20 Years of preservation have brought us valuable insights, useful tools and a large quantity of digital material that is now taking care of.
For the general public, used to their tablets and phones where everything is stored for them somewhere in the cloud and new updates are almost always compatible with older versions, the issue of preservation is invisible. This is very convenient for them, but not for us trying to get political attention and sustainable funding for our invisible activities.
Most people however value their digital stuff. This “digital capital” should be in our story to convince funders when asking for budgets to preserve the digital materials. Preservation should not be a problem but a commodity. Something that helps you to take care of your stuff in a way you were not aware of. Like water that comes out of the tap: reliable, clean and always available (at least in part of the world). Only a few will know about the organisation behind this clean water. Although often taken for granted, in fact the running water is a present, resulting from a wide range of carefully planned actions. Similarly the preservation community could mirror this water model.
Preservation as a present in a larger and more visible box will also serve many small organisations with digital materials they care about. These small and often understaffed and underfunded organizations will need a complete starters kit in the gift box, a manual and a Q&A booklet. They need a solution: at scale, understandable, self-explaining and helpful.
But how can we as preservation community organize “preservation as a present”? At the last iPRES in Kyoto there were several signs that we preservationists are reaching a mature level. We are able to do some self-reflection and criticize ourselves (is PDF-A a preservation format?), to change assumed designs and leave decisions to other departments (Bibliotheque National de France) and to balance the pros and cons of tools by comparing their results. There are many more interesting and promising initiatives but they happen scattered around the globe. Blogposts, articles, conference papers and presentations explain these improvements, but there is no central place to go for it and much will happen unnoticed.
In order to change digital preservation from a problem area into a present, we need to organize ourselves better (as Richard Whitt already said). What we need is a shared vision on digital preservation and a plan to collaborate and realize that vision within a certain time frame. Literally a preservation plan, yes! Having a clear view, supported by worldwide collaboration could make us an important factor of influence: to standards bodies, to funders, to industry and to the general public. The seeds for collaboration are there. Many organisations active in preservation are member of the Open Preservation Foundation (23 members), Digital Preservation Coalition (70 members), nestor (20 members), National Digital Stewartship Alliance (224 members), International Internet Preservation Consortium (54 members), or involved in activities of the Dutch Digital Heritage Network/NCDD, Digital Curation Center and Prestocenter etc. Other organizations share using the same preservation system (Preservica, Rosetta, Archivematica, Libsave, to name but a few). Uniting ourselves via these organisations, setting up a preservation vision and making a preservation program with goals and deadlines (just as any other project) will help us to make preservation a present to be enjoyed by the preservation community and the general public and will enable everyone to safeguard their digital material for the long term.
This blog was written on invitation of William Kilbride of the Digital Preservation Coalition on the occasion of the first International Digital Preservation Day