Digital Preservation Seeds

by Barbara Sierman

Seminar Hergebruik / Re-use

Seminar Hergebruik / Re-use 5-2-2020 KB The Hague

At the occasion of my farewell party at the KB National Library of the Netherlands, I organized a small seminar with the theme Hergebruik / Re-use. I invited four friends and colleagues in digital preservation to investigate this theme and to give a presentation at my party in the Conference Room of the National Library. I’m very happy that they all were willing to do so and that they all approached the theme from a different angle. The room was full of colleagues from the KB and the Dutch Digital Heritage Network. With this blog post I hope my international colleagues can enjoy this as well:

To give you a bit of background to the theme, I’ll publish here my introduction:

Leaving your job goes hand in hand with tidying up your desk. In the past few weeks I have handled many articles and publications. I have been working in digital preservation for 15 years now. Before I started here, people were already investigating the ins and outs for over 10 years. They started shaping ideas that are still vital: OAIS, preservation metadata, PREMIS, certification TRAC and ISO. Over time I have seen many colleagues come and go – either because they died, got ill, or chose another job. What has become of their articles, presentations and insights?

In digital preservation we often say that we preserve material in order to serve future generations, to build new thing on the shoulders of giants. But are we doing this ourselves when we look at the profession of digital preservation? How much do we develop earlier findings further? Are we looking critically at new ideas and do we evaluate them, shifting what we want to keep and deleting the things that did not work? Asking the question is answering the question – as the Dutch saying goes. You know me: I thing that we are failing. I think we make too little effort to develop the profession of digital preservation in a systematic way.

The consequence of this is, that we are inefficient in spending our research time and are reinventing wheels. A good example of this are the cost models. Collected by the 4C project, where a new model was derived based on the best ingredients of 10 models. They made all their findings publicly available. Their Cost Model was further developed in the Dutch Digital Heritage Network, but I’m not aware of other international partners taking this up. And yet in 2018 a new Cost model was presented at iPRES, without a reference to the 4C result. How was this possible?

It will be essential for us to systematically develop the profession of digital preservation. Technical developments happen quickly, we will always lag behind them, and so we need to improve our approach constantly. A broad range of disciplines is currently involved in creating permanent access to digital resources, like research data. They develop FAIR principles and tools to test the FAIRness. The contribution of the digital preservation community to the FAIR-discussion is limited. How nice would it have been if, instead, we could have said: ah, this is a piece of cake for us, here you have the theory and practical advice related to digital preservation.

The challenges in digital preservation are pretty clear. In the articles of the 90s there is often a list of challenges that need to be tackled: software, file formats, storage, metadata, legal issues, costs etc. All these topics have been studied and we have developed ideas and rejected insights. But as far as I know the DPC Handbook is the only place where you can find an up-to-date overview of these insights (and perhaps Trevor Owens). With the growing number of digital preservation practitioners in a variety of disciples, it is important that there is a platform for discussion and an overview of the state of the art of digital preservation. Our preservation knowledge needs to be captured in a sustainable way.

Or are we as preservationists too practical and do we lack the time and capacity to do something like systematically creating new theories? Or perhaps it’s because the preservation literature is published in a wide variety of journals and other places? The iPRES panel of 2018 Hide and Seek showed that most participants agreed that they were not able keep up with reading relevant literature, but that they thought doing so would improve the efficiency of their daily work.

We lack a central point for discussion. Ideas and initiatives are published but not further developed. Take Stephen Abrams “digital preservation efficacy approach”. He presented it at iPRES but as far as I know there was no further discussion about it. It his approach good? A bad idea? Will it help us? If not, why? The same applies to the 3-legged stool (by Kenney/McGovern), further developed by Sandy and Corrado for the Digital Preservation Triad. No discussion, same questions whether this idea is a useful contribution or not.

Re-use, collaboration with other disciplines, a healthy discussion about new insights and further development of existing concepts is essential in order to make digital preservation a mature profession. I would like to contribute to starting such a place for improvement and discussion. Collaboration between DPC, OPF, Nestor, DDHN and others seems to me like an ideal starting point. It should be open for the wider community, whether people are members these organisations or not. I hope we can realise something in the next coming years.

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