissemination of a publicly accessible set of learning objects to be used in providing hands-on digital forensics education. This is something that is clearly lacking for both students as well as information professionals in the context of galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM).

As someone fortunate to have had the opportunity to undertake computer forensics training utilising Forensic Toolkit (FTK) in 2017, I have since been interested in finding something that is specific to GLAM. The requirements for law enforcement are quite different when it comes to digital forensics, and the power of this software also raises ethical concerns when dealing with collection material.

I managed to catch Lee in between all of his engagements at the conference to discuss the project/poster. In discussing the preliminary finding that instructors desire realistic datasets and mechanisms to connect students to real-world projects, I commented that this is relevant when learning about many aspect of digital preservation and digital asset management. My education included the use of open source digital library software and dummy data to analyse and document requirements and specifications for the design of a digital asset management system. This makes me wonder how we can connect students with GLAM organisations in an effort to provide real-world projects, particularly in Australia. I think the challenge here revolves around the learning outcomes required for the project, and whether the organisation can provide enough autonomy for students to meet them. Lee pointed out Digital Corpora as a useful resource for computer forensics education, which contains freely available disk images and other files.

Scaling Emulation and Software Preservation Infrastructure, the EaaSI network 

Unfortunately I missed the demo by Euan Cochrane at the conference, but I managed to have a discussion with him regarding the EaaSI network over a drink or two and it sounds like an exciting program. Led by the Digital Preservation Services team at Yale University Library, EaaSI aims to enable broader access and use of preserved software and digital objects. Being able to click a link in an online catalogue to open an emulated environment in a web browser, looking at born-digital files within their original software configuration, is a future I would like to see! Unfortunately it sounds like this will not be an easy feat on a global scale, with Cochrane noting that the copyright and legal requirements for different jurisdictions creates the need for local instances of the EaaSI network. Hearing about this project re-enforced my current thinking, and the current policy in my organisation, to retain original files when acquiring born-digital collections - even after normalising them. It is important to be able to go back to the original, with emulation developments in the future providing alternative access mechanisms.

There was a lot of involvement in IDCC19 by Australasia Preserves, a digital preservation community of practice (CoP) established by the University of Melbourne in February 2018. From the Digital Preservation Carpentry workshop, to multiple sessions during the unconference, it was great to see. Jaye Weatherburn, Data Stewardship Coordinator at UniMelb, also gave a talk on 'Advancing digital preservation capability through collaborative connection' that promoted Australasia Preserves, highlighting its achievements in its first year. I have enjoyed my involvement with this CoP over the past 12 months and it provided me with the opportunity to organise my first event in July last year, which was a learning experience to say the least.

Further general comments and selected highlights from both days of the conference:

  • Christine Keneally's keynote discussed the significance of data curation in democracy, where institutions can destroy and rewrite important truths, with data curators as frontline guardians to the bedrock of society 
  • The importance of metadata was noted in several talks, from Joakim Philipson's comment that validation is key to keeping metadata in good shape and being adaptable for the future; Lars Vilhuber discussing the lack of consistent, reliable metadata for restricted data (eg, no information on licenses, accessibility); Donna Hensler's lessons learned, existing metadata needs to be in good shape before importing into new systems, where the curation of metadata is a substantial, time consuming activity 
  • In discussion on collaboration across communities with Nancy McGovern and Clifford Lynch, chaired by Kevin Ashley, the question was raised on whether content creators should be involved. Lynch said that capturing intent of creators is important and has emerged as a key issue in the preservation of digital art. McGovern stated that we have to 'have our ducks in a row' before we start talking to content creators and understand what we are trying to do 
  • Flora Feltham's talk on building an Aotearoa New Zealand-wide digital curation community or practice for sector wide collaboration to give people confidence and expertise to collect and manage born-digital materials 
  • Michelle Negus Cleary and Peter Neish spoke about collaborating across borders with the Anzac Gallipoli Archaeological Database (AGAD), highlighting the challenges in ongoing custodianship and the need for data management plans 
  • Dr Patricia Brennan's keynote, highlighting the importance of digital curation to maximise reuse of data for other studies, mitigate obsolescence, maintain value, facilitate reproducibility and increase pathways of discovery 

For me, the unconference was heavily geared towards Australasia Preserves where we had morning and afternoon sessions that looked at the past 12 months, discussing what worked well, what did not and how we can make it work going forward. This included discussions on how we could connect more with the private sector, how the Digital Preservation Coalition can help, how the National and State Libraries Australia (NSLA) digital preservation CoP operates and how we can ensure sustainability for another year. The day finished with some outcomes and next steps, including the development of a briefing pack to enable people to advocate to their management for involvement in the community as part of their professional development. Well done to Jaye for putting together such a great document. The collaborative notes from the unconference can be found here:

The unconference also saw an impromptu, brief introduction to BitCurator workshop with Cal Lee where he helped participants install the environment using VirtualBox. Unfortunately for me, my laptop did not have a suitable processor to make it work so I could not get it running on the day, but it did give me a very brief overview that spurred me to install and look at it once I returned to work and had access to a suitable computer. Lee highlighted that when working with disk images, you should create them in the virtual environment and then determine whether any further actions could be undertaken in the host environment where you will have more processing power. He provided a very quick overview of Bulk Extractor Viewer, which is a graphical user interface that can be used to scan for personally identifiable information (PII). It was great to be able to attend this short session as I did not have the opportunity to stay in Melbourne for Lee's workshop the following morning.

As a first time attendee and presenter at a conference in this field of work, I found IDCC19 to be a welcoming and invigorating experience with great diversity in attendees and the programme. It provided the opportunity to meet professionals from across the globe as well as the Australasian region. While I was completely exhausted after a whirlwind four days, I returned home with a renewed passion for the work I do as well as practical plans for further research and actions based on presentations and impromptu conversations during networking events.

You can find out more details about the conference, and links to collaborative notes and slides at the following location:

I have also created an #IDCC19 TAGS archive of tweets that you can can access via the following link:

Related links and useful resources:

  1. Australasia Preserves Briefing Pack
  2. Australasia Preserves Google Group!forum/australasia-preserves
  3. Australasia Preserves at IDCC 2019 blog post
  4. Bagger
  5. BagIt File Packaging Format
  6. BitCuratorEDU project website
  7. Digital Corpora for computer forensics education research
  8. Digital Preservation Carpentry workshop
  9. Digital Preservation Coalition website
  10. Scaling Emulation and Software Preservation Infrastructure (EaaSI) website

Cover image: My view from the plane window on the way to Melbourne from Sydney, 3 February 2019.