Structural Obstacles to Effective Digital Preservation Practice

Last week, I had the privilege of attending iPRES 2012 in Toronto. The conference was replete with case studies and research reports detailing the state of the digital preservation field. A number of presentations provided strong evidence for progress in web archiving and frameworks for understanding data curation, as well as development of tools and systems to support preservation workflows.

Two obstacles seem to stand in the way of going beyond incremental progress in digital preservation practice:

  1. Continuing to re-invent the wheel rather than building on the work of others–sometimes referred to as the “not invented here” syndrome.
  2. The incredibly local nature of funding. Where is the global economy for digital preservation in cultural heritage organizations?

In one of the sessions, I asked how we could move beyond the drive for perpetual involvement in sexy new development to a focus on adaptive re-use and improvement of existing tools for implementation. Paul Wheatley, SPRUCE Project Manager at the University of Leeds commented that his organization has run some workshops that focus on building workflow support from existing tools. CURATEcamp has also experimented with this model and would seem to be well positioned to continue to support and extend it.

In his closing plenary, Kevin Ashley of the Digital Curation Centre made a case for more collaboration between the UK and Canada. Can’t we do better than that? I realize there are structural and political issues with funding models that draw geographic boundaries around our work. This was well documented as long ago as 2006 by the American Council of Learned Societies in their report Our Cultural Commonwealth¬†about cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and social sciences. Perhaps future iPRES conferences could include invitational sessions for funders, focused on leveraging their investments through international collaboration.

My interest in organizational studies may be what gives me this perspective. By focusing some attention on the way we structure our digital preservation work, we can leverage all of our contributions so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. What do you think?

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About Katherine Kott

Management, organizational effectiveness, and organizational change consultant in the academic sector. Experience working with libraries, museums, archives, and other not-for-profits to manage change and enhance organizational effectiveness. Areas of expertise include meeting facilitation, team building, leadership development, volunteer program development, organizational design, performance improvement, change management, systems thinking.
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