The recent US Government shut down should make all people involved in digital preservation thinking, if not worrying. I gave some feedback in Simon Tanners blog post , but the weekend helped to ponder a bit more about this topic.
We have always said, digital preservation is an international activity and we act like that, by having international collaboration in various areas. Sometimes one organisation starts a very good initiative and we all like to make use of the results, like PRONOM (TNA), FITS (Harvard), JHOVE, OPF, NDSA, DCC, DPC, PREMIS at the Library of Congress. Oops… due to the US government shut down this one was no longer available via the well known URL. Although the LoC website has recently be restored (5-10-2013), many more sites are still not available, like for example data.gov . So we could say that the digital preservation community is affected by the US Government shut down, and not only because we can’t have our regular meetings with the preservation people of the Library of Congress.
Have we been naïve as digital preservationists? This is not the first time the US Government shuts down, it also happened in 1995 and 1996 and before. But at that time the web was less influential on our daily activities and we were less dependent of it. Things have changed and we work with the web all day. But we might have been a little bit naïve in expecting things to be there, while our daily job is based on the expectation that things will not always be there. We try to save things. But we don’t have a rescue plan for the information we are dependent on in our processing activities. We might need registries at ingest and transformations and reference works when doing risk assessment of file formats and new object types. But we don’t have an overview of these vital sources that together make our digital preservation tool kit: standards,registries, software, reference works etc. All things that are only accessible from one place are principally in danger – the same rule we’ll apply for our preserved digital collections. What happened in the US can also happen somewhere else.
I would suggest to create an overview of our digital preservation tool kit, the vital elements without which we cannot work, and be reassured that their availability will no longer be restricted to one place. They should be present on various mirror sites. This activity really requires collaboration, but we already have the infrastructure for that. It is now important to make use of it. We should see this US Government shut down as a wake up call, it is not too late yet.