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

Participatory democracy #infuturemelbourne

 

Melbourne is projected to be a big city, so it should start thinking like a big city.

Dr George Quezada, Innovation Scientist

 

I’ve just completed day 1 (of 3) for the Future Melbourne 2026 Citizens’ Jury process. We on the jury are a bunch of 60-odd randomly selected residents and business owners of the City of Melbourne who are helping to deliver the third and final phase of the council’s Future Melbourne plan to 2026.

IMG_8290

This involves delving in detail into the report Future Melbourne 2026: Bringing your ideas together, and deciding on the final goals and principles to put forward to the six Future Melbourne Ambassadors to take to Council in August 2016.

I’m passionate about the future of this city, and wanted to be a part of this jury process to speak up from a library-loving, learning-focussed perspective. I’m interested in getting across the idea of needing good governance and planning in place for as-yet-unknown applications of new technologies throughout the city. I want to learn more about how to contribute to making this a sustainable city. Working in the information management world, I want to speak for sustainability of knowledge and information – particularly if there are to be improvements and increases in the partnerships between research organisations, government, and business, in order to drive innovative new projects.

The quote that opens this post is from guest speaker on day 1, George Quezada, an Innovation Scientist at Data61.

George noted that as people are able to access more information, and more data, about various processes that govern our everyday lives, and as they begin to analyse that data, those people will increasingly be able to challenge those in authority.

Transparency of information enables empowerment through increased knowledge.

George talked about the idea of establishing ‘future precincts’ in cities, and pointed to one example,  Samford Commons, which he is putting his energy into delivering after receiving substantial funding from The Moreton Bay Regional Council. The Samford Commons annual report from October 2015 expands the concept of their model in more detail.

Future precincts have captured my imagination: they are spaces that can’t be prescribed in advance; they must remain as free, constantly changeable spaces that will sow the seeds for new strategies to emerge to manage cities better. They must have the freedom to experiment with bold visionary ideas in a space that is conducive for careful failure. Samford Commons states that it will:

Host conferences, conduct accredited environmental management programs, sell natural produce, hold demonstration field days, conduct school programs, support sustainable industry co-working, manage a connection to the broader community and provide daily programs and innovative activities for businesses, schools, tourists, community members and on-line clients.

 

This is one way to tackle future challenges – for governments, councils, and citizens to be guided by the learnings and failings of these future precincts. As George put it, future precincts are demonstrations of a resilience strategy – providing outcomes from new modes of operating, these precincts may provide a means for a community to meet unexpected challenges. And it can be done much more effectively by utilising the strengths of all sectors – research, business, government, in increasingly connected ways.

Taking these ideas for the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Records (GLAMR) sector, wouldn’t it be great to have an information/cultural heritage voice in these future precinct spaces, for testing out new theories, ways of doing, ways of interacting with other sectors, and the community? Having true convergence and experimentation between sectors to learn from each other’s wins and fails?

The iGLAM research centre comes to my mind, the Laboratory for Innovation in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums, as a prototype that could be put forward to begin to play in this wider space in partnership with government, business, and communities.

I was also reminded of the Innovation Study from 2014, Challenges and opportunities for Australia’s galleries, libraries, archives and museums, which clearly identified four strategic initiatives:

  1. Making the public part of what we do
  2. Becoming central to community wellbeing
  3. Beyond digitisation – creative reuse
  4. Developing funding for strategic initiatives

This report is an interesting read, particularly as various milestones for 2016 are detailed in it. And I’m also thinking a lot about how my voice on this jury can help further the agenda to ‘make the public part of what we do’ and especially how we can become even more ‘central to community wellbeing’.

Other notable things that stood out for me about my citizen jury experience:

Ben Rimmer, Chief Executive Officer of the City of Melbourne, spoke to us about the challenges around balancing the different needs of residents, business, students, visitors –and drilled into this further by explaining how difficult it can be to balance financing and resourcing for the basic everyday essentials that run a city, versus the ‘nice-to-do’ elements that enhance a city. He mentioned that the ‘nice-to-do’ extras that the City of Melbourne invests in are exactly the things that make Melbourne a great city. Another of Ben’s observations was that tech developments are coming ‘thick and fast’ to change the way our city operates (robots in the drains, location services technology placed in rubbish bins, autonomous cars not too far away now) – and his ‘professional guess’ that the next ten years will see technology change have the biggest implications for the city.

Maria Katsonis, Director, Equality, in the Department of Premier and Cabinet (Victoria), is one of the Future Melbourne Ambassadors. She spoke about the importance of workplaces allowing and enforcing an allowance of bringing your true, authentic self to work everyday. As she said to us, ‘two years ago, I wouldn’t have been wearing rainbow shoelaces to work’, pointing to her colourful laces. Maria spoke of Richard Florida’s The rise of the creative class, and how it raises the question, can you attract a certain type of person to a city?

Maria’s parting consideration for us was most interesting, as it echoed what I’d heard in a lot of the discussions during the day. When going through the report, and deciding and debating what’s in and what’s out, we should always be thinking: who’s excluded from this plan? Does it truly reflect the needs of our diverse community? Does everyone have a voice, a place in it?

Kate Auty, another of the Ambassadors, in response to my question wondering who the visionary leaders are in the sustainability sector that she looks to, that we can seek out – the change agents – she answered, ‘It’s all of you – you’re all leaders. Start where you are, and organise’. Her example of this idea in action came from her experience, being involved in a campaign seeking (successfully) to change some entrenched mindsets (a group of farmers) toward climate change.

This jury day was extremely intense. It was a day of testing assumptions, questioning, and learning.

For anyone considering a chance to participate in this kind of process in future, here are some select thoughts gathered from myself and others about our day, paraphrased:

 

Participatory democracy feels like proper governance, the way things should be.

There is a feeling of more investment already in the outcomes, over just one day – much more so than going to the ballot box and picking from a bunch of fixed policies.

Diversity is all about inclusivity.

 

It seems to me that participatory democracy is something that the community is hungering for: this two-way communication activity that has been offered to us has been accepted, and trust that the council will implement our work has been established.

This process is invigorating. At the end of day 1, I’m completely engaged with and addicted to citizen-led and citizen-influenced democracy.

The challenge for me on the next two jury days is to look beyond my priorities and areas of interest to see how they fit in with the bigger picture goals of this process – to refresh the goals of a city for the people, one that is creative, prosperous, full of knowledge, sustainable, and connected, and that reflects a bold and brave vision of what Melbourne could be in 2026.

Digital forensics and digital archiving

Computers today function as personal environments and extensions of self—we inhabit and customize our computers, and their desktops are the reflecting pool of our digital lives. The digital archivist, therefore, has much to learn from techniques that model the computer as a physical environment replete with potential evidence…(Kirschenbaum, Ovenden, & Redwine, 2010, p. 7)

DigitalForensics

http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub149/pub149.pdf

 

I’m six years late getting to this publication, but the parallels drawn between the processes involved in digital forensics and the work of digital archivists makes for fascinating reading. It’s a great example to me of how to keep looking outside your own backyard for novel and interesting strategies that can be made useful for organising, preserving, and providing access to information.

Something that really spoke to me was this:

Perhaps the strongest point we can make is to reinforce the distinction between tools and procedures…Technology is expensive, but methodology is free.

This paper also mentions a JISC/NIPO study (written by Seamus Ross and Ann Gow) from 1999, called Digital Archaeology: Rescuing Neglected and Damaged Data Resources, calling it the:

…starting place for any cultural heritage professional interested in matters of forensics, data recovery, and storage formats… Although more than a decade old, the report remains invaluable.

The Forensics Wiki has a wealth of information for anyone interested in dipping into this field – Ross & Gow cite this as a possible avenue for encouraging cross-disclipline collaboration and sharing of practitioner skills between forensics and the cultural heritage community.

The birth of a Melbourne hipster bot

Today, faced with a dreary, cold, winter-like Melbourne in the middle of summer, I was trudging to the train station suffering from a minor bout of Friday-itis mixed with ongoing Bowie-bereftness.

The first turning point from meh to yay was initiated by a particularly jaunty train driver on the Metro Trains Sandringham line to the city. I’m paraphrasing from memory:

I’ve just had a thought and I wanted to share it with you all. You’re all awesome. I know we’re getting to the end of the week, everyone’s feeling a bit glum in this weather, it’s Friday, patience is running thin by the end of the week, but today no one has forced open the doors or done anything stupid. So thank you, and have a great day.

I saw a whole carriage of blank-faced and device-absorbed humans smile and look a bit happier, a bit lighter. Thank you, mystery train driver. I hope our paths cross again.

The second turning point, and catalyst for this first blog post of 2016, was a collaborative, fun twitter exchange that went on into the morning.

It started here:

The challenge that Hugh was referring to was this:

I love the power of collaboration on Twitter – it was like a hive mind of creativity in a flurry as it escalated:

 

 

 

 

And so begins the birth of a fabulous Twitter bot project. Send any suggestions or ideas for the bot’s brilliance Hugh Rundle‘s way.

OCLC Asia Pacific Regional Council Conference 2015

The seventh OCLC Asia Pacific Regional Council Conference was held at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, on 3-4 December 2015.

Over two days information workers from over 19 countries gathered to share success stories, challenges, and ideas about the future of libraries.

Bringing ideas from business and the world of corporate advertising, keynote speaker Dan Gregory asked an important question that can be useful to all GLAM sectors:

What is the tangible value that you are offering beyond the utilitarian, the merely functional? What is your value proposition?

Gregory also spoke of the importance of engaging communities in ways that enable them to feel ownership, rather than just obligation, and talked of the changes that hyper-connectivity has brought about, in particular how communities and groups can form from shared common values, rather than simply ethnic connections, or geographic location.

Global collaboration was a big theme of the conference, especially with so many different country representatives in attendance, including some from Europe and Canada.

Peter Green asked a great question on Twitter about librarians being good at collaboration generally, but wondering whether we are good at it outside our own circles? I’d love to see this question debated by a lively group of information people.

Lorcan Dempsey‘s thoughts on the networked world and the evolving scholarly record, especially new roles for publishers in thinking about and creating systems that provide workflows and services for the entire research lifecycle, were thought-provoking. I was especially struck by the notion that coordination at scale is required to build and maintain One Big Global Library.

One of my favourite moments of the conference was the answer to an audience question by David Whitehair.

Rather than engaging in an endless debate about schemas and standards, this answer for me succinctly demonstrates a flexible, forward-thinking approach to the challenges that metadata can create for digital records and discoverability.

For me the strongest theme running throughout the conference was that global collaboration is key to building our value propositions and our services so that our cultural institutions do not become extinct. To do this we must be able to foster creativity and innovative ideas by building spaces and time for them into business practices.

 

 

 

 

 

#contextiseverything Whyte Memorial Lecture 2015

Last week I attended the annual Whyte Memorial Lecture, given by Professor Ross Harvey.

The Whyte Memorial Lecture honours the late Jean Whyte (foundation professor in the Graduate School of Librarianship at Monash University, Victoria, Australia) and her sister Phyllis, who left bequests to Monash to support research in librarianship, records, and archives.

In this year’s lecture: Keeping, forgetting, and misreading digital material: libraries learning from archives and recordkeeping practice, Harvey extolled the benefits of archival principles, and called for them to be used for managing digital materials.

“There is much in the toolkit of the archivist that could better equip librarians faced with managing digital materials in ways that ensure that they are not misread and misused in the future – not the least, an understanding of provenance and the preservation of context.”

What Harvey’s lecture did for me was prompt me to reflect on my current professional role. As an information manager working with a repository of grey literature resources that help inform public policy making in a wide range of areas, I now am certain that I must apply archival thinking to the way I do things. I am fortunate in that my role is one without a defined roadmap, and I have to constantly seek out best practice in a lot of different areas: schema development, taxonomy creation, research data management, and linked open data, in order to implement frameworks that work for our resources.

Harvey also spoke of the benefits to be gained from collaboration with others working in different sectors of the information professions. I realised that this is something I already do, both in my workplace and also on other outside projects.

Together with the IT developer at my workplace, we hope to soon mesh our skills to implement ways to provide context for people, organisations, places, and programs, so our resources can become much more than just the sum of their metadata-y parts. Because we collect resources relevant to policy and practice, we have to be preparing now for government changes, as department names inevitably change (often without warning) and sometimes an entire website’s links will go dead for some of the resources we collect. Hello, my old friend the 404 error message.

404-error
Image from: http://404-error.com/

Thanks to this collaboration with IT expertise, I am lucky to have had the chance to learn about systems and machines, and to realise that we need to speak the language of the machine to make things happen the way we want (until they learn to speak our language, by which point they may well take over and decide that our fleshy forms aren’t worth much and machines will rule what’s left of our planet, THANKS Stephen Hawking for giving me nightmares. At least it looks unlikely that robots will take the jobs of archivists or curators, but librarians might be a little worried, and library clerks and assistants – look out!).

I think of myself as an archivally-minded digital librarian – and after Harvey’s lecture I am certain that it is time to step up and make changes to ensure the sustainability of the information I manage. In my current work role, I realise that I need to be implementing the best parts of the archival process now, so that in 10, 20, 50 years, and beyond, people will be able to trace the influential research that was informing policy making, and who was creating it. And most importantly in my mind, I have to provide persistent access to the stuff. There are challenges involved – we work with open source Drupal for a start, with all its interesting, innovative modules (our DOI-minting module is one such undertaking), and its limitations (Drupal depends on its engaged developer community) – but these challenges are not insurmountable, given creative thinking.

It is such an exciting time to be working in this space, and with established professionals like Harvey telling us to ‘get our heads out of the sand’ and promote our skills more widely, it is most definitely time for radical-thinking information professionals to join forces and start making changes to the way we conduct our practice of managing information.

This is a challenge that could perhaps be answered by one inspiring development in Melbourne, Australia – the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Records (GLAMR) New Professionals Group that provides face-to-face forums for all sectors of the information professions to meet and share experiences. This group has the potential to become a strong, powerful representation of the new vanguard of information professionals entering the industry aware that we need to fully utilise all of our different skills for the effective and sustainable management of digital resources.

I am so fortunate to have worked with an archivist and a knowledge manager in other project work, and as a result of this collaboration, my knowledge has already increased exponentially. And yet, I realise there is so much more to learn.

I can feel myself becoming a new breed of information professional, no longer simply ‘librarian’ or ‘archivist’. I am becoming armed with a well-rounded knowledge of how these previously separate disciplines approach common information management problems, and an awareness that together we could do so much more to preserve and provide access to the world’s information.

I must give a thank you to Professor Ross Harvey for a considered yet radical speech, and a thank you to Monash University and the generosity of Jean and Phyllis Whyte that makes this annual lecture possible.

Who knows, perhaps a future Whyte Memorial Lecture could be a group presentation about the radical new changes the GLAMR New Professionals Group makes happen – I’m putting the challenge out there, and I’m mightily keen to be involved in the information profession revolution.

Extra bits
Professor Harvey spoke of many other things in his lecture not touched on in this blog post – preservation, self-archiving digital objects, and the curation of collections by individuals. The full paper is well worth a read.

For another rundown of the event, see Michelle De Aizpurua’s blog post.

To get a sense of the live experience, here’s the Storify, thanks to all the live tweeters.