On January 24th, four Archives Assistants from Archives and Modern Manuscripts visited Senate House, London for the DPC Student Conference. With the 2018 theme being ‘What I Wish I Knew Before I Started’, it was an opportunity for digital archivists to pass on their wealth of knowledge in the field.
Getting started with digital preservation
The day started with a brief introduction to digital preservation by Sharon McMeekin from the Digital Preservation Coalition. This included an outline of the three basic models of digital preservation: OAIS, DCC lifecycle and the three-legged stool. (More information about these models can be found in the DPC handbook.) Aimed at beginners, this introduction was made accessible and easy to understand, whilst also giving us plenty to think about.
Next to take the stage was Steph Taylor, an Information Manager from CoSector, University of London. Steph is a huge advocate for the use of Twitter to find out the latest information and opinion in the world of digital preservation. As someone who has never had a Twitter account, it made me realise the importance of social media for staying up to date in such a fast-moving profession. Needless to say, I signed myself up to Twitter that evening to find out what I had been missing out on. (You can follow what was happening at the conference with the hashtag #dpc_wiwik.)
The final speaker before lunch was Matthew Addis, giving a technologist’s perspective. Matthew broke down the steps that you would need to take should you be faced with the potentially overwhelming job of starting from the beginning with a depository of digital material. He referenced a two-step approach – conceived by Tim Gollins – named ‘Parsimonious Preservation’, which involves firstly understanding what you have, and secondly keeping the bits safe. In the world of digital preservation, the worst thing you can do is do nothing, so by dealing with the simple and usually low-cost files first, you can protect the vast majority of the collection rather than going straight into the technical, time-consuming and costly minority of material. In the long run, the simple material that could have been dealt with initially may become technical and costly – due to software obsolescence, for instance.
That morning, the thought of tackling a simple digital preservation project would have seemed somewhat daunting. But Matthew illustrated the steps very clearly and as we broke for lunch I was left thinking that actually, with a little guidance, it probably wouldn’t be quite so bad.
Speakers on their experiences in the digital preservation field
During the afternoon, speakers gave presentations on their experiences in the digital preservation field. The speakers were Adrian Brown from the Parliamentary Archives, Glenn Cumiskey from the British Museum and Edith Halvarsson from the Bodleian Libraries. It was fascinating to learn how diverse the day-to-day working lives of digital archivists can be, and how often, as Glenn Cumiskey remarked, you may be the first digital archivist there has ever been within a given organisation, providing a unique opportunity for you to pave the way for its digital future.
The final speaker of the day, Dave Thomson, explained why it is up to students and new professionals to be ‘disruptive change agents’ and further illustrated the point that digital preservation is a relatively new field. We now have a chance to be the change and make digital preservation something that is at the forefront of business’s minds, helping them avoid the loss of important information due to complacency.
The conference closed with the speakers taking questions from attendees. There was lively discussion over whether postgraduate university courses in archiving and records management are teaching the skills needed for careers in digital preservation. It was decided that although some universities do teach this subject better than others, digital archivists have to make a commitment to life-long learning – not just one postgraduate course. This is a field where the technology and methods are constantly changing, so we need to be continuously developing our skills in accordance with these changes. The discussion certainly left me with lots to think about when considering postgraduate courses this year.
If you are new to the archiving field and want to gain an insight into digital preservation, I would highly recommend the annual conference. I left London with plenty of information, ideas and resources to further my knowledge of the subject, starting my commitment to life-long learning in the area of digital preservation!