Bradley Daigle

Bradley Daigle

Last updated on 30 January 2019

Bradley Daigle is Chair of the NDSA Coordinating Committee, NDSA Levels of Preservation Working Group and content and strategic expert for the Academic Preservation Trust

A little background

About the NDSA: The National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) is a consortium of preservation-minded organizations scattered across the globe. Do not let the “national” part of the title lead you to believe that this is a US-only effort. We have partners of all shapes and sizes—including some in Canada and, of course, our close friends at the DPC! We currently boast over 220 members and are growing all the time. If you would like to learn more - check out our history in more detail.

About the Levels of Preservation: In the heady early days of the NDSA, a group of thoughtful, smart, and forward-thinking individuals crafted a document called the “Levels of Preservation” (LoP) in 2013. These levels are expressed as a tiered set of guidelines on how organizations could begin to build or enhance their digital preservation activities. They function as the key tool to help practitioners of all levels deploy a sustainable digital preservation strategy. Since that time practitioners across the globe have been working with the LoP and some have been extending and adapting them.

The LoP sought to encourage organizations to think through the complexity of preservation issues specific to their organization. They are organized into five functional areas that are at the heart of digital preservation systems: storage and geographic location, file fixity and data integrity, information security, metadata, and file formats. By design, they do not cover policy or staffing considerations. Much of this background was taken from our NDSA website).

Originally meant to be a “living” set of guidelines, various organizational and professional transitions competed with these early intentions. Now, it has been over five years and the LoP need updating. Early in 2018, members of the NDSA leadership body, the Coordinating Committee, had learned of several efforts underway to update the LoP in various ways—refining components of the existing ones, extending them to include other larger considerations (such as access). The time seemed right to establish a working group whose main charge would be to evaluate the current LoP, expose the excellent work underway, and create a methodology by which the LoP could be iterated over time. Thus, the LoP Reboot was born.

Enter 2019

The current reboot effort is broken into several sub-components:

  1. Curatorial: craft a pre-LoP set of decisions/guidelines to allow non-technical professionals understand the implications of preservation decisions that happen in and around the appraisal of materials. These decisions could then be mapped to the organization’s implementation of the LoP.
  2. Assessment: explore the past and current use and adaptation of the LoP framework for institutional benchmarking and assessment of digital preservation readiness or as a method to review progress towards institutional preservation goals.
  3. Implementation: discover the use and adaption of the LoP framework to implement or improve digital preservation infrastructure, administration, and maintenance. Who is using the Lop, who isn’t - and why?
  4. Revision: update and add to the current themes included in the LoP (storage, fixity, migration, security, metadata, file formats, etc.).
  5. Documentation: articulate the ways in which the LoP may be transparently and publicly updated, commented on, distributed, critiqued, used, and integrated widely across many groups/sectors - nationally and internationally.
  6. Teaching, Outreach, and Advocacy: Explore the use and adaption of the LoP as a teaching tool for understanding digital preservation concepts and pragmatic use and to advocate for preservation resources.

Each of these subgroups has a charge and team that meets regularly. Each charge is publicly available and has a communications list that can be joined if you have interest. There is also a work plan that we are following in an attempt to be as transparent in the process as possible.

The groups have been meeting regularly since Spring 2018—each having broad, global representation. Though logistically challenging with so many participants, the concept of inclusive and collegial exploration of the LoP is core to our strategic process. It has been pointed out that there is a slight, philosophical overlap with some of the sub groups. This is by design. Given the highly variable field of preservation practice and its application in an equally variable landscape of organizations, it seemed wise to avoid strict interpretations of how it is being used versus how some believe it should be used. How that sorts out in the end, remains to be seen. Two groups have not yet been activated—documentation and teaching, outreach, and advocacy. Their work will be contingent upon the first four reaching a state of agreement and final product.

To date, Team Reboot has held workshops and presentations at several professional venues. There will be more over the next several months as we enter the 2019 conference season.

More detail on all of this is articulated here:

Observations to date

Some surprises arose after our initial surveys went out asking for interest and user stories around the LoP. We had a far-greater response from non-US organizations than was originally understood. This can be attributed to the fact that, in essence, the LoP are a technical expression of preservation actions and engineered in a manner that made them of use to any type of organization (again, kudos to the original authors!). It also means that Team Reboot needs to keep this in mind with how they are updated—so as to keep that multipurposed core as much as possible.

But is that same purpose achievable? Certainly, there will be some divergence that must be considered.  For example, curatorial practice will not be consistent across the landscape in the same manner nor will each adaptation of the LoP be generalizable in the same way. This does not necessarily predicate a vexed outcome. Rather, my thinking (particularly with the curatorial overlay) is to consider certain components as a series of “decision points”. Any given organization may start at different point along the preservation spectrum and proceed from there. For example: in our curatorial conversations we have strong representation from entities that have a well-articulated collection development policy that allows for curators to choose what comes into an organization (e.g. many private archives). In relation to that position is one where selection is not volitional but rather proscribed by various local and national laws (e.g. pubic, national archival bodies). Therefore, any consideration for a curatorial layer to the LoP must consider where and when decisions have pivot points for preservation actions. A decision tree or map is one possible approach to allow for this variety. This is just a single example of many in the rich conversations that are underway.

Whither LoP?

Each active group is hoping to converge on a series of recommendations and outcomes by this Spring - opening up the conversation for the large body of individuals who signaled their readiness to act as reviewers. As we spend the next few months working towards individual subgroup outcomes, we need to begin to formulate how a final product might take shape—which is likely to be the most difficult challenge to date. Once this product is drafted, we will share it out for feedback and more conversation. Our purpose is to refine the excellent work already done and currently underway and keep the Levels a living, nuanced touchstone for any practitioner at any organization. As we begin 2019 with optimism and energy, we hope to have some preliminary findings to share with you all in Spring 2019—so please stay tuned!

Your thoughts, engagement, and feedback are always welcome.

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