Digital Preservation: Keep calm and get on with it!

2016-08-30T07:37:37Z (GMT) by Matthew Addis
Presentation at the Archives and Records Association (ARA) 2016 Annual Conference in London.

The presentation builds on ‘parsimonious preservation’ from Tim Gollins at the National Archive.  Being parsimonious means to ‘get on and do’ preservation in a simple and cost effective way.  The approach is to target the immediate and real issues that digital content actually creates, rather than what the digital preservation community thinks might be problems in the future.   Archives holdings are diversifying, digital content inexorably grows, but budgets remain limited.   There is never more a pressing time to apply the parsimonious approach.   This paper will present practical tools and techniques (e.g. DROID, Exactly, Archivematica) for parsimonious preservation, particularly in the areas of capturing metadata (know what you have), and safe storage (keep the bits safe).  Just as importantly, the paper will review evidence that some of the perceived risks to digital content (e.g. file format obsolescence) and some of the candidate techniques for long-term storage (e.g. preservation grade digital media) are not cost effective when budgets are limited.  Critical thinking is a skill that all archivists should develop when debunking some of the long-held beliefs of the preservation community.    There are two main messages of the talk.  Firstly, digital preservation is a growing and pressing problem for archives and there is a need for action right now.  Secondly, digital preservation is an opportunity, not a burden, for achieving a future for digital assets.   The good news is that recent evolutions in technology and best practice mean that action is now easier to take than ever - but only if an eye is firmly placed on keeping it simple.  The complexities, theory and rapidly evolving technical landscape of digital preservation can also be a barrier, especially if the ‘best becomes the enemy of the good’.  The danger is getting caught up in digital preservation as an aspiration, or, worse still, not doing digital preservation at all because of the fear of not doing it ‘properly’ – a form of ‘preservation paralysis’.  This talk shows an alternative where preservation can done using basic tools, commodity IT infrastructure, or hosted services, and can actually deliver significant and real benefits, including making digital material more accessible and usable.