We have noted earlier in this blog that digital preservation terminology is hard to pin down with precision. There are seemingly as many interpretations of “authenticity” and “repository” as there are digital preservation practitioners.
Digital preservation as a concept actually has even more plasticity when viewed through the lens of popular culture. I did a quick search on Flickr for “digital preservation” (focusing only on Creative Commons-licensed content with permission to modify, adapt, or build upon) and found a mind-bending array of photographs. Some had a connection with preserving digital content, but from an offbeat perspective–including that of a Lolcat.
Others illustrated digital preservation concepts in an amusing way, including “Post-it bit rot,” as in “Wait! What’s that white space in the lower right? Oh no! Post-it Bit rot!” This might be the ultimate inside joke for digital archivists, unless someone has visualized “ingest” in an irreverent manner. But then, if so, it might be best kept off Flickr.
I will confess to have uploaded many images tagged with digital preservation. Many of these are from personal digital archiving outreach that the Library of Congress does in conjunction with the American Library Association’s Preservation Week and our own National Book Festival. The pictures show my colleagues talking to people about how to care for their digital photos or other content.
Another popular type of shot from our outreach events involves people–especially children–puzzling over old computer hardware or storage media. Kids inevitably have no idea what a 5.25″ floppy disk is, much less a reel of tape or stack of punch cards. I like to think pictures showing this illustrate the eventual fate of all digital storage, including what is now the newest of the new.
Plenty of pictures tagged with digital preservation show earnest presentations at professional conferences (ideally with an interesting slide in the background). There are also the inescapable depictions of scanning analog originals, which cause me to sigh, because as we all know, digital scanning is not digital preservation.
Using digital means to document cultural activities, particularly the life and customs of indigenous populations around the world, is commonly seen as as digital preservation. Really what is taking place, of course, is capturing a record, which itself needs careful preservation.
And then, there are photos associated with digital preservation that just seem–odd. I quite like the giant pop-up book shown at the right, for example, but it’s relationship to the subject at hand isn’t readily apparent.
Perhaps it’s the most user-friendly computer manual in existence. Or maybe it’s meant to preserve a digital object by rendering it in analog form–reverse digital reformatting, if you will.
All this is slightly disconcerting to me, and maybe to others, who have a narrower view of what digital preservation means. But we have to get over it. As time passes, popular culture will continue to expand and play with the notion of digital preservation. All we can do is grin and do our best to assert some context when we absolutely have to.