Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2009 Best Practices Exchange, day one

Morning session, 2009 Best Practices Exchange, 2 September 2009.

I simply don't have much energy to assemble a post tonight: I'm one of the co-chairs of the Planning Committee, did quite a bit of emceeing, and delivered a presentation this afternoon. I'm worn out, and I'm headed off to bed very, very soon, so I'm simply going to share what was, in my view, the most intriguing and eminently practical idea of the day.

Tom Clareson of Lyrasis delivered an excellent keynote address that focused on the findings of several NEDCC and other surveys of digital preservation practices and policies in various types of cultural heritage institutions. The news was pretty sobering: most institutions don't even have basic policies governing metadata, quality control, etc. Tom heavily stressed that policies governing digitization, digital disaster recovery, and other facets of digital preservation, and asserted that institutions should devote attention to basic policy matters before trying to tackle, e.g., building a trusted digital repository.

I like writing policy, and I think Tom's absolutely right. However, I have all sorts of competing demands on my time, so I asked him how someone like me could balance the need to develop comprehensive policies and the need to do things like write series descriptions and identify mystery files.

Tom had a number of suggestions, but the first one he offered was utterly brilliant in its simplicity: have an intern shadow you for a week and write down everything you do, and you'll have the basics of a policy document. The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense: it's a low- to no-cost approach, and if your intern is both willing and able to ask "why?" all of the time, it forces you to make explicit all of the assumptions and experiences that guide your actions -- and may propel you to question some of those assumptions. Moreover, if you're any good at what you do, your intern will learn a lot!

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