Building a Digital Archive: A Dutch Experience
In January 2004, the municipal archives of the Dutch harbour city of Rotterdam started an ambitious project to construct a solution for the long term preservation of its digital materials. Project planners asked the Netherlands Archives School for support, and a cooperative effort between the two organizations ensued. The Archives School brings both knowledge and training skills to the project, as well as research expertise. In the School’s strategy, teaching, research, and practical applications are closely connected.
The municipal archives of Rotterdam is not a small organization. It has a staff of over 100 and holdings of 17 linear kilometers of records, hundreds of thousands of photographs, maps, drawings, prints, and books. Like most Dutch archives, it endorses the Total Archives concept, aiming to document the local society and serving as a primary source of the town’s rich history, dating back to the Middle Ages. Today, Rotterdam is a modern city, with a population of around 700,000 and a port that boasts to be the world’s largest. Increasingly the town administration carries out its business electronically, and consequently, records are created in digital form. The archives anticipates ingesting electronic records in the near future; most of the photographs, television and sound recordings are currently delivered in digital format. Furthermore, like many cultural heritage institutions, the archives undertakes programs to digitize original analog materials in order to improve access and use of its holdings. All of these types of digital materials need to be preserved as valuable cultural assets.
The initial goal was to develop a low-cost digital repository (e-depot), based on state-of-the art theory, standards, and best practices. The underlying idea was that if it is impossible to build a digital repository for a reasonable cost then keeping digital materials would be an impossible task for any Dutch archive. […]
How to Proceed?
Whatever decision about DSpace is taken, the work will go on. Next steps include a rigorous system design. Based on design decisions, software options will be evaluated. The archive will need to decide the extent to which to continue with open source software. The original choice for DSpace and other open source software was a pragmatic one. DSpace was available and proved to be a good tool for acquiring knowledge and experience. A fundamental discussion about open source software has not, as of yet, been undertaken.
Working with open source is not necessarily less costly than using commercial software. It requires working with communities, and there are problems with an archival institution entering into a community mainly consisting of libraries. For open source to work, it is absolutely necessary to establish an archival community to cooperate and to share experiences and costs.