Sustainable digital preservation

Last week the DPC held an interesting webinar and invited the authors of  Toward Environmentally Sustainable Digital Preservation, published in the summer of 2019. Keith Pendergrass, Walker Sampson, Tim Walsh, and Laura Alagna presented their views on environmentally sustainable digital preservation. Although there is limited quantitative research on the environmental impact of digital practices, the fact that we rely on a digital infrastructure is enough to realize that life cycle of this infrastructure has a heavy impact on the environment. From the mining of the materials through the use of resources until the disposal of our computers. And if we want to change our footprint and our contribution to climate change, we need to think critically on how we do things and how we can make digital preservation less damaging for the environment.

Image by dokumol from Pixabay

The authors suggest a paradigm shift focusing on the following approaches – but you really need to read the article to get their nuanced view on this –

  • Focus on high-value materials through a renewed emphasis on critical appraisal
  • Reduce the resource intensity of digital storage and management by rethinking digital permanence
  • Meet user needs in different ways by challenging assumptions about the availability of digital content

During the webinar some interesting examples were given by the authors how their own organisations tried to achieve this.

As preservationists we need to think about sustainable digital preservation while at the same time find a balance with the mission of our organisation. 24*7 availability of their collection is for many organisations a key performance indicator for their funding bodies and their presence in the cultural landscape. Organisations with collection strategies or legal mandate to preserve materials have limited ways to change their appraisal approaches. And collaboration with the IT departments, where often the choices are made for the IT infrastructure (and not by the preservationists) is crucial if we want to achieve environmentally sustainable digital preservation.

When the article was published in the summer of 2019, it was also discussed in the Netherlands amongst the project leaders in the Dutch Digital Heritage Network. One thing we decided to do, was to work on incorporating the topic into the website we provide for our cultural heritage organisations and which contains a Policy Framework (based on the SCAPE Policy Framework and translated into Dutch). What is a better place for an organisation to describe their intentions with Digital Preservation and their aim to reduce the effect on the environment than the Preservation Policies? Integrating sustainable digital preservation will happen in the course of 2020.

Luckily the authors provided materials to organize a workshop, with a wealth of references to dive deeper into the topic. They made a great contribution to digital preservation by raising the topic. Together we can make a difference. Starting for example by collecting actual metrics about costs, by discussing current practices and evaluate them on their impact on the climate  etc. During the webinar it was suggested that perhaps we could contribute to the (postponed) UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow in 2021.

© 2020 Barbara Sierman

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