Aligning National Approaches to Digital Preservation II: Coming Together to Take Action

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Mary Molinaro

This Event Report was provided by Mary Molinaro, Associate Dean for Library Technologies, University of Kentucky.

We have done a lot of talking within the digital preservation community over the years. Too much talking and not enough action, some would say. Over the last twenty years it became apparent that the vast amount of digital content that was being generated was going to present big preservation challenges for libraries. Various tools, systems, and approaches were developed.  Many pilot programs were started and completed. As these efforts developed in isolation, many projects were funded, implemented without knowing that projects elsewhere were duplicating efforts. All the while digital media are rotting away since they were not meant to last. Developing systems to ensure the global sustainability of digital data, services, and tools while they are growing exponentially is not unlike changing the tire on a car as it is going down the road. Much progress has been made, but there is a growing need to coordinate efforts globally to maximize the use of the resources available for digital preservation. The Aligning National Approaches to Digital Preservation II: An Action Assembly (ANADPII) held in late November at the Biblioteca de Catalunya in Barcelona attempted to move the community forward into action.

The ANADP community met initially in Estonia in 2011 to begin to explore how to best align efforts of digital preservation that were happening concurrently across the globe. More than 20 delegates participated in that forum and follow-up activities took place in Singapore at iPres 2012 and IDCC 2013 in Amsterdam. The goal from these gatherings is to solidify collaborative partnerships between national and international digital preservation efforts.

ANADP II followed on to these previous gatherings not as an information sharing but rather to move toward more coordinated efforts internationally to take action. The meeting was organized around panels with discussion around broad topics such as Community Alignment, Resource Alignment, Capacity Alignment and then Alignment Exemplars and Current Opportunities for Collaboration. Each panel was followed by breakouts where real actions were discussed related to the panels.

Clifford Lynch offered opening remarks. Having been at the first ANADP meeting, Cliff summarized what happened there as challenging and troublesome. As the community looks toward greater cooperation and collaboration it is fair to ask, “Who speaks for a nation? Who speaks for the library sector? For research libraries? Archives? Museums?” As the digital preservation community matures how do we cooperate more and avoid duplicative parallel efforts? He noted that economics are the nightmare of sustainability; sustainability has become a code word for “someone else has to pay for keeping this.”

Areas of common concern internationally include big data, materials created by the memory organizations, and news.  Addressing these issues becomes a public policy issue. How do we measure how well we are doing – what percentage of the materials that we steward are we actually able to preserve? Policy makers do not understand the implications of failure with these efforts. They do not understand the scope of the problem and thus how it is imperative that our efforts are adequately resourced.

It is up to us in the international digital preservation community to use our resources wisely. Funding streams from grants to support pilot projects create a model of “follow the funding” and often fall into the pitfall of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Project leaders working on similar initiatives often do not discover the other projects until reports are published or presented at conferences. Pilots end without succession plans or even notification to the community that the pilot has concluded.  During the Community Alignment Action Session Paul Wheatley described the ANADP supported Community Owned digital Preservation Tool Registry (COPTR) which is a community registry of tools for digital preservation. If the community can take ownership and commit to maintaining this registry, tools can be more broadly shared and duplication of effort avoided.

The Resource Alignment Panel addressed questions of the business model that drives digital preservation efforts. For many years we have largely had our feet in both camps of supporting analog and digital resources. Digital preservation has largely been an add-on to our work in the analog world. Many efforts have been funded with project funds rather than included in our regular budgets. Can we afford to do digital preservation as we want to? Can we afford to do digital preservation as we need to?  Panelists and attendees uniformly agreed that we must find a way. Projects are designed to appeal to funders and to get that “next big grant”, but the concern is how these efforts can be mainstreamed and become a part of what libraries do. Tom Cramer described how at Stanford building out the digital library is the number one priority. There is a worry that in 10 years it may be difficult to justify the physical library as resources are shifted to support the digital environment.

As panelists addressed capacity alignment we explored how to mainstream digital preservation activities in order to have the numbers of people addressing these issues sufficient to the task. Opportunities include professional education, on-the-job-trainings, professional development and continuing education opportunities. The big question is how do we scale this up quickly?  How to we roll out training so that one person cultural heritage organizations know what standards are and where to start implementing them. Efforts like the Library of Congress’ Digital Preservation Outreach and Education Program (DPOE) are a start, but where will the funding come from to expand this program? Even though the surveyed community prefers face-to-face training, can some kind of online learning environment supplement in order to reach the large numbers of potential participants?

There are existing exemplars of successful collaborations. This was made apparent in a panel where various projects, including Research Data Alliance, the International Internet Preservation Consortium, Scalable Preservation Environments (SCAPE) and MetaArchive were discussed for their merits and as models moving forward.

In the final panel that addressed future opportunities for collaboration, Oya Rieger emphasized that we need to teach best practices for creating digital content in order to create an environment that minimizes the need for remedial digital preservation. There is a need to focus on use, usability and discoverability to tier what should be preserved and to take calculated risks with loss to gain capacity. By working together, communicating better, pushing for a more mainstream budget model we can scale our efforts. Rachel Frick called out the ANADP delegates by name for them to commit to at least one action to move the effort forward. All of these efforts will take a diligence and commitment to being more deliberate and more transparent with our efforts. The message from this gathering is that we each must be deliberate and intentional in what we will do to make real progress happen.