Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Collection development > Post-custodial approach

Post-custodial approach

The archivist develops a continuing relationship with the record-creator and provides advice over a number of years. Such advice is likely to include the creation of regularly updated basic guidelines on best practice management of digital records as well as advice given in response to personal preferences relating to creation or storage. The aim of this approach is to allow the creator to retain custody of the archives, but to assist them in managing their records so that they can be transferred in good condition when the timing is right.

Advantages

  • A creator with confidential records may be willing to deposit records at a later date when they are less sensitive and when their public exposure would be less damaging. This approach allows the archivist to provide guidance that increases the chances of these records surviving in accessible form so that they can be accessioned at a later date.
  • The approach should increase the chances of bit level preservation. This is where the digital object survives intact, but may not be easily accessible due to software or hardware obsolescence.
  • This approach ensures that the creator has access to, and remains responsible for, their own records and delays the burden of preservation for the digital repository.
  • The records may have undergone some appraisal by the records creator before transfer to the archive. This will reduce the bulk of the collection.

Disadvantages

  • In the absence of scheduled accessions, it is possible that the creator will see no reason to keep in regular contact with the archivist, so the relationship could lapse. This would be particularly true when the repository is reliant on intermediaries, such as politician's assistants, which may have high turnover, or where staff turnover is high at the repository itself.
  • The difficulties of sustaining the relationship through change in the creator's life and change at the repository described in the 'snapshot' approach above also apply to this approach.
  • Without any form of legal agreement, the creator is under no obligation to place their archive with the repository. Sustaining a relationship of this kind is an investment, and if the collection were given elsewhere, destroyed or sold, this investment would be lost. An agreement could be drafted, which would allow the Library to recoup its investment in such scenarios, but would need to be worded in such a way that the creator would not be penalised in the event of unforeseen catastrophic data loss. The creation of an agreement like this would be difficult because the Library is dependent on the goodwill of the creator.
  • As the archivist cannot ingest the materials identified for long-term preservation into a managed environment it is difficult to create granular preservation metadata. Such preservation metadata could be used to monitor the status of the collection and to advise creators when objects in their collection are 'at risk' of obsolescence and to conduct preservation actions in a timely manner.
  • Although well intentioned, it is probable that most creators of personal digital collections have neither the time, expertise or technical support to care for digital records selected for long-term preservation.