Piece written by Arkivum Sector Manager, Paula Keogh

Archivists, Librarians, Record Managers and Research Data Managers have always been great at avoiding wheel re-invention. ‘Moving the needle forward’ on Digital Preservation is no different. Of all the great things about working with Higher Education and Heritage institutions, the standout has to be the collaborative and open approach these kind of organisations take in solving operational problems, even when they may be in competition with each other.

This collegiate approach has fostered forward leaps in our understanding of data management, user education, access and promotion of resources, and far more besides.

The Digital Preservation Groundswell

At a recent DPC event, there were several key themes that proliferated across a myriad of disciplines, from banking, academia, museums, Central Government and more, which help prove that taking real action on digital preservation is growing across the board.

It’s fantastic to have been invited to speak at a number of recent events focused on digital preservation, and more specifically, how to take action on digital preservation planning. As part of these discussions, we can feel the swell of activity and, vitally – deeper understanding, from stakeholders in universities and memory institutions of the benefits of having a digital preservation strategy.

Strategy is key

Digital preservation needs to be a current activity, not a future event.

Having a digital preservation strategy is crucial, but takes longer to create and ratify than one might think. It is not unusual to hear of strategies taking over a year to publish. For the main part, this seems to be due to the disparate stakeholders involved – after all, digital preservation should pervade across the entire organisation, making for a complex policy. Well-understood principles of “action paralysis” come immediately into play here, as does the familiar concept of parsimonious preservation, essentially, to just do something and do it now. Spending a very long time creating a bullet-proof strategy is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a hindrance to the taking of action.

Maturity models help organisations to get started, and assess how far they need to go, but none of this should be at the expense of having a strategy. What we have seen to work best is when the strategy is realistic, flexible over time, and carves out that fine line between having a plan – and therefore being able to articulate it to budget holders – and getting on with the job.

Procuring solutions

When the first electronic Library Management Systems and Institutional Repository strategies were being set up a few decades ago – in the early stages of an emerging technology – there was not a lot of experience to call on. Unlike many other areas of IT system procurement, memory institutions are, for the most part, forging new frontiers in procuring a preservation platform. How does one go about outlining what’s needed in a preservation system? How do you ensure your scope of requirements avoids the same fate as some digital preservation policies. Namely, that in the time it takes to write a policy, the industry has moved forwards and one finds oneself behind the curve. How do you cover the unknown unknowns? How do you know what you will need from a system in 15 years?

The answer, simply, is that you don’t. Gratifyingly, the emergent wave of thinking is to adopt the principle of parsimony and flexibility at strategic level, allowing and indeed planning for underlying technologies to evolve. The best approach is to build in flexibility in to your choices when talking about very long-term IT systems.

For more information on this, taken from the “Procuring Digital Preservation” event at the DPC, see Arkivum’s slides here.

The good news is that Librarians, Archivists, Data Officers and Information Managers are getting their messages through and it feels as if now, more than ever, organisations are willing to invest adequate resources into addressing this need for the long-term future of the institution’s data.

Decision makers in organisations are starting to understand the arguments and the importance of the long-term preservation of digital assets and records, and are asking their experts to develop a systematic approach to digital preservation.

Riding the wave

As we’ve always known, IT systems are as much about hearts and minds as about great technology. The wave is growing and the community is gathering velocity, as is the specialised knowledge of best practise, policies, systems, tools, and service providers in this space. This community has always been great at sharing, and we’re delighted to be part of those contributions.

Where next?

Arkivum will host a webinar with the Digital Preservation Coalition on 10th May (for DPC members) discussing precisely this subject, and there’s a set of recordings of recent Arkivum webinars on a similar theme too:

Webinar: Digital Preservation Action Planning

Webinar: Digital Preservation put into Practice  

Webinar: Digital Preservation Integration: Mix, Multiply & Maintain

If you would like to be added to the invitation list for the next webinar in the series, please click here to send us an email request.