Technical Framework: Case Studies

Case Study: Adapting Practice at the Archiv der sozialen Demokratie (AdsD) of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Established over forty years ago, the Archiv der sozialen Demokratie (AdsD) in Bonn, Germany are the archive of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). FES is associated with the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) and functions as one of several German political foundations. Alongside the extensive holdings of the SPD, AdsD hold records from organizations and people prominent in the German labour movement as well as more recent collections related to the peace, environmental, and women's movements. They also have an extensive audiovisual collection, including approximately 1.2 million photos, 67,000 posters, 50,000 pamphlets, 250 historical banners, and 22,000 film, video, and sound documents. There are more than 600 employees at FES, approximately 60 of whom work at AdsD.

AdsD have used the proprietary archival management system FAUST for 20 years; FAUST does not support a particular descriptive standard but allows curators to create collection-specific templates. For AdsD, HOPE was an opportunity to give greater access to their holdings through Europeana and the Social History Portal. The HOPE Best Practice Network has also helped guide them in the standardization of their disparate metadata sets. They are not using the HOPE Shared Object Repository (SOR) or the HOPE PID Service.

HOPE requires content providers to map descriptive metadata to the common HOPE metadata schema and to provide actionable PIDs resolving to a digital object and a 'landing page' providing context for the object. AdsD found itself unable to meet these requirements for two reasons. First, they were unable to provide a direct link to every single object and its description through the existing system. Second, descriptive metadata in FAUST had not been harmonized internally or with external standards; as the system had been used over many years by numerous staff, a daunting number of descriptive templates had accumulated.

FAUST was already set up to provide access to metadata through the internet, but to meet the requirements of HOPE, it needed to be upgraded. A task force was set up and succeeding in upgrading web access to meet HOPE criteria. To facilitate the export of the HOPE collections, a new simplified database was developed internal to FAUST; the metadata template was designed to capture metadata from all other templates in a standard form that was easily mapped to the HOPE Visual Profile. Transformation, correction, and standardization of the descriptive metadata took a great deal of time and effort, but the new database has successfully integrated all collections slated for submission to HOPE as well as several others. Essential to the success of the endeavor was transparency with all parties concerned. Staff generally reacted positively to the challenge, since the reorganization proved an opportunity to address a number of problems with the databases. Perhaps more importantly, the benefits of describing material according to standards became apparent. As a result, the AdsD is able to export its metadata in good quality to HOPE.

As it stands, AdsD are still in a transitional phase of development. Though they now have a unified descriptive system, no dedicated digital object repository has yet been set up. Master files and derivatives are still uploaded to a file server which is backed up regularly. The only connection between FAUST and the file server are the document signatures, which make up part of the file names and are recorded with descriptive metadata in FAUST. Thumbnails continue to be stored directly in FAUST and can be provided for HOPE aggregation. In the future it is possible that FAUST itself can become a central component in a full-scale digital repository. AdsD analyzed FAUST for Open Archival Information System (OAIS) compliance and ran a pilot on three digitally-born collections. FAUST proved adaptable to storing technical metadata; results are documented in the AdsD newsletter from July 2008.

In the case of AdsD, HOPE provided the impetus to change long-standing institutional practice. Internal consensus proved a key factor in the success of their endeavors. The case also reveals the power that the collection management system, as such, exerts over institutional digital object management practices.

Case Study: Digital Object Management Reborn at the Fundação Mário Soares (FMS)

The Fundação Mário Soares (FMS) was founded in 1991 in Lisbon (Portugal) to carry on the legacy of Portuguese President and socialist politician, Mário Soares. In the spirit of Mário Soares, the private foundation caters to a broad and diverse public, seeking to foster the free debate of ideas and values and an engaged civil society. The archives were set up in 1996 initially based on the personal papers of Mário Soares; they have continued to collect around issues of relevance to the contemporary Portuguese and Portuguese-speaking worlds, and collections now include many holdings from the former Portuguese colonies as well as a rich photographic archive.

Since their inception, FMS archive have had in place a mass digitization policy whereby digitization has been integrated with physical collection processing and description. All processed records are digitized, and most are made directly available on local stations at the archive itself. FMS are also heavily involved in external digitization projects, cooperating with small organizations and NGOs around the world to provide expertise, resources, and safe storage for archival materials. Interestingly, as a result of their early adoption, FMS are also the first of the HOPE partners to suffer from obsolete or outdated digital content on a large scale, and they are slowly being compelled to re-digitize or migrate earlier collections. FMS see the HOPE project as a means for providing access to their rich store of digital content. They also view HOPE trusted repository best practices as useful input to their long-standing digitization program. FMS are not using the HOPE Shared Object Repository (SOR) but plan to use the HOPE PID Service.

FMS depend completely on their internal technical unit to maintain and develop their systems. From the outset, they have adapted and extended the proprietary software Westbrook Fortis to support their activities. Fortis handles digitization, ingest, storage, description, and access, but it also stores content in a proprietary format, which has obstructed their efforts. By the time FMS joined the HOPE project, they were reaching the limits of what they could do with Fortis. A lot of time and effort was being expended making the system work with different media types, and the system was hindering their efforts to make their collections available online in a sustainable way. The HOPE requirement to provide PIDs based on dynamic and predictable URLs for content and metadata proved the final straw. Nevertheless, replacing Fortis raised concerns. The software managed their digitization, cataloging work, and public reading room access, and all these functions would have to be supported in a new system.

The replacement software has been developed in house based on a LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, php) and has managed to sustain most of the internal workflows already in place with the added benefit of more control over databases, metadata schema, and digital object master and derivative formats. The transfer of metadata and content has also been facilitated, and the system syncs much more easily with their web front end. FMS's digitization program has not changed. Readers still have access to digitized collections only (with a very few exceptions) and digitization remains a central part of the processing work on each collection. What has changed are the tools used, the control over processes, and the type and amount of information to which staff now have direct access.

Currently new images and textual material are digitized as uncompressed TIFFs, and JPEG access copies and thumbnails are generated. (OCR has not been systematically employed as they have mostly manuscript material.) Audio material is stored in uncompressed WAV files and MP3 derivatives are created. Video varies according to the source, but masters are generally DV files and FLV derivatives are created. Regarding legacy content, FMS still has a few legacy formats from the 1990s, mainly PCX and B/W TIFF Group 4. For every image that has only 1 bit depth (B/W), they store the original as a master and generate 8 bit PNGs as derivatives. Files are stored in a conventional file system based on RAID hardware and with routine backup to a separate server.

For each digital object, they currently generate a unique identifier, MD5 checksum, and store some technical metadata extracted from the exif header (bit depth, length/size, DPI, mime type, date of creation, etc.). File names are based on the unique identifier of the document, page order, digital object unique identifier and derivative type. Example: the file name of a level 2 derivative of page six of document 05112.003 would be 05112.003_p0006_id000823493_D2.jpg.

FMS have already created a PIDs based on Handle, but they still must implement a tool for communicating with the HOPE PID Service to bind PIDs to resolve URLs.

The experience of FMS reveals how an institution deeply committed to its system can still start afresh in response to changing circumstances and needs. Their task was no doubt eased by their in-house technical skills honed through years of adapting and extending their proprietary software. FMS stands out among HOPE partners as a uniquely autonomous organization; in this case, it proved to be their strength.

Related Resource

Zuchet, Mike. "Megabytes und Kilobytes statt laufender Meter: Langzeitarchivierung – Archivierung und Dokumentation digitaler Metadaten und Objekte." In: ''Archiv Nachrichten – Internet-Newsletter aus dem Archiv der sozialen Demokratie Nm. 1/2008'' (July 2008).

This section last updated July 2013. Content is no longer maintained.