Protecting your digital sources.
AUTHOR: Miriam B. Kahn
PUBLISHER: American Library Association
PUBLICATION DATE: 2004
LENGTH: 120 pages
PRICE: $40 U.S.; $36 ALA members
SOURCE: ALA Order Fulfillment, www.alastare.ala.org of 886.746.7252
Those familiar with library and archives literature over the past few decades will recall the vogue of disaster planning and disaster recovery plans in the 1980s. While a heightened awareness of the need to be prepared to deal with damaged collections was long overdue, it became a mark of sophistication to have a complex and comprehensive planning document in place.
Many of those documents languished and have little current applicability because of neglect and failure to update the plans and maintain contact with resource and service suppliers. Some disaster plans made their way into obsolescence through failing to inform and train new employees or simply by failing to include newer digital resources.
In Protecting Your Library's Digital Sources: The Essential Guide to Planning and Preservation, Miriam Kahn makes a useful effort to address the third reason for the obsolescence of disaster plans--failure to update plans so that they deal with digital as well as more traditional media. The book is written for the benefit of "less well-funded libraries and archives and other cultural institutions [that] need a practical 'how-to' guide to plan for the future of their data whether it be for access tomorrow, next year or in ten years." Kahn's 120-page guide addresses "prevention of loss, the restoration of data or digital materials, and planning for long-term access to these materials?' The well-written, comfortably paced handbook for libraries, museums, archives, and records centers is divided into two major sections. Section one deals with the common causes of data loss, such as system crashes, infrastructure failures, or hacking, and provides some insights on how to prevent and recover from digital data losses. Section two, the heart of this book, discusses policy decisions and procedures to increase the life span of digital resources. Section two also provides a series of 29 checklists that can guide the disaster-planning workgroup through a demanding and complex task with greater ease.
Kahn's style is dear and succinct and her advice is practical and highly applicable. Chapters one through six comprise section one and address responses to common disasters and how to plan so that an information agency's response is measured and efficient as well as effective.
In chapter one, "Preventing Common Causes of Loss," the author discusses the most common causes of data loss: accidental erasure, hacking, viruses, power losses, and connectivity interruptions. She provides a useful review of the most common and important strategies and methods for preventing incidental data loss and operational collapse when disaster cannot be prevented. Her strategic emphasis in this first chapter is on disciplined and scheduled data backup and on operating a mirroring data site.
Chapter two, "Planning for the Worst: Loss of Computer Operations," addresses the restoration of acceptable computer environments and functions that will allow normal operation to begin at the earliest possible time following an episodic disaster. Issues such as safe-guarding access to hardware, software, and operating systems, as well as physically protecting and restoring enterprise data assets, are discussed briefly but clearly.
In chapter three, "Basic Considerations in Disaster Response Planning," Kahn lays out the structure and architecture of the disaster-planning process. The chapter provides clear identification and discussion of the decisions that must precede the development of an effective disaster recovery and response document. The preliminary issues are identified as team membership, work group responsibilities, prioritization of resources, and coordination of site and enterprise-wide disaster-planning efforts.
Chapter four, "Disaster Response Planning," addresses the contents and structure of the written disaster-planning document. A list of the components of a well-crafted and practical plan is included. Chapter four also discusses the overarching environmental requirements for putting the plan into effect, such as budgetary authority, staffing, administrative support, and communications.
Chapters five, "Disaster Response: When Everything Goes Wrong," and six, "Disaster Response Planning for Hardware and Physical Storage Media" relate to the process of assessing the initial damage caused by a disaster and then activating the response plan in a measured, efficient way to meet the needs of the organization.
Section two of Protecting Your Library's Digital Sources is the more interesting and original of the book's two sections. This is largely due to the focus of chapter seven, "Protecting Data for Long-Term Retention," and chapter eight, "Decision-Making for Today and Tomorrow," on the unique and special needs of digital content creators and aggregators within archives, museums, and libraries. Rather than addressing the protection and preservation of physical storage media, these chapters focus on the development and use of standardized digital data formats that can increase the odds of readability and access into the future.
The chapters give detailed attention to the considerable and numerous problems of maintaining perpetual access to digital resources and the difficulty of managing the fast-moving forces of technology and obsolescence.
The difficulty of long-term retention of digital information is hampered by an abundance of data recording formats and the lack of a universally acceptable format standard to assure free and perpetual readability. The absence of widely accepted record or file standards renders the digital future for digital objects of permanent value rather tentative. Until the development of stable, universal format standards, migration of data and files from one file format to the next through frequent and expensive software upgrade is the only recourse.
Chapter nine, "The Future: Organizations Involved with the Study of the Preservation of Electronic Records," describes the efforts of the various associations and groups that are engaged in developing read-write digital data format standards. This work is essential to development of permanent and long-term digital collections. This chapter is interesting but already shows some inevitable signs of aging.
Chapter 10, "Checklists" is unquestionably the most important and the most practical aspect of the entire book. The 29 checklists that make up this chapter provide an organization or an institutional work group with an easy means of gathering and assembling the information essential to the drafting of a useful, efficient digital disaster response and recovery plan. While the author cautions readers not to confuse the completed checklists with a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, they are tools that will put plan writers far ahead of those who do not have them. The first 11 checklists serve to organize information about institutional computers and support hardware, while the next 10 checklists (12 through 24) help to gather information about data back-up procedures, network and hardware configurations, and software and operating systems in service. The organization of institutional metadata and procedural information helps the planning workgroup in assessing the need for new procedures and also guides the planners in the orderly documentation of current practices and policies. The last five checklists are useful to the planning group mainly by encouraging thinking about and discussion of the retention of long-term or permanent digital resources.
The book's two appendices are interesting and potentially useful in drafting a meaningful disaster-planning document. Appendix A lists more than 20 organizations and bodies involved in researching the preservation of electronic and digital resources. Appendix B is a selective listing of about 20 companies that specialize in the protection of digital and electronic resources or provide services for the recovery of digital data. Kahn has included a short but solid bibliography dealing with the nature, recovery, and protection of electronic and digital materials.
Protecting Your Library's Digital Sources is a good preliminary tool for the construction of a digital materials disaster prevention and recovery plan for a cultural or informational organization. Its short, readable chapters provide a fast-paced survey of the issues that need to be considered and researched before drafting a comprehensive enterprise-wide data protection and recovery plan. The 29 checklists in chapter 10 are worth the price of the book alone. However, the work's greatest contribution may well be its skillful framing of complex issues surrounding the use of digital solutions for long-term preservation problems.
Michael E. Holland, CA, is the Director of the University Archives for the University of Missouri-Columbia and Interim Head of the University Libraries Special Collections Department. He may be contacted at email@example.com.