Digital Preservation Reflection and WYPR

Combined final WYPR report and policy

So my work for this class was actually pretty satisfying, it felt like what I was doing, working with my org, was actually useful. I want to emphasize this part, though. Over the course of the semester, I actually created a real life digital preservation policy for a real organization. So few of our projects in grad school have a real world impact or larger significance beyond a grade. I felt so much more excited to work on this project because I knew it would have an impact and be relevant to my career later on. I just feel a sense of satisfaction after having completed this project, it makes it feel like the work was worth it. Ugh! So satisfying!

I think a major difficulty with the project didn’t have to do with the assignment, but rather the issue of working with our respective organizations. Communication and misunderstandings presented an issue. Some of our orgs were busy, too busy to communicate with us regularly about the progress of the project. I was never able to get feedback on my plans before I submitted them, only afterward, and had to make edits after the assignment was due. I also found that it was hard to communicate all of the nuances of my org’s current management practices. I misunderstood what they were telling me, and based my survey and next steps plan on incorrect information, which I later had to change. This made me anxious about the accuracy and helpfulness of my policy later on. I feel like my reports aren’t ever really done because I might need to keep tweaking them here or there.  But, I will be working with my org (WYPR) over break as well, so there will be room for edits then.

Overall, I do feel like I was able to practically apply the information that we learned in class, and I learned about what specific elements are required to build a sustainable and realistic digital preservation plan. I didn’t even know what fixity was until this class, and now I can provide guidance on how to perform those checks. I appreciated learning about the different types of preservation (artifactual, folkloric, informational), and recontextualizing my understanding of emulation as a preservation strategy. While I didn’t necessarily apply that to my policy with WYPR, I still feel like I’ve gained a greater appreciation for those guys on the internet making illegal emulators and pirating their favorite games. These guys were engaging in digital preservation before the companies themselves were!

Something I kind of wish I learned a little more about was metadata, and how to preserve not just the information in a database, but the database itself? This may be a little outside the scope of the class, but learning more about maybe how administrative and preservation metadata works, if there are specific (different?) schemas for them. I also repeatedly came across weird one off databases at my orgs that I don’t really understand. Where does the database live? Is it one object or file, or is it just a constellation of many objects that I can’t simply physically store in one place? Is it software or is it a file containing records of other files? I think this is something I want to understand more, because every institution has one and if I’m ever in a position of power, I’ll need that knowledge to make informed decisions about how to preserve them.

I don’t necessarily feel like I’m done learning about digital preservation (it’s an iterative process… right?) but I do feel like I’ve got a decent foundation of understanding that will help me out as I start applying for jobs and graduate in the spring.


6 Replies to “Digital Preservation Reflection and WYPR”

  1. Hi Maggie,

    I feel your point about the challenges and rewards of doing this consultation project. I agree; it’s immediate relevancy and practicality made it one of the better projects I’ve had to do in grad school as well. Even the not-so-great parts (miscommunications, having to re-do work, etc.) I think are great training for what doing this kind of work is actually like. Not all the relevant information is immediately available and people often change their minds on what they want or need.

    I’m similarly flummoxed about database preservation. My institution didn’t really have anything like that so unfortunately (though probably fortunate for them) I didn’t get the chance to really dive into that area. I think the whole concept of multi-component or multi-layered digital preservation is both fascinating and challenging. One of the points I’m taking away from this class is that the specificity of care needed to maintain a digital object like that is really conditional. Can we really, realistically, maintain an adequate preservation of something that has so many parts and is always changing? Something has to outweigh another component in importance. I’m rambling here but all this to say is that I agree with you and would also like to have more experience in this type of digital preservation in the future.

  2. Agreed with Gwen on how the “not-so-great parts” can act as good training/prep for the real world. I don’t have any past dig preservation work experience (duh), but working at a public library for a while really made me realize that work flows and progress are hardly ever linear. People are messy, complicated creatures on their own, let alone trying to work with other equally complicated coworkers. And a lot of people definitely have trouble respecting deadlines and work email responses….

    Incredibly frustrating for sure, but it will unfortunately always be present wherever we all end up working in the future. So again, that speaks to the usefulness and refreshing nature of this assignment, because we were not relying on a hypothetical workplace. It increased the pressure to do well but also made the work more interesting and applicable.

    And I also enjoyed learning about the three different types of preservation! I think the readings around that chapter were the most interesting for me.

  3. I agree that wrestling with the real preservation problems of my organization was a good complement to the theory we covered in class.

    I had a different sort of database question that I couldn’t resolve for my organization. The files were created using some obsolete software called Paradox. I think they would have just been happy with having the information. From what I could tell, there was a brief window that has now passed where you could migrate that software to an older version of MS Access. Looking at some user forums, the solution to access the data went beyond my technical knowledge but it did give me an appreciation for monitoring for software obsolescence and migrating when you can. I also wondered if regularly exporting data tables into a csv file would be a good strategy for at least preserving the information. In terms of preserving the database itself, the closest we probably came to that was in the discussion about Grateful Med.

  4. Hi Maggie,

    Like everyone else, I agree with you that it was gratifying to take all the theory we learned and put it into practice with our consulting project. I would recommend the course INST 742 Implementing Digital Curation for anyone interested in doing real-world projects in the digital curation field. It’s available this spring. I took it last semester and was able to work with MITH and the Lakeland Community Heritage Project (which I’ve mentioned on the blog before).

    As Tina mentioned, the closest we came to learning about database preservation was the Grateful Med example. If we encountered a similar issue in our professions, maybe we could come to the same conclusion as the archivist and decide preserving the tutorial was enough. Maybe the preservation intent will determine that only certain aspects of the database need to be preserved. I do think it would have been nice to learn more about actual database preservation, though.

  5. Maggie, I agree that the project was satisfying to finish! In some of my other classes, we’ve had to create policies or strategic plans for a fictional organization, which wasn’t all that helpful because you’re essentially making things up. I’m glad that our work this semester was more grounded in reality and I hope it will make a difference for these organizations going forward!

    I also had some communication issues with my organization. Sometimes they would tell me one thing about their practices and then tell me something different after follow-up questions. My contact was very responsive and eager to participate in the project but it was challenging to figure some of this stuff out remotely.

  6. Maggie, I agree with you about how exciting it was to work with an organization and have a “real” product at the end of class. That was the reason why I added this class at the last minute, because while I wasn’t planning on taking an extra class this semester, I felt like it was an opportunity too good to pass up. Considering how many archives, libraries, and museums there are locally (not to mention the ones willing to work with students remotely), it’s surprising that more professors aren’t partnering with institutions for “real world” assignments.

    I also appreciated your point about how the class taught you about the importance of communication. I was really grateful to be able to have a long sit-down interview with the head of my institution in which I was able to ask as many questions and follow-up questions as I could think of. I realized afterwards, however, that rather than relying just on her description of how things worked, I should have said “show me” and seen what things actually looked like. If I had it to do over again, I would have asked her to pull up the shared drive, load up PastPerfect, open up the spreadsheets, etc. I realized that getting verbal descriptions only enabled me a somewhat hazy understanding of the holdings and operations of my institution, and I probably would have been able to give better advice if I had asked to see more. I realize that not everyone had a local institution so that wouldn’t have been an option for them, but it’s definitely something that in retrospect I would have done differently.

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