Sharon McMeekin

Sharon McMeekin

Last updated on 10 October 2022

After (non-Covid) illness and a holiday, today, 10th October, is my first proper day back “in the office” after iPres 2022. It seems fitting that the day is also World Mental Health Day 2022, marking a day of action and reflection on a topic that is very important to me. I’ve blogged before on my own mental health struggles and the impact that the start of the pandemic had on me, and this seems like the ideal time to revisit the topic of mental health.


Now, more than ever, it is important that we are more open about discussing mental health, in the hope that this will help pave the way for more support and services for those in need. The World Health Organization estimates that before the pandemic one in eight people lived with mental illness, and that COVID has brought about a 25% increase in those numbers. With the growing social and economic inequalities, ongoing conflicts, and environmental crisis, these numbers are only likely to increase further. We need to take mental health seriously and we need to do it now.

As well as my personal interest in the subject, in my role as Head of Workforce Development with the DPC I have long had an interest in how we can understand mental health issues in the digital preservation community and how we can provide support. I have often heard stories from practitioners of the struggle of bearing the weight of digital preservation responsibilities within their organization. From the seemingly unending labor of being the lone voice advocating for digital preservation, frequently to deaf ears, to the pressure caused from being pulled in so many different directions as they have to try to constantly fight fires and be all things to all people. Stress and burn-out are real problems, and we need a way to articulate this.

In the last few months these anecdotal tales have begun to coalesce in something more cohesive thanks to a few key experiences. The first has been the iPres conference. While it was in many ways an absolute delight to see so many friends and colleagues in person again, it was not without its struggles. Many shared their apprehension about being in a venue with so many people after two plus years of primarily home working. In particular, presenting again in person was anxiety inducing, looking out at a room of faces rather than images on a screen. What if we’d forgotten how to do it? Thankfully everyone seemed to cope with the presenting admirably, but I know from my own perspective that my social anxiety before and during the conference was real and at times acute. So, how can we support good mental health at in person events?

The next key experience I would like to note as bringing to the forefront mental health issues in digital preservation is linked to iPres through the panel I participated in on the 2021 NDSA Staffing Survey. Each member of the panel brought to the discussion a key finding from the report they wished to highlight. My own highlight related to issues of understaffing and the number of respondents who talked about the stresses and pressures of their jobs. Responses included phrases like “we are stretched so thin” and “staff is taxed, with many demands on time”, with these being representative of a clear trend showing digital preservation practitioners to be overburdened with a multitude of competing responsibilities. This represented a first step in trying to quantify these feelings to show clear evidence of a bigger issue, and I believe further examination is warranted.

Finally, not too long after iPres I spotted this tweet from Caylin Smith, Head of Digital Preservation at Cambridge University Library:


While the topic had been mentioned at iPres, there were no papers or sessions specifically on mental health. The discussion resulting from Caylin’s tweet is a further indicator that this topic needs some consideration amongst the community, and it was great to see people so many already willing to engage.

The theme of World Mental Health Day 2022 is making mental health and well-being for all a global priority. As the DPC continues to grow internationally I hope we will be able to contribute to the effort. With these experiences mentioned above in mind, I want to start looking to the future and thinking about the practical steps the DPC can take to support mental health in the digital preservation community. In the next couple of months, I’ll be looking to pull together some ideas to take to our next Workforce Development Sub-Committee meeting and hopefully we will be able build a program of work in this area. I have some ideas already, but welcome input and suggestions! Please do drop me an email or catch me on Twitter if you have any thoughts.

Wishing you all good mental health, please do look after yourself and others.


#1 Helen Dafter 2022-10-10 17:34
Not a concrete suggestion (yet), but one an initial thought is that digital preservation often involves collecting with relatively recent records which can be emotionally challenging. I've certainly experienced that with contemporary collecting around the pandemic.
Perhaps there is scope to link to work around trauma informed practice?

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