9 Replies to “How do we preserve it? Bit by bit.”

  1. The “pick two” diagram is a great way to think of the difficulties when it comes to finding a tool to help with digital preservation. Could it possible to find a happy medium? I can envision that would entitle the use of more than one too be used at a single time. Is that plausible or are most professionals too focused on using a single application to do all the work?

    The results from the NDSA storage survey are great. It would be interesting to know the break down of large verse small institutions that participated in the survey. When speaking with professionals at smaller institutions it seems like they don’t do or understand how to preform digital preservation at a basic level. Beside, project such as the one we are doing for class; how do you propose we get that knowledge out there? (Some individuals in archival/library profession got their position without a MLIS)

    1. I definitely think happy mediums exist– but it’s all dependent on the specific institution. This goes back a bit to issues raised by Daniel Chudnov about picking software. His advice fits here, I think, “It depends on what you’re doing, but you can always start with one or another and decide after you have some experience, and they’re all a good place to start, so just pick one and get started.” I think the nice thing is that a lot of the skills you gain working with one piece of software translate nicely to similar software.

      This is true for most similar “groups” of software. Word processors are all really similar– each might have slightly different features, but once you learn how to use one, you can generally figure out another pretty easily. I work with audio software, and while it took me a LONG time to learn how to use my first digital audio workstation, when I picked up another piece of software, it took me far less time, and I quickly could see the advantages and disadvantages to the next one.

      On the whole though, I think you’re right about using potentially smaller/simpler software– I think there’s a tendency to want to use “industry standard” or the best software available in your price range, but it’s important to keep in mind that some of the more comprehensive tools also take a lot longer to learn.

      As for getting the word out… this is another thing that needs to be done “bit by bit” (“a bit at a time” might have been a better pun). As we leave this class and go out into the world, talking to people about digital preservation work and encouraging them to look into it should be a start, at least!

    2. I’m also curious about the breakdown in the size of institutions that participated in the NDSA survey. I think it is also important to be mindful of the nature and possible bias in the survey: the NDSA is an organization dedicated to digital preservation, so the numbers might be skewed a little. I looked into the membership process for NDSA, and while it seems to be free, the application does require someone to write two paragraphs describing their organization’s current preservation efforts. While I’m not sure how this plays into the application process (I don’t believe membership is granted only to organizations which meet certain standards), I could see some people feeling discouraged or embarrassed and not applying. So I think the survey might be a bit too optimistic because it is largely polling organizations that have expressed some interest in digital preservation. Like Sara, my experience with small institutions has shown that there are people who are not only sure what to do to preserve digital objects but are also intimidated by it. When I e-mailed my organization (an archivists I’ve worked for previously), she initially responded with “Digital preservation HAHA!”

      That being said, I believe this actually demonstrates the importance of what you were saying. It is important for organizations to make those “bit by bit” advances.

      Now to respond to Sara’s question, I think one way to reach these organizations would be through professional conferences (national or regional) or maybe even workshops. The archivist I’m working with is in the type of position where she was trained purely as an archivist but has found herself dealing with materials she hadn’t been trained to work with. She found herself with a collection of rare books and eventually was able to go down to Rare Book School and take a class to better work and understand those materials. I wonder if there are any sorts of classes, seminars, or webinars on the type of preservation philosophy Alice has suggested. I feel like most classes or webinars would be for a particular product rather than educating archivists about basic, general principles. Maybe SAA and similar organizations should do more to promote digital preservation?

      1. It’s good to be asking about the extent to which the NDSA membership is reflective of the broader field. It isn’t. It is a self selected set of organizations prioritizing digital preservation and as such it illustrates what the orgs that are the most committed to these issues are doing.

        Alice, I really like you’re “bit by bit” take on this and I completely agree that it takes us bach to Chudnov’s piece. Digital preservation isn’t a problem that you can solve with a piece of software. It’s a core responsibility of an institution and as such it’s always going to involve all those different things that you do to make and staff a repository.

        1. That’s a great point about the results from the NDSA survey being skewed– it would be good to get a feel for the field at a broader level.

          Advocacy is such an interesting thing, and it seems to be an idea/thread that comes up a lot, or getting the word out about digital preservation ideas, techniques, and practices. While I do think that there’s something to be said for reaching out one organization at a time, I’m wondering about what strategies will work best for getting cultural heritage organizations to take on digital preservation at some level. I used to do field canvassing for an environmental organization (going door to door, getting people to write letters, donate, etc), and we used to talk about how certain words and tones could make people less receptive to things we had to say– and I think that’s worth considering with digital preservation advocacy, as well.

          This gets to be particularly tricky in this field, because I think technology-oriented words can derail conversation. so finding ways to make talking about digital preservation more accessible is a challenge.

  2. What I liked a lot in the POWRR article was the emphasis on doing your homework when it comes to finding a digital preservation solution. You mentioned how going from 0 to digital is a herculean task, so doing your homework and using guides like the one POWRR provided is a great way to carefully get your feet wet and get on the right track towards digital preservation.

    As you pointed out, there were definitely some encouraging findings from the NDSA survey. Even though it focused primarily on storage, when it came to planning for the future, the vast majority of the participants had plans for meeting their digital storage needs in the future. If they have plans for the future, then (hopefully) it means they’ve thought about what they would like to accomplish and how they can go about doing it. Being proactive and preparing for the future is a crucial step in digital preservation. And like you said, every step is a step in the right direction.

    1. I agree about the POWRR article– the only issue is that things like this have such a limited shelf life. Programs change their features, pricing, and structure so often that it’s hard to keep up with shifts and changes. Still, it’s good to have comparisons like this available, and it would be great if there were consistently updated reviews/lists– I wonder if there’s an organization that does regularly review archival software, like Engadget or Ars Technica?

  3. I think you really hit the nail on the head here – every bit is a step in the right direction. I think this sort of mentality is at the basis of what we’ve been talking about all semester, but you’ve summed it up well here. Archivists only get to their digital preservation goals bit by bit, taking small steps at a time.

    Doing your homework on software programs and planning is of course an important part of this process, but I wonder if planning is something to be done before or while taking action. I think Thomas made a good point when he said that a lot of archivists make plans for the future and their future preservation needs, and that this is a step in the right direction. However, I think at some point these plans can almost seem like New Years resolutions. You made a plan, you’re aware of your digital preservation needs. That’s good. But whether those plans will ever amount to any substantial action, only time will tell. It is a highly subjective problem experienced on an institution-by-institution basis, but I think endless planning before taking action can be a trap of pseudo-productive procrastination. I’ll refer back to Chudnov’s article and its Nike/LaBeouf-esque spirit of “just do it”.

    1. Totally agree with you here Margot– I would add that the “New Year’s Resolution” mentality is something I think we all get into, and a check against that is having regular reviews of how standards/goals are being met– you set dates and benchmarks, so you can see where you’re making strides, and where you’re struggling– which gives you an opportunity to consider WHY that’s happening, and hopefully find ways to adjust the plan or make accommodations for limitations.

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