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Third millennium BC objects move to the cloud

The University of Manchester’s digital collection of rare books, medieval manuscripts, maps, and historic archives, including 4500-year old clay tablets and contemporary email correspondence, is moving to Preservica, a digital preservation and access solution hosted on the AWS cloud, to ensure it is accessible and future-proofed indefinitely

The University of Manchester Library has begun moving its digital Special Collections to the AWS cloud with the help of Preservica’s cloud based digital preservation and access system, deployed in April. As one of only five National Research Libraries in the UK, the University of Manchester Library holds one of the world’s outstanding collections of rare books, manuscripts, maps, archives and visual collections, which are being digitised to make them more widely available to the academic and research communities.

St John fragment
St John fragment
Chronologically, the library’s collections span many centuries, from the 3rd millennium BC to the 21st century, encompassing a wide range of formats. Virtually every medium that has ever been used for writing can be found in its collections, including papyrus fragments in many languages. The most famous fragment is the piece of St John’s Gospel, which is believed to be the earliest example of New Testament writing in existence. Physical objects are being photographed, documented and archived using the Preservica cloud-based digital preservation platform.

“We’re in the process of moving 30TB of digitised and born digital material to the cloud,” says Andy Land, Digital Programmes Manager at The University of Manchester Library. “It’s part of a University wide initiative to capitalise on the cost and accessibility efficiencies offered by the cloud. We’re pleased to be consolidating our Special Collections in one system that will ensure our digital materials are both digitally preserved and more widely accessible.”

The University Library is also pioneering the way forward in preserving emails and attachments, a practice not often considered in other large-scale digital preservation programmes. A unique part of its Special Collections are over 250,000 emails to the Carcanet Press, an internationally important publisher of poetry and works in translation. “These emails are a perfect example of how we need to preserve newer materials with the same care we allocate to ancient manuscripts,” says Land. “For the past 15 years, many people have been writing emails rather than letters to editors, and we need to preserve this important part of written history. Email applications, and formats have changed over the years, so ensuring emails and their attachments are entrusted to a digital preservation system, so that they can be readable in the future, is extremely important to us.”

The Library is also unique in selecting Preservica’s Enterprise Edition hosted in the Cloud in order to use the platform’s APIs to integrate the system to serve as the backend to its many search-based applications, such as its ‘Discovery’ application. “It’s about letting people use the tools they are used to and giving all customers access to the collections,” says Land. “For a long time people have had to use various systems to get access to different objects that were stored in different places. Now they can just use the application they prefer to access everything in the collections, which, when we are finished, will all live in Preservica.”

The University Library did a three-month pilot test of the Preservica platform in early 2015. Preservica was selected from a series of vendors, and the platform was deployed in April. Training on the platform was conducted in June and the digital programmes team have now begun moving what will eventually be 30TB+ of files in to the system.

“As part of its digital programme, The University of Manchester joins a community of universities and colleges we are working with in order to future-proof vital history, and we are pleased they have selected Preservica as their digital preservation partner,” says Jon Tilbury, Preservica CEO. “It is encouraging to see the University Library include digital preservation in its cloud based strategy, and we look forward to seeing the new exhibitions and initiatives this programme will bring.”

The University Library is looking forward to using the Preservica system to help make its Middle Eastern studies collection more widely available. Middle Eastern Studies have been offered at the University since 1851 and Iranian studies has been a key part of this since the late 19th century. Its collection of Iranian newspapers and periodicals offer unique insight on the minute details of historical developments of major consequences, such as the Coup of 1953, the Revolution of 1979, or the “Tehran Spring” of 1999-2002.

Over the coming months, the Library’s team of archivists, photographers and IT specialists will work to digitise and ingest files in to the Preservica platform via the Preservica Bulk Upload Service, which works in conjunction with AWS Import/Export Snowball to accelerate moving large amounts of data into and out of the AWS Cloud.

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