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The Business of Preservation is the Practice of Care

Justin Simpson

Justin Simpson

Last updated on 9 November 2020

Justin Simpson is the Managing Director of Artefactual Systems.


Digital preservation can be a hard sell. Institutions may recognize the need. Many do not adequately prioritise the work.  The return on investment for digital preservation efforts is difficult to quantify, and not achievable in a short time span.  

We will not convince the world of the importance of this work in financial terms alone.  While the practice of digital preservation can be understood as a business practice, I believe a more profitable framing is to consider the work of preserving and providing access to cultural memory as a practice of care.

Bernice Fisher and Joan Tronto describe caring as ‘… a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible.’ [1]

This definition describes the work of caring for cultural memory just as well as it describes healthcare, or childcare, or the many other forms of caregiving.  The work of caring, of all kinds, is generally undervalued, and often invisible.  Our conversations about how to provide, for example, healthcare, are often restricted to purely financial concerns. Caring is then turned into a commodity for profit making, at the expense of the real value that caregiving creates.

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WDPD 2020 Blog - Grupo de Preservación Digital

Isabel Galina Russell

Isabel Galina Russell

Last updated on 18 November 2020

Isabel Galina Russell is a Researcher and member of GPD based at Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliográficas, UNAM. 


For a second year, the Grupo de Preservación Digital (GPD) based in Mexico, gpd1is joining in the celebration of World Digital Preservation Day. The GPD, founded in 2017, is a multidisciplinary and interinstitutional group focused on the practice of digital preservation as well as supporting research and training in digital preservation. We also focus on advocacy work for preserving our digital cultural heritage. The GPD originated at the Biblioteca Nacional, Mexico’s National Library which is based at the national university, the UNAM. The group focuses mainly on the digital cultural heritage sector, working with cultural heritage institutions and universities around the country. We now also have an increasing membership of people from other sectors, all concerned about how to address digital preservation issues. 

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In Perpetual Motion: Web Archiving Ongoing Social Phenomena

Natalie Vielfaure

Natalie Vielfaure

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Natalie Vielfaure is the Digital Curation Archivist for the Research Services and Digital Strategies unit at the University of Manitoba Libraries in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.


At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Manitoba Libraries and the University of Winnipeg Archives launched a coordinated effort to archive websites documenting the COVID-19 experience in Manitoba, Canada. This post provides reflections on this experience and the challenges of documenting ongoing social phenomena.

With the global proliferation of COVID-19, many of us working in the GLAM sector have felt the pressures of capturing this unprecedented experience for posterity. Cautionary tales of the ‘forgotten pandemic’ of 1918 stress the importance of documenting the COVID-19 experience through the acquisition of diaries, photographs, web archives, and other documentary heritage. Like many institutions, the University of Manitoba Libraries and the University of Winnipeg Archives undertook a coordinated effort to capture this historical event by crawling websites related to our regional pandemic experience.

The ongoing endeavour led us to reflect on some of the challenges of documenting ongoing social events in perpetuity. The COVID-19 pandemic has no definitive end date. While it is a unique experience, similar challenges present themselves in collections documenting other ongoing social phenomena, such as truth and reconciliation efforts in Canada, and systemic racism. In such cases, the greatest challenge is determining how to effectively and realistically capture a representation of these events without exhausting institutional resources. Like all digital preservation activities, web archiving is constrained by finite resources such as limited storage space and staff time. Consequently, defining the scope of such activities is an important step in ensuring that resources are effectively used. But how do you scope something that is not entirely ‘scope-able’?

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WDPD Blog - Christopher Zaste - University of Manitoba

Christopher Zaste

Christopher Zaste

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Christopher Zaste is a Digital Archivist at the University of Manitoba.


As we gather around the virtual campfire this World Digital Preservation Day, I have a story to share.  I knew a guy, keeping him anonymous, who loved to back up his data to CDs and later DVDs.  Many of these discs, of course, had “archival media” proudly printed on the manufacturer’s label.  His backup collection contained family movies, photographs, documents, software, and much more.  Many of which are some of his most prized possessions.  One day, his computer crashed.  Not a simple crash to desktop, but a fatal error causing the loss of all locally stored files.  Thankfully, he had a vast backup store of discs, so he thought it was not the biggest loss. 

The next day, he went to the store and bought a new laptop.  This machine had a fast processer, lots of RAM, and even a nice 4k display.  No expense was spared.  He brought his machine home and began adding his backup files.  Running his finger along the laptop’s right side, he found no eject button.  He tried the left side and found nothing.  He looked all over the machine, pressing button after button, but to no avail.  His new laptop, the one he just spent a considerable amount of money on, had no disc drive to read his obsolete media.  Frustrated, he had to go to Amazon and buy a disc drive that can connect via a USB cable.

Such digital preservation stories are quite common.  We have all experienced such issues, and not just in our professional careers.  Family photos stored on old CDs, a home video on a VHS tape, I can go on with examples.  In our primarily digital society, the digital copy is often the only copy.  A record can easily be lost if is not stored in an accessible backup format.  These scenarios of loss are what we, as digital preservation professionals, try to prevent.

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Small-Scale Digital Preservation at Lakehead University

Sara K Janes

Sara K Janes

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Sara K Janes is an Archivist at Lakehead University.


Local and regional archival collections are a key part of the worldwide archival network. Living and working in Thunder Bay, ON, which is a four-hour drive from the nearest city of comparable size, has taught me just how important local heritage collections are to the people who create them and the people who use them. If our national and provincial archives are a plane ride away, we can’t reasonably ask those institutions to take responsibility for our local history.

I work as the Archivist for Lakehead University; the archives (https://archives.lakeheadu.ca/) is but one room and 1.5 FTE, so I have responsibility for most things, and digital preservation is only one aspect of my work. We’ve thus benefited enormously from taking part in Scholars Portal, a set of services provided through the Ontario Council of University Libraries. One of those services is Permafrost (https://permafrost.scholarsportal.info/), which provides reliable storage and a hosted Archivematica instance. Accessing these tools as a service hosted elsewhere, and with excellent support provided by Scholars Portal, makes it possible for an archivist without a strong tech background to carry out meaningful digital preservation work.

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Collaboration Through Open Source Software

Greg Bak

Greg Bak

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Greg Bak is the Associate Professor of History (Archival Studies) at the University of Manitoba.


Heritage institutions are accustomed to having more mandate than resources. We are used to supplementing meagre core funding by applying for special project funding, whether internal or external. Open source software offers a way of structuring collaboration that allows us to build upon sporadic and context-dependent project funding.

Products such as Archivematica, BitCurator and Fixity offer institutions of all sizes access to purpose-built digital preservation tools and systems that can be adapted to local needs. Heritage institutions are still working to absorb the different logic and economic demands of using open source systems as opposed to proprietary systems. Costs are not necessarily reduced, but they are differently incurred, distributed and managed. Initial setup costs are drastically reduced, but subsequent work is required to bring the system into line with local institutional and user needs. Development of the code base can be shared among institutions. Smaller institutions can leverage work done by larger institutions and consortia.

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It Takes a Village: Documenting the Pandemic for Research, Policy, and Practice

Oya Rieger & Rebecca Springer

Oya Rieger & Rebecca Springer

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Oya Y. Rieger is a Senior Strategist and Rebecca Springer is an Analyst, both working at Ithaka S+R, US


Throughout the pandemic, critical information about COVID-19 has been flowing through a range of channels, including social media, news outlets, journals, and preprint servers. Cultural heritage organizations have been participating in efforts to curate and archive these rich and diverse sources of information–not only for future generations but also for those currently studying various scientific, sociological, political, and cultural aspects of the pandemic. These archiving efforts will not only help to capture a significant moment in our history but may help to prevent or manage future outbreaks. But digital preservation continues to be an expensive and complicated process, especially at an institutional level. According to a recent UNESCO Memory of the World survey, 66 percent of respondents reported that in their country there are no national preservation policies or strategies. The 2020 Open Preservation Foundation survey shows that the average FTE across digital preservation roles is less than two. In almost every country, cultural heritage organizations with a strong sense of mission are trying to do their best with limited resources and expertise.

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Portico: Evolving with the community to ensure access to scholarship for good

Stephanie Orphan

Stephanie Orphan

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Stephanie Orphan is the Director of Content Preservation at Portico


 Fifteen years ago, when Portico was in its early stages, we answered a call from the community to ensure that the electronic journals libraries were investing in were protected for the long term. At the time, the primary concern was ensuring that licensed content, often from the very large commercial publishers, was properly preserved with mechanisms in place to ensure future long-term access for researchers, as well as near-term post-cancellation access where possible.

During the first five years in which Portico signed publishers (2005-2010), we made great progress, signing 119 journal publishers, including all of the very large commercial publishers as well as many medium-sized publishers, university presses, and a couple large open access (OA) publishers. We also successfully expanded our services to include preservation for e-books and digitized primary source collections (the latter through our d-collections preservation service).

Over the course of the next 10 years, little by little, the trajectory of Portico’s growth began to change. The range of publishers expanded to include more small publishers (those with five or fewer journal titles) and fully OA publishers---including many library publishers and independent scholar-led journals. While we continued to work with publishers who had developed their own sophisticated platforms or who were using commercial hosting platforms, increasingly we began working with publishers self-hosting through an instance of OJS (Open Journal Systems), WordPress, or web sites.

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ICPSR’s COVID-19 Data Repository

Chelsea Goforth

Chelsea Goforth

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Chelsea Goforth, Senior Data Project Manager at Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) has engaged in digital preservation activities to enable rapid data access, wide data sharing, and long-term data re-use of COVID-19 related data collections.  Our preservation work supports social science researchers engaged in asking and answering questions about COVID-19 in order to soften its impact, especially for the most vulnerable populations.

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Our Common Digital Future: Digital Preservation and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Eng Sengsavang

Eng Sengsavang

Last updated on 4 November 2020

Eng Sengsavang is a Reference Archivist at the UNESCO Archives.


Technologies are needed that produce 'social goods'…[1] earth

Since the 1980s, the drive to achieve “sustainable development” has been led by the United Nations through several global frameworks for action, most recently the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our reliance on digital technologies and information is so enmeshed into our lives that it is time we acknowledge the critical role digital preservation plays in such global initiatives. Digital preservation is an indispensable component of sustainable development and will prove to be increasingly critical for the achievement of the SDGs and future initiatives like it. Digital preservation consists of a constellation of acts and strategies that, like sustainable development efforts, fundamentally anticipate the succession of future generations who depend on our actions today for the shape and content of the world they will inherit in decades to come and beyond.

 

 Photo: Earth seen from Apollo 17, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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