Rhiannon Bettivia is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Information Sciences (iSchool) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

I frame this post as a set of considerations for developing training and teaching modules for students and trainees endeavouring to enter the field of digital preservation. I teach such a module 2-3 times a year, and my university offers it 4 times a year with the help of adjunct instructors. It is often full to waitlist room only, meaning we will send anywhere from 50 up to as many as 110 students through this course in a calendar year. Chris Prom, of the University Archives, related that he was once requested to teach a module on advanced arrangement and description of digital materials for the Society of American Archivists nine times in a single year. The trend here is pretty clear: there are plenty of practitioners in the pipeline, ready to enter our field and to steward us into the future of digital preservation.

So today for #IDPD17, I ask of our community at large: what do we teach these students, and how do we teach it? I believe these to be themes that should be considered by our field with the same care, precisions, and multi-vocal approach used to create industry-wide ISO standards. As is true of instructors in any area of study, we have to prepare our students for a future that we cannot fully predict ourselves. We therefore teach commonly used tools and standards—FITS, BagIt, OAIS, TRAC/ISO 16363, PREMIS + METS, FTK and BitCurator—without placing too much stress on any individual item knowing that these are likely to change. We teach common preservation strategies, and with each passing year adjust the focus as the field itself moves away from normalization and migration as default standards towards a place where the modularity and portability of emulation tools makes this a more viable and practicable strategy that we might have imagined a decade ago. We use methods like the NDSA levels to help students audit current preservation schemes and arrange practicums where students assist organisations in starting their own digital preservation programs. These things form the core of digital preservation teaching.

Yet, our curriculum needs to reflect the changing world in which our students will practice. Making these changes and adaptations is a challenge which requires input from across our field. Curriculum must address the insecurity of access to digital materials precipitated by the current changes in governmental regimes in the US, UK, and across Europe. In the way of current threats to net neutrality, our students must be taught to find what becomes less visible on a more commodified internet. They must be taught to navigate government-sponsored censorship. They must understand how to create digital networks that work in place of commercial service providers. How do we teach all this within the boundaries of law and ethical practice?

Students also need to be educated about the physical costs and infrastructures on which our work relies: we will face growing challenges as climate change threatens the stability of the power grid, for example. Students must be cognizant of the physical toll the materials we use have on our world: modules must address the political and physical flows of e-waste, so students can make informed decisions about deaccessioning old machines or selecting a server-farm service provider. We are now in an era when picking a backup storage location within a certain distance of the sea or an arid part of the American West, for instance, is not a sound long-term decision.

As a field, we must also be aware of the changes happening in the realm of higher education, as governments continually divest in public education funding. We must develop tools and methodologies for distance instruction: students need hands on engagement and we need to figure out how to provide this to online-only students. In the US, education in digital preservation often takes place in iSchools. We must leverage the relationships this affords with longer established professional traditions in libraries and archives. While I have spoken publically about my concern with the reliance of our field on archival analogies, I believe we should take our cue from archivists and librarians and develop a professional code of digital preservation ethics. This is especially essential as our work leans increasingly towards the technical: we need to ensure our students do not get caught up in techno-utopian or determinist modes of thinking and that they approach their work with a critical eye that bears in mind the human concerns and politics of the work they do.

I am so pleased to be able to share these challenges with the digital preservation community on the inaugural International Digital Preservation Day (IDPD17): they are salient across our field in the broadest way possible and I earnestly entreat conversation and suggestions from my peers in this field to strengthen curriculum and teaching for the next generation.

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