Kirsty Lingstadt

Kirsty Lingstadt

Last updated on 17 October 2017

Kirsty Lingstadt is Head of Digital Library and Deputy Director of Library and University Collections at the University of Edinburgh

Well here I am writing my very first blog post. My geeky other half has been blogging since LiveJournal was a thing. (These days he has a regular column at Black Gate Magazine and often guest posts for SF author Charles Stross.) He’s always telling me I should write up some of my increasingly technical “war stories”, and I’m always responding by saying no – it’s not that interesting. But the folks at the DPC swear they’re interested, so here I am…

I didn’t start out as a technical person, but it turns out I’ve been doing digital preservation for the last 13 years -- much longer then I realised! Mostly I’m self-taught, with some boosts from various “introductions to digital” preservation courses – I still fondly remember attending a Digital Curation 101 Course in Oxford in 2005 (with Seamus Ross in attendance) giving me my first formal insight into some of the challenges I was already facing and to some extent continue to face. My organisation at the time sent me because during my job interview I’d talked extensively about the need to preserve not just the physical collections but also the born digital ones. Hence I was there to learn more.

Like William Kilbride, I too am not from a digital preservation background. A historian by degree and curator by postgrad and initial career path, I had just moved from museum collections to archive collections. I’d become fascinated with the issues around born digital collections.

Objects and paper are known quantities with well-established methodologies for looking after them. Born digital  “objects”, however, raise all sorts of fascinating conundrums, some philosophical. Not everybody immediately gets digital conservation. We’re all used to the raised eyebrow and, “What are you trying to do and why?”

Even today, people still say, “Why don’t you just print it out that seems like a much easier solution?” and we have to take them right back to first principles -- again!

That “again” brings me to the importance of advocacy, raising the profile and persisting in the face of raised eyebrows so that we make sure that digital preservation is on the agenda.

Digital preservation is difficult and it is also not cheap.  Yes, you can manage with just one person and a few simple procedures and that is a great starting point, but if we are really to deal with the volume of born digital data that is coming our collective way then we need more resources. In any organisation, more resources is something you win through persuasion and continued argument that this is important, that we need to do this, that more is required than just putting things on servers or up in the Cloud, that we actively need to manage this data -- in other words, undertaking advocacy, again and again.

And once we’ve done it in one organisation, many of us move and do it somewhere else -- again!

I’ve just recently changed roles. I moved from Historic Environment Scotland (RCHAMS when I joined it!). I spent 11 years advocating for resources, time, and developers in order to move from digital preservation being about storage to digital preservation including checksums and file characterisation and just latterly a fully integrated system though Preservica.

Now I work for the University of Edinburgh I find myself in the interesting position of feeling as if I am starting over.

It’s not that Edinburgh’s great archives team hadn’t already engaged with digital preservation before I arrived. Digital Archivist Kirsty Lee was already working with Rachel Hosker looking at digital preservation and also appraisal of digital collections. Both continue to ask great questions in some challenging areas and look at solutions and testing and piloting approaches to significant digital collections. The wider university also included both DCC and the Data Library which already had the Data Seal of Approval (– something I had been working towards at HES).

True, the next step looks different. At HES, I had to persuade people to purchase software (we ended up purchasing Preservica). Here, everything is based on Open Source software we’re working with Archivmatica and what I need is developers to develop, scale and enhance it as well as get it to talk to other pieces of software. However, it’s all down to organisational priorities, so really I’m advocating for more resources for digital preservation – again and more importantly that Digital Preservation is something on everyones agenda so that more people are aware and contribute.

I suspect this will be increasingly common as more and more organisations embrace the need for digital preservation. During this phase of our profession, many advertised roles will be new ones. Advocacy will be part of the job description.

Even if we stay put, the need to advocate will come to us. Most modern users only care about short term preservation, or else assume everything is safe in the cloud. Thus, there will always be new born digital material to curate, and new parts of organisations to engage with and persuade, to advocate to.

Advocacy must be something we embrace as part of our profession, rather than as something we must endure just once until we have everything nailed down, because we are going to spend the next few years doing it again and again.

The DPC is running its first Advocacy Training session in December this year, and registration is open for members now!

Find out more and register to attend


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