I was a bit reticent in signing up for this class since digital anything has never really been my thing but I’m glad I did. The hands-on projects I’ve had in grad school always seem to have the most value in retrospect and this class has been no exception. The consultation project pushed me out of my comfort zone by forcing me to assume expertise in a field I didn’t know much about. I’ve always been a fan of learning by doing and this project has been a great example of that. Our class discussions have also been a valuable part of this semester. Hearing your experiences and takes on things has helped me reevaluate my own stances and broaden my own understandings. Anyways, cheers, all, to a great semester and I hope everyone has a wonderful winter break!
Oh yeah, here are my three takeaways (plus a bonus discussion question):
Speak the Language
One of the most useful elements I took away from this class was simply how to speak the language of digital preservation. Professor Owens mentioned this at the end of last class (we now all know what fixity means!) and I agree; it’s an overlooked yet vital part of being part of a profession. Not only is it critical to a professional identity (your boss and coworkers will expect it of you) but I think it’s a good way to build confidence in your own knowledge. We can get into the debate on the impenetrability of jargon as a way to create exclusivity in knowledge production and sharing but to lay that aside for just one second (return to it in the comments if you dare), being able to navigate and use professional language gives you the tools and authority to frame your ideas as part of an established field. Having that confidence places you on a firmer professional footing, which is why all of us are spending the better part of 2+ years in grad school to begin with.
Plan, Start, Revise
How do you do digital preservation? Where do you start? What does it look like? These were some basic questions I had coming into this class and while I’ve gained some useful technical solutions, the most valuable, and transferable, thing I’ve learned about digital preservation is how to approach it theoretically. I’ve come to think about digital preservation as really a three-step cycle: planning, starting, and revising. Our consultation project drove home the first stage for me especially as I went from the survey to the next steps phase. It’s impossible to make any impactful decisions regarding preservation without knowing what you have and without thinking through how best to achieve your goals. Yet, preparation and research can only take you so far which is where the next step comes in: starting. Many of the articles we read this semester emphasized the value of doing something for digital preservation over nothing. Sure, we should plan our actions to make sure we cover our bases and do no harm, but those who don’t start never accomplish so the best thing I’ve learned is to go ahead and dive-in, make that second copy. Starting, rather than doing, also implies a level of flexibility, which I think is well warranted in digital preservation. Things change so quickly in the digital world and our collective knowledge on techniques and approaches in the field is ever growing. It’s imperative that digital repositories take the time to revise their preservation approach, figure out how to improve it, and start the cycle again.
“What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate”; or, the Virtue of a Well-Timed Clarification Question
None of us will spend our careers in a vacuum. Even if we are solo practitioners working in Smallville, U.S.A. we will still need to be able to communicate with the public, with our peers, with volunteers, with vendors, etc. The digital consultation project again taught me this lesson. Relying on secondhand information about the digital collection forced me to be more precise in my questions and clear in my writing to make sure I was working with accurate data and giving my institution the information that would be of most use to them. This is a skill that will continue to be relevant in whatever capacity we may work. Employing clear communication can help us state our case for improved funding, enable us to collaborate more efficiently, and help us build good relationships with our communities, just to name a few.
Congratulations Digital Preservation Class of 2018! You’ve successfully made it through another semester of grad school. Though we are all now well-experienced in this field, what aspect of digital preservation would you like to learn more about or what type of experience in the field would you like to have in the future?
8 Replies to “Old Trails Museum and Class Reflection”
Agreed on all your points, Gwen! I was also pretty intimidated by this course initially, but in retrospect I am always grateful for experiences that push me out of my comfort zone. 🙂
I am particularly grateful for what I’d call an intermediate knowledge of digital preservation language, now that we’ve completed the course. Yes, jargon can be exclusionary when used in the wrong places at the wrong times. But knowing how to “talk the talk” with fellow LIS professionals definitely builds confidence in my own knowledge. And man, that’s always a good feeling.
I second Tricia. I’m glad that I finally have some of the language needed and won’t go into a future interview with a shock and horror look on my face when they mention working with digital files or FIXITY. I also really liked your last point because it is kind of the opposite of this fields stereotype. A lot of people, including my past self, don’t realize how much interaction we have with others, be it within our own institution or with patrons, or even telling our family members about our jobs. We aren’t basement dwellers and I’m glad that I was able to practice inter-professional and semi-expert to institution communication before I try to find a basement, but well-lit desk.
I completely agree with your observation on the value of how the jarg… actually, I’m going to go with “lexicon” here (less of a pejorative)… was introduced and taught during this class. This was one of the first times that I felt like the vocabulary was not an affectation that I simply needed to regurgitate on job interviews, but instead – as you point out – it actually helped to convey our ideas in order to carry out the task at hand. I very much appreciated the utility of that.
I’m with you that learning by doing is honestly the best way to reinforce any kind of knowledge.
As for your takeaways from the course, I appreciate that two of yours emphasized communication as a necessary skill. Being able to talk the talk, and knowing how to formulate your questions and communicate clearly is so helpful when planning or implementing digital preservation. Knowing how to explain a term or use effective synonyms has been really helpful when working with my org, because let’s be honest not that many people know what fixity or data integrity is. I found also that needing to find other ways to define or talk about fixity (and other digital preservation elements) helped me solidify my understanding of it. I do feel more capable of planning digital preservation, but I want experience with actually doing it (performing the fixity checks, monitoring my additional copies, instituting the standardized file naming) But we’ll see, I might actually do that with my org over the winter!
Great reflection, Gwen. I recall a recent job interview where someone asked about my comfort level with technical jargon in communicating with IT people. I agree there’s value in understanding the terms and picking the right time to use them. Better still, we can explain those concepts and why they’re important in a non-technical way which also ties in to your third point about the value of communication. Some people will just shut down if you start using vocabulary that they don’t understand.
I remember feeling relieved during that first class when the majority of us said that we didn’t know anything about digital preservation. And look as us now! Talking about File Fixity and knowing about the differences between .mp3 and .wav files.
Something that I mentioned a little in my reflection was about using theory. I think something that happened over the course was that we realized how much theory informs practice. I won’t speak for everyone when I say this, but in some fields I see exactly where theory informs practice. In digital preservation, there was a disconnect. It felt like only the actual doing of digital preservation counted and the theory was extra, applicable to the researchers, not the practitioners. What I realized was that the theory informs so much of what we do that we have to have it to be successful.
You make a good point about being able to communicate with the people you’re working with. There was a point during my consultation project where I realized I was using too much jargon and was confusing the organization. Being able to explain things in layman’s terms when appropriate and using jargon when appropriate is an important skill and I’ve gotten some practice doing so during this course.
I would like to have more hands-on work with digital preservation. When I first started grad school, I was really interested in film archives. I haven’t had any preservation or digitization experience with audiovisual materials yet, so that’s still something I would like to do.
Gwen, I like how you mentioned the project “pushed me out of my comfort zone by forcing me to assume expertise in a field I didn’t know much about,” because I felt similarly. When I first met with the head of my institution, I felt like I needed to give numerous disclaimers and apologize for what I didn’t know. I also name dropped Dr. Owens a few times as a way of saying, “Even if I don’t know much about this, at least he’s an expert.” In retrospect, I may have overdone it a little. I did the readings and I participated in class discussions, so maybe I should have given myself more credit for the knowledge and skills I did have.
I also appreciated your point about how important it is just to know the lingo. I cringed when I recently came across my admissions essay for the MLIS program because it was painfully obvious that I didn’t even know what “digital curation” meant even though I was applying for a program with that term in its title. I’d say it took me maybe two full years in the HiLS program before I could actually give a good explanation of what digital curation meant.
I was also at a job presentation at UMD Libraries this week where the candidate was asked about professional service and she interpreted the question as being about charity work rather than the intended meaning of joining organizations, serving on committees, etc. And all of this just reminded me how even highly intelligent and capable people can be made to sound silly if they don’t know the lingo, and I think this is unfortunate, and as you pointed out, exclusionary. One easy thing we can all do to help combat this a little is just to remember when we are presenting or writing about our work to define our terms so that a broader audience can join the conversation.