This post was written by: Shira Peltzman, Digital Archivist for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Julia Kim, Digital Assets Specialist, Library of CongressPeggy Griesinger, Metadata Librarian, George Mason University LibrariesVicky Steeves; Librarian for Research Data Management and Reproducibility, New York University; and Karl-Rainer Blumenthal, Web Archivist, Internet Archive.

As digital preservation programs and stewardship initiatives mature, so may they become more dysfunctional.

One of the most important takeaways from the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) staffing surveys conducted in 2012[1] and 2017[2]-- discussed here last World Digital Preservation Day -- is the increasing dissatisfaction among stewards with the way that digital preservation is organized at their respective institutions.

Perceptions that the digital preservation function at their organizations “works well” among respondents to the NDSA Staffing Surveys of 2012 and 2017.

But why? What is at the root of this trend? And most importantly, what outcomes, characteristics, or organizational models make a digital preservation program more or less successful overall? We posed these questions and more to our colleagues in digital preservation and stewardship over the course of 21 in-depth interviews, which will serve as the basis for a forthcoming study that we look forward to sharing with the community.

To reveal the indicators of success and failure, we engaged a diverse pool of practitioners in the United States and asked them to evaluate their standards, metrics, and models; their organizational cultures and power structures; their expectations and job dis/satisfaction. We conducted semi-structured, hour-long interviews with stewards from among diverse backgrounds, positions, and institution types. The conversations were enlightening and powerful; unprompted, several participants described them as therapeutic.

With data collection now complete, we are pouring over our results eagerly and experimenting with new technologies and techniques to express their key themes and values. We will share our conclusions and analyses in a public report in the spring of 2019.  We hope that our results can be used to inform and change how digital preservation is organized.

There is of course a very personal value to this research for us as well. As early-to-mid career professionals in this space ourselves, we seek to articulate and share a vision for digital preservation practice that sustains its workforce as well as its workload. And we hope to use our considerable privilege to confront its imbalances and exclusivities. Our team formed as the 2014-15 cohort of the National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) in New York[3], a U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services-funded program to train emerging professionals through fieldwork on nationally significant precedent projects enhancing workflows, standards, and technology resources. The NDSR projects and residents informed our first publication, “What Makes a Digital Steward,”[4] which outlined a competency profile for digital stewards. With this subsequent study we seek to understand and in turn evaluate the larger power and organizational structures around their digital preservation tasks. And whereas the first study took a largely quantitative approach to atomize and aggregate professionals’ experiences, this one engages participants directly and at length to enable a depth and nuance.

We are indebted especially to Kaetrena Davis Kendrick for her use and clear explanation of the phenomenological research methodology in “The Low Morale Experience of Academic Librarians” (2017)[5] -- a pivotal precedent in our research development. And while they must remain anonymous, we wish to express our sincerest gratitude to our interview participants for the time, labor, and candor that they contributed to this education. We hope that our report can do justice to their clear insights into making digital preservation work well.

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