Monday, October 19, 2015

Best Practices Exchange 2015: day one

Light fixture, Pennsylvania State Museum, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 19 October 2015.
The 2015 Best Practices Exchange (BPE) got underway at the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg earlier today. The BPE is a conference that brings together archivists, librarians, information technologists, and other people who seek to preserve born-digital state government information, and it emphasizes sharing lessons learned (i.e., lessons taught by failure) as well as success stories. It's my favorite conference, and I always leave the BPE feeling energized and inspired.

I'm a little under the weather and am still thinking through some of the things I heard about today, so this post is going to be brief. However, I did want to pass on something that really piqued my interest:
  • A group of Michigan archivists and librarians doing hands-on digital preservation work have formed a grassroots organization, Mid-Michigan Digital Practitioners, that meets twice a year to exchange information. The group has no institutional sponsor, has no formal leadership structure, and charges no membership dues; however, the website of Michigan State University's Archives and Historical Collections includes information about and presentations delivered at past meetings. Mid-Michigan Digital Practitioners has capped its size in an effort to ensure that it remains small enough to allow members to form a tightly knit, geographically concentrated community of practice, and I think that this is a good thing. Local and regional professional organizations and regional, national, and international communities of practice are all incredibly valuable, but local, less formalized communities can propel enduring collaboration and can be far less intimidating to people who are just beginning to grapple with digital preservation issues. I would love to see lots of little, unstructured, and locally based digital preservation groups pop up all over the place.
I also want to share a couple of key points that a pair of experienced professionals made about making the case for electronic records management and digital preservation:
  •  The technologies we will use to manage and preserve archival records are the same technologies we will use to preserve records that are not permanent but which have lengthy retention periods. When making the case for digital preservation to CIOs and other high-ranking, we should consider focusing less on the former and emphasizing that we can help care for the latter. If we create an environment in which people are comfortable sending records that have long retention periods to an archives-governed storage facility -- just as they are currently comfortable sending paper records that have long retention periods to a different archives-operated storage facility -- we can easily take care of preserving those records that warrant permanent preservation.
  • All too often, we think in terms of what records creators must do in order to comply with regulations, laws, or records management best practices. We should instead assess the environment in which records creators operate, identify the problems with which creators are struggling, and then stress how we can help to solve these problems.
 Finally, one attendee made a comment that struck me as being so basic that it's often overlooked:
  • When we talk about "electronic records," many people simply assume that we're advocating scanning paper documents and then getting rid of all paper records. We need to make sure that people understand that we're focusing on those materials that are created digitally and will be managed and preserved in digital format. How do we do this?
More tomorrow.

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