Monday, 30 January 2012

LIKE 32: digital preservation

While over 90% of data is born digital, there is no official strategy in the UK for preserving the material. From private companies to public bodies, it is often unclear who is responsible for capturing all the emails, blogs, online videos etc. that are generated every day. As such, items of historical importance are simply disappearing.

This, then, was a perfect discussion topic for LIKE. Lena Roland started the session by stating that digital preservation is the process of ensuring the continued access to digital material of enduring value for present and future generations. She clearly set out the issues noting that while gaps in current preservation programmes could be filled with print versions, this will not be possible in the future.

Of course not everything can be archived - would anyone seriously think of archiving an individual's entire Twitter account? The key point is to have a clear selection and deletion policy. Lena also mentioned that she uses WebCite, an online service that enables readers permanent access to the cited material, for her own work.

Adrian Brown, Assistant Clerk of the Records at The Parliamentary Archives, then talked about his own digital preservation experience at the House of Commons. One of the most interesting points was an explanation of the 'performance' model as a framework for describing digital preservation strategies. Developed by the National Archives of Australia in 2002, the idea in its most basic form is for the archivist to concentrate on the actual information content, or 'performance', rather than the processes used to deliver it. Read more about the concept here as well as in a A digital preservation policy for Parliament paper.

There is no one answer to prevent digital obsolescence but current practices include migration, whereby file formats are changed so that information remains accessible, or, emulation which involves ensuring old software functions can still be read. There is always hardware preservation but, as Adrian pointed out while waving floppy discs of various sizes in the air, it is proving harder and harder to find machines that still work.
LIKE 32 was an informative evening that generated a lot of debate - as demonstrated by the fact that  people were still talking long after the food had finished. 

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