I spent the first week of November in Chapel Hill for this year’s iPRES conference. iPRES is an international conference covering the latest trends, innovations, policies, and practices in the realm of digital preservation.. The conference was full of smart, innovative, and knowledgeable people working to solve the problems posed by digital preservation. It’s not possible to cover everything that I learned here, but one of the themes that emerged for me was that of the importance of people in digital preservation. It can be tempting to think of this work as all about computers, but people and policies are integral to sustainable digital preservation.
This was particularly emphasized in the “From Theory to Practice: Using ISO 16363” workshop I attended on the first day. ISO 16363 is a standard for trustworthy digital repository certification. The workshop covered other U.S. and European methods of certification and self-assessment for repositories, including TRAC, DRAMBORA, nestor, and the Data Seal of Approval. A trustworthy repository commits to continuing maintenance of digital objects for its designated community, demonstrates organizational fitness to fulfill its commitment, has a strategic program for preservation planning and action, and has adequate technical infrastructure. The importance of policies, documentation, and transparency was emphasized during the discussion of each of the guidelines. Equipment, software, and other technical infrastructure was barely discussed during the workshop.
The key role of people, particularly users, was also discussed in the “Developing a Framework for File Format Migrations” talk from Harvard Libraries. In their case, file format obsolescence was not revealed through an automated system sending an alert, but through use. A researcher had downloaded an audio access file from the library’s website, but because the file format (RealAudio) was obsolete, they were not able to use the file. This eventually made its way to the digital repository manager, who then took a broad look at their file format migration policies. I really liked the point that users’ experiences are key to digital preservation. Those managing digital preservation need to solicit use problems from other staff and end-users in order for digital preservation to be sustainable and to provide meaningful access to digital materials.