Collaboration and Digital Preservation

Image: johnhain, Pixabay CC0

Most aspects of information management benefit from collaborative activities, and many of them now have collaboration firmly established. Library cataloguing is an example where collaboration is the norm and happens on an international scale. In digital preservation, collaborative activities have become more evident at all levels, and collaboration is now assumed to be one of the keys to success.

The key reason collaboration is central to and embedded in digital preservation is the scale of the challenges, which are simply too big for any one organisation, no matter how well resourced it is, to address adequately. Another reason is recognition of the need to have a shared community of practice—communication and networks with others working in the field—to enable best practice approaches to be discussed and tested. The opportunities to build communication and social networks through collaborative projects were valued highly by interviewees in a 2014 study by Patricia Condon, “Digital Curation Through the Lens Of Disciplinarity: The Development Of An Emerging Field,” (PhD dissertation, Simmons College School of Library and Information Science, 2014, 140.)

Because digital preservation is expensive and resources are scarce, sharing costs and resources through collaborative activities is an effective approach to successful and sustainable digital preservation, especially given the magnitude of the challenges. When issues are similar across different kinds of organizations (such as libraries and archives) and different sectors (for example, different scientific disciplines, the corporate business world, government departments), it is usually advantageous to combine expertise and experience.

However, collaboration has costs attached, and unless there is a high level of mutual understanding, less than ideal partnerships can result. Despite any concerns, the benefits usually outweigh the disadvantages.

The benefits include:

  • Better use of resources through shared development costs, attracting resources and support for well-coordinated programs, with improvements in efficiency
  • Improved access to expertise, tools and systems, and shared learning opportunities
  • Increased ability to influence producers of materials, to influence the development of standards and practices, and to encourage influential stakeholders to take preservation seriously.
Image: geralt, Pixabay CCO

There’s lots of published material about collaboration in digital preservation. A good place to start are these two short pieces:

Brungs and Wyber suggest collaborative actions that are needed at national and international levels. Mayernick et al. describe a more specific collaborative activity, grassroots initiatives in the U.S. rescuing government data in danger of disappearing because of changing government imperatives.

Chapter 9 of our forthcoming book Preserving Digital Materials (Ross Harvey and Jaye Weatherburn, third edition, 2018), describes a number of examples of collaborative activities in digital preservation. We also note some of the history of collaborative activities in digital preservation from the early 2000s. We end chapter 9 by noting an increasingly collaborative trend, producing a strengthening collegial environment that fosters national and international engagement and cooperation.

Collaboration is set to remain one of the key characteristics of the digital preservation community, achieved through well-established social networks, partnerships, and the sharing of knowledge and expertise.

Written by Ross Harvey and Jaye Weatherburn