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We Can Haz Standards? Yes, We Can!

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The following is a guest post by Jimi Jones, Digital Audiovisual Formats Specialist with the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Measuring Distance (32/365) from user chandramarsono on Flickr

I’m the co-chair of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Standards Working Group along with Andrea Goethals of Harvard University. Over the past year, the working group has been engaged in a project to identify, describe and contextualize established and emerging digital preservation standards, best practices and guidance documents.

This survey of the landscape is important work but has proved challenging due to tool and resource constraints.

The group discussed these challenges at the “I Can Haz Standards” workshop at the 2011 NDIIPP Partners’ meeting, and later via the working group email list, and several potential solutions emerged.

In particular the following suggestions were made:

  • It is more important to know which digital preservation standards our institutions are using then to know all the digital preservation standards that exist. An annual survey of standards usage by institutions engaged in digital preservation efforts would not take a huge level of effort and the results would be of great interest to NDSA member institutions (and perhaps more broadly).
  • It would be preferable to share this work with others in the digital preservation community, especially because we all would benefit from it.
  • There are existing technology infrastructures and communities that could be tapped to help document standards, namely Wikipedia. Wikipedia already has a reputation as a prominent information source so the work to publicize and make discoverable information about the standards should be easier. It has a large editor base so we could focus our efforts on the gap areas (editorial corrections, review, undocumented standards, etc.).

In recent months the working group has decided that leveraging existing digital-preservation-related content on Wikipedia (and creating new content) would be the best way to survey what’s “out there” with respect to digital preservation standards.

We considered creating an NDSA Standards and Best Practices portal on Wikipedia but some quick-and-dirty tests showed that portals may have low discoverability outside the site and the small number of relevant Wikipedia articles doesn’t warrant the need for a portal yet.

Measuring West from user stevenharris on Flickr
Measuring West from user stevenharris on Flickr

After some discussion the group decided that the best way to proceed may be to use the “Digital Preservation” entry on Wikipedia and conform it to our needs. We can also point to digital preservation-related standards from there. In effect, this page would become our portal.

A cursory glance at that entry during the summer meeting showed that it already has a considerable amount of high-level information and is regularly accessed.

The working group is currently analyzing this page to see what’s there and – more importantly – what’s not there. In addition a Digital Preservation WikiProject will be set up by the group to coordinate and track the work.

The Standards group is planning a related project to conduct a survey of best practices in the digital preservation community.

The survey would:

  • measure the usage of digital preservation standards
  • help identify standards not already documented
  • (and in later years) track trends over time in standards usage

Other than the above projects, the other project to-date is being conducted by Matt Schultz from the Educopia Institute, who has formed an “action team” (what we call subgroups of our working group who organize around specific projects). Action teams can have non-NDSA members in them. Matt’s group is working on a framework to apply the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model and the Trustworthy Repositories Audit and Certification (TRAC) to distributed digital preservation environments like the MetaArchive. He’s asked for the working group to review their project documents as they become available.

Any member of an NDSA working group can propose new projects at any time. The NDSA is free to join; there are no payments or fees. The NDSA is a great way to connect with other organizations committed to the preservation of our national digital heritage! For more information see

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