Reflecting and Reporting on this Semester

Coming into this class, I was terrified. I was in my first semester of grad school, I had wedged my way into this class, making the pre-requisite class into a co-requisite. I was here to figure out if I was on the right path into digital curation or if I absolutely hated it. That was definitely a lot to put onto 3 credits, but it fulfilled its goal. I figured out that I didn’t hate digital materials as much as I expected to – even figuring out that I enjoyed working with digital information. That being said, I didn’t learn what I expected to. Maybe this was a symptom of my first-semester-first-year mindset, but I thought that we were going to be learning about how to do digital preservation, the nuts-and-bolts of migrating files and using software to preserve these materials. That thought was quickly replaced with a more theoretical mindset. What we learned was how to approach digital preservation; how to take a collection that managed to have some digital assets and how to preserve those files at least for another 10 years.

We looked at the philosophical problems of digital preservation before ever attempted to work with actual files. It may not seem to be productive to delve so deeply into the concept of “sameness” but this helps us determine the goal of digital preservation before it determines us. Is the point to preserve the test of the item or the look of it? While these two items may be determined to be the same as its earlier form, the idea of what the same means determines how the item should be preserved. If the text needs to be the same, then the text is the more important component; if it is the image, then that is the priority. Having this background gave us a framework to be able to approach our digital preservation projects, which gave a tangible representation of what digital preservation can look like.

Working with our organizations was probably the closest we came to doing digital preservation (whatever that means – another component of the theoretical portion was learning how many different ways there are to do digital preservation). While we may not have gotten to work with the individual files, we did have the chance to create frameworks about how other people should work with the files. Working within that we also had to realize that while we might think that the only way to do digital preservation is by making everything to the highest standard, even putting files on a separate hard drive counts as digital preservation. We got some of that information through our readings, but actually being in a place or watching our classmates deal with floppy discs and completely unorganized file trees, gave a very concrete idea that some digital preservation is better than none.

While I can’t say that I want to only do digital preservation for the rest of my life, I can’t say that I don’t and that’s part of the problem. I came into this course and into this program completely decided on being an archivist. That path is now the least clear it has been since August of 2016. I can’t say that I’m happy that my carefully ordered plan has been thrown into jeopardy but, I am happy that this change has been the result of learning and understanding more about how digital objects work and how we can work to preserve them.

The culmination of this semester is in the report linked below:

Digital Preservation Report for the National Trust for Historic Preservation

4 Replies to “Reflecting and Reporting on this Semester”

  1. I agree with your point that this class was ultimately more theoretical, but you also mention the idea of “sameness”, and how this idea determines how we will approach digital preservation. In this class specifically, it felt like the theory directly led into practice. Now that I know that the image is the most important aspect, that this is the thing that no matter what needs to stay the same, now I can figure out how to practically achieve that.

    But it’s good that you’re feeling a little unsure about what you’re interested in! Honestly this is a time to explore and there’s a lot of really cool elements within the MLIS field. And you have 1.5 years (min) to keep exploring that in grad school. Go for it!

    1. This class was certainly theory-heavy, but really — so is the rest of the program! I think what makes this course stand out from the others is that we took the theory part of the class and thought critically about how that fits in with the field as a whole. Unlike the other classes I’ve taken (well, the majority), I feel like I have a solid grounding in both the theory and the practice of what the course was about. I definitely don’t disagree with anything you said, just wanted to add to it!

  2. I agree with Maggie… I’ve changed my direction so many times throughout my time in the program! It seems like every other semester I have a new interest that catches my attention, and this class definitely helped me appreciate digital preservation in a way I never have before. I’m sure this won’t be the last time you switch up your career plans 🙂

  3. When I first read your post, I was thinking, “Wait…there was prerequisite?” and I had to look it up, which was kind of funny. (I took INST 604, so I’m good, but maybe I should start paying more attention to that kind of thing in Testudo.)

    I could relate to what you said about using this class as an experiment, so to speak, in whether or not digital curation would be something you would actually want to do. I’m in my third year (I’m HiLS), but this class is the first one I’ve taken that was exclusively oriented towards digital files/objects so it felt like “dipping my toe in the water” to see if it was something I could do or would want to be more involved with in the future. At the end of the class, I feel less intimidated by the idea of digital preservation and I want to learn more, so I would consider that a success.

    I also really appreciated your point about how we need to have theoretical conversations to “help us determine the goal of digital preservation before it determines us.” I thought this was a really succinct and insightful way of putting it. I also am leaving the class with a bit of a nagging feeling that I haven’t quite mastered the technical aspects of digital preservation, but I’m not sure exactly how that would be remedied. I can imagine an activity that’s like “Here’s a bunch of files. Play around with these tools that determine the fixity of those files and report back on what you learned.” But beyond that, I’m not sure what other “hands-on” activities would have given me more confidence. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

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