During March-April of 2023 the NDSA Levels Steering Group has been finding out more about how the community uses the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation.
We put out a set of questions within a Google Form and invited the wider community to respond to a range of different scenarios, allowing them to describe how they use the Levels in practice.
Though only a small number of responses were received (15 in total), there is some really interesting information included about how the Levels are used by a range of different organizations, from National Libraries, to universities and smaller community archives. This blog post summarizes some of the information that has been gathered and is the first in a series of posts on the results.
The answers to four of the scenarios are discussed in turn in this blog post.
Do you use the NDSA Levels once (for your organization as a whole) or do you use it multiple times, perhaps focusing on different departments, different types of content or different collections?
This scenario was designed to find out about the granularity at which the NDSA Levels are used and was answered by 13 people. Most of the answers to this question stated that the Levels are used just once (for the whole organization) rather than separately for different departments or types of content. It was noted by one respondent that they scope their assessment to cover only the content that is preserved in their repository and not unmanaged content that may be held in other locations across their organization. One respondent however did state that when they first used the Levels they used them multiple times for different parts of their digital collections (for example, separate assessments for digitized content, born digital archives and web archives), but also noted that on the second self-assessment, for strategic reasons, this was performed at organizational level. Another two respondents noted that they had not used the Levels in this way yet, but anticipated using them multiple times for different collections or content types in the future.
It was also noted of course that many organizations do use the Levels multiple times, but this is to check in and see how things have changed after a period of time has passed, rather than to do multiple assessments at the same point in time. This theme is explored further in another of the scenarios and a blog on this will be available at a later date.
Does your organization use the NDSA Levels alongside other digital preservation maturity models and/or certification standards? Describe how the NDSA Levels is used as part of a wider process of continuous improvement within your organization.
With this scenario, we were interested to find out a bit more about how the Levels are used as part of the wider process of continuous improvement, and whether they are used alongside other models and certification standards. It was interesting to see the range of other standards and models that were mentioned by the respondents to this question.
Of the 11 respondents, 2 simply replied in the negative, of those who provided more detail of the tools they used, two mentioned OAIS, one mentioned TRAC and one mentioned PREMIS. The DiAGRAM tool from The National Archives UK was also mentioned by one respondent and another mentioned previous use of a maturity model developed for the National and State Libraries Australasia.
Six respondents reported that they had used the DPC’s Rapid Assessment Model (DPC RAM) alongside the NDSA Levels. Of those who mentioned using NDSA Levels alongside DPC RAM a variety of scenarios emerged. One mentioned that they primarily use DPC RAM for tracking and continuous improvement, with the NDSA Levels serving as a more ad hoc reference. Another noted that though they have tried DPC RAM and may use it in the future, the NDSA Levels are a better fit for their current needs. One respondent noted that having completed an NDSA levels assessment in the past helped to frame a follow on assessment done with DPC RAM.
In terms of how organizations use the NSDA Levels for continuous improvement, one respondent noted that they have used their observations from the NDSA levels to determine which areas need work and which would be easiest or most impactful to focus on. Another notes that they use the Levels alongside standards like TRAC, OAIS, and PREMIS, checking against all of these standards when updating policy.
Do you use the NDSA Levels to help project the financial cost or staff time needed to achieve a particular level? If so, do you do this by individual digital object, by collection or for the entire repository? How is this information generated/collected and how is it used in program planning? Who contributes to this exercise?
The financial cost of moving up the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation has been a topic that the Levels Steering Group has discussed several times. We were interested to find out if those who use the Levels are using it to predict or plan for financial costs, so this scenario was designed to capture information on this, perhaps to inform future work on the Levels if appropriate.
Of the 13 responses to this question, 5 gave very brief answers stating that they don’t or haven’t yet started using the levels in this way. Of the other longer answers, most of them stated that they don’t use the Levels in this way, but more detail was given in relation to their answer and these are summarized below.
One respondent mentioned that they use the Levels to determine their software/hardware needs – for example, establishing a tape backup in order to comply with Level 3 of Storage. Another mentioned they used the Levels for broader planning, for example to prioritize work. It was noted by another that the Levels may also be helpful in the future for projecting the financial costs of improving and expanding their preservation systems and strategies.
A couple of respondents mentioned how the Levels may inform decisions on staff resource, one stating that the Levels can be useful for advocating for more staff (for example, demonstrating what kinds of activities are expected from a mature digital preservation program) and another stating that they use the NDSA Levels to determine the staff time needed to achieve a particular level. A comment from a different respondent however mentioned that the Levels are too high level for more granular planning around staff time and associated costs.
The link between the NDSA Levels and the DiAGRAM tool from The National Archives UK was made by one respondent. DiAGRAM is a tool to help evidence-based decision making for digital preservation and can help an organization define where effort may be best placed in order to gain maximum value. In order to use DiAGRAM, selected values from a self-assessment using the NDSA Levels should be entered. This was an interesting example of the NDSA Levels being used indirectly to aid decision making on where to best allocate financial resource.
Do you take environmental impact into account when making decisions about how to manage and preserve digital content? Does this impact your use of the NDSA Levels, perhaps influencing the level that you aim for?
Of the 12 answers to this question, six simply answered no (or in the case of one, “Not yet”). Of the more detailed answers provided there is a real sense that this is a developing area with some organizations just beginning to think on this topic and others having started to take steps to try and limit their impact on the environment.
One organization stated that they are increasing the time between fixity checks to save on power and another agreed that this question mainly comes to the fore when thinking about bitstream preservation (though they did not yet have concrete plans on how to address this or how this might impact their use of the Levels). One mentioned that they have started taking environmental impact into account in their planning but this is not captured in their work with the Levels, but another suggested that environmental impacts are likely to affect their progress up the NDSA Levels, suggesting that they might make a strategic decision to stay at a lower level of the model. In a similar vein, there was an acknowledgement from one respondent that a response to environmental concerns may impact on their work with the NDSA Levels in the future and they may need to annotate their self-assessment with rationale around decisions to aim for a lower level (particularly around environmentally responsible storage options).
It was interesting to see the answers to this question and the Levels Steering Group is keen to explore this topic further. We’d love to discuss this with you at our next ‘Open Session’ (on 16th August at 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Eastern) which will be on the theme of the Levels of Preservation and Environmental Sustainability. We are keen to hear how the community would like us to engage with this topic and if there is any work required to update the Levels with this in mind.
We also have more to share from our Levels Scenarios Survey so watch this space for further blogs!
Also a big thank you to those community members who engaged with this survey and shared their practices on using the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation.