Is digital preservation a profession? And if so, what characterizes it as a profession? If you look at a skilled carpenter, the professionalism is defined by the skills of the carpenter, the tools that are used, the flexibility to apply centuries old knowledge in different situations and materials and above all, to expand this knowledge.
Although preservationists do not have a centuries old tradition, they adopted well established principles from libraries and archives and other areas and translated them into specific standards. Tools were developed to implement the ingredients of the standards and to apply them into a variety of digital materials. Thus coping with an ever changing digital environment. Training-on-the-job and day to day practice, as well as dedicated educational programs support the preservationists in developing the necessary skills.
But do these contribute enough to sustain digital preservation as a profession?
Several people wrote dissertations about digital preservation and invested years of their intellectual energy to carry out an in-depth analysis of a certain topic. Varying from OAIS, designated community, the application of trusted digital repositories, conceptual models, a technology model, bit preservation etc. Similar intellectual effort was spent in large projects, with a variety of reports and outcomes, on preservation planning, significant properties and community building, to name a few topics.
Research in digital preservation deserves to be evaluated. But what is the preservation community currently doing with these results? Is there an open discussion about the findings? Are the findings matched with current starting points and ways of working in a systematic manner? Does this result in adapting new ways of working or saying goodbye to old theories? In other words, is digital preservation an evolving profession and how is this communicated?
Why not gain more knowledge by studying dissertations, ground-breaking articles, digital preservation classics and project results in digital preservation? I propose to start a Digital Preservation Reading Club! For instance, every 3 months we could pick a dissertation or important article or project result. This might be a recent article or an “old” deliverable that is still cited and discussed (as was recently done on Twitter about “significant properties”). In an online Zoom meeting we can then discuss our findings. (Of course, if you want to join the discussion, you have to (have) read the publication!). We will discuss how to translate the research findings into daily practice. We will share a summary of our findings online, with the wider community, so that these discussions could contribute to make new insights become part of the preservation practice.
I think there are many candidate publications that can be discussed. Together we could make a list of them. I propose to start with the concept of Designated Community. Recently I studied the dissertation of Rhiannon Bettivia (Encoding power: the scripting of archival structures in digital spaces, using the Open Archival Information Standard (OAIS) Reference Model. 2016), particularly chapter 5. In this she discusses the validity of the concept of Designated Community for memory institutions and offers some interesting views. Let’s discuss this amongst preservationists. Why not join the Digital Preservation Reading Club. I will organise the first meeting on the 19th of January 2022, 10.00 hrs CET. Please join the DPRC on the website https://digitalpreservation.nl/dprc
Research outcomes deserve to be evaluated by preservationists. You can help to further enhance the digital preservation profession!
This blogpost was originally written for the DPC WDPD blogposts.