William Kilbride

William Kilbride

Last updated on 1 November 2023

William Kilbride is Executive Director at the Digital Preservation Coalition

World Digital Preservation Day takes a musical turn this year. Recognizing the many roles and skills which are required to preserve digital materials, our theme is ‘A Concerted Effort’. 

It’s a wonderful metaphor which invites all manner of variations: we will be striking chords, keeping the beat and mostly all singing the same tunes. We will be hitting high notes, developing themes, and calling for all manner of improvisation. It will reach a crescendo (for DPC at least) with the release of the Bit List. There may even be actual music involved at various points. I am looking forward to the complimentary puns and witticisms that will certainly follow.

It reminds me of the marching band – the Marching Illlini - which colleagues in Illinois had arranged for the Welcome Reception at iPres 2023, where every step and note were tightly orchestrated. That in turn reminds me of the joyful chaos of the ceilidh which we were delighted to host in Glasgow the previous year: slightly more hectic if not downright anarchic. But whether it’s the precision of a marching band or the liquid flow of a ceilidh, music brings people together.

It’s a useful metaphor for World Digital Preservation Day which was originally conceived for two reasons: to help connect a widely dispersed and often isolated community, and to raise awareness of our work. World Digital Preservation Day is a chance to come together as a global community – imagine a music festival with lots of acts across many of stages - where we encounter the clever and creative people who share our challenges, and we renew friendships which have sustained our work in the past. We also bang the drum for digital preservation, telling colleagues and managers, stakeholders and friends, politicians and policy makers about our work and why it matters: digits are born vulnerable.

As well as the various blogs and press releases which DPC colleagues have orchestrated for me, I have two engagements today which are variations around the theme.

I have been invited to join an amazing program arranged by the National Archives of Malaysia, joining speakers and guests from at least 4 continents. Their effort to coordinate time zones, with speakers from Wellington to Vancouver, is all the evidence you need of a global community is coalescing around this global challenge and eager to do so.

My other engagement is the launch of the Bit List which has been revised and expanded after a major biannual review. This sits right in the middle of my day for me with the official release at 1200 noon. I don’t want to give away the main findings of the Bit List before it’s official launch, and to be fair there’s a lot more detail than would comfortably fit in this blog. The main lesson seems to be complacency: that policy makers and executives have not been paying attention to the risks which arise for digital content.

That’s a downbeat conclusion but is descends to a minor key when put into context.

It’s been quite a year since we last met. We could hardly have anticipated how pertinent the theme for iPres would be this year: our ‘disruptive times’ have seen a former US president indicted for destruction of documents, a former UK prime minister fail to submit evidence to a public enquiry because he lost the password to his phone, and a serving prime minster defy a court order to hand over records. This is the first World Digital Preservation Day without Twitter, a fact which not only makes me weep for the great professional connections and companionship which it brought me but makes me even more committed to the cause of preservation and sustainability. It reminds us that, in too many cases, digital resources and the infrastructures around them, even massive global services, are susceptible to the whim and interests of an incredibly small and incredibly wealthy elite. All the while, disinformation abounds, whether disrupting peace efforts in the Middle East, or developed as an explicit doctrine of war in the shadows of the Russian armed forces. As I write, at least one major national memory institution is currently trying to resolve a major cyber-security incident.

World Digital Preservation Day is upbeat and engaging: an opportunity to meet colleagues and talk about our work. It’s all good fun but it has never seemed more serious. Lets each of us play our part with passion and with skill. Ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra, it’s time we took the stage. Let the concert begin. 

Fortissimo all the way to the finale.

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