Farewell Digital Preservation… For Now

As the semester draws to a close, I can confidently say that this has been one of most useful classes I have taken in this program. I found both the readings and the project to be very well organized, with the perfect mix of practical skills and the theoretical knowledge to back them up. MLIS classes tend to be very theory-heavy to avoid teaching tools that will be obsolete in a couple of years, but there is also so much value to be gained by working closely with a real-life problem, and seeking answers and solutions that you can learn from and use in the future. I was lucky to work with a super responsive and enthusiastic person at the Little Compton Historical Society, whose feedback and advice made this project much better. All of the nervousness I had at the beginning of the semester (who the heck am I to give advice?!) faded away as my ideas and suggestions were well-received. Look at us – we’re all digital preservation consultants now! On the other hand, there were times when I struggled by jumping too far ahead in the Levels of Digital Preservation, or making suggestions that were beyond the scope of what my institution could achieve. It helped to take a step back to the basics and remember that everyone has to start somewhere… even if that somewhere is not storing vital information on thumb drives!

If I have to choose three lessons I’ll take from this class, they are these:

  • The work of digital preservation is never-ending, but this should not prevent us from doing all we can to ensure the longevity of our historical collections. The line in the first part of Trevor’s book: “The primary enablers of preservation for the long term are our institutions,” was stuck in my head every time I was working on my project. Reminding us that our digital holdings have the potential to outlive us and survive for future generations to enjoy is a great way to hammer in the importance of taking action now –they will only last if we prioritize their care in our lifetime!
  • The nature of the digital world is that much more is lost than is saved. I had a professor last year who works in preservation and always said that you will always have to make hard choices, and then you go to therapy. As terrifying as it was to hear that my institution stored its entire oral history collection on CD-Rs, the fact is that important information is lost everyday because there just aren’t enough resources to go about preserving it all. In an ideal world – perhaps we would (or could), but sometimes you just have to prioritize and do your best.
  • Digital preservation is a team effort. Although I have learned a ton from this course, there is absolutely no way that I could have completed this project without input from my classmates. Sharing our experiences not only helped to complete the project itself, but to see all the different ways that we have approached different problems and challenges reminds us that “there is no one size fits all” approach. Not only from you all, but the input from my institution’s director helped me to see what is doable and what is not when faced with a shortage of funds and people.

I already said it, but I’ll say it again – I really enjoyed this class! Good luck to everyone next semester!

LCHS Digital Preservation Full Report

2 Replies to “Farewell Digital Preservation… For Now”

  1. Love the quote from your professor! I agree with everything you’ve said and I’m glad you mentioned the input from classmates. I don’t know how my “next steps” phase would have turned out if I had missed the class where we all shared our predicaments in advance of making our recommendations. Diverse organizations but so much common experience (and anxieties). I’m sorry to see this one end.

  2. Perri, I agree that this class was one of the most useful that I have taken so far, and I suppose I need to thank you for being the one who made me sign up. If I hadn’t found out you were in the class and asked to see the syllabus, I probably would have missed the opportunity. So thanks, Perri! (Did I mention that I am going to miss you so much next year?)

    I’ve heard the same argument that you mentioned about how the iSchool is focusing more on theory because the tools may change and become obsolete in a few years anyway. I think that to some extent this is a valid point, but I also think it can be used as a cop out for professors to keep teaching what they know and feel comfortable teaching. I recently took an archives class, and I don’t want to be too specific about which one it was, but it was a class in which digital archives *should* have been discussed, but they weren’t, and I think this was because the professor didn’t have experience with digital archives and therefore either didn’t feel that it was relevant or didn’t have the confidence to teach about the subject. When this happens, it’s really disappointing because I think digital curation is going to be where a lot of the jobs are in the future.

    I also think that to some extent it doesn’t really matter what tools they teach, so long as they are teaching us something, since the value of the experience is more in learning something new and building our confidence. So in this class, for example, we could learn about tools for fixity, and maybe those tools won’t be the same in ten years, but I don’t think that really matters. Learning those tools now would give us the confidence to say “Yes, I know how to do that,” in job interviews, and if the tools change, we would have more confidence in our ability to learn how to use them because we would have done something similarly before.

    I also liked your point about how you couldn’t have done this without input from classmates. I really appreciated having the class as a supportive forum where I could talk about the challenges I was having and get advice from Dr. Owens and my peers. I got a lot out of class discussions and genuinely enjoyed going to class every week.

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