Friday, December 7, 2012

Best Practices Exchange, day three

 The 2012 Best Practices Exchange (BPE) ended late yesterday morning, and my colleague Michael and I did some sightseeing in Annapolis before making the long drive back to Albany.  I'm sleep-deprived and still processing everything I learned, so this post is going to highlight some of the insights that Martha Anderson, the Director of Program Management at the Library of Congress's National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program, shared during yesterday's plenary presentation:
  • In a digital world, "selection is rocket science."  We can't preserve everything, and we have to focus our efforts on saving only those things that are truly worth saving.
  • Over the past decade, we've developed a  wide array of good digital preservation tools and processes.  Now, we have to assemble them in ways that meet our local needs.  Wanting one tool to do everything is not realistic.
  • Archivists, librarians, curators, and other people who are trying to preserve digital content are running a relay race, and we should focus more on making sure that we're able to keep our digital content intact and accessible until the next generation of tools and processes emerge (or the next generation of cultural heritage professionals takes our place) and less upon the need to preserve our content  "until the end of time" or "forever."  Thinking of preservation as a ceaseless, ever-present responsibility can induce paralysis.  (It's also unrealistic.  A few years ago, I was chatting with a wise colleague and for some reason started bemoaning the lack of digital preservation solutions that would, in one fell swoop, enable me to stabilize a given set of records long enough to pass responsibility for their care on to the next generation of archivists.  I mentioned that the title of one superb resource -- the Digital Preservation Management:  Implementing Short-Term Solutions for Long-Term Problems workshop and tutorial -- highlighted the problem that electronic records archivists faced, and she looked at me, laughed, and said:  "Short-term solutions for long-term problems?  In other words, digital preservation is just like life.  What makes you think it would be otherwise?")
  • Our British colleagues are more adept than we are at casting their digital preservation needs in terms of the advantages preservation provides to business.  We can learn from them.
  • Earlier this week, influential Internet industry experts Mary Meeker and Liang Wu released a report asserting, among other things, that younger people are moving toward an "asset-light lifestyle." They think in terms of services -- online streaming of music and video, online access to publications and other information, Web services that enable sharing of cars and other durable goods -- instead of physical objects that they will purchase and maintain.  As yet, we don't know what the implications of this shift will be.  Will we move from a culture that views its heritage in thrifty terms or one that views its heritage as an abundance?  Will our next big challenge be selection of content, or will it be provision of access to content?
  • One of the biggest challenges we face when trying to find the resources needed to preserve digital content is our own unwillingness to ask difficult questions.  What are we doing that isn't good for our organization but somehow affirms someone's job?  How can we redirect energy and talent?  How can we use what we have in better ways?
Image:  Rotunda of Bancroft Hall, the mammoth Beaux-Arts dormitory in which all midshipmen reside, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 6 December 2012.  The gifts under the tree are for the Toys for Tots program overseen by the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

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