Megan Joyce

Megan Joyce

Last updated on 13 April 2021

Megan Joyce is a Curator in the Contemporary Conflict team at Imperial War Museums. She attended NEDCC Digital Directions Conference 2020 with support from the DPC's Career Development Fund which is funded by DPC Supporters.

Digital preservation goes beyond preserving digital objects for the future. It is a combination of policies, strategies and actions to ensure future access to reformatted and born-digital content. This was my main takeaway from the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) Digital Directions conference from keynote speaker and the Director of the NEDCC Ann Marie Willer. Last month I was able to attend the conference with a career development fund from the DPC, allowing me to (virtually!) listen and engage with leading digital preservation professionals from various museums, archives and university libraries.

The next three days were dedicated to attending the online conference and watching presentations on creating and managing digital collections, with subjects such as metadata, storage, workflows, preservation tools and access all being covered in short 45-minute segments. As I am currently working with the contemporary born-digital document and sound collections at Imperial War Museums (IWM), this conference provided me with a great opportunity to develop a clearer understanding of the best practices, standards and tools needed when thinking specifically about IWMs born-digital document and sound collections in the Contemporary Conflict team.

Ann Marie Willer began the conference by introducing some of the challenges faced in managing digital collections and some of the basic strategies we can develop to mitigate risk. Like many in the sector, COVID-19 has meant working from home and my focus has shifted to thinking more about IWMs contemporary born-digital collections and specifically born-digital documents. A key point Ann Marie made is to consider integrating policies for both physical and digital collections. This has been reflected in the wider digital preservation community and an example can be seen with the recent updated guidelines for archival processing in the University of California Libraries. Cataloguing some of the contemporary born-digital document collections at IWM has made me understand that the archival principles when thinking about paper collections can be applied to born-digital collections but it is important to acknowledge the different needs each of these types of collections have.

Many of the challenges I have encountered in cataloguing and preserving IWMs contemporary born-digital document collections were discussed by Katherine Fisher from the Rose Library at the Emory University. Katherine highlighted how often born-digital collections are under collected, under managed, unpreserved and inaccessible but there is now a greater understanding of how to tackle this through identifying relevant tools and collaboration. Katherine gave an overview of the technical challenges with managing born-digital collections but emphasised that there are also human challenges as digital preservation is often the work done by and for people. It is therefore equally important to identify what teams are responsible at each stage of processing and to advocate for born-digital preservation as a priority to organisational decision makers.

Katherine touched on storage and preservation tools which were each discussed in more depth at the later sessions with Sean Ferguson, a Preservation Specialist, and Courtney C. Mumma from the Texas Digital Library. In an overview of storage requirements for digital collections, Sean again highlighted that storing digital objects is not just a technical input but also an administrative one and requires building a relationship with IT departments to discuss storage solutions that can be monitored and refreshed regularly. Courtney C. Mumma continued these discussions in her segment on digital preservation tools, summing up that digital preservation is technology enabled but human driven. A range of tools were mentioned including ePADD and BitCurator but it was highlighted that no single tool will be a solution to every digital preservation problem. Instead it is about assessing the needs of an individual organisation and integrating selected tools into updated workflows whilst engaging and collaborating with the digital preservation community.

Before attending the NEDCC Digital Directions conference, I had compiled a report for IWM on the sector issues and best practices when managing born-digital document and sound collections. The knowledge I have gained from this conference has highlighted that managing our born-digital document and sound collections at IWM should be seen as an evolving and ongoing process and will require continued discussions with preservation professionals in the sector, as well as our own internal departments and future donors. This is an exciting time to reflect on the skills, tools and workflows needed when thinking about future born-digital acquisitions and how we can better manage them in cataloguing, storing, and approaching privacy protection and accessibility for our audiences.

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