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Partnerships New and Old: Preservation in the 21st Century #saa12

Working with many of the techniques of Digital Forensics, Digital Preservationists are moving to the forefront in many institutions, bridging the gap between archivists, technologists and records managers.

Following the official Thursday, August 9, kick off of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) 2012 annual meeting in San Diego, I attended a marvelous session on digital preservation that relied heavily on digital forensics, a preconference workshop I attended earlier in the week.

In short: I had enough context to appreciate the war stories shared by the moderator and her panel:

  • Shannon Zachary, Session Chair (University of Michigan Library, Preservation and Conservation),
  • Kari Smith (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Library, Institute Archives and Special Collections),
  • Sam Meister (University of Montana, Missoula, Mansfield Library), and
  • Jennifer Hain Teper (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, University Library, Preservation and Conservation).

Ms. Zachary introduced her speakers, commenting, “I think preservation didn’t really have a home as late as ten years ago. Dramatic changes are occurring with the mix of born-digital media.” With that brief statement, Ms. Zachary introduced Ms. Smith.

Landscape and Context Setting/Ms. Kari Smith

At MIT, one of the main things we look at and think about is the DCC life cycle approach. It’s fun to hotly debate amongst ourselves, 'When do we need to think about preservation activities?' We don’t want to preserve records at the end of their life cycles when we accession; we want to preserve nearer the records’ creation moments. In addition, we’re engaging content producers, curators and archivists in our preservation activities. We find that partnership between curators and preservation is extremely beneficial — after all, preservation is a value-add, depending on what you do with your material.”

The challenge, said Ms. Smith, is that the field hasn’t codified preservation skill sets. Job advertisements in preservation are all over the map, none are the same.

“If you could hire one new full-time preservation position, what would you ask for?” she questioned rhetorically. “A technologist with preservation and archival skills? An archivist with technical skills? Does your current content types influence your answers? Does your ability to form partnerships change your answer?”

She recommended preparing an advertisement the right way: study open job postings and position descriptions; review available training; perform a gap analysis to determine partnership development. But ask, are these functions and activities appropriate for this job?

Fold emerging preservation functions such as conservation, preservation, curation, archival processing and digital forensics into the advertisement. Hint: for inspiration, see the Matrix of Digital Curation Knowledge and Competencies. The matrix will help you create a preservation dream team of Records Management, Legal, Marketing; metadata and content specialists, repository managers, IT, and programmers; and the Digital Preservation Officer.

Ms. Smith transitioned her presentation to the kind of questions that keep her up at night. Does reformatting equal digital preservation? Conservation for digital material, whether performed via in-house solutions or outsourced, needs an organizational home. How does archival staff form a partnership between the archives and technology? How do archivists partner with colleagues within the organization so ways of working mirror each other?

“It helps to remember the essentials,” she advised. “Maintain representation information, fixity, provenance, reference context (including administrative, structural and description).”

Conversations about preservation metadata propel discussions forward. “I’m convinced this is a big area for growth. Certainly, within the team opinions on preservation management may vary; sure, good preservation partnerships mean a combination of skill and strategy; yes, concentrate on functions and outcomes rather than roles."


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