Jenny Mitcham

Jenny Mitcham

Last updated on 19 September 2019

Digital preservationists flocked to Amsterdam in huge numbers this week to attend iPRES 2019 - an international opportunity for conversations about all things digital preservation!

I was disappointed to have to cancel my own plans to attend the conference at the last minute, but undeterred, decided to engage as much as I could remotely (mostly from the comfort of my dining room...not actually an armchair). I could not miss out on potentially hearing about new theories, models, standards and examples of good practice in digital preservation.

It was great to have access to the programme and all of the papers, panel and poster abstracts online from the iPRES2019 programme and of course to be able to follow the prolific tweeting on #ipres2019. I tried to read the conference papers ahead of time, which gave context to the deluge of tweets.

So this is not your typical conference round up (no pictures of interesting sights and local food!) but I’ve instead tried to pick out some of the papers that were of particular interest to me, and to encourage you (whether you were there or not) to dive in and have a look.

So here are just some of my highlights (in no particular order):

  • In Reformat Required: Addressing "Paper Minds" in Archives through a New Collaborative Model for Digital Knowledge Transfer, Angela Beking from Library and Archives Canada asks "How do we, as digital preservation professionals, develop collaborative relationships that will overcome “paper-minded” approaches and thinking to develop our digital archival and digital preservation programs?" Her conference paper made me think of The (UK) National Archive’s concept of disruptive digital archives - and designing digital archiving processes for digital by default.
  • In Digital Preservation and Enterprise Architecture Collaboration at the University of Melbourne: A Meeting of Mindsets, Jaye Weatherburn, Lyle Winton and Sean Turner from the University of Melbourne give a fabulous case study of work to improve communications with enterprise architects within IT. It includes a useful analysis of the language used by different professionals - "A good example of the differences we have discovered in the University of Melbourne context between the two “tribes” is the use of the phrase “long-term”. For Enterprise Architecture this may be as short as 5 years, where for digital preservation this may be centuries.” Whereas Enterprise systems staff tended to have a shorter term corporate view focused on cost, digital preservation staff took a longer more holistic view focussed on trust. Understanding differences really is the first step to communicating more effectively. This was a paper I wished I had read several years ago!
  • Working at the coalface of digital preservation, Johan van der Knijf from the National Library of the Netherlands describes in detail his work to recover data from tapes from the 1990’s (Recovering ’90S Data Tapes: Experiences From the KB Web Archaeology project). This paper reads a bit like a technical manual in places and appears to really fill a gap in our collective knowledge.
  •  An interesting paper from Andrew Weaver from Washington State University and Ashley Blewer from Artefactual Systems (Sustainability through Community: ffmprovisr and the Case for Collaborative Knowledge Transfer) describes a new online community-owned resource for using FFmpeg, designed to address the following problem. “Despite its growing importance within the preservation community, a significant obstacle to its use is that FFmpeg is a program that runs only on the command line. For people who have not previously used a command line interface, interacting with their computer solely via text can be a new and daunting endeavor.” The resulting collaboration has produced an online ‘recipe book’ of commands which considerably reduces the barriers for others who may wish to use the tool - a great model for others to follow.
  • In Supporting Virtual Reality and 3D in Academic Libraries: Defining Preservation and Curation Challenges, Zack Lischer-Katz (University of Oklahoma) and Nathan Hall (Virginia Tech) et al give some tips and recommendations on how to preserve 3D objects and virtual reality. This paper clearly has value and relevance beyond the academic libraries context in which it was written and highlights the value of collaboration to find strategies to preserve complex objects such as these. I think I'll be coming back and reading this one again...
  • Marjolein Steeman in Preservation Planning, Beacons for a TDR  gives a great description of how preservation planning is carried out at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. For many of us working in digital preservation, preservation planning remains a fairly theoretical concept so it is great to read this paper. There are some lovely hand drawn workflows too!
  • Peter May, Maureen Pennock and David A. Russo from the British Library also focus on preservation planning in The Integrated Preservation Suite: Scaled and automated preservation planning for highly diverse digital collections. They describe their work to develop a knowledge base, software repository, policy and planning repository and web-based workbench. They would like to streamline and automate their preservation planning activities but are aware that supporting this sort of automated risk identification largely depends on the quality and availability of relevant underlying information. I’m really keen to hear more about this work as it moves forward.
  • In Early Exit Strategies in Digital Preservation Ashley Adair, Maria Esteva and Benn Chang at the University of Texas provide a cautionary tale (which we all can learn from) and some practical recommendations on moving forward. "Pay equal attention not just to how to best use a system or tool but also how to stop using it, possibly very abruptly. We were careful in planning our ingest packages and process, but then caught off guard by needing to exit the initiative on a relatively short timeline". It was great to see this topic being discussed so openly and the lessons learned being shared with the wider community.
  • An Overview of the Digital Preservation Storage Criteria and Usage Guide from Eld Zierau (Royal Danish Library), Sibyl Schaefer (University of California, San Diego), Nancy McGovern (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Andrea Goethals (National Library of New Zealand) is worth a read. You may already be aware of this ongoing piece of work that was first kicked off at iPRES 2015 and it is good to find out how this has developed. "The latest version of the Criteria contains sixty-one criteria grouped into eight categories: content integrity, cost considerations, flexibility, information security, resilience, scalability & performance, support, and transparency." These storage criteria along with a Usage Guide are available from the Digital Preservation Storage Criteria website. I think this collaborative piece of work is going to be very useful to many of us working in this field.
  • A paper from David Giaretta et al is worth being aware of for those of us who want to be informed about the latest developments with OAIS. The stated aim of the paper is to describe and explain the most significant updates being submitted for OAIS version 3. There are a few changes to note, such as the introduction of the concept of a 'Preservation Objective' (a specific achievable aim which can be carried out using the Information Object) and an extra function which has been added for ‘Preservation Watch’ but don’t take my word for it, read the fuller details for yourself - OAIS Version 3 Draft Updates.
  • Referencing previous work from the Royal Danish Library on ‘Minimal Effort Ingest’, Sheila Morrissey and Amy Kirchhoff from Portico discuss some of the challenges of preservation at scale in their paper Managing Preservation Costs with managed Ingest: The Portico Straight-to-Ingest Project. They describe a tension between the need to comply with the standards and do digital preservation well, and the realities of ingesting large quantities of data that is sometimes “less than perfect”. By moving some of the ingest activities (checking and fixing ‘bad’ files etc) to later in the preservation pipeline, this reduces the ingest queue and ultimately helps keep the content safe, however this also moves their processes away from conformance with the OAIS model. An example of careful balance we all have to make between following the standards to the letter, and coming up with pragmatic, real-world solutions to our digital preservation challenges.
  • If you’re interested in two hot topics in the digital preservation standards world - E-ARK information packages and the Oxford Common File Layout specification - you should read a paper by Neil Jefferies (Bodleian Libraries University of Oxford), Karin Bredenberg (Swedish National Archives) and Angela Dappert (Springer Nature UK). Aligning the eARK4All Archival Information Package and Oxford Common File Layout Specifications discusses in detail the two specifications and how they interrelate. The paper concludes by stating that "...Diversity and choice is always good for Digital Preservation - as is discourse and alignment between concerns and communities.” 


Of course I should also mention some of the DPC’s own work at iPRES2019. A great paper on Workforce Development (one of our key strategic priorities) and an award winning poster on how to engage decision makers with digital preservation (highlighting the DPC’s Executive Guide on Digital Preservation) . Our DPC Rapid Assessment Model was also publicly launched at iPRES in the ad hoc sessions and we popped up in workshops and panel sessions on preserving complex digital objectsDigital Preservation in the Nuclear Field and preserving eBooks. A pretty busy time for all!

Scroll to top