Svenia Pohlkamp

Svenia Pohlkamp

Last updated on 3 November 2021

Svenia Pohlkamp Runs the nestor office at the German National Library

When asked to write a blogpost to be published on this year’s WDPD I started thinking about the motto “Breaking down barriers”, digital preservation and my work at nestor. In the end I had a disturbingly long list of barriers in my mind, that I needed to order and bring into perspective. This text is the result (though it does not deal with every barrier I could think of) and it tries three things at once: Relating my experiences of working in a network while people are advised not to meet, looking into barriers that are relevant to our work in digipres and letting you know what nestor is all about.

Let’s start with nestor: nestor is the network of expertise in long-term storage of digital resources in Germany. The network is open to everybody and every institution dealing with digital preservation. It currently encompasses 22 institutions as partners (among them libraries, archives, museums, data centers), but via colleagues’ participation in working groups the network is much bigger and more divers. As a network nestor is committed to the exchange of information, the distribution of tasks, the development of standards and the exploitation of synergy effects. The partners are involved in standardisation, certification and qualification projects and they cooperate with colleagues from other institutions and companies in nestor’s working groups. Results from the common work in nestor are published in open access and events are organised to promote distribution of knowledge and social networking between colleagues. With its work nestor addresses several barriers that challenge digital preservation. Here are some of them:

  • Barriers between larger and smaller institutions

  • Barriers concerning the distribution of knowledge and experience in the field of digipres

  • Barriers between technically proficient experts and the interested layperson

  • Barriers between different branches of institutions with their respective goals and techniques

While these barriers challenge our work in digipres every day, they also make digipres such an interesting field to work in. People from different professional backgrounds, from different institutions or even from different countries and cultural backgrounds come together to deal with the common problem of how to preserve digital data. Networks such as nestor were formed to deal with the common problem together and to break down those barriers. They also thrive on the fact that some of those barriers need to be broken down continuously or repeatedly as new institutions and people join the networks and new ideas, techniques or insights are brought into the discussion.

Now on to nestor in the times of a pandemic: In March 2020 most colleagues at the German National Library and nestor’s partner institutions were asked to work from home, including me of course. As I had only just started the job running nestor’s office at the German National Library in February, this development made it more difficult for me to get myself acquainted with the new job and my new colleagues whom I hardly knew or hadn’t even met. In addition, there suddenly was the unprecedented challenge of finding a way to make the network work during a pandemic. I encountered barriers and hurdles there and then and some or all of them may be familiar to you: How to get acquainted with colleagues via mail or (video) calls? How to communicate effectively when facial expressions and hand gestures are mostly missing from everyday communication or are blurry due to poor video quality? How to get a feeling for a community or be a part of one when workshops and conferences in person are passé for the foreseeable future?

What helped was the persistence of my nestor colleagues and their experience with the network. Despite those challenges to communication and cooperation mentioned above, I soon felt like part of a team and trusted in their motivation to bring the network through the pandemic as best as possible. Establishing that common goal was the first step to overcome the hindrances and barriers that the pandemic posed to our communication and cooperation within the network.

Within nestor virtual events for the community hadn’t been tried before. Relying on our individual experiences visiting and organising such events, we substituted nestor’s most important event of the year with a virtual conference and introduced a webinar series. On the whole this proofed to be a success and an enrichment to nestor’s portfolio. The community seemed eager and thankful to take part in these events despite the lack of personal contacts: workshops during which you are supposed to work intensely with a partner or friendly chats with colleagues over coffee simply can’t be substituted online equivalently. So we look forward to meetings, conferences and workshops in person and to meet our colleagues within the network and the digipres community again, but virtual events will surely continue to be part of nestor’s work in the “new normal” after the pandemic. With conferences and workshops in person on the one hand and webinars and talks online on the other hand nestor might even be better equipped to address some of those barriers mentioned above. A divers portfolio of services and events to better address the needs of the divers digipres community, so to speak.

So what does all this mean in regard of networks and barriers?

  • Networks in general and of course in our field of digipres are designed to address barriers as shown above. If you are part of a network, those barriers are overcome much more easily because help, solutions and support are within your grasp.

  • Networks are only as good as the people engaged in it. Please share your knowledge, but also share your difficulties and needs. Networks can’t address barriers that they are not aware of.

  • People engaged in a network are aware of their common goal (in digipres: to preserve digital data, of course) and the barriers they are dealing with. That means they are predisposed to be sympathetic to you. Overcoming barriers and hurdles might even be fun with people sharing the same goal.

Since I am talking about the pandemic in this text I would like to add and clarify: The pandemic had and continues to have a traumatic effect on our everyday lives and on our society. That is especially true for those who fell ill, lost a loved one or couldn’t be cared for appropriately. But a crisis is in my experience always a trigger for change, too, and change is usually the way forward to break down barriers.

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