Hello everyone! My name’s Gwen Coddington. I recognize some of the names from the sign-up for the discussion post moderators so to those I’ve met before, glad to be working with you again for another semester! To those I haven’t met yet, I’m looking forward to getting to know you as we dive into the world of digital preservation together. Just a little bit about me, I’m a third year (and hopefully last) in the HiLS program. I’m starting my thesis in the history program and am writing about public libraries in Maryland during WWII, focusing specifically on Baltimore and the Enoch Pratt but also drawing on the experiences of rural Marylanders and state initiatives. So if you like the history of libraries, print culture, or just want to geek out over our profession, let me know!
The readings this week are a nice way to introduce why digital preservation matters not only in the archive/library profession, but to the flow and maintenance of information in society as a whole. Thinking about our readings as a unit, I’m struck by the diversity in where this conversation is taking place. By that I mean, this isn’t a topic limited to academic journals but is impacting discussions across major news outlets, blog posts, and professional organizations. In other words, everyone can and should have a stake in digital preservation.
This, I think, gets at one of the themes in the readings: bridging the divide between information professionals and the general public when it comes to demonstrating why our profession matters and how the work we do has real-world stakes. I don’t think it’s a secret that librarians and archivists often have an image problem. In the popular media, we are often portrayed as out-of-touch, a remnant of a bygone era guarding musty tomes and shushing people. I think we all would agree that that representation is a far-cry from what we do (though I’ll freely admit to shushing undergrads when trying to study in McKeldin). But image and popular misconceptions have real consequences as some of the articles we read demonstrate. Bertram Lyons’ blog post rightfully identifies that librarians and archivists are often a “hidden element” in the general conception of how information is preserved and made accessible to researchers. Eira Tansey’s response expands upon this idea by noting institutional deterrents in bringing archivists’ perspective to the table when appraisal decisions are being made. How do we get in “the room where it happens?” How do we assert our role more visibly to the public? To quotes Terry Kuny’s article, “The challenge in preserving electronic information is not primarily a technological one, it is a sociological one.” It’ll take a reordering of priorities and assumptions to make digital preservation a cultural norm and not simply a specialized responsibility.
A final note, I’ve been going back and forth about how I feel about the term, “digital dark ages.” I’m not a Medieval historian but if I recall properly that label is a bit of misconception for the survival of knowledge and culture in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. I kind of wanted to roll my eyes every time it crept up in our readings this week. Is drawing this parallel an unhelpful way to characterize what are, what I think, some true challenges facing archivist and librarians as the digital age expands? Am I being overly sensitive to what is really a cosmetic issue in this discussion? I’d love to know other people’s thoughts in how terminology and language is shaping the debate around this topic.