Martin Gengenbach

Martin Gengenbach

Last updated on 2 November 2022

Martin Gengenbach is Digital Preservation Policy and Outreach Specialist, National Library of New Zealand

There are many resources to help an organisation draft its first digital preservation policy, including the excellent guide provided by the DPC. There is less information about reviewing and revising policy documentation - though most policy guides recommend a regular process for doing so. Announcing an existing policy revision probably doesn’t sound as exciting as promoting a new digital preservation policy. Once completed, should policy review simply become an unheralded act, subsumed into business as usual?

As we celebrate World Digital Preservation Day this week, the National Library of New Zealand is also recognising another milestone: October 24 was the 14th anniversary of the National Digital Heritage Archive, which preserves the National Library’s born-digital and digitised collections. Since 2008, the NDHA has served as the foundation of the digital preservation programme at the National Library, and today holds over 45 million files spanning 248 different formats. With fourteen years of operational experience to learn from, we are overdue to examine our digital preservation policies, and to update them to align with our current organisational context.

Following the release of the NDHA in 2008, the project team developed policy documentation to help define the operational state of their new system. The Library released a joint digital preservation strategy in 2011 with Archives New Zealand, and the two organisations collaborated on a joint policy manual that, while never finished, provided a structure and outline for future policy development. While some subsequent minor policy updates occured, the good intentions of the digital preservation team to maintain a regular process of policy review and revision largely fell victim to the everyday operational demands of the programme.

Lapsed policy documentation is common across organisations. For digital preservation practitioners, this present risks: they make it harder for us to advocate for our needs, and for administrators to make strategic decisions to support us. They also prevent our users from having accurate information about how to engage with us, and that may hinder their ability to use our services.

This is my first WDPD as Digital Preservation Policy and Outreach Specialist at NLNZ, where I began in April 2022. These two aspects of my role, policy and outreach, are closely related: to write digital preservation policy that is useful and relevant, I must engage with the business units that are responsible for implementing those policies, and with the users and stakeholders whose interactions with our digital collections may be affected. Outreach in this role is both internal --from my team to other business units within the library -- and external, through engagement with the broader digital preservation community.

This relationship between policy and outreach has defined much of my work thus far:

  • Building relationships with the teams that are working in digital preservation and adjacent business units

  • Reviewing documentation to understand the divergence between what is done and what is documented

  • Learning about the overall organisation and its current and upcoming priorities

I’ve found this approach to be invaluable, both as a new employee and as someone attempting to effect change in the organisation. As a new employee, it has provided an excellent orientation to the Library. As someone attempting to effect change, I’ve developed a better understanding of the state of digital preservation activities, informing how and when to propose revisions to policies that are more likely to be successfully adopted. Through this approach, I’ve identified three issues with our existing digital preservation policy documentation:

  1. Digital preservation policies do not reflect current practice, and reflect an organisational structure that no longer applies.

  2. The digital preservation policy manual has gaps that limit its utility for guiding operational work, leading to inconsistent application.

  3. Digital preservation policies do not align with technical infrastructure and capabilities, hindering the completion of operational work when attempting to conform to policy.

At this early stage, my primary goal is to provide policy support where it can have the greatest impact. Demonstrating the benefits of up-to-date, relevant, and useful digital preservation policy continues the virtuous cycle that begins with relationship building, and leads to more buy-in for subsequent policy work. In the long-term, my goal is to more fully integrate digital preservation policy into the work of the library. This means that digital preservation policies provide guidance to approaches for new work streams, and that existing work streams are incentivised to initiate policy review and revision when needed.

This work must be balanced against existing institutional priorities, which again points to the relationship between outreach and policy work. By engaging with business units inside of the Library and understanding their priorities, I can better align digital preservation policy revision with the objectives that they want to achieve. I’m hopeful that by the next World Digital Preservation Day I can provide an update on the progress we’ve made!


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