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Record Crowd Participates in DigitalPreservation 2012

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Apps that want to be good. Messiness and meaning. Mature–and immature–organizations.

Anil Dash, credit: Abby Brack, Library of Congress
Anil Dash, credit: Abby Brack, Library of Congress

The Library of Congress provided a forum for innovative insights during its annual digital preservation meeting, held during July 24-25.  DigitalPreservation 2012 drew record attendance of 230 from across the country and around the world.

The Library’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program organized the event to meet several goals.  One was to hear from prominent technologists and thought leaders.  Another was to bring together Library partners and others to share learning and best practices.  Yet another was to extend collaborative ties to improve digital stewardship in the service of advancing knowledge and creativity.

A few highlights indicate some success in meeting each of these goals.

The gathering opened with Anil Dash speaking on the value of the open web for digital preservation.  Dash, a well-known blogger and tech entrepreneur, described himself as “a geek interested in the social impacts of technology on culture and government.”  He has a strong interest in public policy and stated that archivists and librarians are grappling with issues that technology community knows little about.  Dash warned that proprietary applications lock up content and put it at serious risk of loss or misappropriation.  The way around this involve linking apps to the web, which permits copying and preservation. While this is now the exception, there is some hope for optimism.  “There is a growing class of apps that want to do the right thing,” Dash said.  He called upon the digital preservation community to engage more effectively with technologists to raise awareness and push for change.

David Weinberger @ Veneziacamp2009 - 3, by ialla, on Flickr
David Weinberger @ Veneziacamp2009 – 3, by ialla, on Flickr

David Weinberger, best-selling author and senior researcher at the Harvard Berkman Center for the Internet & Society, talked next about the dramatic change that the web has brought to ideas about information and knowledge.  Until recently, he noted, knowledge was constrained and localized in the service of  “managing, filtering, reducing and winnowing information to reach definitive answers.”  With the web, knowledge has been set free to grow and evolve in networks.  This compels us to accept the messiness of information on the web, and move away away from defined answers.  “Messiness is how you scale meaning… disagreement is how you scale knowledge.”  And, despite the vast size of the web, it can never represent “everything,” which lessens concerns about digital preservation–although Weinberger urged those efforts to continue.  Weinberger also live-blogged the presentations of other speakers.

Michael Carroll, American University Law Professor and Creative Commons board director, compared digital preservation to environmentalism, in that both entail stewardship of valuable resources as well as long-term planning. Both also call for institutional incentives.  Carroll noted that while concerns about intellectual property law can serve as a disincentive for digital stewardship, he stated that libraries and archives should feel free to capture as much content as they can right now.  Allowing access to that content may take time to permit crowdsourced-metadata as well as resolution of copyright issues, he said, but saving the material is a critical first step.  Carroll said that such capture could be justified under legal concepts of both fair use and free speech.  He urged the preservation community “to organize itself as the voice of tomorrow’s users on issues of copyright policy and copyright estate planning.”

Poster Presentation, credit: Abby Brack, Library of Congress
Poster Presentation, credit: Abby Brack, Library of Congress

Bram van der Werf, Executive Director of the Open Planets Foundation, presented on Assuring Future Access, from Infancy to Maturity. He called for more effort into “preventative maintenance for digital collections and the software needed to preserve them.”   The extent to which an institution is capable of this can be see as a function of what van der Werf referred to as digital preservation maturity.  Immature organizations, for example, generate orphan data and “abandonware” software tools.  He stated that the key element was developing capable, well-trained staff to populate a “mature community of merit with many motivated people empowered and rewarded by their organizations.”

The day wrapped up with a poster session designed to shared information and spur discussion about broadening collaborative efforts.  Many of the presenters outlined work in relation to the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, a recent NDIIPP initiative to extend the Library’s digital preservation partnership network.  Presentations included Digital Preservation in a Box: Outreach Resources for Digital Stewardship; Digital Preservation Policy Development at the Library of Congress; Developing Case Studies for At Risk Content; and Teaching Digital Preservation in a Digital Curriculum Laboratory.

CurateCamp Processing, by wlef70, on Flickr
CurateCamp Processing, by wlef70, on Flickr

The following day featured plenary sessions on big data, preserving digital art and culture, and perspectives on digital preservation projects from federal grant funders.  A series of breakout sessions followed to demonstrate new digital preservation tools from the Library and partners such as the National Archives and Records Administration, University of Virginia, Harvard University and the State Library of North Carolina.  There were also small group discussions on Preserving Electronic Records in the States, Defining Levels of Preservation, and Assessing and Mitigating Bit-Level Preservation Risks.

In association with the meeting, the Library sponsored a CurateCamp on July 26 to focus on two different notions of “processing”:  archival processing and data processing.  Following an unconference model, participants organized into a series of small group discussions to consider issues such as processing digital acquisitions; defining and extracting essential characteristics for digital objects; and options for repository software. The talks generated lively discussions that were documented on the event wiki.

Notes and presentations from DigitalPreservation 2012 will be made available on the NDIIPP website as they become available.

Minor word changes made, 8/1/2012; added attendance figure, 2/13/2013

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