I have always wanted to write something entitled, Everything I know about digital preservation, I learned in my garden. I think it is because I have always perceived the practice and development around digital preservation to be organic. A garden is the interaction among insects and birds, microorganisms, weather conditions, soil chemistry, plants and the gardener and results in an evolving landscape responding to seasonal change. The digital preservation landscape has grown from many organizations cultivating practices for digital preservation in the midst of very rapid technical, social and economic change. The horizon we saw in 2001 was vastly different than what we see in 2011.
I recently found a paper discussing the relevance of evolutionary theory for digital preservation that expresses some interesting ideas about the application of an ecological view to digital preservation. The authors state, “Taking an evolutionary view will …make clear that there is no such thing as digital permanence for eternity: some objects only have better chances to survive than others.”
One of the most cited documents for understanding the functions of digital preservation is the OAIS reference model. Some interpret it rather literally, but I like to see it as a picture of an ecosystem of different actors and processes across the life of digital content. Each actor contributes to the whole in unique fashion; each part of the process influences another. Ensuring long-term access to digital information is everybody’s job–the creator who makes choices about the original file type and characteristics; the steward who assesses the risks and manages the long-term care; and the user whose expectations shape the decisions and practices of the creators and stewards.
The ecology of digital preservation is the aggregation of skills and expertise, as well as organizational resilience that create the best environment for long-term access to digital information. It is the linking together of the diverse and complementary endeavors that form the whole system. Those endeavors are described daily on this blog.