Category Archives: General

Digital Preservation: Reflections on the Digital Preservation Coalition Conference, London, January 2016

Entering the Digital Preservation arena can be scary – it is a place full of “fancy words and acronym bingo.” (Sharon McMeekin)  However, the DPC 2016 Student Conference ‘What I Wish I Knew Before I Started’ offered some reassurance. Speaker after speaker stressed the fact that you don’t need to know everything, that it is impossible to be an expert in every aspect of digital preservation and that no-one has all the answers.  Collaboration is the key – asking questions, sharing information and learning from failures as well as successes.


Steph Taylor

Collaboration and information sharing are particularly important as digital preservation is a fast evolving and changing field. As Steph Taylor from ULCC,  put it: “It will all change.  You learn useful things, but it all changes. It is fast moving and changing all the time.” Her advice is to just do it, get started and have a go. “Don’t wait for perfection; you learn a lot from failure as well as from success.” Learn basic technical skills and play: “It should be fun, not scary.” And share what you are doing so that we all continue to learn from one another.

It is important, however, to think critically about models and approaches to Digital Preservation.  As Steph Taylor cautioned: “One size doesn’t fit all.  It might not work for you or your project even if it is good.” You have to judge what is the best approach for you depending on a number of factors, including your content, what is available to you in terms of staff and resources and what your users want.  You have to remember, however, that Digital Preservation is not just backing up!!!!


Matthew Addis

Similarly Matthew Addis from Arkivum emphasised that what the big organisations can do isn’t necessarily what you are in a position to do. He warned that Preservation Envy (not being able to do what the big guys do) can lead to Preservation Paralysis, which can lead to Digital Data Dereliction! Explore what you can do now, even with meager resources – be thrifty. The sooner you start the better as the longer you leave it, the more expensive and harder it becomes. He recommends Parsimonious Preservation – based on the paper by Tim Gollins “Parsimonious preservation: preventing pointless processes! (The small simple steps that take digital preservation a long way forward)”  In this paper Tim Gollins states that “By applying the principle of parsimony to digital preservation, institutions can find ways forward that are incremental, manageable and affordable, and which achieve the goal of securing our digital heritage for the next generation.”

Matthew Addis recommended that you start small and move up, do the basics first and move on. You need to know what you have got, and keep it safe. He recommended a number of tools and resources that can help. Data Asset Framework provides assistance and tools to help organisations to audit and manage their research data assets. DROID is a software tool developed by the National Archives to perform automated batch identification of file formats. Exactly is a tool which will generate checksums and enables the safe storage and transfer of digital data. Archivematica provides open-source software tools that allows users to process digital objects from ingest to access – a one-stop shop! Arkivum provides a range of data archiving services and supports for projects with a budget to pay for it.


‘Practical Digital Preservation’ by Adrian Brown

Adrian Brown, author of the popular and practical handbook Practical Digital Preservation, noted that digital records are hugely diverse and that they often don’t come in nice, standard, complete, discrete packages; the challenge then is how to make sense of them.  He pointed out that Ingest accounts for up to 90% of digital repository activity – getting the data in and understanding it. Characterisation is a key task – understanding what you have got. Metadata should be kept as simple as possible. Adrian emphasised that digital preservation is not just (or mainly) about technology – it is also about people, processes and policies.  There is no one right way to do digital preservation – you have to find what works best for you and your project.


Glenn Cumiskey

Glenn Cumiskey from the British Museum stressed the need to build the human, technical and knowledge infrastructure needed to support the important digital resources that we are working with.  Don’t be afraid, he advised, as no-one knows everything about digital preservation: support networks and collaborations are important. He highlighted the importance of developing your soft skills, your communication skills, in order to get buy-in and support from managers and key decision makers and also to be able to effectively engage with user communities.


Helen Hockx-Yu

Helen Hockx-Yu‘s advice was to remember that you can’t be a perfectionist; you have to do the best you can and keep learning.  It is challenging, but is rewarding when you come up with a solution.

Ann MacDonald, University of Kent Archivist, emphasised the benefits of connections and collaborations between collections and archives. She advised that you “connect to other collections when you can’t collect yourself.”


Dave Thompson

Dave Thompson, Wellcome Collection, advised “Preservation by a thousand little actions.  Preservation is not a single thing;  it is the summation of 1000s of little things we do every day.” We need to be clear about what we are doing and why: “With purpose and passion comes clarity.”  We need to ask questions:  what is being preserved, for whom, what materials, why?  We need to use our imagination: imagine how the data will be used.

Data is used by people: Digital preservation is a social activity, not just about technology.  “Digital preservation is not a technical problem, it is a social opportunity.”  Dave Thompson stressed that you need to make your data sociable – available in ways that it can be widely used, and in forms that it can be widely used, and with clarity about the right to use it.  His advice was to try to make the steps for preservation an easy activity so that it will be done and is not too much of a burden.


Senate House, London

The key messages emerging from the conference are to link in and keep learning. There are lots of resources and training available to help with this process. Twitter was advocated as a useful means to keep up to date on an ever-changing field. You could join the Digital Preservation Coalition and engage in their various events and access their resources. The DPC Technology Watch provides a useful way to track developments in the digital preservation field.  And the Digital Preservation Handbook provides an overview of the key elements of digital preservation. DigCurV provides a curriculum framework for training in digital curation. The University of London Computer Centre are offering a free online course in OAIS.

In the Irish context, the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) offers a wide range of supports and resources for digitisation projects. For example, Caring for Digital Content identifies exemplars of international repositories, repository projects and organisations with expertise in the management of digital data. The Guide to Choosing Content Management Technologies helps organisations and projects decide which management system is right for them. First Steps in Digital File Transfer and Storage provides a step-by-step guide to this process. The DRI Guide to using Dublin Core is valuable for anyone using this internationally recognised metadata standard. DRI also produces a growing body of valuable Factsheets and How-to guides, including information on file formats and long-term preservation.

At times I felt like an interloper at the DPC 2016 Student Conference, What I Wish I Knew Before I Started – it seemed to be geared primarily for students on archival courses.  There were barely a handful of DAH (Digital Arts and Humanities) students in the room! I also felt that it would have been more beneficial to have had more time and opportunity for discussion and engagement rather than a day full of papers and presentations. Yet I came away with a head full of useful advice and links to further information and resources.  Sincere thanks to the Digital Repository of Ireland and the DAH PhD programme for the scholarship which enabled me to attend the conference.

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Queer Republic of Cork

Poster Exhibition-page-001The Queer Republic of Cork Exhibition opened in Camden Palace community arts centre in Cork on 25 August 2016.  This Exhibition was organised by Orla Egan, Cork LGBT Archive, as part of the Irish Heritage Week.

This Exhibition took visitors on a journey through the development of the Cork Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities from the 1970s onwards.

Cork has a long and rich history of LGBT activism, community formation and development. Since at least the 1970s LGBT people in Cork have forged communities, established organisations, set up services and reached out to others.  As well as campaigning for LGBT rights and providing services and supports to LGBT people, the LGBT community has played a vital role in movements for social justice and political change in Cork.  Yet this community, like many other LGBT communities worldwide, has been largely invisible in historical accounts and its contribution to social and political change and developments largely unacknowledged.

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Exhibition launch

Queer Republic of Cork Exhibition Launch 25 August 2016

The Queer Republic of Cork exhibition highlighted some key moments, organisations, campaigns and triumphs in the history of the Cork LGBT Community. It showcased some of Cork’s firsts – the 1st National Gay Conference (1981), the 1st Irish AIDS leaflet (1985), the 1st Irish Lesbian and Gay Festival (1991) and the 1st LGBT float in a Patrick’s Day Parade (1992).  The Exhibition then moved through the decades, 1970s to 2000, focusing on Cork LGBT community organisations and activism.

Feedback Paul McAndrew

The response to the Exhibition was very positive with people delighted to see and explore some of the history of this dynamic community.  The Exhibition was just a small sample of the items contained in the Cork LGBT Archive.   To see more visit the digital archive on

Orla, Orla, Arthur, Dave Exhibition launch

Carol O Keeffe, Orla Murphy, Orla Egan, Arthur Leahy, Dave Roche

The core of the archive is organised around the Arthur Leahy collection – a private collection gathered by Arthur Leahy since the 1970s, and containing a rich collection of leaflets, posters, newsletters and other items relating to the history of the Cork LGBT community.  It was appropriate then that the Exhibition was formally launched by Arthur Leahy.  Orla Egan spoke of the importance of acknowledging and sharing the history of the Cork LGBT community and the decades of activism and community formation.  Both Arthur and Orla spoke of the importance of creating a more inclusive and accurate account of Irish LGBT history.

John Feedback

The Exhibition was organised as part of National Heritage Week.  The Cork LGBT Archive has recently received funding from the Irish Heritage Council for the proper storage and cataloguing of the archive collection – this funding marked an important acknowledgment of LGBT history as part of Irish heritage.  Further funding has since been secured from the Cork City Council Heritage Publication grant for a publication on the History of the Cork LGBT Community (this will be published by December 2016).

The Cork LGBT Archive is very grateful to Camden Palace for hosing the exhibition.  A huge thanks to Peter Flynn, UCC, who loaned his printer to enable the exhibition to be created!  Jess Jones, Carol O Keeffe and Jacob Egan-Morley assisted with hanging the exhibition and hosting / filming the launch.

The Exhibition can be viewed in Camden Palace, John Redmond Street, Cork, each day 12-6 until 3 September 2016.
Carol filming launchInstalling the Exhibition August 2016Jess and Jacob

20160825_175645Arthur and Orla20160827_165728Dave and Orla20160825_184204

Exhibition 1980 conference wall

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Queer Connections and Inspiration

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 10.24.40It was like my bookshelf came to life!  The Gay American History @ 40 conference in New York in May 2016 gave me a unique opportunity to meet with and engage with my ‘heroes’, the LGBT scholars whose pioneering work has inspired and stimulated my own work.

I have long admired, and been inspired by, the work Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 19.01.00of John D’Emilio, Jonathan Ned Katz, Esther Newton and the many other LGBT historians who gathered together at this conference – their scholarship and activism has motivated me to want to work on documenting, analysing and sharing the rich history of the Cork LGBT community.  At the early stages of my own work on the Cork LGBT Archive, John D’Emilio had taken the time to engage in email discussions with me, providing invaluable advice and encouragement.  It was a pleasure then to be able to meet him at the conference, to be able to meet and engage with my ‘heroes’ and to be present for a stimulating, and at times heated, discussion on the current state of LGBT history.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 09.32.25Gay American History @ 40 was a combination conference, a reunion of academic / activist comrades and a tribute to the inspirational work of Jonathan Ned Katz.  The conference marked the fortieth anniversary of Jonathan Ned Katz’s Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA (1976) and it provided an opportunity to discuss the ways in which theories, categories, research methods and priorities have been constructed, challenged, and reconstructed over the last forty years of historical research on sexuality and gender.

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Accelerate LGBT

Looking forward to the Accelerate LGBT event in Dublin on 17 September.

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 12.44.36See my interview on the Accelerate LGBT blog


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Single-parenting through a PhD

My guest blog on The Thesis Whispere

The Thesis Whisperer

Parenting through a PhD can be tough, but what about single-parenting through a PhD? Degree of difficulty = high! If you are in this situation is a PhD doable? You bet it is – but it’s likely your university could do more to help. Orla Egan tells us more.

Orla just submitted her thesis for the MA in Digital Arts and Humanities in University College Cork and has finished the first year of her PhD programme in DAH.  She works on the the development of a Cork LGBT Digital Archive and lives with her 8 year old son, Jacob, in Cork city. Orla blogs on her PhD and life at OrlaEgan.

Orla Egan and Jacob Egan-Morley submitting MA to UCC September 2014 Orla Egan and Jacob Egan-Morley submitting MA to UCC September 2014

Its 8.30 in the morning and I’m just back from the school run. I have five and a half hours before I pick up my son. How…

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Cheers and Tears: Ireland Votes YES YES YES

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 16.06.21


Written by Orla Egan

I am still reeling from the emotional rollercoaster of the weekend as my country finally voted to respect me, my son, my family, my friends and my community.

This weekend Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through popular vote.  And by a resoundingly popular vote – 62.1% overall, with only one constituency (Roscommon-South Leitrim) voting No.  The highest YES vote was in Dublin South East with 74.9%.  In the 5 Cork constituencies the YES vote ranged from 56% (Cork South West) to 65.8% (Cork South Central). 2015-05-23 14.47.23-1

It has been a long and hard journey to get here.  This weekend’s vote is the result of decades of LGBT community activism all over Ireland.  Since at least the 1970s Irish LGBT people have supported one another to build community and have pride in who we are, despite the consistent messages from the church, the laws, the media and society telling us that we were sick, evil, lesser and unworthy.  We set up LGBT organisations, centres and services.  But we also created community – we created the positive spaces where LGBT people could be together, to love, to party, to affirm each other – to counterbalance all the negativity.  We gave each other the strength to come out in ever increasing 2015-05-23 14.41.22numbers.  And that’s what made the difference.  People respond to the personal.  Its easy to vilify a concept – a gay man, a lesbian family etc. – its harder to hate the person standing in front of you: your son, your daughter, your mother, your uncle, your neighbour, your colleague.  Its the stories of real people’s lives that have convinced so many people to vote YES.

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LGBT Digital Archives: Connections and Challenges

Lines of Dissent ConferenceLast Saturday I attended Lines of Dissent, the 12th LGBTQ History & Archives Conference, in London.  It is a such a pleasure, and a rare one at that, for me to sit in a room full of people who share my obsession with unveiling the rich histories of LGBTQ communities and with preserving, archiving and sharing these histories.  It was so exciting to hear of the various archival and historical projects underway and to visit the display stands.

Another rare event, I used twitter to record and share my notes and observations of the Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 13.30.29conference.  Clarie Hayward has created a Storify which brings together the various tweets sent to #linesofdissent during the day.  Having tweeted and retweeted each other throughout the day, we eventually met face-to-face in the bathrooms as the conference was ending!  Good to put a face and voice to the tweets!

Returning from the conference I felt inspired to continue working on the development of the Cork LGBT Digital Archive.  The CorkLGBTHistory site is currently being developed.  I am attempting to create a chronological record of key events and organisations in the development of the Cork LGBT community from the 1970s onwards.  It is very much a work in progress.  Much work needs to be done in terms of digitising images for inclusion in the site.  I am hoping that the site, as it develops, will stimulate people to comment and contribute and to maybe root around in their attics, basements, closets or wherever to locate long forgotten but invaluable artefacts and memorabilia. Continue reading

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The Work Continues

Handing in MastersIt has been some time since I have updated my blog.  Just the minor distraction of finishing my MA in Digital Arts and Humanities!  I handed it in yesterday, accompanied by the wonderful Jacob Egan-Morley.

This is not the end of the journey however.  I am working on the development of a Cork LGBT Digital Archive.  This is a long-term project which will take years to develop and maintain.  Rather than working in isolation I have decided to continue on and do a PhD in Digital Arts and Humanities.  This provides me with the on-going support of a community of scholars and lecturers interested in developing digital humanities projects.

For my MA I developed a website to showcase some of the data which will form the basis of the digital database I am developing.  I would hope that this website would stimulate interest in the project and encourage others to comment or contribute.  This is very much a work in progress.  Now that the MA Thesis is submitted I can get back to the work of updating and developing this website. Rainbow flag city hall

As I emerged from the post-MA haze, I read an interesting post on The Thesis Whisperer on the joys and challenges of being a PhD-Mum.  I guess that’s what I am now!  The term PhD-Mum foregrounds the fact that as parents we juggle and attempt to balance often conflicting demands on our time and attention. It is a far cry from the traditional image of the PhD student with nothing to do apart from spending years engaged in deep-thinking about their subject of choice. As parent-students we try to slot moments of study and reflection into very busy schedules, where we strive to produce stimulating innovative work while also managing to shop, cook, clean, wash clothes, do the homework and be there for our children. In my case this is even more challenging than the situation described by Rebecca Turvill as, on a day-to-day basis, I am a single parent.  Continue reading

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LGBT Archive and Creativity

This week I have been engaged in creative pursuits, while also trying to make progress towards my aim of creating a Cork LGBT Digital Archive.

ComputersBoxesBasementIn an earlier post on Cork LGBT Digital Archive I talked about the rich source of archival material stored in the basement of a house in Cork.  This material has been gathered over the past 30 years.  It relates to the history of the LGBT community in Cork, the Quay Co-op, Safer Sex and AIDS organisations as well as various other campaigns and organisations. 2014-06-12 19.51.03 While it contains many gems, the ‘archive’ is unsorted with information on various organisations mixed in together.

1981GayConferencePosterThis week I began the slow process of trying to sort through the archive, with the assistance of Arthur, Carol, Katherine, John and Fionuala.  We tried to resist the temptation to read through all the fantastic information we found, although we had to admire some of the wonderful posters in the collection.  Initially the information is being sorted into broad categories, such as LGBT Cork, Quay Co-op, AIDS, Environmental, Housing Co-op etc.   Once sorted each category can be catalogued and explored in further depth.2014-06-12 21.50.44

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