Introduction

Hi, I’m Emily Flint. I’m a MLIS student following the Archives and Digital Curation track and I plan to graduate in December. Currently, I work as a student assistant for the Maryland and Historical Collections unit of Special Collections here at UMD. I don’t have much experience with digital preservation, so I figured it was probably past time to take a class like this. Other classes have briefly touched on digital preservation issues, but I don’t feel like I know how to actually *do* the work and I’m excited to learn and discuss with you all this semester.  

I was definitely frustrated by Vint Cerf’s comments in the BBC article, partially because he ignores the contributions that people have already been making in this field and also because the language he used was somewhat exaggerated. Do we really need “all the images and documents we’ve been saving on computers” to last? I think that people who make these types of doom and gloom arguments are also making an assumption that we all want our “stuff” to be preserved for generations. While many people don’t want to lose access to their most important files, others may not see a need to preserve their content indefinitely. What about people who have privacy concerns or who would prefer to be forgotten?

This isn’t to say that Cerf’s “digital vellum” solution is entirely without merit or that we shouldn’t devote resources to digital preservation. But I believe that thoughtful appraisal is important. For this reason, axiom #14 from the Owens introduction (accept and embrace the archival sliver) really resonated with me. If we waste time preserving things that don’t have much value, then we’re not making the best use of our resources and our users will ultimately have a harder time wading through the junk to find the content that they actually need.

Of course, deciding which records have the most value is easier said than done. I appreciated Bertram Lyons’ reminder that our collecting practices have resulted in archival silences and I agree that it’s important to proactively address gaps in our collections. I’d also add that it’s important to be transparent about the decisions we make as professionals and to invite the creators and users of records to participate in the appraisal and preservation process where possible. The institutional constraints that Tansey acknowledges are very real. We won’t be able to preserve everything and we might not even have the necessary resources to preserve the “archival sliver.” But we can at least document the decision making process and explain why we prioritized some digital materials over others. Perhaps increased transparency would help to reduce fears about the digital dark age.

3 Replies to “Introduction”

  1. Hi Emily,

    You raise some valid points about the scope of preservation in digital media. I agree that Vint Cerf is overselling it when he talks about preserving digital records as a totality rather than as a curated process (as you rightfully note, archivists need to know that they can’t save everything). To play devil’s advocate for one second, I think his overly ambitious language is somewhat justified in that it gets people thinking about their own digital preservation needs. Most of our records won’t create any interest for future archivists but they will have value for our own friends and family. In talking about the impending loss of material in such grandiose terms, Cerf does get you thinking about how your own records are being preserved. As a child of the digital age, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit my complacency in curating my own records. Cerf’s “doom and gloom”, while largely overblown, is a useful wake-up call in that regards.

    Second, you raise an interesting point about digital preservation and privacy issues. This is particularly salient in social media. The dichotomy behind public consumption and the right to control personal information released on the internet is, I think, a bit of a gray area. Do we indeed have a “right to be forgotten” even when we willingly volunteer the information?

    1. Hi Gwen-you make a great point that digital preservation is also happening outside of an institutional context and that people can benefit from strategies to preserve their own records for friends and families. I think that Cerf’s comments could inspire people to take action like you suggest, but I think they could also come across as intimidating to people who don’t know a lot about the topic.

      Privacy on social media is definitely an interesting topic. Legally, we agree to certain terms and conditions when we sign up for these sites and we give up some level of control. But then again, who actually reads all of the terms and conditions? Does this count as meaningful consent? People are generally aware that the things they post will be visible to others, but it’s not always possible to anticipate all of the potential future uses of that personal information. So I agree that it can be a gray area and I think we have an obligation to consider both the legal and the ethical dimensions.

  2. Hi Emily,

    I also agree that we have to come to terms with the archival “sliver.” Where I work, we have about 5000 photographic slides to digitize. They are mostly shots of artworks and many are slight variations on the same content. We didn’t realize that ahead of time but only after we got started. So, we had to decide whether completeness, in the abstract, was a better goal than having discrete images digitized and accessible as soon as possible. I think you know how we ruled on that. We’re now in the process of developing a method of digital triage.

    You make a good point about transparency. No pun intended when talking about slides. At the same time as figuring out that we’ll have to make some judgment calls about which images make the cut, we want to make sure that we have a system for documenting those decisions sufficiently. This is necessary out of respect for the integrity of the collection but also so that our users understand our actions.

Leave a Reply to davidconway Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *