Australasia Preserves: Establishing a digital preservation community of practice

On February 16 2018, The University of Melbourne Library Digital Scholarship team organised and hosted the inaugural “Australasia Preserves” event. This event brought together 75 people interested in digital preservation in Australia and New Zealand, from a variety of different institutions and organisations.

Our goal was to start to build a community of practice for digital preservation in our region for all interested people and organisations, regardless of institutional affiliation or skill level.  We’ve wanted to get a community like this together for a while. Because we are a very small team working on a very big digital preservation project, we have a keen interest in generating greater connections with other digital preservation initiatives, projects, and work being done, and in exploring opportunities for collaboration.

To kick off, I welcomed everyone then spoke briefly about the University of Melbourne digital preservation project I’m working on. Key points included:

  • We’ve done two years of investigatory work, benchmarking the current level of digital preservation awareness and activity at the university in various areas
  • We’ve identified and prioritised gaps for improvement
  • We’ve run infrastructure pilots to determine requirements for digital preservation systems and processes
  • Our findings so far have enabled us to draft a business case in order to seek funding for the next two years of work, including implementing preservation storage, improving skills and training for digital preservation, and improving governance and management for long-term preservation

Next up, we heard lightning talk presentations. We chose this format to maximise sharing of different areas and their current work or current challenges. Six speakers from Australia and three from New Zealand spoke for five minutes each. Details of the speakers can be seen on the event page.

There was active participation on Twitter (#AusPreserves). During the lightning talks, we noticed a comment about “jargon” that had popped up online.

And so, in agile project fashion, we whipped around the room quickly, inviting attendees to give explanations for various terms that were of concern. There’s already some great resources available for explaining digital preservation terms, most notably the Digital Preservation Handbook Glossary  which we pointed to, and our crowd-sourced jargon busting can be found in the collaborative notes from the event.

The second part of the event involved exploring, as a group, what an ongoing Australasian digital preservation community of practice could be like. Small group discussion was reported back to the whole room.

Three questions focussed the discussion:

  1. How could an Australasian digital preservation community of practice work?
  2. How can it be useful to you?
  3. Are there opportunities for collaboration?

Key and recurring points made by attendees throughout the event included:

  • This is something we all want to keep doing, we need to be talking and sharing more, as we feel isolated
  • Keeping the communication going beyond face-to-face is likely necessary (e.g. social media, closed forums such as Slack & Google groups, or a central resource that allows long-term search across it)
  • Informal sharing is important: we may not always want to be speaking for our organisations
  • We all have technical capacity gaps, so skills sharing and better knowledge transfer could help this situation
  • We need training at many different levels, as there are many different levels of knowledge and awareness in the community

As the digital preservation community is widely dispersed here, both across Australia and across the Tasman in New Zealand, next steps include continuing the conversation online at our newly established Google group forum. In addition, the Digital Scholarship team at the University of Melbourne is actively planning what the next steps could be in terms of future events and meetings that we may want to run.

Community building for digital preservation has begun in the Australasian region. There is a clear need and a strong appetite for better sharing of our work in digital preservation, and we hope this initiative contributes to building a robust support network.

Further resources to check out

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Collaboration and Digital Preservation

Image: johnhain, Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/cooperate-collaborate-teamwork-2924261 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 https://pixabay.com/en/social-media-personal-2457842 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

International Digital Preservation Day 2017

One of my first tasks when I began in my role as a Digital Preservation Officer at the University of Melbourne (in March 2016) was to interview 40-odd research support staff, in order to analyse the university’s capability to support digital preservation, and to identify the improvements required for effective long-term sustainability of digital assets. 

One of the questions I asked during the interview process was:

What does digital preservation mean to you?

To celebrate the very first International Digital Preservation Day in 2017, I’ve put together a few of the responses to this question in a short video.

What does digital preservation mean to you? from Jaye Weatherburn on Vimeo.

To find out more about what the University of Melbourne Digital Preservation Project team has been up to, head to the project blog, and read all about International Digital Preservation Day here.

An Apprenticeship on Steroids: Preserving Digital Materials The Third

I was inspired to write this blog post thanks to New Cardigan’s Glam Blog Club October 2017 theme, “How I Ended Up Here”. When I saw the theme, I immediately thought: how did I end up co-writing a book, just a year after finally graduating from information management school? How did I get here? This post seeks to answer this question, and introduce a project I’ve been working on for the last year: a tome called Preserving Digital Materials (the third edition).

I am not a new professional in the strict sense of the phrase, having had a long-ish first career in television broadcasting. Writing the third edition of this book has been an apprenticeship on steroids – a great way to learn a lot about the important and exciting digital preservation field, in a very short time frame.

The short version of how I got here involves serendipity, luck, and perseverance. The perseverance part involved a meandering career change while still paying the bills with television work. I first studied teaching English as a foreign language, then professional writing, before settling on a Master of Information Management degree, with a lot of volunteering thrown in to help me best find my corner of the info universe. I love wrangling digital information, and I’ve always been fascinated by long-term thinking, so digital preservation is a perfect fit for me. As for serendipity and luck, one of my (many) volunteering gigs with the Australian Library Journal introduced me to then-editor Ross Harvey. When Ross was contemplating kicking off with the third edition of Preserving Digital Materials and looking for a co-author, I was in the right place at the right time. I was able to bring to the book different professional experience, and different ways of thinking – television is a colourful, competitive, and challenging world, with many transferable skills (collaboration and communication are two of the most immediate that come to mind).

The first two editions of this book were written by Ross. The first was based on interviews he undertook with Australian information professionals in the year 2005, thus it had a very national focus. The second edition in 2012 branched out further afield – it added various international projects and perspectives. It has been a fascinating experience, looking back over 17 years and seeing what has changed in the digital world – and what is still the same.

PDM3CoverThis third edition (to be published in March 2018 by US-based publisher Rowman & Littlefield) is an altogether different beast again. It has had a significant structural overhaul, and it is very internationally focussed. New stakeholders feature as a key focus, as digital preservation is no longer a niche area mainly of interest to cultural heritage institutions. New players are entering the scene and it is a welcome change, bringing many opportunities and also inevitable challenges. Initiatives such as International Digital Preservation Day from the Digital Preservation Coalition are increasingly publicly focussed, while still catering to the interests of traditional information organisations. Initiatives like these helpfully drive a positive digital preservation agenda to a wider range of people, and we have documented this changing paradigm in the book.

I very much hope this book is of use to both information professionals dealing with long-term management of digital materials, and others from different fields who are interested in learning more about the importance of stewarding digital materials into the future.

Another big thank you goes out to all my friends and family who put up with me during this process and are still hanging around. I promise one day soon I will have a social life again. Unless the fourth edition of this book needs writing a lot sooner than expected…

Engaging with our future: the role of educators, practitioners, professional associations and employing organisations in the co-creation of information professionals

In this article for the last issue of the Australian Library Journal LIS educators Sue Reynolds, Bernadette Welch, and Mary Carroll investigate a passion-based approach to student learning. Their vision of enabling new information professionals by cultivating in them ‘passion, engagement, and citizenship’ is a bold and welcome one. They consider the shared role of library and information studies (LIS) educators, practitioners, employing organisations and the professional associations in the development of LIS graduates and new professionals.

Exploring alternative models for professional LIS

In this article for the last issue of the Australian Library Journal, Brenda Chawner and Gillian Oliver aim to stimulate discussion about whether the current structure of postgraduate library education, largely unchanged for over sixty years, is still the best option, given the ways in which professional library positions increasingly require specialised knowledge and skills.

Brenda and Gillian touch briefly on the history of training for librarians in education before discussing the changing nature of library work today, offering alternative models for LIS education to meet this changing landscape.