Lotte Wijsman

Lotte Wijsman

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Lotte Wijsman is a Student at the University of Amsterdam (MA Archival and Information Studies) & Intern at the National Archives of the Netherlands

After several months at home, it has become time to take stock regarding productivity. At the start of the lockdown, people spoke about all the things they could do now that they would be stuck at home. Whether this was to DIY or to learn another language, it was all ambitious. For me, none of these ambitions have come to fruition. However, several others did. I completed my paper on the significant properties of spreadsheets, which was part of my internship at the National Archives of the Netherlands. Moreover, I am now working on my Masters thesis on reference rot, while in lockdown and without physical access to the university library. This would all be impossible without digital preservation.


Imagine this pandemic happening twenty years ago. How different would the situation look for you? Working and studying from home would not be possible in the way they are now. Meetings would have to happen over the phone, you would not see your colleagues for months. It is not just applications such as Zoom and Skype that are vital during these times, having access to digital information is as well. Governments need to make critical decisions, and documenting these is more important than ever. Moreover, the data they base their decisions on needs to be secure. Although the reason for the surge in digital preservation is likely not related to the expectation of a global pandemic, it is extremely useful during these unprecedented times. It is fittingly described in a statement provided by the Digital Preservation Coalition, the International Council on Archives and others: the duty to document does not cease in a crisis, it becomes more essential.


For me, these past couple of months showed the real benefits that digital preservation provides every day for many people. And I am not alone. Students everywhere notice the advantages of the preservation of digital information or feel its absence. Without having access to articles and books, study delay is inevitable. A Dutch article, written in June, stated that one third of all students in the Netherlands now have corona-related study delay. Of course, matters such as medical internships cannot be salvaged during this pandemic. However, what we can save is access to papers and articles. This all starts with the digitisation process for information that is not born-digital, where articles, books, and other sources, progress from being in the physical world to being in the digital world as well. This allows for remote access to these sources from any place in the world. Although there is still much room for improvement in open access of digital information, the possibilities to access information have drastically improved over the last two decades. Despite the fact that storing digital information does not guarantee permanent access, it is a necessary step towards digital preservation. After gaining access to these sources, it becomes an important task to make them durable in the digital world. By making use of, for example, persistent identifiers and web archiving, students are helped tremendously during these times. These two solutions make sure that the academic efforts of these last two decades were not in vain. The work that was done remains accessible and does not get lost. In 2018, a paper by Alice Meadows and Laure Haak stated that at the time of writing, over 71 million journal articles and 13 million books and book chapters were assigned a DOI persistent identifier using the service Crossref. This illustrates the magnitude of how broadly this preservation technique has been applied. Web archiving is the second solution that makes sure work remains accessible in the digital realm. The vast increase of the importance of the internet is also noticeable in the amount of web references in academic sources. In my experience as a student, I have had to deal with many references made to websites that have since ceased to exist.


Digital preservation is something that really stood out for me these past months. My current research on reference rot has made me even more aware of digital preservation and I experience its benefits more than ever. Even though a lot of work still has to be done in the field of digital preservation, it is gratifying to see how far it has already come and how great the impact already is to some, including myself.

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