Digital Preservation Outreach & Education
Digital Preservation and Auto Maintenance
By Stacy Wiens, Pacific Grove Public Library
Last week, I gave my first presentation as a digital preservation trainer at a monthly meeting of a local historic collections roundtable group. I was given a one-hour time slot on the agenda to present an overview of digital preservation based upon a curriculum developed by the Library of Congress Digital Preservation Outreach and Education (DPOE) Program, i.e., six modules which cover identify, select, store, protect, manage, and provide components of a digital content life cycle.
Last September, I had the privilege of attending a DPOE Train-the-Trainer Workshop in Sacramento, which uses the curriculum as its foundation. In preparation for my presentation, I scaled down the unabridged modules from the workshop to focus on key ideas. This process took some time and rehearsals to limit the presentation to one hour. I knew I couldn’t cover any of the modules in-depth, and would be aiming to give an overview that might inspire further inquiry and future collaboration amongst the participants.
Approximately 20 participants attended the meeting, representing public, academic, and government institutions and libraries. As I gave my presentation, the participants were attentive and actively listening. At times, they laughed appropriately or nodded along. At other times, their faces expressed concern; and they groaned in response to the challenges being presented. The questions asked were thoughtful and relevant.
In order to be efficient with my allotted time, I provided the participants with reflection sheets and took short breaks to allow time to write questions or comments. I collected the reflection sheets at the end, so that I could follow up with the participants after the meeting with any outstanding concerns or questions.
Reading the reflection sheets, I fully grasped the range of diversity in how people are able to articulate clearly their questions and needs in regard to digital preservation, and the levels at which various organizations in my region are capable of implementing digital preservation. Most of the participants seemed to recognize the need to “identify” and “select” their content for preservation. These individuals came in search of clearly defined best practices. Most recognized that their staff doesn’t have the technical expertise, nor do their organizations have the existing infrastructure, to engage fully and successfully in the process of digital preservation. Outside services or additional tools are needed to support most of these organizations in this work.
An analogy kept coming to my mind. The broadening of the concept of preservation to include digital content is like the changes in auto maintenance. There was a time when automobiles were machines that people could maintain themselves, if they had been taught some of the simpler procedures such as changing spark plugs or oil. When a mechanic said there was a problem with a vehicle, the car owner could look at the parts that were malfunctioning or deteriorating and have some understanding of the issue. Now our cars self-monitor and provide us with a message that a tire needs some air, or that it is time for scheduled maintenance. When there is a problem, the mechanic hooks up the vehicle to a computer to provide a diagnosis. The owners might feel less capable of performing maintenance on their cars themselves because they don’t know how the parts relate to the car’s internal computer systems.
Like maintaining cars, preservation has become more complex. Many of the individuals at the meeting know what needs to be done when preserving analog materials; the apparent preservation needs of analog materials are more familiar, more obvious, than digital materials. There’s no system that they can plug their organization’s preservation plan into and diagnose what is needed.
After just one opportunity to present the DPOE curriculum, I observed that while costs are a recurring concern, there is a more pressing need for an advisor or team of advisors to listen to these organizations and help them develop preservation plans and make decisions about the best services, systems, or tools to fit with each organization’s mission. It was inspiring to see the interest and dedication expressed by these caretakers of historic collections, while at the same time overwhelming to contemplate the creativity necessary to face the challenges ahead.