William Kilbride

William Kilbride

Last updated on 30 November 2018

Afterclap (n) – the last person who claps after everyone else has stopped.

It’s Friday, so it must be Schiphol Airport Amsterdam. Here’s me at the departure gate for the flight home after a day that has lasted almost 48 hours and has crammed in a year’s worth of digital preservation news. 

An airport lounge seems an appropriate place to reflect on World Digital Preservation Day.  It’s practically home: my work involves so many airport lounges that, rather being an honorary lecturer at Glasgow University, I should really be an honorary air-traffic controller at Glasgow Airport.  Schipol offers so many connections: in every one of them an emergent digital preservation need is arising, and in many an incipient digital preservation community is forming.  There’s also a lot of time dependencies at airports too, a lot of verification of identities and checking of manifests: a lot of strong metaphors for our daily work.  These challenge us to connect but remind us that if we hang about too long then our digital preservation work is going to become a lot harder and a lot more expensive.  As with aeroplanes, if you want digital preservation to be difficult and costly just ignore the repeated calls to get on board.

To recap, World Digital Preservation Day has two simple aims: to connect and to raise awareness.  I think we can put a tick in each box.  This blog alone is proof: eighty five posts from 12 time zones.  Elsewhere we have counted thousands of tweets, dozens of events, contributions from at least 31 countries and in 20 languages. We know of gatherings in Canberra, Amsterdam, Dublin, Lisbon, Oxford and Mexico City, not to mention a discussion on national radio in Greece. There was even a dance-off!  Make no mistake, digital preservation is a global challenge with a global community scaled to the task in hand. And awareness-raising?  Well I personally will make sure that all the winners and finalists from the digital preservation awards will enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, by writing to their chief executives to say how much we value their work, and by extension how much they should value it too. And did I mention that we had a government minister blogging for us?

What does this mean for the health of digital preservation as a practice and community?  It means we can demonstrate and welcome an emergent but flourishing market of digital preservation solutions. It means we can note and celebrate the steps that agencies, large and small are making, and in so doing we recognize that solutions and need to scale down as well as up. It means we can re-confirm the diversity of approach that will be needed to tackle this challenge of a generation, and the dynamism of those committed to meeting it.  For too long digital preservation has read like a sorry history of all the things that should have been avoided: today we see the coming history of all that can be achieved.

I cannot bring the curtain down without bringing the cast back on to stage for an encore. 

I am immensely grateful to the members of the DPC who encourage, support, direct and fund our work. It’s invidious to pick out individuals, but the Advocacy and Communications Sub-Committee deserve particular credit for shaping and guiding this work (Jon Elliott, Martin Donnelly, Herve L’Hours, Clare Lanigan, Amber Cushing, Robert Wright, Beth Brunton, Edith Halvarsson, Faye Lemay, and chaired by Jane Winters).  I am also grateful to our DPC Supporters who, through the Leadership Programme, invest so much in the next generation of digital preservation specialists and practitioners. 

As ever we have been encouraged by our wonderful partners in Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed as well as OPF, NDSA, nestor and IIPC without whom no DPC activity would be quite as much fun nor quite as impactful: but let me thank particularly Marcel Ras, Angela Puggioni and Carolien van Zuilekom of Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed.  Their support is continuous but reached new heights last night as we celebrated the Digital Preservation Awards in such style: and thanks are due also to our generous sponsors, hosts, judges and nominees.  Congratulations are particularly due to those who came away with awards: I won’t spoil it in case you’ve not seen the video yet, but it’s recommended watching!

There was a considerable amount of personal effort, not least from the many friends who generously translated our logo into so many languages as well as the bloggers, the bakers, the knitters, the dancers, the (would-be) singers and the (never-be) songwriters who used their talents to focus attention on vital but uncelebrated preservation efforts.  These are too many to name, but you know who you are.  For my part, I am honoured to be part of such a welcoming community which rightly takes pride in its work.

There's also the DPC's incredible staff team, growing in number but also in capability and stature year on year. In order to keep focus on the real issues of digital preservation, we typically maintain the line that 'we are not the story'. That ensures our members and partners are the focus of our efforts. But I hope you will forgive me for allowing them a brief and well deserved moment in the spotlight. Alyson Campbell, Sharon McMeekin, Sarah Middleton, Jenny Mitcham, Sara Thomson and Paul Wheatley: I am privileged to work with you. The whole of the Coalition - the whole of our community - benefits from your energy, skill and generosity. And I benefit more than anyone.

I am going home now for a quiet weekend, but digital preservation is not ever truly finished. I’ll be back on Monday for another conference and another set of meetings.  It makes me realise that digital preservation is not a business process or a software bundle or a policy framework or an optimized workflow.  It’s a commitment we make to the future and it’s one we renew every day.  In that sense every day is World Digital Preservation Day, and every digital preservation day starts in Fiji and ends in Honolulu.

Wherever we find ourselves at the start of the next working day, we start better connected, better informed and greatly encouraged: because the commitment we make to the future is measured by the commitment we make to each other.

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