The Remains of the Day—Thoughts from the NDIIPP/NDSA 2011 Meeting

After spending the span of three days with 200 people committed to saving digital information, I was impressed with  some of the recurring themes in the presentations and conversations. Two main bits  of advice remain with me.

 Digital content must be used to be preserved.  Preservation HappensExtending the usable life of digital content is the main goal of our digital preservation efforts. We have learned through our ongoing work that digital content survives because it is used. The more a community uses digital content, the more readily it can notice and remedy any loss or change.  Digital content is valuable because it can be reused. If digital content is valuable for current use, it is likely to be worth preserving.

One speaker told us to “preserve what we use.” It is in using our content that we gain deeper understanding so that we may become better curators of that content. If we are saving web sites or social media, we need to use them and understand how they work in more than the technical sense.

Access is vital to the digital information lifecycle. We have come to understand that collecting content solely for the sake of preservation (formerly known as “dark archives’) is not a recommended practice.  Even if there are legal restrictions, digital archives managers are now exploring and finding clever ways to bring value from the content to users.

Data mining to create rich overviews and visualizations of the content is a technique to help users understand the contents of an archive.   It can also be used as a technique to demonstrate value from content that may need to be embargoed for a period of time. Two examples of uses of visualization for preserved collections are the UK Web Archives at the British Library and the NDIIPP partner collections featured on the Digital Preservation Web site.

 There is a digital preservation role for everyoneEveryone is concernedAlmost every speaker at the meeting noted the importance of working together, but a broader view of partnership was being articulated. Library patrons, website users, students, citizens, colleagues, and community can be involved in a broad range of tasks to support digital preservation.  Engagement goes beyond crowd sourcing. It requires building a community of interest.

Selection and metadata creation are examples of two tasks. that need as many hands and minds as possible to accomplish.  Amateur collectors have often contributed the most interesting  and enduring content to libraries and archives. This is likely to be true for digital collections as well. There is growing interest in archiving personal digital information that may support the foundation of larger institutionally curated collections. An example of open involvement in metadata creation is at the New York Public Library. The menu project invites users to help transcribe historical restaurant menus.

Involve communities in preservation who are creating digital information.  Think globally as well as locally. ASMP, an NDIIPP partner working with commercial photographers, adapted their dpBestflow.org digital photography guide and training for photographers in Africa.   Everyone has a stake in preserving digital information.

For more detail about the 2011 NDIIPP/NDSA meeting, see the various blogs from the NDIIPP team, DuraSpace and Old Dominion University.

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