Saving digital information is a lot like jazz — it is creative, diverse, and collaborative. There are a variety of styles and musical approaches to jazz. Jazz musicians contribute their unique and unscripted experience and response to the composition. Digital preservation organizations partnering with the Library are a diverse, creative and collaborative community developing tools and practices based upon their experiences with digital information.
Hundreds of organizations share the work. They represent universities, state governments, professional photographers, public television producers and stations, music producers and artists, motion picture academy technologists, federal agencies, not for profit technology communities and even individuals who value their family’s histories. The diversity has fostered a lively conversation around the value and care of digital content. Just as each instrument in a jazz band has a unique sound, each of these organizations bring unique skills and experiences to digital preservation practice.
These partners are interested in a wide range of information. Some have focused on saving web sites. Some of the most notable collaborations have been around political events and government web sites. A large community of geospatial experts have come together to work on practices to sustain the vast quantities of digital maps and databases that we all rely on. Digital photographs, music, television and movies have received attention and care from professional associations as well as libraries and archives. Petabytes of data are being collected, stored and managed by hundreds of organizations worldwide.
This metaphor of jazz is something to be explored as we work together to devise the best methods and technologies to keep digital information useful over the coming years. To gain a sense of the state of digital preservation practice, I highly recommend reading a blog series by our Dutch colleague, Inge Angevaare, about a recent digital preservation conference. At Aligning National Approaches to Digital Preservation, digital preservationists discussed standards and practices for digital preservation with some vigor and ambivalence. There were statements that “standards are great; everybody should have one” and “standards are most suited to dealing with static challenges but digital preservation is not static.” There has been an ongoing sentiment that instead of standards, “best practices” should be the focus. The writer of the blog posed the question, “Are we rushing into standards?”
This discussion of standards illustrates the jazz-like nature of digital preservation practices. The goal and purpose of digital preservation is like the composition. The methods, technologies and practices are like the jazz performance. Within the context of emerging information forms, organizational resources, and local skill and experience, the archivists, librarians and curators transform their tools and methods into unique expressions that can be shared and augmented by others. As a jazz band passes the tune from one instrument to another, collaborative digital preservation communities share and embellish the work and pass it on.
In forthcoming posts, I welcome your suggestions and comments as I endeavor to highlight interesting communities and practices. My question for you today is “What role do you think standards play in collaborative digital preservation practice?”