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Digital Preservation Jazz

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Music, The Noun Project, 2010.

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?”



Comments (4)

  1. Jazz and Blues has been a old past time favorite with my parents. I was told that I liked to sing in the shower and when we go on car rides. My father once asked me if I wanted to take singing lessons by a voice artist to help me sing the right tunes and notes to help me develop my talents. Instead I chose to listen to the art rather than perform the art. I was too young then and did not know any better. Was known for the little jazz girl always singing up another new tune.

    In supporting various musical artists, jazz is like living a dream like no other. It directs me to the most fascinating thoughts, ideas, style and priceless gem in developing greater relationships with other artists. My family are professionals in playing the sax. Indeed is the instrument I desire to hear all the time favorite even until now.

  2. Standards for digital files assumes a predicate that the fundamental role a digital file serves is the sharing of information.

    While this sounds self-evident the multitude of formats, platforms, practices, protocol etc. make it appear as if each software company, operating system, media manufacturer is going their own way.

    Having more fields for information in IPTC, EXIF, DICOM, Metadata, etc. is important. Granted there are now a considerable number of fields available but because digital files are by there very nature creative products there is often the need for places to enter unique information. An ideal solution would be for a single dynamic file information engine which could access all information even unique fields the creator of the digital content has created. What we need is fusion of information playing in the background of a digital file, rather than the fractured sources we have now where each instrument; IPTC, EXIF, DICOM, Metadata, etc. is playing its own tune with dissonance being the outcome. Wayne Eastep

  3. Standards and Best Practices are both essential. I think are both needed even right now. Analysis Paralysis can not be allowed to set in at this early but crucial stage of digital archiving. Standards can be announced/recommended now and as the situation dictates evolve as needed. The general public needs clear guidance – they don’t have large staffs advising them on longer term decisions. Standards will also give software makers specific targets to shot at with their development. For example JPEG2000 adoption (in software) has lagged on for far to long.

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