Reflection: Philosophy, Preservation, and Polandball

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started out in this class.  Most of what I’d dealt with before in the digital preservation world revolved around the digitization and preservation of historical assets, and much of that work dealt primarily with the mechanics of preservation rather than the theory and philosophy behind the field.  I’m not sure I even realized there was so much depth to digital preservation, though that seems silly to say now. I’ve been truly engaged and excited about the conversations that took place both in class and on our blog. The course has pushed me to rethink how I perceive not just our field, but also evolving digital culture.


Perhaps the most surprising element of this course was discovering the flexible, evolutionary quality of digital art and mediums.  It is exceptionally common for archival students to approach digital curation with a traditional mindset.  That attitude can be useful at times.  However, it impairs the way that we conceptualize born digital files, and I learned that is especially true about digital art. Unwittingly, I’d become accustomed to the idea that file integrity was everything and, while not always perfectly ‘static,’ the goal was to maintain the file as closely to the original as possible. While we’ve certainly looked at that issue inside and out, I’ve also taken away the idea that preservation of these born digital materials is much less rigid than I’d believed.  Instead, files can be manipulated to create beautiful new masterpieces.  These same files can transcend their own platforms to live on in other formats using new mediums for their evolution.  Perhaps the greatest question we pondered was- what is the preservation copy, and do we really care about it anyways?  Is the original file so important to begin with?  Sure; if we can save everything.  But if we can’t (and won’t), what is more important: the origin of a piece or the final product?  I don’t know about you, but it’s a very liberating way to view digital curation.  Instead of obsessing about the purity or authenticity of an item, its meaning and context becomes paramount.  

Preservation Polandball Poster
Preservation Polandball Poster

As others have already mentioned here, context is everything.  Early on, when I read articles on preserving gaming worlds and communities, I had a really difficult time understanding the importance.  It didn’t seem like art to me, and it felt silly…juvenile even.  So, naturally I went on to preserving Polandball (insert a giant, hardy LOL here).  What I found was that digital art is assigned meaning by its community.  It’s in the conversations that blossom from the catalyst of the art.  If one seeks to preserve digital art, they would be amiss to pass over the community behind that art.  


Preservation without context is meaningless.


Another reassuring and helpful tidbit I took from the class was the art of capturing representative samples.  The AIP assignment pushed us to recognize the practical limits of digital curation. We can’t save everything.  If you’re like me, you’ve heard that a thousand times while in our program.  We know it intellectually, but it’s an entirely different thing in practice.  When dealing with physical objects, it’s fairly apparent when you don’t have enough storage to accommodate a collection or when an item is severely damaged past the point of reasonable preservation.  Yet, I think we often don’t “see” the same kinds of limitations in digital curation despite the fact that we talk about it on a regular basis.  I know I frequently fell into the kind of assumption that because we can grab so much more with digital preservation that selection and acquisition is not as difficult a task. Not so true after all.  While we can certainly push the limits of preservation to new places, we are still not capable of saving everything (I’ll keep repeating it to myself for retention).  Instead, the AIP forced me to make educated decisions about what was realistic to keep and how I should go about doing so – both tasks equally challenging. I had to balance grabbing enough of the art to demonstrate the reason behind a community’s existence and enough of the community to demonstrate the importance of the art.  Furthermore, I had to choose tools which were capable of sufficiently grabbing the material, preserving context, and guessing as to how well those tools could survive long term preservation and future conversion.  What a great challenge!


As far as things that I now question after having taken the course, I’d like to better understand the technical aspects of digital preservation.  There were moments where I felt my “techie” skills were not deep enough to make educated decisions independently.  While we’ve talked about the importance of collaboration with information technology professionals, I think it’s important for digital curators to have a strong grasp on what’s technologically possible.  Furthermore, I would really enjoy delving into public surveying in order to better evaluate and serve a user community.  This could be an extremely useful tool in our field which I haven’t seen discussed much before this class.
All in all, I’m delighted I took this course!  I am confident I’m a better information professional for it, and I know way more about inappropriate national stereotypes than I did before!


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