Why Should Universities Start Digital Archiving?
October 19, 2018 • 9 min read
The amount of data in the world is set to rise tenfold - from 16 ZB to over 160 ZB - between 2016 and 2025, according to a report from IDC.1 (to amass 1 ZB of data you would have to fill 34.4 billion smartphones to capacity).
It’s a mind blowing amount of data. So, ask yourself:
- Have you ever thought about how much data is created by your higher education organisation in a single day?
- How much content is shared and distributed online by students, lecturers and other staff?
- Across university social networking sites, internal communication platforms and your website?
There is no denying that creating and communicating has been made simpler thanks to digital technologies. What was transformative is now seen as everyday, and businesses, organisations and individuals around the world are quick to leverage the opportunities presented by digital.
This means we are creating more data than ever before, in more complex and non-standardised ways. But just because something is simple to make, does not make it any less valuable.
Digital content is a precious commodity. An organisation’s data is an asset that can deliver value in the short-term, medium-term and for generations to come. But even though organisations are creating and storing greater amounts of data than ever before, it can all easily be lost forever without the right planning and foresight.
Ultimately, for digital content to drive long-term success, we need to take proactive steps to capture, protect and future-proof web and social media data.
Drivers for digital archiving in universities
Against this backdrop, digital archiving is becoming more important for universities and higher education organisations.
Of course, universities are well acquainted with the need to archive. For centuries, these institutions have been preserving items and information of importance, keeping a record that is incredibly valuable to students, faculty, researchers, wider society, and the general public.
- Barriers to digital archiving in universities
- Hybrid end-to-end digital archiving solution for universities
- Case study: University of Westminster
But the way universities operate, communicate and interact has changed dramatically over recent decades with the shift towards digitisation, and many organisations now have key information that can only be found online.
This brings into focus the requirement for digital archiving in universities, to preserve history that is now happening online and securely keep a record of communications to provide reference points and insights for future generations.
This requirement for digital archiving in universities is driven by digital data at increased risk of becoming obsolete, and a number of other factors we take a closer look at:
1. Digital data is at risk
Many universities struggle to keep up with the pace of change and still rely on legacy technologies or formats in danger of becoming obsolete, which is putting digital content at risk of being lost forever.
Does your organisation fall prey to any of these common mistakes?
Obsolete technologies and formats - From floppy disks to phased-out file formats, it often takes only a few years for hardware or software - including web technologies - to become obsolete and unsupported. This can make it non-trivial or even impossible to retrieve the content stored there.
Use of third-party platforms - Organisations now publish a vast amount of digital content via web and social media platforms. These platforms may not be in a company's direct control and use complex, interactive, non-standardised formats. As such, a company needs a solution to capture a copy and hold it indefinitely and securely to safeguard against future misuse or misrepresentation.
Reliance on content management and backups - Most organisations make provisions for short and medium-term secure data storage, but without considering how to protect and future-proof this content so it can still be accessed and used in the long-term.
The consequences of not capturing today is incomprehensible in the potential impact it will have on each future generation’s ability to have access to the archives, and this demonstrates the need to take proactive steps to capture, protect and future-proof digital content.
If you’re not capturing web and social content now, to do it retrospectively in 12 months’ time could be virtually impossible.
2. Preserve website content of cultural and historical importance
University websites now represent a key record of what is happening at any given time and act as a key repository for official documents.
For example, many university publications have been replaced by online web publications while information such as course materials, research outputs, blogs, video and audio content is found on websites.
This online information is vital to capture for legal reasons. For example, although the CMA's Advice on Consumer Protection Law for UK Higher Education Providers does not openly state that HEP’s need to use a web archiving solution, this would prove invaluable to demonstrate compliance by maintaining a permanent record of what students had been given - and also to preserve content of commercial, cultural and historical importance.
3. Preserve social media content and communications
There has been a shift in how we communicate and social media has become part of mainstream discourse in the higher education market. Whether it’s via Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, a university’s interactions and history is now happening online, representing both an exciting and daunting prospect for many organisations.
Social media platforms now act as key sites of record for student societies, sports teams and wider university communications, including communications such as photos and annual reports. But, because much of this data now only exists on social media, it is at risk of being lost if a solution isn't put in place.
Preserving social media content is also important for research resource data. For example, Twitter datasets around a hashtag at a particular time or vast troves of social data harvested from many platforms can support data validated research and show impact. Being able to track and archive tweets and posts about a project or programme, and to find relevant content to include in reports, has also become paramount for research within these markets.
4. Preserve research data and output
Researcher databases need preserving and research outputs made available for reference by future generations. In universities, for example, researchers produce websites in need of preserving as part of research data output. This is to ensure compliance with open data initiatives, funder requirements and the Research Excellence Framework (REF).
Archiving content from external websites, such as research institutions, government bodies, policy makers, corporate leaders, etc. is also important to support the REF. This would also provide evidence of university research outputs used or praised by external parties.
Most universities also encourage their researchers to deposit large web and social datasets with specialist data centres. This makes the data more discoverable to the research community who might reuse them.
5. Preserve digital data for future insights
We’ve had a long time to get used to the move from analogue and physical archive records, in order to find strategies for keeping and accessing in the future, but time isn't a luxury we have with digital data.
Even if we’re not entirely sure about the potential insight that will be generated from archived digital data in the future, it’s better to capture it. This means you not only own this data but it means that as we learn, evolve and develop, we can use this historical information to our advantage, knowing that it's always accessible for future generations to come.
6. Maintain best practice in record keeping
Maintaining best practice in record keeping will, or should, enforce website and social media archiving within universities to the same degree as other forms of corporate records.
Financial services firms have to capture records of all of their electronic communications and financial promotions to stay compliant. Their websites and social media are a huge component in this and as digital transformation continues, the amount of data published is only set to grow.
GDPR compliance has been a regulation leveraged by some higher education institutions. This requires that organisations ensure the potentially vast amount of personal data held in their digital archives is only ever stored and used in a GDPR-compliant way - and any third-party data processors they use, such as archiving and cloud storage providers, are compliant themselves.
It is a compliance requirement that has helped garner support for better management of digital records such as web and social media data in universities.
7. Protect investments and reuse archived content
Website and social media archiving helps to preserve an organisation’s investments in digital communications - for example, professionally produced videos and blog content - that would otherwise be at risk of being lost.
There is also the increased use of preserved website and social media content in outreach and alumni relations work, and to support marketing and other publicity activities. This is content and data that might have provided short to mid-term value, but which now has long-term value and brings real benefits to organisations.
MirrorWeb have partnered with Arkivum to create a hybrid, end-to-end digital archiving and data lifecycle management solution for web and social media archiving which is solving some of the biggest challenges that universities encounter.
The portal provided by MirrorWeb is user-friendly, light-touch with minimal user input to setup, crawl and replay web and social media archives in high-fidelity, and cost-effective thanks to cloud technology.