The 330 digital archivists who met in Washington, D.C., for the third annual Digital Preservation conference were treated to 2 days of presentations on July 22–23. Prior to 2012, this gathering was called the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) Partners Meeting. Thursday, July 24 featured CURATEcamp, an unconference held at The Catholic University of America, which “focused on exploring the collecting, preserving and providing access to records of digital culture.” An active Twitter feed (#digpres14) gives those who were unable to attend an excellent record of the goings-on throughout the conference, with links to relevant material, postconference write-ups, and blog posts. Links to presentation slides are embedded in the conference agenda.
While technology plays an important role in digital archiving, the overarching theme of Digital Preservation 2014 was that cooperation and collaboration are the keys to success for libraries working on aspects of a single project together, as well as among libraries, scholars in other disciplines, and technologists. As Micah Altman, chair of NDSA’s coordination committee, stated in his opening remarks, no single institution can counter all the risks. The best approach is to distribute risk through collaboration and coordination with colleagues. In response to questions from the floor, Altman admitted that coordination is difficult; he indicated that the greatest challenge NDSA has faced so far has been communicating the value of preservation within organizations.
Day 1 Sessions
The opening plenary session illustrated how scholars approach digital archiving with different perspectives. Matt Kirschenbaum, associate director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), spoke about cultural memory and how software fits in as a “human artifact to be preserved.” In her Preservation Aesthetics presentation, Shannon Mattern, an associate professor at The New School for Public Engagement, addressed the difficulties encountered in preserving “new media art,” particularly “auto-destructive art.”
A panel of five, moderated by Vivek Navale of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), discussed the importance of “stewarding space data.” Each member of the panel spoke about a particular project that works with data gathered from satellites and how it can be made accessible to scientists for further investigations. Panelists comprised representatives from federal government agencies NASA and NODC (National Oceanographic Data Center), the University of Iowa Libraries, and the University Libraries at the University of Maryland. The key takeaway from this session is that data is important to preserve because in the future, there may be new ways of looking at the data, new tools, and a new understanding. If digital archivists do their job well, scientists can get at and analyze precisely the data they need.
Cole Crawford, executive director of the Open Compute Project, declared, “The future is open,” and backed that assertion through illustrations on how environmentally sound engineering could improve server efficiency. His Community Driven Innovation talk was followed by Community Approaches to Digital Stewardship, a panel moderated by Meg Phillips, the external affairs liaison of NARA. All of the projects represented at this session had in common the fact that the team members didn’t quite know what they could accomplish, but they were committed to working with others.
Day 2 Sessions
The Research Data and Curation panel addressed the challenges of preserving and curating research data, with a focus on reuse of data. Inna Kouper, adjunct lecturer at Indiana University–Bloomington, and Dharma Akmon, manager of education and outreach for SEAD (Sustainable Environment Actionable Data) at UMSI (University of Michigan School of Information), spoke about supporting data curation throughout the research life cycle by using SEAD as the example. Ixchel Faniel, associate research scientist for OCLC Research, used an archaeological project as her example, providing three perspectives on data reuse: producers (collecting), curators (preserving), and reusers (conducting studies and using the data from others for their research purposes).
The panel was followed by a presentation by George Oates, director of Good, Form & Spectacle, a new company that provides access to digital materials. Contending With the Network was a review of the big digital collections that Oates has worked on for nearly 20 years, including the 9/11 Television News Archive and the Wayback Machine from the Internet Archive. Her talk emphasized how design can increase access to materials and how access itself is a form of preservation. Using design and visualization to increase access—timelines and maps, for example—with open source tools can make an archive more accessible.