David Minor is Director of the Research Data Curation Program at the University of San Diego Library and formerly the Chronopolis Program Manager

I’ve worked in the Digital Preservation field for about a dozen years, and have had the good fortune to see a number of generations pass. I’d like to offer some thoughts on what we’ve done well, and some things we still need to figure out.

What we’ve done well:

  • Technology. In many ways, we’ve “solved” many of the digital preservation technology issues. Can we preserve bits for years and years? Yes. Can we move these bits around multiple locations and service backends and guarantee their persistence? Yes. Can we migrate data through various data types and outputs? Yes. (If we need to. Still an open question.) In many ways, the digital preservation community has made enormous strides in infrastructure that would have stymied us in the recent past. Can we do better? Of course. Will there be new technologies that come along and cause us to rethink everything we’ve done up to now? Hopefully. But if not, well, we can do our jobs, and we can do them well.
  • Variety of options. A striking facet of our community is the range of non/not-for profit options that 100% compete with commercial fare. We don’t celebrate this enough. Other significant segments of the digital library landscape have struggled with this for decades with little success. Today an organization that wants to contract with a preservation service can choose from at least a half dozen community-driven efforts, that are at least as good (if not better) than expensive commercial offerings. This is completely beyond awesome. It shows both the need for digital preservation across wide swaths of organizations and enterprises, as well as the dedication of large groups of people to solve thorny issues.

What we still need to figure out:

  • Connecting to the broader landscape. Many excellent preservation services work as closed boxes. They accept data and output data, but they aren’t integrated into the larger repository flow. And not just in terms of infrastructure. For example, persistent flow of metadata across systems is a challenge in many situations. This disconnectedness is widely recognized and many people are working on it, but we just aren’t there yet. Hopefully in the near future we won’t have “access systems” and “preservation systems,” but have seamless data management systems that offer service the range of needs.
  • Education. We’re still plowing away at getting people to understand what the heck this whole digital preservation thing is. And I want to be crystal clear here: we’re doing an excellent job, with many groups providing everything from “Digital Preservation 101” to advanced preservation concepts, all around the globe. And they all sell-out, almost every time. Which is great. But also indicates that we have many, many people still to reach. It may be unfair to characterize this as something we need to figure out, but we cannot lose sight that we still talk in terms that aren’t common parlance outside of our close circles.
  • Funding. Yes. Of course. Funding. Funding funding funding. This is the largest single mountain we still have to climb. Digital preservation, done correctly, is expensive. It just is. And it’s not a problem that technology is going to solve. Or some new whiz bang economic theory that makes sense to twelve special people. It’s only going to cease being a problem when the people who care about their precious bits fully understand why it’s expensive, and make the commitment to support it. This is the ur-issue for our field, and has been since the beginning.

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