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Make It Work!

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The following is a guest post by Abbey Potter, Program Officer, NDIIPP, and Communications Officer, IIPC.

You’ve no doubt heard this catch phrase made popular by Tim Gunn from the reality competition show Project Runway. It is the advice he gives harried contestants who are trying to create a fabulous dress in under two hours from maybe a jump rope and a beach ball, and the work in progress is kind of a mess.

Tim Gunn embroidery, by Totally Severe, on Flickr

More often than not, the designer turns it around and finishes a good looking garment despite the strange materials and a lack of time and budget. This makes for great television, but Gunn’s philosophy goes deeper: “[You] take the existing conditions, offer up a diagnosis for what’s wrong and a prescription for making it work . . . [you] then have a lot of valuable internal resources to bring to the next project.”

When we started planning this year’s annual meeting, the first NDIIPP and NDSA combined event, Tim Gunn’s “Make it Work” resonated with what we were seeing in the digital preservation community. Despite the real challenges of shrinking budgets, shutdowns, uncertain policy environments, personnel changes, and fluctuating management support, real progress is being made in understanding, collecting, delivering and preserving our complex digital materials. Sometimes a change in direction or an altering of plans was necessary, while in other cases it was creative and innovative approaches that made the difference. We want to share some of the stories of curators making it work and overcoming obstacles.

The planning committee is also inspired by how Tim O’Reilly, our keynote speaker, is inspired by the maker movement and the big ideas that sprout from the folks who are using the technology available to them to creatively solve everyday problems. O’Reilly’s work in creating a community around the Gov 2.0 movement is another inspiration – it shows how promoting an open platform can transform an entire sector. A conversation with Yancey Strickler about raising money for arts and civic projects through Kickstarter also made us think of the different ways we can seek support for our big ideas.

The inspiration from these speakers and the rest of the program for “Make it Work: Improvisations on the Stewardship of Digital Information” will, we hope, be immediately applied in workshops hosted by the NDSA.  These will be outcome-focused sessions with facilitators pushing towards making decisions for the way forward. But it will not be all work and no play, as evidenced by some of the workshop names: “I can haz standardz: What standards should be in the digital preservation toolbox?” and “Tales from the crypt: What are the emerging practices of large scale storage?”

The NDIIPP/NDSA partners meeting will be held July 19-21, 2011 in Washington, DC. If you’d like to come, there are a few spaces left but you must register. If you can’t make it, the first day will be videotaped and presentations will be posted on our website. Or, you can follow the event on Twitter at #ndsa and watch this blog for daily updates during the meeting.

We look forward to seeing you either at the meeting or virtually.

Comments (2)

  1. The “Make it Work” philosophy may be appropriate in some contexts (even some more real world context than TV competitions), but it is not at all appropriate when it comes to fundamental policy decisions. If the budget, time and tools for digital preservation aren’t available or are inadequate, then we should be thinking about alternative preservation strategies.

  2. L. Nemschoff, what alternate preservation strategies would you propose for digital materials?

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