Greetings and First Thoughts

Hello to all. I’m David Conway. This the start of the second year and second half of my MLIS program here at Maryland. This is the point at which I, and others I suppose, move from a general track (Archives & Digital Curation for me) and begin to personalize their path a bit more. It was a fascination with film preservation projects and realizing that so many films were already lost that started me down the road to pursuing a career in archives. Complacency and neglect aren’t new to the digital age and neither is ephemerality.

My main interest is, loosely, the preservation of artistic heritage. I’m involved in digital preservation projects where I work, The David C. Driskell Center (for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora) here at UMD, and at the National Council for the Traditional Arts, in Silver Spring. While I’ve dealt with issues in digital preservation, this is my first formal study of the subject and I’m hoping to frame my fragmented experience, expand my knowledge and hopefully, professionalize.

Our readings this week were a nice primer on the hysteria and misconceptions surrounding our topic. Simplistic solutions abound, as mentioned in the introduction to our course text. The moon-shot solution, “just hoover it all up and shoot it into space,” reminded me of the sort of silver bullet “technical solutions” that have been proposed for fixing climate change. Most of us agree that nothing’s quite that simple but neither is a digital dark age inevitable.

I like Bertram Lyons’ reframing of a digital dark age as the digital silence of underrepresentation. “The digital dark age will only happen if we, as communities of archives and archivists, do not reimagine appraisal and selection in light of the historical gaps revealed in collections today.” I think it’s tempting to imagine digital preservation as an entirely new arena, with practices and challenges of its own that don’t overlap with core practices and longstanding challenges to inclusiveness. Lyons reminds us that these problems are perennial. But, I share Eira Tansey’s doubts about the true autonomy of archivists, and not only in the institutional records management context she describes. The sort of introspection about appraisal that Lyons recommends is unlikely to reverse power dynamics that have traditionally favored certain groups over others.

I can’t say that I found much of what we read this week to be controversial. But, I’d be curious to know what others thought of axiom 13 in the introductory chapter to our text: “The affordances of digital media prompt a need for digital preservation to be entangled in digital collection development.” “That is, the affordances of what can be easily preserved should inform decisions about what an organization wants to go out and collect and preserve.” I hadn’t thought of digital preservation as being bound up in appraisal duties in quite that way.

One Reply to “Greetings and First Thoughts”

  1. Hi David! Your comment about imagining digital preservation as a new arena caught my attention. I definitely felt that temptation, even when signing up for this course, as though all my other archival training is less valuable than the “digital future.” My “aha” moment, when I realized my mistake, came when reading Prof. Owens’ 4th axiom: “Nothing has been preserved, there are only things being preserved.” That (and many of his other points, too) apply to not only the digital, but physical things we want to preserve. I think it’s important to resist that temptation, as you and Lyons pointed out!

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