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Preservation Packaging

by Esmé Cowles

As we are implementing preservation in Figgy, we have faced a couple of challenging decisions that lay just outside the concern of preservation-oriented specifications like BagIt and OCFL. Two inter-related questions that took us a lot of discussion and exploration to reach consensus on are:

  1. What is the best unit of preservation?
  2. Should preservation packages be compressed and/or archived?

What is the best unit of preservation?

There are a wide range of practices here, from including an entire repository or collection in a single package, to having a separate package for each repository object. Our repository implementation has separate objects for each page in a book, for controlled vocabulary terms, and other similar metadata constructs that don’t make much sense in isolation. At the other extreme, including our entire repository in a single package seemed like it would create a package that was very difficult to navigate without a search index, which made it a poor fit since one of our goals was to have preservation packages that could be understood without custom tools. Collections also did not seem like a good fit, since most of our objects can belong to multiple collections or no collections at all.

So we decided that the best unit of preservation was a work and all of its children. We expect restoration to happen at the work level, or in the context of a work, such as “page 5 of work X”, so packaging at the work level would make that much easier. And in disaster scenarios where Figgy might not be available, it would be much easier to work with a single work, and not have to navigate the entire repository to find the files or metadata you wanted to access.

And while considering a work the unit of preservation makes intuitive sense, it led to a number of questions:

  1. What exactly is the boundary of a work? We typically use PCDM-style membership relationships. And we typically use hasMember to link from a work to its component parts (including FileSets), and memberOf to link from a work to the Collection(s) it’s a member of. But we have some work types that model Collection membership with the Collection linking to the member, but we wouldn’t want to preserve those entire Collections as one preservation package.
  2. Should we include information about items that aren’t part of the work, but may be necessary to understand the work? For example, should we include Collection metadata, or controlled vocabulary term metadata? Or is it enough to link to them and preserve them separately?
  3. Is it OK to update a work’s preservation package piecemeal, even though it might not represent a coherent state of the work?

Our initial implementation will rely on tagging each repository object that we consider a work with a preservation policy that will trigger preserving it and its members recursively. We’ll preserve collection and controlled vocabulary objects separately instead of duplicating them in each work that refers to them. And we’ll propagate updates to the preservation package as they happen rather than trying to figure out when a set of updates is done.

Should preservation packages be compressed and/or archived (e.g., in Tar or Zip)?

A separate but related question is whether we should bundle the files from our preservation packages in Tar or Zip archives. We are exploring several different storage options, including Amazon Glacier, and Glacier’s asynchronous access model would make it very cumbersome to separately retrieve many files to restore an object. Having the preservation package encapsulated in a single file would also make retrieving it more convenient in other circumstances, too. The other benefit we saw to having a single-file preservation package is the ability to use the file’s checksum to verify the package integrity, instead of having to separately verify each file’s checksum.

However, storing preservation packages in Tar or Zip format would have a number of disadvantages that made us decide against it. The biggest disadvntage is that we would need to create the preservation package locally, Tar/Zip it, and then re-upload the entire package. This would consume much more bandwidth, use more local storage, and virtually require that we revisit the decision to propagate individual changes (or risk multiple overlapping updates corrupting the preservation package). Another disadvantage would be creating single files that are very large. Although range requests and other strategies can make them easier to work with, having single files that are very large would make it harder to work with the preservation packages, require more disk space, etc.