Elisabeth Thurlow is Digital Archives and Collections Implementation Manager at the University of the Arts London. She attended iPres2019 with support from the DPC's Career Development Fund which is generously funded by DPC supporters.

A recurrent theme across many of the papers presented at this year’s iPres conference was the important role of people in digital preservation. Technology tends to dominate conversations around digital preservation, but for digital preservation to ultimately work, we need people too.

The session on Skills and Capacity, in its varied talks, articulated the central role that people play within digital preservation.

The French archival context

First up were Aurélien Conraux, Wilifried Prieur and Édouard Vasseur on their collective work in France. In a joint project involving the French Archive Interdepartmental Service, the Vitam Program team, and the French Ministries of Culture, For Europe and Foreign Affairs, and of Armed Forces, they have been working towards a model for digital preservation processes, with the long-term goal of making digital preservation familiar to all.

As well as outlining the processes required to support digital preservation, they have identified the types of staff required, creating staff profiles which map directly to the processes. Beyond the three different ministries, their work will be useful for any French archival service wishing to assess their own digital preservation maturity. This also has the potential to prove useful beyond the French context, and one of the next steps would be to translate this into other languages to be shared more widely.

Sustaining our workforce

Alongside the development of technical skills, there is a growing need for those of us working in digital preservation to develop our softer skills, including our advocacy skills. Digital preservation requires an ongoing institutional commitment. Yet many digital preservation roles are project-based, and thus, subject to a limited funding period. Sharon McMeekin, from the Digital Preservation Coalition, addressed the need to build a sustainable digital preservation workforce. She challenged the current focus on advocating for digital preservation action, to better include advocacy for ourselves, as a growing profession of digital preservation professionals.

The work of ffmprovisr

In an example of skills and knowledge sharing, Andrew Weaver, winner of the 2019 iPres award for best first time contribution, presented on the work of ffmprovisr. Using the tool FFmpeg - for the manipulation of audio-visual files - can prove a steep learning curve for many. ffmprovisr is all about making FFmpeg more user-friendly, including to those unfamiliar with a command line interface. Another theme throughout this year’s conference was around digital preservation being made more accessible, including to those operating with limited budgets, time, or access to resources. Digital preservation remains highly technical, but it is really interesting to see attempts at making tools, like FFmpeg, more widely accessible.

The digital gap

Melissa Haunton outlined the different activities taking place at The UK National Archives, and their role as an organisation in supporting the development of skills capacity. Recent initiatives include the Bridging the Digital Gap technical traineeships. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the traineeships seek to bring much-needed digital skills into the archive sector. At University of the Arts London (UAL) we recently welcomed trainee Erin as part of the scheme, and I attended this session whilst we were putting together her local training programme.

Building resilience

Finally we heard from Jaana Pinnick, another recipient of this year’s DPC leadership scholarships, on the British Geological Survey‘s focus on building a sustainable digital preservation programme. Jaana also shared an interesting insight into the training they provide for research data management students, to build up their data management skills. Being based in a university environment, at UAL we’re also starting to think about how - as a long-term aim - we can embed an awareness of digital preservation into our student’s work, and in particular to their creative practices.


#1 Stéphanie Roussel 2019-12-02 16:26
Hello, thank you for the quote. For information, we plan to work on translation of the model for digital preservation processes in 2020. See you at iPRES 2020 ?

Scroll to top