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?