Beginning Preservation

Hi, all. I’m in my last semester in the MLS program, unofficially focusing on Digital Curation and Special Collections. My interest in this course is due to studying art in undergrad and professionally creating visual effects for several years before I decided to study Library Science. I recently assisted in the creation of a digitization program at the library in which I work. The greatest challenge to that project was to explain the importance of following the current best practices, such as creating multiple file backups and fixity information. However, the program also needed to be manageable by individuals that are not very technology literate. The program was implemented with only minimal adherence to current preservation standards.

Throughout school, many of the articles that I’ve read about digital preservation start from the idea that the reader is already experienced with digital archiving practices and procedures and are only interested in what other institutions are doing or if the best practices have changed. Few are ever written with the aim of aiding an organization or individual begin their first digital project. Therefore, the reading that most interested me was the one that dealt with the NDSA Levels Chart, as it was most relevant to my current work.

In contrast, the Fino-Radin article only mentions the very technical steps that were followed and how they followed ‘the accepted best practices’, or why they went beyond those standard preservation practices. It also appeared that they were experienced managing similar data, so there was little research on how to achieve the goals of the project, which would have had value for someone with less experience archiving digital materials.

The NDSA article suggests that the different levels are things for the preservation efforts to strive for, instead of boxes that need to be checked off. The article also suggests that it is acceptable if the institution is only able to achieve the Level 1 standards, as not every institution is able to understand and meet the Level 4 standards, especially if they are starting their first digitization/preservation program or have little experience with digital media, in general.

It is refreshing to see that not every digital preservation effort needs to perfect right from the beginning, but that it can grow and expand over time to include the standards and practices that it was lacking.

3 Replies to “Beginning Preservation”

  1. I like your emphasis on the imperfection of digital preservation. Standards can be unobtainable in many situations. As you imply, doing something is better than doing nothing at all. In particular, iterative preservation can allow an organization to do a minimum to start and build upon this base starting point. In terms of the technical complexity you mention, I agree that the issue is the intended audience of the articles. With more user friendly digital preservation tools coming out in recent years I think it is becoming easier for non-technical experts but I think there does need more work to be done in helping these communities who are just starting out. One project that encapsulates a lot of this is the POWRR (Preserving digital Objects with Restricted Resources): http://digitalpowrr.niu.edu/

    1. In terms of lowering the barrier to entry for digital preservation, designing GUIs for tools that previously required coding or command-line experience seems like a promising, concrete step to follow up on a high-level approach like the NDSA Levels. I don’t know how difficult it is to build a GUI… even if it’s not simple, is it wrong-headed to think there may be more traction there than in making the command line seem more accessible? The ultimate goal would be to help audiences of different levels of technical expertise talk to one another more effectively since they’d be working with the same tools, only at different levels of abstraction.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the NDSA levels article. Many of the points you raised are exactly the kind of issues that motivated us to work up the levels of preservation. One of the elements that sticks with me about that piece is that digital preservation is not so much about following steps in a cookbook, but is instead about developing a plan and an approach to make sure the right content is being collected and managed and then working to mitigate the risks of potential loss. In all of that, this ends up being largely about making decisions about the best way to use the resources available to meet an individual or organizations goals.

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