Intro Blog – Sarah with an H

Hi Everyone,

My name is Sarah Schmitz and I’m a second year MLIS student with a focus on archives and digital curation. It’s always nice seeing some friends from previous classes, but I’m also excited to get to know some new people. I’ve been looking forward to taking this course for a while, as I believe that digital preservation is a vital skill set that almost all of us will need in our future careers. From the two archival internships I’ve held, both places maintained a considerable amount analog scans and born digital content that they needed to manage. I’m happy to see that this class gives us the opportunity to work with an institution, and get real world experience with developing a digital preservation policy. Sounds like a great project, and a way to dive into these issues.

I really enjoyed our discussion last night, and think that our ongoing conversations and varying opinions will be a great asset for helping me both understand the issues of digital preservation, but to also help shape my own thoughts on different policies. When I first read the BBC article, I focused on how I shared the worry that it conveys around hardware and software obsolescence that I’ve studied in some of my other classes at the iSchool. I also saw this problem being dealt with first hand last spring when I interned at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives. Our IT specialist showed me how they have acquired old hardware and software to be able to read documents found on obsolete materials such as the many 5 ¼ floppy disk they hold that contain the files of congressional staff. Being able to recreate these environments has ensured that the content of the digital files are not lost to the ages. Many people brought up the issue that Vint Cerf seems to be out of touch with the work that archivists and others in the field have already done to prevent the so called digital dark age, and that he seems to be more focused on pushing his product. As I believe Nathan said last night, if Google creates a digital preservation platform, that could be a good thing for the field, but others have already been working hard to resolve this issue.  

When looking at both the BBC article and the blog post by Bertram Lyons, I think we hit the nail on the head in our discussion last night that the common thread between both is that information professionals are bad at advocating for themselves and communicating their work to the general public. Like I mentioned last night, I worry that Mr. Lyons is overreacting in his criticism of the NPR story. He indicates that the story doesn’t give credit to archivists and other informational professionals that have been working on digital preservation for a long time, and that it gives the impression to the audience that this is a new problem to which people are just now giving focus. I think that the NPR article is trying to describe a complex issue to a broad audience, and that they are media savvy enough to know the most effective way to provide the most useful content and information to their listeners. They’re not trying to write a scholarly paper describing every advancement and project that has contributed to digital preservation over time, and I don’t think it’s necessary to go into that much detail for the general public. Like Mr. Lyons said in his comment on the NPR story, “Nothing in your report is news to any practicing records managers, archivists, cultural heritage collection managers, librarians, or any others whose responsibility it is to take care of historical and informational documentation.” Exactly; informational professionals are not the audience, it’s the general public. Personally, I believe that he should be happy that the matter is being discussed to a wider audience so that more people are aware of the problem, and perhaps that the story reaches philanthropic individuals who might want to use their resources to back projects for advancement in this field.

However, I do understand Mr. Lyons’ frustrations in wanting to get the most accurate information to the general public. Carlyn raised an interesting point last night how informational professionals should be the ones taking the lead on stories like this, as we are the experts.  With funding and staffing shortages in our field across the country, it makes it extremely difficult for us to find the time to be advocates for ourselves. It’s also made more difficult by the fact that our issue area is “not the most exciting” subject matter for the general public. When we all enter the workforce when we graduate, it would probably behoove us to be inventive in finding ways to reach the general public not just about the holdings of wherever we are working, but also educate people in the ways we ensure access and preservation of the holdings. Honestly, I’m not sure how exactly to do that, but I think it should be something we think about and strive to do. If people have ideas on how to better reach the general public, I would love to hear about it.