Pamela Tulloch

Pamela Tulloch

Last updated on 21 November 2018

Pamela Tulloch is Chief Executive of the Scottish Library and Information Council

Everyone tells us we live in a digital world and to a certain extent this is true. As a librarian, I first started creating digital content in the 1990’s and looking back, what we were doing then, does look so last century now. These are the digital dark ages and yet the content which was created remains as relevant now as it was then. So much has changed in a few decades and how expect to access content has changed too.

How indeed do we ensure that today’s digital content remains readable on tomorrow’s online platforms as we live in a constantly changing technological environment? Access to information and knowledge is at the core of what librarians do. Unique collections which librarians manage are still largely paper based. In a world where the expectation is that at the click of a button, you can access everything there is, the challenge is to open out local library and special collections (which is of course their USP). Very little of this primary source material is currently available in a digital format and what has been digitised may not be in a format which is universally accessible as digitisation programmes have tended to be project funded and topic targeted over time. The projects were fit for the era in which they were fulfilled. Looking through a range of projects over the last thirty years you can almost track the history of metadata. The evolution of metadata provides yet another barrier to access to information. Standards recognised now where not necessarily adhered to when digitising content was in its infancy. Librarians know that metadata is the most important aspect of digitisation exercise – without it all you have in unstructured data and wild knowledge.

If I can take a few moments to relate to Scotland and the rich heritage of local and special collections which not only exist in public and academic libraries but also in a number of specialist institutions – very little is visible beyond the building in which they are held. Scotland has a global diaspora which has a keen interest in its heritage. The more that is digitally enabled the higher the profile of unique resources becomes around the globe, the more people can engage with, share and co-create knowledge. Librarians feel it is imperative to provide access to primary source material in a way which preserves the original yet allows access to the many.  It is a labour intensive and financially expensive solution to quench the thirst for access to information yet one which is expected. A solution that needs to be agile and dynamic to reflect the fast paced environment which digital inhabits.

It is against this backdrop that digital preservation is so important. There is no capacity to re-digitise material as online platforms change. It is critical to ensure once material has been digitised that it exists on a platform which is future proofed. Recognised global standards for digitising primary source material goes some way to bring about a critical mass of content which is universally recognised as something which needs to be cared for in the digitally agile world in which we now live.

So on Digital Preservation Day 2018, the one thing which I would like to see celebrated is that Digital Preservation enables information and knowledge to be accessed for generations to come regardless of where they live. The one wish I have for Digital Preservation is that it becomes recognised as being essential to ensure knowledge is not lost and we don’t revisit a digital dark age.

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