Barbara Sierman

Barbara Sierman

Last updated on 31 October 2023

Barbara Sierman is a Digital Preservation Consultant and a DPC Fellow

Imagine digital preservation as a concerted effort and all digital preservationists worldwide as an orchestra playing one big symphony about digital preservation. This is the theme of the WDPD2023, but is it true? I have my doubts, as there is no conductor for the orchestra and no “Great Plan”, but OK, there are sure some good examples of concerted efforts in dedicated projects.

However, but even if this digital preservation orchestra would play the most heavenly tune, part of the fun is missing if there is only a tiny audience. Are we, as digital preservationists, sufficiently aware of the audience we should/could be playing for? The world is bigger than the people that already know the value of digital preservation. Would it not be marvellous if we could reach out to new communities and share our experience with them?

Recently I saw a nice opportunity. It has to do with climate change.

Building in the Netherlands, a delta on boggy grounds, requires special measures and poles are the solution to stabilize buildings. Take for example the Royal Palace at the Dam Square in Amsterdam, my home town, built in 1648. It is founded on over 13.000 wooden poles from Norwegian trees.  25 million wooden or steel poles are currently supporting Dutch buildings, embankments, abutments and lockages.  But climate change is a real threat. We have now hot summers with little rain. Draught will affect the level of the groundwater and if this lowers and the wooden poles are no longer protected by being under water, they will rot, the buildings will sag and eventually collapse.

The Dutch professor Thijs Weststeijn wrote an interesting book The future of the past (currently only in Dutch but an English version will be published, he told me) about worldwide cultural heritage sites (“patrimonium”) that will be affected by climate change. Storms, heavy rainfalls, draught, high temperatures, CO2 etcetera will endanger this heritage. In his opinion these effects are unavoidable and we need to take measures to save the past. He suggests 3 ways how we can cope with it, if we are not able to stop climate change and one of them is digitizing.

Digitizing the inner city of Amsterdam or Venice, just to mention two obvious examples. All in 3D, so that the experience can be relived, when the actual buildings are gone. Buildings replaced by bits. Tourists can no longer visit the places because they are gone; but they are substituted by bits. 3D offers an opportunity to experience these places, comfortably from home.

Although not linked to climate change (but they mentioned “risks”)  the European Commission, together with Europeana,  recently started an initiative Twin IT! “The goal of the campaign is to collect and showcase emblematic and high-quality samples of Europe’s cultural assets in 3D, while supporting Member States in their 3D digitisation and preservation efforts.”

If this comes true, imagine the immense responsibility of digital preservationists. Large groups worldwide need be persuaded to digitize the worlds heritage in a responsible way, as there is no way back. Professor Weststeijn had his doubts about this solution, “You want heritage to last for centuries, and I am not sure about that with digitization.” he said in an interview.  Are we ready for it? Can we offer a coherent approach to preserve this new world of bits? To offer the confidence that the bits will be save for centuries, if treated well. How is it possible that after 30 years of digital preservation, a large potential audience for our concerted efforts is not aware of our activities?  

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