In Theory, In Practice

In Theory, In Practice

[The top image will make sense at the end– just stick with me for now].

When it comes to digital preservation (and really to most things), I am often of two minds, both perhaps being fed by my dual tendencies as an academic and an archivist / organizer. On the one hand, I really want to sit back and mull over the ideas at play: what is a digital object? What does it mean to truly preserve something? How do we represent different parties in the act of preservation? What voice do they have in the process? On the other hand, I just want to get things done. I like to make plans, follow the steps, and complete projects, revisiting and revising as necessary.

Of course, these two “sides” are interconnected: the time I spend reading, thinking, and considering ideas informs what I do when I approach projects, and my experience with those projects colors my perspective as I continue to think and read. This class highlights that feedback loop: the readings and discussions made me raise questions for our project that I would not have initially considered, and the project made me think about issues in new ways.

Here are some of my observations from the everlasting theory/practice feedback loop.

The Looming Institutions

If someone asked me to name constraints, two would immediately come to mind: time and money. I think these are the constraints that most organizations consider first: how much time people have to work on digital preservation projects, and how much money they have to devote to them. It did not occur to me that institutions themselves could also provide/be constraints. However, the policies and procedures set up by institutions can sometimes cause challenges for digital preservation, and while some archivists are in a place to change those policies, others are not, and so they have to work within the constraints of their greater institution to provide levels of preservation for their digital materials.

I had also underestimated how large institutions could be, or how many people could be involved in a single project. I was focused on one single collection, and really on one set of digital objects from that collection, and yet the number of people involved in preserving that content was way beyond what I expected. This perhaps saves on the constraints of money and time: people have specialized tasks that they understand well and are trained to complete. It also means that, at times, people are not aware of all steps in the chain, and that can be important for making sure that broad ideas about preservation intent are being considered in providing digitization, storage, and access.

Power to the People

I really appreciated the week in which we talked about getting community participation in archival work. Katie Shilton and Ramesh Srinivasan’s work on participatory appraisal and Jarrett M. Drake’s discussion of #ArchivesForBlackLives both influenced my decision to imcorporate community voices in my next steps suggestion. In ethnomusicology, we are always discussion the problems of hierarchical structures in our field (e.g., many ethnomusicologists are white people talking about the experiences of non-white people), and how we might disrupt that.

Many ethnomusicologists today make an effort to highlight the voices of the people who make the music they study, who are often their teachers and contribute in no small way to the research we create. To take these sorts of conversations and strategies into the archive makes a lot of sense, and makes even more sense in digital spaces– where issues like arrangement and access can be a bit more malleable than they might be in a physical archive.

In the End… Just Do It

I think there are a lot of people who get hung up on various aspects of digital preservation, myself included. While I do have my task and project oriented mind, my tendency is to overthink things, and it seems like many people want to do this– they want to thoroughly research and understand all aspects of preservation before starting anything. But the Shia LaBoeuf approach may be more appropriate– Don’t let your dreams be dreams! Just do it!

Because we learn so much from starting to do something; we learn about our digital objects as we start to manage them. I had not considered how large and challenging video files were to manage until I started to work on this project– and now I know that they present a unique challenge in terms of scale that images and even sound files typically do not.

I’m hopeful that I will have more opportunities to do work like this in the future, and I’m sure there will be many more lessons to learn.

And In The End…

The knowledge you take is equal to the knowledge you make.

– Definitely 100% accurate Beatles lyrics


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