Interview with: Thomas Bähr

“Digital species diversity” and data volumes are the big challenges we face in digital preservation

Digital information has become an integral part of daily life – encompassing not only digital photos and videos, but also digital library holdings, electronic PhD theses, research data and 3D objects. All this information needs to be collected, made accessible and preserved for future generations. In this interview, Thomas Bähr, Head of Preservation and Digital Preservation, talks about the tasks involved in digital preservation at TIB.

In a nutshell: what is digital preservation and how does it work?

“Digital publications cannot be considered as identical to content offered in the past in analogue format, simply packaged differently. Digital is a new creature with new properties. Its lack of robustness can only be discussed as an obvious disadvantage if one also enjoys criticising birds for being unable to breathe underwater,” Kathrin Passig wrote in Zeit Online in 2013. The aim of digital preservation (DP) is to identify these properties, understand them and develop strategies for survival. You could say we conduct digital species preservation.

Where is TIB positioned at present with regard to digital preservation, what has the library achieved so far, and what needs to be done in the years ahead?

Our DP system started operating productively in 2012, and we’ve now managed to archive the vast majority of our own collections. And we additionally have data from our two partner libraries, ZB MED and ZBW, which cooperate with us to operate our DP system.

Looking ahead, one of the key tasks will be to expand digital preservation into a service. There are not many digital preservation systems that are in productive use. And yet there is a great demand for solutions, particularly in the case of institutions that are unable or unwilling to undertake digital preservation themselves due to a lack of resources. In such cases, TIB sees it as its strategic task to offer a reliable service.

And while we’re on the subject of certifications: the library earned the Data Seal of Approval (DSA) in 2015 and the Seal for Trustworthy Digital Archives in 2017. Why are certifications so important?

Certifications are important to us for two reasons. First, working towards a certification means that we have to review our own work and ensure that our processes and resources are used and documented appropriately and sustainably. Second, certifications mean that we have the necessary transparency to show to the outside world that our high-quality digital archives are trustworthy. Institutions that are interested in our portfolio of services can then get an idea of what we are able to offer.

TIB is involved in a number of projects where it provides digital preservation services. What are these projects and how is TIB involved?

We are currently working with colleagues from the University Library Braunschweig to archive data from the Scientific Information Service (SIS) Pharmacy. The data includes both digitised monographs and electronic journals. We have also teamed up with colleagues from the Institute for Slavonic Studies at Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the Head Office of the Common Library Network (GBV) in Göttingen to archive field research data from the Caucasus within the LaZAR project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). LaZAR is a web platform for processing, publishing and digitally preserving field research data from regional studies, which mainly comprises audiovisual material.

TIB’s experts also contribute their expertise to the DP community – in which networks is TIB actively involved in this field?

At the national level, we collaborate with other institutions in various work groups within the competence centre nestor, tackling practical issues related to digital preservation. At the European level, we sit on the Directors Board of the Open Preservation Foundation and are involved in maintaining and further developing digital preservation tools. At the international level, we work as expert consultants for the renowned DP conference iPRES; we also sit on the Review Board of the National Library of New Zealand and on the Steering Committee of the Rosetta User Group. In addition, we collaborate with colleagues from different countries to advance a library format and format identification tools.

What particular challenges does TIB face in digital preservation?

Returning to the metaphor I used at the beginning – the real challenge is digital species diversity. Since we usually have no influence on the format of our electronic documents, we have to implement a wide range of preservation strategies in digital preservation. But this means that we’ve managed to develop extensive expertise that not only benefits us, but also our service customers. Data volumes are another challenge. In this case, we’re working on new concepts, such as the ability to create a link between a customer’s storage system and our digital preservation system, rather than store all of the customer’s objects in our system.

Digital preservation at TIB

TIB operates, hosts and administers the digital preservation system and makes it accessible to its two partners ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics and ZB MED – Information Centre for Life Sciences for cooperative use. The system deploys the Rosetta software program by the company Ex Libris. The digital documents and metadata of TIB and its partners are fed into the long-term digital archives, and monitored. Together with its partners, TIB has established cooperative agreements concerning the use and operation of the digital preservation system. More