William Kilbride

William Kilbride

Last updated on 6 November 2020

The last rays of sun are now setting on the most westerly reaches of the map and we’ve all now had a chance to celebrate and participate World Digital Preservation Day.  I have a brief moment – for me it’s now the morning after the night before – to offer a few immediate reflections and pick a few highlights.

Our theme for the 5th November, Digits For Good, has a neatly-constructed double meaning implying both purpose and time.  Both are necessary and both were on display.  I encourage you to leave your comments here on your own highlights.

It’s too early to report the full story of World Digital Preservation.  This particular count is far from complete but the success is undisputed.  We counted 85 blogs on the DPC website (yes that’s the most ever) from 22 countries (yes that’s the most ever).  And that’s just one of the many blogging platforms: I know because I wrote for two others besides and we spotted maybe another 25 that we know of.  We have counted well over 5,000 tweets - more than 4,000 on the #wdpd2020 tag and another 750 or so with #dpa2020 from around 1900 different accounts.  There were at least 10 baking ‘incidents’ (I don’t count each individual cupcake or cookie) in the #BitListBakeOff.  Two new initiatives - the digital preservation themed pizza and at least one digital preservation themed cocktail selection, to be enjoyed while marvelling at the musical contributions. The State Library of Queensland has made the parody video into an art form.

My own story of World Digital Preservation has underlined for me the diversity and scale of the digital preservation community. It started with me rushing to publish a blog to announce the 2020 revision of the BitList.  There’s an awful lot in there but with so  much going on we’ll get back to it in due course.  I then sat back and watched events unfold. Like a lot of people on the evening of the 4th November I sat up through the night constantly refreshing the screen as it all unfolded, though in my case it was in anticipation and enjoyment of what the Aus Preserves crew were doing with World Digital Preservation Day rather than the US Election.  Then an early start for me at the University of Cape Town with Niklas Zimmer and Jen Mitcham to talk about the challenges of digital preservation, followed by a quick rehearsal of the Digital Preservation Awards which followed at lunch time (more on that in a moment).  Late lunch at the desk then on to a webinar with Melissa Terras and Paul Gooding to discuss electronic legal deposit in libraries, with case studies from Mexico, Zimbabwe and China.  A glass of wine followed and, with best efforts already expended, early to bed too.

The highlight for me, not surprisingly, was the Digital Preservation Awards.  As I said at the start of the ceremony we considered cancelling the whole thing this year as the pandemic kicked off.  But this year of all years we have an enormous amount of work to celebrate.  Amazing digital preservation work is happening despite, and in some cases because of the Pandemic   In this year of isolation and quarantine and distancing we need every reason to bring people together. So I am immensely grateful to the many people who encouraged us to persist: for the solidarity of their participation and their audacity to celebrate.  Special thanks to the sponsors (more in a moment on that) and to the judges: Neil Grindley, Natalie Harrower, Susan Corrigall, Kirsty Lingstadt, Laura Molloy, Sally McInnes, Anthea Seles, Sheila Morrissey, Karen Sampson, Neil Chue Hong, Marcel Ras, John Sheridan, Neil Jefferies, Roxana Maurer, Joanna Fleming, Abbie Grotke, Angela Beking, April Miller and Sharon McMeekin. We’ve never needed the celebration more; and we’ve never had more to celebrate. 

Special thanks also to the numerous nominees and finalists who well deserve their moment in the spotlight. We make a promise each year that colleagues who take time to write a nomination are rewarded by useful feedback and the commentary from the judges who review the applications.   It was an incredibly robust competition.  The standard and number of applications grows every time our nomination process is opened.  While we don’t reveal the number or identity of applications, we received nominations of initiatives in 10 different countries and 5 continents. Such is the growth in the competition that nominations which won in previous years would have struggled to be listed as finalists in 2020. 

Congratulations to the winners:

  • International Council on Archives Award for Collaboration and Cooperation: NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation Revision Project
  • Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) Award for Research and Innovation: Levels of Born Digital Access
  • Dutch Digital Heritage Network Award for Teaching and Communications: ICA Digital Records Curation Programme
  • National Records of Scotland Award for the Most Distinguished Student Work in Digital Preservation: Lotte Wijsman
  • DPC Award for the Most Outstanding Digital Preservation Initiative in Commerce, Industry and the Third Sector: UNHCR Records and Archives
  • The National Archives (UK) Award for Safeguarding the Digital Legacy: UK Web Archive
  • The DPC Fellowship: Micky Lindlar

It’s invidious to pick anyone out here but if you’ve not read or watched Micky Lindlar’s acceptance speech then you’re missing out.  I only wish we could present these in person and raise a glass in their honour properly.

I can’t let the sun set without thanking many (many!) people.  We’ve benefited through the good will and generosity of colleagues and friends around the world so if I fail to mention your contribution then please accept my apology at the outset and ascribe it as a failure of memory not a failure of gratitude.  There are so many versions of the logo from previous years that we foolishly didn’t think to ask for more: then Thandokazi Maceba at the University of Cape Town reminded us of the ten official languages of South Africa, and by the way there are a lot more that are not ‘official’.  WDPD is promoted (co-ordinated is too strong a word) through the DPC’s Advocacy and Community Engagement Sub-committee chaired by Paul Stokes and with the backing of the DPC’s Representative Council chaired by Juan Bicarregui.  The Digital Preservation Awards were generously sponsored by Google this year again and it was a pleasure to welcome Vint Cerf, a long-standing friend of the digital preservation community to the ceremony.  To that we add the list of category sponsors – The Software Sustainability Institute and Neil Chue Hong; the National Records of Scotland and Susan Corrigall; the International Council on Archives and Anthea Seles; the Dutch Digital Heritage Network and Marcel Ras; and the UK National Archives and John Sheridan.  In addition, the awards are supported and promoted through the DPC’s supporters who were also represented at the ceremony – Arkivum, Artefactual, AVP, CAE, FormPipe, LibNova, Max Soteria, and Preservica

No vote of thanks would be complete without also a call out to the DPC staff team – Alyson Campbell, Amy Currie, Sharon McMeekin, John McMillan, Jen Mitcham, Paul Wheatley and Jaye Weatherburn.  In particular, let me thank Sarah Middleton on whose shoulders so much of this falls.  The work ethic, good humour and creativity of the DPC team is a thing of wonder and I am amazed and proud of what this tiny little team achieves each year.

If the theme of November 5th was ‘Digits For Good’ then I am sorry to report that the theme of 6th November is ‘Getting Back to Work’. If yesterday I urged you to look up from the workflows and spreadsheets and manifests, then today I encourage you back into them.  Time to resume where we left off, to continue but hopefully not unchanged.  The many contributions give us renewed purpose and insight, new examples to follow, new models to adapt, and many new contacts and relationships to explore.

I forget the name of the trendy post-modern linguist who said that you can’t put your foot in the same river once.  His point was that the river changes constantly and because of this continuous mutation there’s an unresolvable disruption between the signifier and the signified. Digital preservation is like that in some ways, an emergent challenge with multiple origins and constant motion.  The sources are found along multiple tributaries, with names like ‘organizational change’, ‘technological obsolescence’ or ‘media degradation’, not to mention ‘shifting user requirements’.  World Digital Preservation Day gives us the chance step out of the flow of the day to day: to connect and learn and celebrate, so we return to our changing work better equipped to deal with the challenges.  2020 has shown how the challenges of our professional lives can pivot dramatically.  It has shown that we have the capability and resilience to meet those challenges.   

Digits for good?  Changing for good too.

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