Catch the Wind: Digital Preservation and the Real World
Catch the Wind: Digital Preservation and the Real World Nick Poole, Chief Executive, Collections Trust
The Collections Trust believes that everybody everywhere should have the right to access and benefit from cultural collections.
Our work encompasses standards, professional development and public programmes across museums, archives and libraries – wherever collections are kept and cared for.
Our remit spans the whole of Collections Management, including documentation, digitisation and Digital Preservation.
One of our aims is to promote convergence between standards and practices in museums, archives and libraries – developing a community of professional practice.
Email to the MCG list (21/12/07): “But is anyone on this list actually doing all of this stuff (digital preservation) as a regular, non-funded, core part of the way you run your organisation and its services? Are all of the staff in your organisation aware of the pressing need to preserve born-digital material, or to implement naming conventions and format policies consistently?”
Thesis: “The reason I ask is that I suspect there is a growing divergence between Digital Preservation theory and practice, and particularly between the library, museum and archive communities. If this is, indeed the case, why is it? Is it that the ideal of Digital Preservation is simply economically and organisationally unattainable, and if this is the case, should we be softening the requirement to something more pragmatic? And finally, if we do, how do we feel about accepting that some things just aren't worth preserving - even if our children's children curse us for it in 50 years time?”
Response: 1 museum said yes 6 museums said no 3 consultants and policymakers expressed their concern 4 commercial digitisation studios offered their services Lots of people wanted to hear the result of the enquiry…
We know what we should be doing… Establish Policy Inventory digital stuff Assign responsibilities Consolidate formats Prioritise format types Sort out identifiers Timetable for evaluation Pick metadata standard Rinse & repeat… [Pace: CHIN, Digital Preservation for Museums ]
We know why we should be doing it… “The preservation and re-use of digital data and information forms both the cornerstone of future economic growth and development, and the foundation for the future of memory.” Seamus Ross, Changing Trains at Wigan (2000)
And we don’t want for ‘projects’… CLOCKSS CEDARS PREMIS LIFE PRESTO DAAT MOPARK PRONOM STARGATE DSPACE Archival Repositories Storage Exercise
Some potential reasons… There is no systematic, categorical, political or funding imperative for museums to engage with Digital Preservation Project-funded digitisation seldom provides the kind of longitudinal investment DP requires Organisation-wide preservation depends on the kind of integration of workflows and systems which is still rare in museums Some of the principles fit much more intuitively with an archival view of the world than with an object/artefact view “It isn’t yet part of museum culture.”
Some other potential reasons… We’re not (quite) part of the scholarly/academic publishing loop which is giving rise to most of the Large Scale Digital Preservation Initiatives (eg. the Open Content Alliance) There isn’t yet the same ground-level expectation of retrievability of museum information (at least of non-object information) Which leads to…
… an interesting theory We’re just not quite there yet. If you look at the history of the development of Digital Preservation in libraries and archives, it only became possible after several decades of mass-digitisation, Online Public Access Catalogues and infrastructural development, not to mention statutory investment in systems and skills allied to an inherent public mission to connect people and electronic information. Museums, collectively, may be on the same trajectory, but we are still developing the kind of intrinsically systematised approach to our work which made DP fully feasible in a library context.
Learning the lessons… We should be able to learn the lessons of libraries and archives in advancing our own approach to Digital Preservation. We should also be able to mandate ‘good enough’ standards which ensure that our digital assets can at least be migrated into stable environments in the future. The problem is that we’re just doing so much digitisation, so many projects, so many online initiatives – where do you draw the line in the sand beyond which you mandate standards?
One proposed solution… Centralise and automate Aggregate ‘just enough’ metadata to a central point Fund a whole-lifecycle approach to DP at this point of aggregation Absolve institutions of the responsibility for digital archiving Normalise formats at the point of aggregation (expensive) or Format-shift over time to avoid obsolescence
But… Organisations become disenfranchised from their information Selection and prioritisation are vital to effective preservation The distinction between ‘active’ and ‘dormant’ records is blurred Nobody is offering to pay to take the problem away…
Which means… If the solution isn’t national , it’s local . The global issue of Digital Preservation becomes the responsibility of every individual museum, without statute, obligation or funding. To a degree, you can standardise approaches (ie. sharing requirements and policies within a Hub or with a Local Authority) There is still an economic issue in developing both infrastructure and expertise.
Museums seem oddly distant from current initiatives (DPC, DCC) and lack methodologies and tools that are specific to museum information. Do we need to develop collective approaches to Digital Preservation? Is there enough here to justify a programme of research? (how many museums are doing DP effectively, and how?)
Nick Poole, Collections Trust www.collectionstrust.org.uk www.collectionslink.org.uk www.culturalpropertyadvice.gov.uk