I know we’re only supposed to list three takeaways but I’ve got five. Sorry. Brevity has never been my strength.
So here we go…
1. Diplomacy matters.
Probably the one thing that seemed to matter the most during my project was the importance of accurately assessing and navigating interdepartmental politics, and on a related note, accurately assessing workflow considerations for both the initial producers and the end user group. Both of these exercises in diplomacy went a long way towards convincing my organization that the changes I was proposing were not overly cumbersome and that implementation would be beneficial.
2. Considering the organizational scope may actually whittle down the problem set.
My organization was somewhat larger than most of the other class projects, so this probably doesn’t apply across the board, but I found it important with an organization of this scale to keep in mind the functional limits of the department’s purpose. For example, it was a pretty hard sell to convince a communications department that they should start performing annual fixity checks, or that they should consider investing in a specialized tool like Archivematica. Rather, it made more sense to look for relationships that could be formed with other entities where it made more sense to house those capabilities, and to then concentrate on formalizing those relationships and processes through policy.
3. Worry about one step at a time.
I found it crucially important to communicate the incremental approach to digital preservation. StratComm’s daily pace of business is sort of like emergency room triage. At any given moment they are restarting hearts and sewing up bullet wounds. Telling them they should prioritize something like format migrations was kind of like telling them they should tuck their patient in and read them a book. I got much more interest from my leadership when I offered them low hanging fruit that they could achieve with the resources and staff they had on hand. I did mention some of the more complex high resource measures but was careful to emphasize that they were long-term goals to work towards rather than an immediate and dramatic heightening of the bar that they must surmount in one giant leap. During the times that I crafted this message successfully (e.g. the topic of storage and location) I could see the relief on their faces that moving the needle forward was enough. During the times that I botched this message (e.g. the topic of checking fixity) I could see that they basically just shut down and considered the entire subject too wonky and unfeasible.
4. Curation and preservation are not mutually exclusive activities.
So many times during the project I kept drifting into areas that served both curatorial as well as preservation needs. Separating the two seemed at least difficult, if not impossible. For example, addressing the metadata section of the NDSA levels necessarily triggered a larger look my organization’s curatorial goals and what approaches to that metadata would directly enable those ends.
5. Yay, existentialism!
I was struck by how often taking a step back and asking myself really basic existential questions (e.g. who is our user group, what level of usability do they require to achieve their goals, what is outside the realm of our responsibility, etc.) ended up clarifying solutions to what seemed like impossible questions with no good answer. This was particularly helpful for me on the topic of file formats. Several times during the project file formats served as a sticking point, but asking these questions made it easier to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of equally imperfect options and choose a path forward that, if not ideal, was at least logical.
The collected works of my StratComm Digital Preservation project are attached here: