Category Archives: Digital archives

Oral History collections at the Bodleian Libraries

You may or may not know that as well as the physical tangible treasures in our Special Collections, Archives and Modern Manuscripts are also home to born-digital archives which are stored, processed and managed through our digital repository, Bodleian Electronic Archives and Manuscripts (BEAM). In the past few years, the Bodleian Libraries have accessioned and processed a number of oral history collections, which are rich resources of spoken memory.

What kinds of oral histories do the Bodleian Libraries hold in Special Collections?

The development of medical history both locally and nationally is reflected in the holdings of Sir William Dunn School of Pathology oral histories and Recollecting Oxford Medicine: Oral Histories. Recollecting Oxford Medicine is a project funded and facilitated by Oxford Medical Alumni and generous private donors. The archive of their oral histories augments our current physical holdings on Oxford medics and medicine, by setting out to question and listen to a large range of interviewees across various departments, divisions and disciplines whose work also spanned different periods from the Second World War until the current day. Recollecting Oxford Medicine makes for a fascinating account of the development and changes of the Oxford Medical School and the Oxford Hospitals from the memories of those at the forefront.

Series of publicly accessible ROM interview recordings, hosted on University of Oxford Podcasts.

List of some of the ROM interviews available as podcast episodes through the Recollecting Oxford Medicine series. Episodes currently number 51.

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, oral history projects have consciously sought fill gaps in collective history by interviewing subjects and collecting testimonies from those who may have been excluded from participation. Oxford Women in Computing: an Oral History project is one example of this practice and a recurring theme in the oral history interviews is gender splits in computing which interviewees perceived and experienced. These oral history interviews, conducted by Georgina Ferry, capture the stories and memories of pioneering women at the forefront of computing and its teaching, and in research and service provision at Oxford from the 1950s-1990s. The series of publicly accessible interviews can be found here. 

Oral Histories and Archives

Processing oral history collections which are kindly donated or transferred gives the opportunity to train and utilise new skills urgently needed to preserve the authenticity and significant components of, and manage, the born-digital records of these projects. These include learning to use editing software to edit mp3 derivatives of master wav. audio recordings as a means to comply with UK data protection legislation when creating public access versions of recordings.  Part of the work flow of managing and making these oral histories available has also included mapping metadata such as indexed names and subjects between BEAM documentation to our cataloguing system Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts, to the back end of the publication portal for University of Oxford podcasts, where the publicly accessible oral history recordings are currently hosted.

Oral Histories are recognised as multi-faceted and valuable educational and research tools. These oral histories held in Special Collections are for everyone; whether a subject specialist, a multidisciplinary, an inquisitive Oxford resident or university member… or just anyone curious who fancies learning about something new! University of Oxford podcasts can be accessed for free anywhere online on the web in the links given above, and also through Apple podcasts.

Watch this space for updates on any new acquisitions or newly catalogued oral history projects.

 

 

 

 

Invasion of Ukraine: web archiving volunteers needed

The Bodleian Libraries Web Archive (BLWA) needs your help to document what is happening in Ukraine and the surrounding region. Much of the information about Ukraine being added to the web right now will be ephemeral, and especially information from individuals about their experiences, and those of the people around them. Action is needed to ensure we preserve some of these contemporary insights for future reflection. We hope to archive a range of different content, including social media, and to start forming a resource which can join with other collections being developed elsewhere to:

  • capture the experiences of people affected by the invasion, both within and outside of Ukraine
  • reflect the different ways the crisis is being described and discussed, including misinformation and propaganda
  • record the response to the crisis

To play our part, we need help from individuals with relevant cultural knowledge and language skills who can select websites for archiving. We are particularly interested in Ukrainian and Russian websites, and those from other countries in the region, though any suggestions are welcome.

Please nominate websites via: https://www2.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/beam/webarchive/nominate

Call for contributions: Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response web archive collection

On 4 October 2021, the International Internet Preservation Coalition (IIPC) initiated a web archiving collection in response to recent events in Afghanistan. Colleagues at the University of Oxford, and beyond, are invited to contribute nominations for websites to be archived in the collection.

The collection theme is Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response. The focus is on the international aspects of events in Afghanistan documenting transnational involvement and worldwide interest in the process of regime change, documenting how the situation evolves over time.

A post on the IIPC’s blog, by the collection’s lead curator Nicola Bingham (British Library), provides further details of the background and scope of the collection.

How to contribute to the collection:

  1. Please read the Collection Scoping Document and accompanying IIPC blog post for more details on the collection and a full overview of the collecting scope.
  2. Enter nominations for websites, and a small amount of basic metadata, via the collection’s Google Form. The Google form accepts website nominations in non-English scripts.

This post is based on Nicola Bingham’s blog IIPC Collaborative collection: “Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response”.

Conference Report: Archives and Records Association Annual Conference 2021

The Archives and Records Association (ARA) Annual Conference 2021 was held 1st–3rd September 2021. In this blog post, Rachael Marsay reports on some of the highlights of the conference, held entirely online this year for the first time.


Logo for the Archive and Records Association 2021 Virtual Conference

There were three themes to this year’s conference: sustainability, diversity, and advocacy. Though each day of the conference covered one theme, one of the stand-outs of the conference was just how interlinked all three strands were.

Day one’s keynote speaker was Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper at The National Archives. Jeff talked about environmental sustainability, as well as the sustainability of the record and of the archives sector. He mentioned how The National Archives at Kew are committed to lowering their carbon footprint, which has been reduced by 80% since 2009. This has been achieved by building on scientific research with regards to buildings, bringing both a financial and environmental benefit. He also spoke of records at risk, referring to the work of the Cultural Recovery Fund, the Covid-19 Archives Fund for records at risk and the Crisis Management Team alongside already established fund streams such as the Archives Revealed grant scheme. Digital records were flagged as records at risk and he stressed the need for the sector to work in partnership and collaboration, both together and with digital giants (such as Microsoft and Google) with regards to developing digital products. Sector skills include the need for records professionals to gain digital skills through schemes and strategies such as Plugged In Powered Up, the Novice to Know-How online training resource created by the Digital Preservation Coalition, the Digital Archives Learning Exchange, and the Bridging the Gap traineeship programme.

The fragility of born-digital records, identified as critically endangered by the Digital Preservation Coalition, was a common theme throughout the conference. Even the most modern of records are at risk (CD-Rs for example, have a lifespan of under 10 years). Particular digital records discussed related to oral history interviews, often seen as ‘history from below’, recording the lives of those with ‘hidden histories’ off mainstream records, such as women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Challenges to preserve digital material include cost, knowledge, skills and training, technology, and resources, as well as issues surrounding ‘gatekeeping’ and access to material. Rachel MacGregor (Digital Preservation Officer at The Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick) emphasised the need to record, describe, and catalogue born digital collections well in order to ensure that that they can be utilised by researchers, and explored some of the standards and guidance currently available.

Day two’s keynote speaker was Arike Oke (Managing Director, Black Cultural Archives) who spoke about experiences with diversity, aptly described as the equitable and mindful bringing together of difference; diversity should not be seen as static, but as a perpetual movement, both including and evolving difference. In her talk, Arike raised the point of classifying and being classified, and several sessions across the three days referred to how language and terminology impacted the use of records or archives created by or for particular communities. The use of historic terminology can be a barrier to access, particularly when words hold negative connotations that can cause distress to users. This was explored in several sessions in relation to LGBTQ+ related records and archives (including those kept at the Parliamentary Archives of the UK Parliament), as well as colonial collections such as the Miscellaneous Reports Collection held by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Thoughts on how to address the issues included guides or notes explaining the context and why such words were used, including modern terms or names in brackets, inviting feedback, and for events, giving participants time and space to process information.

The importance of being open to keeping more ephemeral material and objects (e.g. pin badges, leaflets and posters) was also highlighted, particularly in shedding light on lives not necessarily recorded in more traditional forms. Christopher Hilton of Britten Pears Arts gave an interesting presentation on the multitude of receipts kept by Benjamin Britten and his partner Peter Pears for tax purposes. The receipts were important in shedding light on their relationship by providing evidence that they maintained clearly separate financial lives, demonstrating how important it was for their professional lives at that period that their records could be used to demonstrate a ‘plausible deniability’ should their personal relationship be questioned. The receipts were also records of businesses in Aldeburgh which are now long gone, provoking memories for older residents and providing a tangible link between the archive and the town.

Day three’s keynote speaker was Deirdre McParland, Senior Archivist at the Electricity Supply Board (Ireland) whose inspirational talk focussed on the importance of advocacy and that ‘archives are for life, not just anniversaries’. Deirdre spoke of how archives should be pro-active and innovative when it comes to advocacy, and that projects should be strategically planned to include promotion as standard. Deirdre’s talk was followed by a talk by Jenny Moran and Robin Jenkins from the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, and Richard Wiltshire of the Crisis Management Team. Jenny, Robin and Richard talked about saving the archive of the travel firm Thomas Cook after the company’s sudden collapse: an excellent example of how swift action, negotiation and successful advocacy led to the ensured survival of the archive. The conference was nicely brought to a close by a talk by Alan and Bethan Ward on their project Photographs from Another Place. Their talk, given from the perspective of the archive user, showed how a bit of archival research revealed the names and stories behind a group of forgotten and unlabelled glass plate negatives. It was, for me at least, a timely reminder of the enduring value of archives.


A selection of further reading recommendations made by speakers and participants:

 

Conference Report: IIPC Web Archiving Conference 2021

This year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference was held online from 15-16th June 2021, bringing together professionals from around the world to share their experiences of preserving the Web as a research tool for future generations. In this blog post, Simon Mackley reports back on some of the highlights from the conference.  

How can we best preserve the World Wide Web for future researchers, and how can we best provide access to our collections? These were the questions that were at the forefront of this year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference, which was hosted virtually by the National Library of Luxembourg. Web archiving is a subject of particular interest to me: as one of the Bodleian Library’s Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, I spend a lot of my time working on our own Web collections as part of the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive. It was great therefore to have the chance to attend part of this virtual conference and hear for myself about new developments in the sector.

One thing that really struck me from the conference was the huge diversity in approaches to preserving the Web. On the one hand, many of the papers concerned large-scale efforts by national legal deposit institutions. For instance, Ivo Branco, Ricardo Basílio, and Daniel Gomes gave a very interesting presentation on the creation of the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections collection at the Portuguese Web Archive. This was a highly ambitious project, with the aim of crawling not just the Portuguese Web domain but also capturing a snapshot of elections coverage across 24 different European languages through the use of an automated search engine and a range of web crawler technologies (see their blog for more details). The World Wide Web is perhaps the ultimate example of an international information resource, so it is brilliant to see web archiving initiatives take a similarly international approach.

At the other end of the scale, Hélène Brousseau gave a fascinating paper on community-based web archiving at Artexte library and research centre, Canada. Within the arts community, websites often function as digital publications analogous to traditional exhibition catalogues. Brousseau emphasised the need for manual web archiving rather than automated crawling as a means of capturing the full content and functionality of these digital publications, and at Artexete this has been achieved by training website creators to self-archive their own websites using Conifer. Given that in many cases web archivists often have minimal or even no contact with website creators, it was fascinating to hear of an approach that places creators at the very heart of the process.

It was also really interesting to hear about the innovative new ways that web archives were engaging with researchers using their collections, particularly in the use of new ‘Labs’-style approaches. Marie Carlin and Dorothée Benhamou-Suesser for instance reported on the new services being planned for researchers at the Bibliothèque nationale de France Data Lab, including a crawl-on-demand service and the provision of web archive datasets. New methodologies are always being developed within the Digital Humanities, and so it is vitally important that web archives are able to meet the evolving needs of researchers.

Like all good conferences, the papers and discussions did not solely focus on the successes of the past year, but also explored the continued challenges of web archiving and how they can be addressed. Web archiving is often a resource-intensive activity, which can prove a significant challenge for collecting institutions. This was a major point of discussion in the panel session on web archiving the coronavirus pandemic, as institutions had to balance the urgency of quickly capturing web content during a fast-evolving crisis against the need to manage resources for the longer-term, as it became apparent that the pandemic would last months rather than weeks. It was clear from the speakers that no two institutions had approached documenting the pandemic in quite the same way, but nonetheless some very useful general lessons were drawn from the experiences, particularly about the need to clearly define collection scope and goals at the start of any collecting project dealing with rapidly changing events.

The question of access presents an even greater challenge. We ultimately work to preserve the Web so that researchers can make use of it, but as a sector we face significant barriers in delivering this goal. The larger legal deposit collections, for instance, can often only be consulted in the physical reading rooms of their collecting libraries. In his opening address to the conference, Claude D. Conter of the National Library of Luxembourg addressed this problem head-on, calling for copyright reform in order to meet reader expectations of access.

Yet although these challenges may be significant, I have no doubt from the range of new and innovative approaches showcased at this conference that the web archiving sector will be able to overcome them. I am delighted to have had the chance to attend the conference, and I cannot wait to see how some of the projects presented continue to develop in the years to come.

Simon Mackley

What’s it like to be a trainee? Francesca Miller, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2020-2022

I discovered the Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist role while looking for jobs in Oxford that gave opportunities for training and learning. Though I didn’t know much about digital archiving, as soon as I read the advert I knew it was the job for me and I was delighted when I got it. My background is quite varied, having degrees in Graphic Design and Mathematics and being part way through my MSc in Maths, all while working in the financial sector. I decided I wanted a change of direction and the traineeship was the perfect opportunity to use my skills and knowledge in an interesting and developing field.

Having no previous experience of archives hasn’t been a barrier as the work introduces you through on the job training and the PGDip at Aberystwyth University. While studying and working at the same time can be demanding, the course compliments the job and I already feel like I know so much more. While there has be some aspects of the role I haven’t be able to do, due to remote working, there is always plenty of work and I have learnt so much in 7 months. Working alongside the other two trainees has been really enjoyable and our twice-weekly web archiving session via teams has worked really well. They have both been very supportive and are always willing to answer my questions and navigate me through the complexity that is web archiving. The role has enabled me to expand on my coding skills by learning XML as part of a retro-conversion project and learn new skills around cataloguing and indexing.

I started my traineeship in September 2020 and like a lot of what has happened in the last year it hasn’t gone quite as expected! Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been into the Weston Library since my interview which took place prior to the first lockdown. Despite working from my home and not meeting my colleagues in person, I have been made to feel welcome and part of the digital archiving team. I am very much looking forward to discovering more aspects of digital archiving during the rest of my traineeship and I hope very soon to be able to experience the Bodleian Library in person!

Francesca Miller, May 2021

What’s it like to be a trainee? Simon Mackley, Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist 2020-2022

I applied to become a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist because I wanted a route into the profession that would also equip me with the skills for working with archives in the digital age. I have always had a keen interest in the past: I originally trained as a historian, completing a PhD in British imperial history at the University of Exeter in 2016. The following year I got my first archives job, working as an Archives Assistant as part of the Conservative Party Archive team at the Bodleian. I found the work fascinating and really rewarding, and it didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to pursue this as a career. When the opportunity to apply for the traineeship came up, I jumped at the chance!

One of the great things about being a digital archives trainee is that you get to work across a wide range of projects and collections. For instance, my work over the past year has included reviewing, indexing, and publishing a hugely diverse range of catalogue records as part of the Summary Catalogue project, as well as more technical tasks such as retro-converting the historic catalogues of the University Archives to make them machine-readable. A particular highlight for me has been working on the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Not coming from a technical background, this was a completely new area for me. However, working on the web archive has become one of my favourite parts of the traineeship, and I have really enjoyed developing a new set of skills in this area.

I have also found studying for the postgraduate diploma at Aberystwyth University really interesting, and the topics covered often prove very useful in my day-to-day work. Balancing distance learning with full-time work can be challenging at times, but you get plenty of support from your fellow trainees and the tutors at Aberystwyth. As a digital archives trainee, you also get to take part in the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainee programme, and I have really enjoyed having the chance to learn more about the wider work of the Bodleian and College libraries.

Obviously, working during the Coronavirus pandemic has brought with it its own unique challenges: my first day in the role ended up coinciding with the start of the first national lockdown! Fortunately, the nature of digital archives means that there has still been plenty of tasks to get on with while working from home. The Aberystwyth University course has also been able to continue throughout the pandemic, so I’ve not had any disruption to my studies.

I am now halfway through the traineeship, and looking back on the past year I am amazed at how much I have already learned. I really value the opportunities I’ve had in this role, and I cannot wait to see what the next year has in store!

Simon Mackley, April 2021

UK Web Archive mini-conference 2020

On Wednesday 19th November I attended the UK Web Archive (UKWA) mini-conference 2020, my first conference as a Graduate Trainee Digital Archivist. It was hosted by Jason Webber, Engagement Manager at the UKWA and, as normal in these COVID times, it was hosted on Zoom (my first ever Zoom experience!)

The conference started with an introduction and demonstration of the UKWA by Jason Webber. Starting in 2005 the UKWA’s mission is to collect the entire UK webspace, at least once per year, and preserve the websites for future generations. As part of my traineeship I have used the UKWA but it was interesting to hear about the other functions and collections it provides. Along with being able to browse different versions of UK websites it also includes over 100 curated collections on themes ranging from Food to Brexit to Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK. It also features the SHINE tool, which was developed as part of the ‘Big UK Data Arts and Humanities’ project and contains over 3.5 billion items which have been full-text indexed so that every word is searchable. It allows users to perform searches and trend analysis on subjects over a huge range of websites, all you need to use this tool is a bit a Python knowledge. My Python knowledge is a bit basic but Caio Mello, during his researcher talk, provided a useful link for online python tutorials aimed at historians to aid in their research.

In his talk, Caio Mello (School of Advanced Study, University of London) discussed how he used the SHINE tool as part of his work for the CLEOPATRA Project. He was specifically looking at the Olympic legacy of the 2012 Olympics, how it was defined and how the view of the legacy changed over time. He explained the process he used to extract the information and the ways the information can be used for analysis, visualisation and context. My background is in mathematics and the concept of ‘Big Data’ came up frequently during my studies so it was fascinating to see how it can be used in a research project and how the UKWA is enabling research to be conducted over such a wide range of subjects.

The next researcher talk by Liam Markey (University of Liverpool and the British Library) showed a different approach to using the UKWA for his research project into how Remembrance in 20th Century Britain has changed. He explained how he conducted an analysis of archived newspaper articles, using specific search terms, to identify articles that focused on commemoration which he could then use to examine how the attitudes changed over time. The UKWA enabled him to find websites that focused on the war and compare these with mainstream newspapers to see how these differ.

The Keynote speaker was Paul Gooding (University of Glasgow) and was about the use and users of Non-Print Legal Deposit Libraries. His research as part of the Digital Library Futures Project, with the Bodleian Libraries and Cambridge University Library as case study partners, looked at how Academic Deposit libraries were impacted by e-Legal Deposit. It was an interesting discussion around some of the issues of the system, such as balancing the commercial rights with access for users and how highly restrictive access conditions are at odds with more recent legislation, such as the provision for disabled users and 2014 copyright exception for data and text mining for non-commercial uses.

Being new to the digital archiving world, my first conference was a great introduction to web archiving and provided context to the work I am doing. Thank you to the organisers and speakers for giving me insight into a few of the different ways the web archive is used and I have come away with a greater understanding of the scope and importance of digital archiving (as well as a list of blog posts and tutorials to delve into!)

Some Useful Links:

https://www.webarchive.org.uk/

https://programminghistorian.org/

https://blogs.bl.uk/webarchive/2020/11/how-remembrance-day-has-changed.html

http://cleopatra-project.eu/

 

#WeMissiPRES: Preserving social media and boiling 1.04 x 10^16 kettles

This year the annual iPRES digital preservation conference was understandably postponed and in its place the community hosted a 3-day Zoom conference called #WeMissiPRES. As two of the Bodleian Libraries’ Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, Simon and I were in attendance and blogged about our experiences. This post contains some of my highlights.

The conference kicked off with a keynote by Geert Lovink. Geert is the founding director of the Institute of Network Cultures and the author of several books on critical Internet studies. His talk was wide-ranging and covered topics from the rise of so-called ‘Zoom fatigue’ (I guarantee you know this feeling by now) to how social media platforms affect all aspects of contemporary life, often in negative ways. Geert highlighted the importance of preserving social media in order to allow future generations to be able to understand the present historical moment. However, this is a complicated area of digital preservation because archiving social media presents a host of ethical and technical challenges. For instance, how do we accurately capture the experience of using social media when the content displayed to you is largely dictated by an algorithm that is not made public for us to replicate?

After the keynote I attended a series of talks about the ARCHIVER project. João Fernandes from CERN explained that the goal of this project is to improve archiving and digital preservation services for scientific and research data. Preservation solutions for this type of data need to be cost-effective, scalable, and capable of ingesting amounts of data within the petabyte range. There were several further talks from companies who are submitting to the design phase of this project, including Matthew Addis from Arkivum. Matthew’s talk focused on the ways that digital preservation can be conducted on the industrial scale required to meet the brief and explained that Arkivum is collaborating with Google to achieve this, because Google’s cloud infrastructure can be leveraged for petabyte-scale storage. He also noted that while the marriage of preserved content with robust metadata is important in any digital preservation context, it is essential for repositories dealing with very complex scientific data.

In the afternoon I attended a range of talks that addressed new standards and technologies in digital preservation. Linas Cepinskas (Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS)) spoke about a self-assessment tool for the FAIR principles, which is designed to assess whether data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Later, Barbara Sierman (DigitalPreservation.nl) and Ingrid Dillo (DANS) spoke about TRUST, a new set of guiding principles that are designed to map well with FAIR and assess the reliability of data repositories. Antonio Guillermo Martinez (LIBNOVA) gave a talk about his research into Artificial Intelligence and machine learning applied to digital preservation. Through case studies, he identified that AI is especially good at tasks such as anomaly detection and automatic metadata generation. However, he found that regardless of how well the AI performs, it needs to generate better explanations for its decisions, because it’s hard for human beings to build trust in automated decisions that we find opaque.

Paul Stokes from Jisc3C gave a talk on calculating the carbon costs of digital curation and unfortunately concluded that not much research has been done in this area. The need to improve the environmental sustainability of all human activity could not be more pressing and digital preservation is no exception, as approximately 3% of the world’s electricity is used by data centres. Paul also offered the statistic that enough power is consumed by data centres worldwide to boil 10,400,000,000,000,000 kettles – which is the most important digital preservation metric I can think of.

This conference was challenging and eye-opening because it gave me an insight into (complicated!) areas of digital preservation that I was not familiar with, particularly surrounding the challenges of preserving large quantities of scientific and research data. I’m very grateful to the speakers for sharing their research and to the organisers, who did a fantastic job of bringing the community together to bridge the gap between 2019 and 2021!

#WeMissiPRES: A Bridge from 2019 to 2021

Every year, the international digital preservation community meets for the iPRES conference, an opportunity for practitioners to exchange knowledge and showcase the latest developments in the field. With the 2020 conference unable to take place due to the global pandemic, digital preservation professionals instead gathered online for #WeMissiPRES to ensure that the global community remained connected. Our graduate trainee digital archivist Simon Mackley attended the first day of the event; in this blog post he reflects on some of the highlights of the talks and what they tell us about the state of the field.

How do you keep the global digital preservation community connected when international conferences are not possible? This was the challenge faced by the organisers of #WeMissIPres, a three-day online event hosted by the Digital Preservation Coalition. Conceived as a festival of digital preservation, the aim was not to try and replicate the regular iPRES conference in an online format, but instead to serve as a bridge for the digital preservation community, connecting the efforts of 2019 with the plans for 2021.

As might be expected, the impact of the pandemic loomed large in many of the talks. Caylin Smith (Cambridge University Library) and Sara Day Thomson (University of Edinburgh) for instance gave a fascinating paper on the challenge of rapidly collecting institutional responses to coronavirus, focusing on the development of new workflows and streamlined processes. The difficulties of working from home, the requirements of remote access to resources, and the need to move training online likewise proved to be recurrent themes throughout the day. As someone whose own experience of digital preservation has been heavily shaped by the pandemic (I began my traineeship at the start of lockdown!) it was really useful to hear how colleagues in other institutions have risen to these challenges.

I was also struck by the different ways in which responses to the crisis have strengthened digital preservation efforts. Lynn Bruce and Eve Wright (National Records of Scotland) noted for instance that the experience of the pandemic has led to increased appreciation of the value of web-archiving from stakeholders, as the need to capture rapidly-changing content has become more apparent. Similarly, Natalie Harrower (Digital Repository of Ireland) made the excellent point that the crisis had not only highlighted the urgent need for the sharing of medical research data, but also the need to preserve it: Coronavirus data may one day prove essential to fighting a future pandemic, and so there is therefore a moral imperative for us to ensure that it is preserved.

As our keynote speaker Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures) reminded us, the events of the past year have been momentous quite apart from the pandemic, with issues such as the distorting impacts of social media on society, the climate emergency, and global demands for racial justice all having risen to the forefront of society. It was great therefore to see the role of digital preservation in these challenges being addressed in many of the panel sessions. A personal highlight for me was the presentation by Daniel Steinmeier (KB National Library of the Netherlands) on diversity and digital preservation. Steinmeier stressed that in order for diversity efforts to be successful, institutions needed to commit to continuing programmes of inclusion rather than one-off actions, with the communities concerned actively included in the archiving process.

So what challenges can we expect from the year ahead? Perhaps more than ever, this year this has been a difficult question to answer. Nonetheless, a key theme that struck me from many of the discussions was that the growing challenge of archiving social media platforms was matched only by the increasing need to preserve the content hosted on them. As Zefi Kavvadia (International Institute of Social History) noted, many social media platforms actively resist archiving; even when preservation is possible, curators are faced with a dilemma between capturing user experiences and capturing platform data. Navigating this challenge will surely be a major priority for the profession going forward.

While perhaps no substitute for meeting in person, #WeMissiPRES nonetheless succeeded in bringing the international digital preservation community together in a shared celebration of the progress being made in the field, successfully bridging the gap between 2019 and 2021, and laying the foundations for next year’s conference.

 

#WeMissiPRES was held online from 22nd-24th September 2020. For more information, and for recordings of the talks and panel sessions, see the event page on the DPC website.