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The Best Practices Exchange Conference is No Secret

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“What happens at BPE stays at BPE.”

So goes the oft-repeated mantra at the annual Best Practices Exchange conference, held this year under mostly-sunny skies in beautiful downtown Salt Lake City, UT.

Best Practices Conference Program. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak
Best Practices Conference Program. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

The phrase holds a special meaning for BPE attendees. Unlike the reticent returnees from America’s sin capitol who have presumably have something to hide, BPE attendees have something to share, but want to share it in a non-judgmental environment where their experiences, positive or negative, help to move the digital stewardship community forward.

This year provided ample opportunities for sharing and discussion, with a solid program put together by the hosts from the State of Utah Division of Archives and Records Service and their compatriots from around the state. This even included hilarious archives-based fortune cookies at the evening reception.

BPE accepts all comers, but attendance is largely centered on the state and local government library, archives and record managers communities. As such it tends to focus on practical solutions to real-world problems. This practical ethos was exemplified by the opening keynote from former Senator Robert F. Bennett, who encouraged the attendees to work closely with their legislators and funders to find digital stewardship solutions. Bennett provided three key thoughts on how to be an effective advocate:

  • Never ask anybody to do something that’s not in his or her best interest;
  • Always be nice;
  • Don’t put yourself in competition with other people’s budgets.

Practical advice was found everywhere. Jenny Mundy from Multnomah County, OR described a coordinated succession planning effort that helped them address critical needs in the hiring process. A session on “Making America’s Laws Available Now and in the Future” brought participants from the Utah State Library and the Utah Division of Administrative Rules together with Digital Preservation Pioneer Margaret Maes from the Legal Information Preservation Alliance for a spirited discussion on current approaches to preserving digital legal information.

The Arizona Library created awesome visual aids to help people understand format obsolescence. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak
The Arizona Library created awesome visual aids to help people understand format obsolescence. Photo Credit: Butch Lazorchak

Linda Reib from the Arizona State Library talked about the challenges they faced while working to seek sustainable funding for their state archives electronic records repository (an ongoing effort related to work they did on the NDIIPP-supported PeDALS project), while showing off their visual aids to help people understand format obsolescence. The State Archives of North Carolina discussed their work on preserving the social media accounts of elected officials and state organizations.

We hosted a session on Wednesday afternoon on the 2014 National Agenda for Digital Stewardship and brainstormed ways to leverage the energy of BPE to support the work of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance.

Thursday opened with a plenary session from Meg Phillips, the Electronic Records Lifecycle Coordinator at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (and a member of the NDSA Coordinating Committee). Phillips focused on NARA’s new “Make Access Happen” initiative, inviting the participants to share their ideas and approaches for new ways of looking at electronic records management.

Afternoon events looked at the challenges facing digital filmmakers, an active community in Utah due to the presence of the Sundance Institute in Park City and its associated film festival. Milt Sheftner, a consultant to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, offered his insight on the digital preservation challenges facing the film industry and showcased a pair of NDIIPP-funded reports, the Digital Dilemma and the Digital Dilemma 2, that raise important concerns about the challenges of preserving digital motion pictures by both major studios and independent filmmakers.

Sheftner’s presentation was followed by a showing of the film These Amazing Shadows, a documentary that discusses the history and importance of the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

The morning of the third day brought presentations from a couple of big players in the genealogy space. Genealogical research is a $2.3 billion per year industry and some of the most significant operations are located in Utah. FamilySearch, founded in 1894 as the Genealogical Society of Utah, is chiefly supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and makes their material available free of charge. They have embraced digital stewardship to a significant degree, building and maintaining a state-of-the-art preservation repository for the more than 100 petabytes of data on tape in their Granite Mountain records vault. They’ve also been engaged in addressing file format challenges and we wrote about their work a couple of years ago here on the Signal.

NDIIPP has been involved in the Best Practices Exchange since the first event was held in Wilmington, NC in 2006 and it’s refreshing to see the progress that the BPE community has made since then to address digital stewardship issues. While “what happens at BPE stays at BPE,” it’s important to continue to showcase the work of the BPE community. And that’s no secret.

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