Colin Armstrong is a Disc Imaging Technician at the British Library and attended iPRES 2018 with support from the DPC's Leadership Programme which is generously funded by DPC Supporters

One of the later sessions I attended at iPRES 2018 was the ‘Taking Stock after 15 years at iPres 2018’ panel session. The speakers on the Panel were Barbara Sierman (Digital Preservation Manager in the Research Department at the National Library of the Netherlands), Sheila Morrissey (Senior Researcher at Portico), and Maureen Pennock (Head of Digital Preservation at the British Library), with the general theme being what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the preservation of digital artefacts, and what to expect in the coming years.

Q1. Panelists own background and context for digital preservation activities within own organisations:

Barbara’s work in digital preservation with the KB National Library of the Netherlands involved collaboration with international publishers and many European projects and partners, originally starting with ejournals in the mid 90s. Research included the Scape and Planets projects, work on Jpylyzer, and being a key part in promoting and aiding the digital preservation community in organisations such as the IPC and the Open Preservation Foundation.

Sheila is a Senior Researcher for Portico (a community-supported and not-for-profit publications service) and her work originally stemmed from the same understanding as the KB - when a number of initial studies around the late 90s showed significant risk to the digital scholarly record. Her role has involved format research into PDF and PDF/A, JHOVE, software emulation and work with standards committees with an eye to the sustainability of digital resources and their scholarly use.

Maureen has worked in digital preservation since 2001 on projects like the Digital Preservation Testbed, Scape and Planets; and joined the British Library web archiving team in 2008. In 2012 Maureen became the Head of the BL Digital Preservation team and is a Board Director of the DPC as well as on the Organising Committee for iPRES 2018.

Q2. Looking back over 15 years, what has worked well in digital preservation over this time?

Having concurrent but distinct research and digital preservation units has helped some organisations like the KB, especially where research was externally funded. A recurring theme is also that national collaboration is just as important as international collaboration, and so similar institutions and organisations with shared national values can be used to build connections. Having a clear and concise focus in your digital preservation aims, and with every project, is crucial. This is especially important and works well when you have a disciplined approach with concrete data models and adhering to e.g. grant funding, workflows, and timelines. External funding has proved to be extremely useful in kick-starting research programmes and collaboration across many institutions, and importantly not at the expense of the individual institution. A last point made was that undertaking a whole (corporate) strategic life-cycle approach within an organisation (the British Library) has helped to raise the visibility of the digital preservation team, such as with internal communications and a written policy, and ensures that the safety and preservation of digital content is the responsibility of every employee that handles it, and not simply one department at the end of the chain.

Q3. What has not worked as well as hoped and what are some of the lessons learned?

It was stated that a reorganisation of departments can cause a loss of structure and pull attention from digital preservation projects within an organisation (such as the merging of digital preservation with analogue), resulting in overheads such as a loss in connection or communication with other key departments like research, or a loss in productivity. Scalability was mentioned a number of times as an issue (in reference by Sheila to Minimal Effort Ingest and by Maureen), in that manual inspections or ‘phase 1 workflows’ would not scale up when ingesting huge quantities of data (or if the data was not made to required specifications) and so content would essentially ‘pile up’. Further points were made regarding funding stoppages and how this adversely affects the momentum of projects and staff availability.

It is always important then to consider preservation within the context of the full digital preservation life-cycle inclusive of internal and external funding, the scalability of projects and at what point manual processing and exception handling is no longer profitable, and if organisational restructuring is a necessary element considering how unforeseen obstacles will undoubtedly affect digital preservation projects.

Q4. What is next?

Developing collecting strategies that (re)discover what kind of library is needed and wanted, and what content should be collected and in what form, will be a necessary challenge as the volume and type of dynamic content continues to increase and change. Using artificial intelligence to extract metadata would help with this future work for example, as would using big technology, shared services, and stacked horizontal workflows to get to a point where specific metrics can be used to measure ‘digital preservation success’ within organisations.

My thanks to the DPC Leadership Programme scholarship for the support to attend iPres 2018 in Boston.

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