Oya Rieger & Rebecca Springer

Oya Rieger & Rebecca Springer

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Oya Y. Rieger is a Senior Strategist and Rebecca Springer is an Analyst, both working at Ithaka S+R, US

Throughout the pandemic, critical information about COVID-19 has been flowing through a range of channels, including social media, news outlets, journals, and preprint servers. Cultural heritage organizations have been participating in efforts to curate and archive these rich and diverse sources of information–not only for future generations but also for those currently studying various scientific, sociological, political, and cultural aspects of the pandemic. These archiving efforts will not only help to capture a significant moment in our history but may help to prevent or manage future outbreaks. But digital preservation continues to be an expensive and complicated process, especially at an institutional level. According to a recent UNESCO Memory of the World survey, 66 percent of respondents reported that in their country there are no national preservation policies or strategies. The 2020 Open Preservation Foundation survey shows that the average FTE across digital preservation roles is less than two. In almost every country, cultural heritage organizations with a strong sense of mission are trying to do their best with limited resources and expertise.

Digital preservation requires significant financial investments in managerial practices, expertise, policies, and various technologies. As we described in a recent DPC blog, with generous funding from the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS), Ithaka S+R is engaged in a research study to examine and assess how digital preservation and curation systems (DPCS) are developed, deployed, and sustained. One of the goals of the study is to examine what it means for DPCS to be inclusive and accessible as they strike a balance between agility, inclusivity, and diverse needs of users. The study aims not only to further increase our understanding of sustainability principles but also take into consideration the varying needs and resources of cultural institutions that serve user communities with diverse geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Through a series of case studies, we will explore if and howdifferent experiences, skill sets, resources, and missions of memory organizations are being factored into the development and maintenance of both community-based (often open source) and commercial digital preservation systems.

We approach the sustainability of digital preservation systems as a holistic process, one of the aspects being designing affordable and accessible tools that factor in the diverse range of stewardship roles. We have been inspired by projects such as Preserving Digital Objects With Restricted Resources (Digital POWRR). How can we make digital preservation more accessible to a wider range of professionals? Given the pervasive nature of digital content, all archivists, whether they are from wealthy or under-funded (especially small and mid-sized) institutions, need to build skills for curating and preserving digital collections, whether through in-house or consortial arrangements. The COVID-19 pandemic and its potential operational and financial implications for cultural heritage organizations further underscores the importance of deploying operationally and financially durable and effective systems. Given the competition for limited resources, we cannot afford investing our limited funds in systems that are difficult to implement, manage, and sustain.

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