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Digital Preservation 101—Learning the Theory and Practice of Preserving Bits

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The following is a guest blog post by Gloria Gonzalez, a UCLA Library and Information Science graduate student and former NDIIPP Junior Fellow.

What exactly is it that we’re aiming to preserve? What is a digital object? My professor, Dr. Jean-François Blanchette, began the second meeting of my digital preservation class with these questions.

Augmented Library Class - Bennington College, by Crossett Library Bennington College, on Flickr
Augmented Library Class - Bennington College, by Crossett Library Bennington College, on Flickr

I thought to myself, “Obviously, a digital object is an object that’s digital—right? Oh wait, that’s an extremely vague and circular definition… perhaps these questions aren’t as simple as they appear to be.”

As class continued, my classmates and I realized that they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complex problems related to digital preservation that we’ll be learning about.

For the first few weeks of the quarter, Professor Blanchette will lay out a foundation for digital preservation and then we’ll dig into the deeper stuff. The course will go beyond teaching us the jargon—such as obsolescence, migration, emulation, LOCKSS—and push us to analyze key concepts like authenticity and significant properties while learning about practical topics like metadata, formats, legal issues and cost/risk analysis.

We’ll also have a variety of guest speakers, including an independent preservation consultant and the preservation officer at the UCLA Library. Plus we’ll get to pick the brain of someone who’s hired people for positions similar to the ones we’ll be applying for after graduation.

During our first class we talked about what types of digital objects we’re interested in preserving and why. We discovered that our preservation interests are quite diverse. They span from scientific data and born-digital ephemera to video games and web archiving. For our final project we’ll get to explore these preservation interests outside of the classroom as “preservation assessment consultants” and present our findings at a poster session.

We’ve split into three groups. One group will focus on scientific data, and another will address short and long term preservation strategies for the personal archives of a faculty member in our department. My group will work with Tahrir Documents, a website that UCLA is working to harvest and preserve.

Throughout the quarter I’ll be guest blogging about our projects and sharing what we’re learning in class with the aim of fostering a discussion on The Signal.

Oh, and I’m really looking forward to exploring answers to the questions our professor has posed to us!

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