Anna Oates (MS '18) won the National Records of Scotland Award for the Most Outstanding Student Work in Digital Preservation for her master's thesis work on the PDF/A standard. She received the award on November 29 at a ceremony at the Amsterdam Museum, as part of an international conference hosted by the Dutch Digital Heritage Network and the Amsterdam Museum on World Digital Preservation Day. According to the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), who sponsored the awards, this year marked the greatest number of nominations the organization has received to date, and those selected as finalists faced tough competition from entries across the world.
Oates' work originated from her research as a student in the Oxford-Illinois Digital Library Placement Program. In her summer 2017 placement, she spent six weeks at Oxford's Bodleian Libraries. Her project focused on student theses in Oxford's Institutional Repository and the challenges faced in meeting the ISO 19005 Standard, which specifies how to use the Portable Document Format (PDF) for long-term preservation of electronic documents. When she returned from England, Oates extended her research project into a master’s thesis and submitted the abstract to and presented at iConference.
"Although embedded in theoretical points of inquiry, my student work applies directly to current practices of institutional repositories that store and give access to theses and dissertations," Oates said. "But the work isn't just adding to an already existing conversation; it's engaging in a topic that has been a bit overlooked. Some institutions have blindly accepted PDF/A as an optimal file format without consideration of what normalization—the process to make a PDF/A—is doing to the original file. This is really problematic for digital preservation, long-term sustainability, and authenticity of student research."
She hopes that her work will raise institutional awareness of these issues as well as of the importance of the topic and that managers will be encouraged to make more informed decisions for their workflows and file format policies.
Oates is currently employed as a scholarly communication and discovery services librarian for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
Watch the awards ceremony (The National Records of Scotland Award for the Most Distinguished Work in Digital Preservation are presented from 26:54-32:00 in the video.)