FUNdamentals

During the course of this week’s readings, I kept coming back to the fourth axiom in the intro to our text – “Nothing has been preserved. There are only things being preserved.” (p. 5) The title to our text is Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, and in Chapter 4, Owens fleshes out more what he means by “craft.” Digital preservation is an ongoing process. The frameworks in our readings can be used as tools in directing this approach, but there isn’t a manual per se that explains what to do. It’s about asking the right questions to develop something that is sustainable for your situation. The word “craft” is evocative of an artisan, a glass blower for example – the end products might look similar but each piece is unique.

Image from Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA

In “The Emperor’s New Repository,” Chudnov suggests not stressing too much at the beginning about doing everything just right. You can start small and build, change tools, change how you think about the content, and draw on user feedback to guide your changes. My sense was that he didn’t want people to be paralyzed by the possibility of having to scrap or redo the work because they didn’t make the right decision at the beginning. In fairness, when you’re spending someone else’s money, it’s a difficult prospect to have to explain that this is all part of the process. As we discussed last week, we can can’t assume that everyone understands what’s involved in archiving or digital preservation.

Trying and learning from mistakes is still better than nothing though. Our readings last week presented an urgency to this. Setting aside how well you feel professional archivists have this in hand, there’s a lot out there and archivists can’t preserve it all or even anticipate everything that is worth preserving; so if you think something important is slipping through the cracks, you might be the last recourse.

 

Practitioners don’t have to start from scratch

We can make informed decisions based on traditional archival and preservation practices. People are sharing their experiences and putting their heads together to try to make this attainable even if you don’t do this for a living. Reading, sharing, and talking it out is how we develop the craft.

Oh and another area where archivists can help – documenting decisions. What you did, why you did it, what worked, what didn’t. Owens writes, “Preservation happens because of institutions.…individuals alone can’t do digital preservation.” (p. 78) If an individual tries to preserve a collection alone and doesn’t pass it on to anyone, then it’s not being preserved anymore. When those responsibilities get passed on, either to or within an organization, documentation gives us a context and affects future decision-making. The most frustrating aspects of jobs I’ve had in the past all point to a lack of context to make informed decisions. It means taking the time to ask something I could have figured out myself, or trying something that someone else has already determined doesn’t work, or following the wrong path based on a misunderstanding.

 

Digital preservation frameworks

This week’s readings focused on two frameworks – Levels of Digital Preservation (LoDP) and the Open Archival Information System (OAIS). LoDP was developed by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance. It takes five concerns of digital preservation (storage and geographic location, file fixity and data integrity, information security, metadata, file formats) and provides recommendations for the types of activities at each level. Level 1 pertains to what are considered the most urgent activities and serves as a prerequisite to the later levels.

In keeping with the idea of digital preservation as a craft, LoDP is a work in progress. An update is underway. LoDP is conceptual. The authors discourage thinking of a preservation program as being at one level. The different concerns listed above can fall at different levels or only partially meet the recommendations at a particular level.

OAIS is more specific than LoDP and deals with repository design from submission to dissemination. Despite the fact that OAIS is now an ISO standard, the report written by the Digital Preservation Coalition still describes it more as a concept than a standard (pp. 3, 31). This means that there’s no official way to tell if a repository is “OAIS-compliant.” (Side note: I didn’t go directly to the source for this because the ISO standard costs $200.)

 

Theory versus practice

The fact that these frameworks are conceptual didn’t stop me from wanting to harness this theory to something a little more concrete – to think about what Level 3 might look like or how realistic Level 4 is. I work on a digitization program so I have some idea of what goes into the repository, but I don’t work on ingest or design user interfaces. As a student I’ve accessed digital repositories so I understand what I might want, at least right now, from a repository as a user. In this way, I could think about my own experiences to put some shape to the theory. I suppose there’s a danger of oversimplifying when doing that and we’ve seen examples of this in our readings.

Chudnov warns not to “fetishize” software because what works for one situation won’t necessarily work for another, but examples help. One of our optional readings described  DSpace. Even though “[a] repository is not a piece of software” (Owens, p. 4), the author describes it as a digital repository built from open-source software. Still I appreciated the example because it presented specific scenarios for how you could use the software. The article doesn’t mention OAIS, but the description seemed similar to that model. In googling “DSPACE” and “OAIS-compliant” however, I came across this quote from a white paper:

“Digital  preservation is a  process,  not a  technology.  I’m not  quite  sure where  claims  that DSpace  is  ‘OAIS compliant’ came  from, but since OAIS talks about processes, communities and responsibilities,  DSpace itself  can  no more  be  ‘OAIS compliant’  than a set of pliers can be a certified electrician.” (p. 18)

 

Conclusion

This week’s readings opened us up to the idea that we have a lot of choices in our digital preservation activities, but I wondered if the theoretical basis for some of this would be off-putting for those who have no previous experience. I found LoDP understandable, but still question if readers would shut down at the mention of “fixity” or “metadata.” One thing I like about LoDP is that it uses the language that you need to know to make those decisions.

I know we come from different backgrounds and that we all have different levels of experience with digital preservation. I’m curious to read your impressions and what you responded to.

Tina

Intro and initial thoughts

Hello everyone. I’m Tina. I’m in the Master of Library and Information Science program. This is actually my second graduate degree. I also have an MS in nutrition. I’ve come to learn this is far from unusual in the MLIS program. Right now, I work full time on a digitization program of historical medical texts. I’ve been looking forward to taking a digital preservation class so that I can put what I’ve learned on the job in context and understand more about the field in general.

I’m also coming at this on a personal level because, like many people, I keep my own digital collections. I’ve amassed a lot of electronic records since I started grad school and I do refer back to them. I think about them every time I start a new class and regret not coming up with a standard naming system from the start for searching. I also have personal records of sentimental value. I get a kick out of reading my earlier writing, not because it’s particularly good, but because it sometimes feels like someone else wrote it. It’s interesting to me to see how much (or little) I’ve changed and what I was thinking at the time. Most of what I’ve written is gone now. I’m glad that Trevor Owens mentions in his introduction to our text that he is writing for a wider audience than just information professionals because I think empowering people to keep their own history is important. That being said, I’ve generally taken the view that my writing will really only be interesting to me in the long run. Blogging is new to me.

Reading reflections

There is a lot in our readings this week that resonated with me. I can appreciate that the unique qualities of digital collections require a different way of thinking about information and preservation, but I also recognize a lot of similar issues to those in maintaining any collection. Several of our readings addressed the idea of a digital dark age, that records using obsolete formats or technologies will be lost, and the role that information professionals can take in preventing this.

In “There will be no digital dark age,” Bertram Lyons responds to an NPR report on digital preservation, suggesting that they were ignoring the role that information professionals and institutions play. Following on Lyons’s comments, Eira Tansey agrees but goes on to write that the real problem is that archivists are not in positions of power to ensure the safe disposition of records because they can’t control compliance with acquisition policies or the budget that would sustain preservation. These concepts of underappreciated professions and having to prove your worth are not new to library science or many other professions. When I started library school, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t have to explain the value of my work in a library because administrators would understand the importance of the functions that sustain it. I understand it a little differently now because things change, and you have to justify whether old methods continue to be necessary in new contexts.

Tansey suggests that advocating on our own behalf isn’t enough because we need advocates in positions of power to make digital preservation sustainable. I agree but I’m not sure how we can have external advocates if we’re not prepared to persuade them.

I’m looking forward to our discussions this semester.