Nancy McGovern

Nancy McGovern

Last updated on 3 November 2023

Nance McGovern is Associate for Digital Preservation Practice and Instruction at Global Archivist LLC and a DPC Fellow

Digital preservation at its best is a collaborative sport. As always, the theme for World Digital Preservation Day (WDPD) is timely and important.

Collaboration has been an important part of digital practice for me since I started preserving digital content in 1986 at the Center for Electronic Records at the U.S. National Archives. We regularly welcomed visitors from all over who were interested in hearing about our program and in sharing what they were working on with us. An open source approach – sharing, using, and contributing back – contributes to the sustainability of good practice for digital preservation. Welcoming visitors – virtually and in-person – is a relatively easy opportunity for organizations engaged in digital preservation to contribute and to be informed.

Community-based collaboration has been at the heart of the Digital Preservation Management (DPM) maturity model (five stages and three-legged stool) that has been the core curriculum since the DPM workshops launched in 2003.  The DPM Model is a guide for individuals and organizations to develop sustainable digital preservation programs that are built on and by collaborative effort.

1     Acknowledge: recognize that digital preservation is a local priority – becoming aware of good practice through access to cumulative community efforts.

2     Act: initiate a digital preservation project – that benefits from community efforts and may contribute to filling a gap in or providing an alternative for achieving good practice.

3     Consolidate: shift from projects to programs – collaboration across and between organizations (partners, providers, and others) is essential for sustainable digital preservation.

4     Instututionalize: maintain and advance the digital preservation program in response to organizational and technological change –  (really) collaborate with partners, providers, and others.

5     Externalize: embrace interorganizational collaboration – engage within and beyond the DP community to develop, maintain, and advance sustainable good practice for all.

In working through the Five Stages, digital preservation programs shift from benefiting from collaborative work to increasingly contributing to and modeling good practice. At any stage, anyone can participate – the community the DPM model envisions is inclusive. Similarly, the DPM Three-legged Stool emphasizes the essential partnerships between the Organizational, Technological and Resources legs to have balanced and sustainable programs.

For me, the need to engage across domains to ensure sustainable digital preservation led quite naturally to the Radical Collaboration model. “The most productive and sustainable collaborations begin with common interests and responsibilities, by defining problem statements together.” Each domain brings their own terminology, practices, and priorities, which can be confusing and frustrating for working together. Radical collaboration convenes a roundtable for collaborative digital practice and develops working definitions for cross-domain groups to use to build understanding to work together productively. The radical collaboration approach uses questions to build understanding about the purpose and priorities of partnering domains rather than advocating for your own familiar domain perspective. The roundtable is led not by a majority representative, but by whoever at the table has the expertise needed for the group at that time.

We need to leverage the strengths of the digital preservation domains through a Radical Collaboration approach, and we need to specify the expertise of participating domains. One example is the Digital Archives and Preservation (DAP) Framework, a model I developed with feedback from Kari Smith and others to explain the scope and purpose of each of these affiliated, even symbiotic domains. When people say digital preservation, they often refer to digital archives activities. It is easy to do so because one person’s position may include aspects of both digital archives and digital preservation work, for example. To continue to advance what we do, we need to distinguish and excel at the real-time and more operational work of digital archives from the over-time and more infrastructural work of digital preservation. At iPres 2024, it would be great to see a community discussion about digital archives and digital preservation as distinct members of the community orchestra, and to see a greater emphasis in the program on digital preservation topics.

These are some lessons learned and observations from engaging in community building for digital practice for almost forty years:

  • Pay it forward: members of the community are generous – when you benefit from someone’s help, contribute to someone else’s work.

  • Share your work: even before we talked about open source, sharing work was a norm for our community.

  • Make time to help: life gets busy – always make time to share your experience and to help someone as you were helped. Bartering expertise is a great way to pool resources!

  • Acknowledge contributions: in developing and sharing your work or building upon someone else’s work, acknowledge the pioneering work that led to that work - all the way back to 60s when relevant!

  • Have patience: community building takes time and it’s so worth the effort! Example: individual or group project outcomes is your end point – and the starting point for community feedback. Good practice grows through community discussion and engagement – not by fiat.

  • Embrace good practice: since Margaret Hedstrom introduced ‘good enough’ digital preservation as our first guest speaker, good practice has been a principle of the DPM workshops. There is no single authoritative (or best) way, but there are a number of good ways to achieve good practice.

  • Be humble: each generation of technology involves comparable challenges for good practice advances to address. It can be easy to forget that when looking back and falsely perceiving predecessor examples as quaint or old-fashioned rather than the advances that led us to here.

  • Convene a roundtable: don't conflate, ignore, or dominate domains that are engaged in various aspects of sustainable digital preservation – a roundtable shifts leaders and adapts as needed.

  • Grounded in standards: when we align with standards, the extensive and intensive group effort required to develop and maintain standards proves to be worthwhile by maximizing our resources.

Nance note: My dad was a technical writer who developed documentation for Apollo mission computers That probably explains a lot for those of you who have worked with me  : )  Let’s add technical writers to the domains at standards developing roundtables to save time, maximize resources, and advance outcomes.

The iPres community is expanding and becoming more inclusive each year. The iPres Steering Group (STG) is growing to be more sustainable and representative. Nominate yourself or others to become an At-Large Member of STG. If you haven’t already, sign up for the iPres-Interest-Group list/. Join in!

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