Tag Archives: #WeMissiPRES

#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.