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We Are Not Alone: Progress in the Digital Preservation Community

An international community of researchers and practitioners are driving the professional practice of digital preservation towards greater maturity and opening doors to new levels of access.

Color image of an auditorium with people sitting and attending a conference.

Last month, I celebrated fifteen years at the Archives. Since my first day, I have cared for its digital objects and records holdings, establishing and developing a digital curation program focused exclusively on long-term digital preservation and access. This past week, I joined others like me at iPres 2018 in Boston to be inspired by, and learn from, fellow practitioners and researchers about the latest developments, innovations, and challenges in the field of digital preservation. This year, the conference celebrated its fifteenth year, too.

If you're a die-hard digital preservationist, you already know that iPres is the longest-running conference series on digital preservation. Since 2004, annual iPRES conferences have been held around the globe. This year there were close to 400 scientists, students, researchers, archivists, librarians, providers, and other experts from all corners of the globe. That’s part of what makes it special. Digital preservation is a cultural heritage and scientific concern, period. It is not continent-specific.

Here are some of the themes I found most rewarding from this year's conference:

  • There are more narratives and new knowledge waiting to be discovered in preserved data.
    (Keynote. Eve Blau, co-principal investigator for the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative and adjunct professor of History and Theory of Urban Form at Harvard; Storytelling and Digital Preservation: Creators and Curators by: Jessica Meyerson (moderator), Nancy McGovern, Jimmy Fournier, Darold Cuba)
  • We need to make the digital preservation processes and our repositories transparent. (Nothing succeeds like success: A framework for evaluating digital preservation outcomes. A short paper by: Stephen Abrams; Implications of perceived preservation levels. A short paper by: Marco Klindt)
  • Heterogenity of formats is reality. Solutions must take that into account if they are to be useful to more than a handful of organizations. (Creating a holdings format profile and format matrix for risk-based digital preservation planning at the National Archives and Records Administration. A long paper by: Leslie Johnston; Preservation planning for emerging formats at the British Library. A long paper by: Michael Day, Maureen Pennock, Caylin Smith, Ian Cooke and Jeremy Jenkins)
  • Scale is a major challenge. A single digital preservation repository might be working with tens of millions of files or more. Our tools and solutions need to step up. This needs to be a focus going forward. (Active Archive Curation and Preservation Management at Scale. A workshop by: Sheila Morrissey, Amy Kirchhoff, Stephen Abrams, Karen Cariani, Vinay Cheruku, Euan Cochrane, Michelle Lindlar, Marcel Ras, and Alex Green.)
  • Preserving and providing access to large bodies of email is being done, with room for improvement.
    (Archiving Email: Strategies, Tools, Techniques. A tutorial by: Christopher John Prom, Patricia Patterson, Wendy Gogel, William Kilbride, Riccardo Ferrante, Glynn Edwards, and Camile Tyndall Watson; Email Preservation at Scale: Preliminary Findings Supporting the Use of Predictive Coding A short paper by: Joanne Kaczmarek and Brent West)

All of the papers from the conference can be accessed here. I encourage you to browse through the many papers presented, and I'm confident you will run across more than one that speaks to the digital preservation state you find your organization in today.

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