Grey Literature Library

Working at the ADS/Internet Archaeology

I have been working at the University of York since November 2012, as the holder of a one-year IFA/HLF Workplace Learning Bursary. My days here are often split between tasks for the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the e-journal Internet Archaeology.

Work for the journal can involve proof-reading articles for publication, looking at proposals and writing HTML mark-up in order to prepare the articles for online publication. This really helps you get to grips with what the authors put across, and because of the electronic nature of the journal, it’s amazing to see the innovative ways that data and concepts can be presented. Whereas traditional print journals are confined mainly to text and images, Internet Archaeology regularly deals with animations, videos, 3D visualisations and other media, which all comes together to provide some really rich, interesting content.

As part of the submissions process, Internet Archaeology articles have a digital archive with the Archaeology Data Service, and for the past few months I have mainly been busy with preserving and archiving the digital files that make up individual articles. Depending on the content, this can be quite a challenge, especially when you start to delve back to the mid-90s origins of the journal (some days I can almost hear the dial-up tone), and involves making sure all file formats are suitable for deposit under the ADS Depositors’ Guidelines, converting files which aren’t, and making sure the finished archive is suitable for long-term preservation. As I’ve alluded to, many of the deprecated formats that the journal once dealt with don’t fit comfortably within the ADS archives, and I’ve bothered many a member of staff with questions about MATLAB files or animated GIFs.

As I have reached the end of this process (for the time being), the focus of my work here has shifted to the Grey Literature Library, held here at the ADS. This is a collection of unpublished reports that are produced by archaeological contractors relating to projects they are carrying out, which are then uploaded via the Online Access to the Index of Archaeological Investigations project, better known as OASIS.  Thousands of events occur across the country every year, and a great deal of data is produced, so it’s important to be able to make this data available for future research. The Grey Literature Library is a fantastic tool for this, and as new reports are uploaded every day, there is always plenty of work to be done.

So today, my day has mainly revolved around adding reports to the library, and transferring the file-level metadata so they can be accessed easily. The reports are copied to our server, and the accession recorded in the internal Collections Management System (CMS), which also documents what processes are carried out on any files—this is important, as it allows other archivists to see any changes that have been made if the archived needs to be revisited. I’ve found that documentation at every level is a key part of working at the ADS.

Most of the grey literature reports are deposited in PDF format, which have to then be converted for preservation and dissemination into PDF/A, an archival format (you can read more about the intricacies of PDF formats in the ADS blog). The conversion of PDFs can be quite a time-consuming task, and in fact the lion’s share of the process is taken up by these conversions. After all the conversions are complete, and the archived files are safely stored, more file-level metadata is generated, and the reports are available to be accessed. So data relating to archaeological events that were once consigned to filing cabinets now have a new, digital life!

The Archaeology Data Service, keeping the Grey Literature Library going

Welcome to another post to the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)  Day of Archaeology blog 2012

If you want a quick introduction to the ADS and what we do see last year’s post.

We have contributions from two members of staff from the ADS this year, one from Stuart Jeffrey ADS deputy Director (Access) and this one from Ray Moore one of the ADS Digital Archivists.

ADS logoRay Moore

As a digital archivist at the Archaeology Data Service, my day to day activities involve the accessioning the digital data and other outcomes of archaeological research that individuals and institutions deposit with us, developing a preservation programme for that data, but also curating existing ADS collections.

Today, and indeed for the past week, I have spent much of my time working on the Grey Literature Library (or GLL).  The GLL is an important resource for those amateur and professional archaeologists working in archaeology today providing access to the many thousands of unpublished fieldwork reports, or grey literature, produced during the various assessments, surveys and fieldwork carried out throughout the country. These activities are recorded using OASIS (or Online AccesS to the Index of archaeological investigationS) and after passing through a process of validation and checking the reports produced in these projects arrive at the ADS. On first impressions then the digital archive may seem like an ‘end point’, a place where archaeological grey literature goes to die, but the ADS, through the GLL, makes these reports available to other archaeologists and the wider community allowing the grey literature to inform future research. At the same time as a digital archive we take steps to preserve these reports so that future generations can continue to use the information that they contain; an important job as many of these reports do not exist in a printed form.

Grey Literature Reports

Reports from the Grey Literature Library.

So what does digitally archiving a grey literature report entail? Initially all the grey literature reports must be transferred from OASIS to the ADS archive; the easiest part of the process. More often than not the report comes in a Portable Document Format (or PDF) form, and while this is useful for sharing documents electronically it is pretty useless as preservation format for archiving. One of my jobs is to convert these files into a special archival form of PDF, called PDF/A (the A standing for Archive). Sound’s easy, but often it can take some work to get from PDF to PDF/A (my all time record is 2 hours producing a 900mb PDF/A file). These conversions must also be documented in the ADS’ Collection Management System so that other archivists can see what I did to the file to preserve the file and its content. While OASIS collects metadata associated with project, the ADS uses a series of tools to generate file level metadata specific to the creation of the file, so that we can understand what and how the file was created. Only once these processes are complete can the file be transferred to the archive, with a version also added to the GLL so that people can download and read the report. With a through flow of some 5 to 600 reports per month the difficulties of the task should become apparent; and all this alongside my other duties as a digital archivist. This month’s release includes an interesting report on The Olympic Park Waterways and Associated Built Heritage Structures which stood on the site now occupied by the Olympic Park. Anyway I’d better get back to it!