Following our conversations around digital preservation through a “peer compare” format, Hoa Luong, Jon Petters, and I submitted a paper to iPRES 2022. We were elated when the paper was accepted, both to have the chance to discuss our work in Glasgow, but also to represent the DCN on this international level. As we were preparing for our presentation (slides available), reviewing the conference program, and generally getting excited, I was also wondering – how much of this conference would be applicable to our work?
Throughout this five day conference, which was filled with workshops, presentations, networking opportunities, and professional visits to cultural heritage sites, iPRES 2022 really drove home the overlap between the data curation and digital preservation communities. While our communities sometimes approach our work from different perspectives, we all have the long-term goal of preserving digital objects over time. While there are far too many overlapping interests to list below in great detail, here were my Top 5 Takeaways:
5. Thinking about the reuser
One of my favorite sentiments is one articulated by Normand Charbonneau, International Council of Archives, 2019, that “Preservation without access is merely hoarding.” In all of the iPRES 2022 sessions I attended, the speakers often brought the conversation back to users: current users and, equally important, future users. It’s not enough to just protect the bits with which we’ve been trusted– we have to make them accessible into the long term. We have to make informed decisions now about file formats, metadata standards, and preservation practices while knowing that the future is unknowable, as technology will evolve and user needs will change.
Similarly, considering the needs of future data reusers is fundamental, and drives curation practices. Will a future reuser of this dataset be able to understand the documentation, to be able to open and run any code, to be able to reproduce findings or even use the data in new ways?
4. Digging into file formats
Data curation often requires in-depth explorations of file formats– understanding why a creator chose a certain format or another, analyzing the tradeoffs of migrating from a proprietary to open source version, and understanding how the format might be usable in different applications. At iPRES, there were several sessions in which attendees had the opportunity to really unpack and understand the nuances of file formats, such as Tyler Thorsted’s explorations of Macintosh Resource Forks, or Crystal Sanchez at the Library of Congress who described her experience shadowing videographers to better understand the different formats they create in.
Most of these discussions were incredibly specific, but it was the passion with which presenters and audience members discussed these formats and their preservability, including the tradeoffs of different formats, that resonated with conversations we often have when curating datasets, and, well, it was just incredibly lovely to be in a space where discussing file format nuances is not only welcome, but even celebrated.
3. Facilitating transfer from creation to archive
Ease of transfer of content from the creators to the steward was another key area of overlap I noticed between digital preservation and our discussions around data curation. At iPRES, many presenters described their experiences creating and refining workflows, both technical and social, that would facilitate the transfer of records from the creators to the archive. In particular, in a way that not only protects the provenance of the content and includes requisite documentation, but also in a way that simplifies the burdens of all parties. For example, Garth Stewart at the National Records of Scotland, described the process of ingesting born-digital records, and the need for robust metadata and a manifest file (not unlike a README file).
In the realm of data curation, and supporting open research outputs, these are things we think about regularly. How can we make it easier for researchers to share their content in ways that are FAIR and in alignment with the CARE principles? How can we reduce their burden of having to duplicate effort (e.g., adding details to a README file and entering it on the repository website)? We don’t have the answers– but it seems like this might be an area for continued collaboration.
2. Community support
As I mentioned, I was excited to engage with another community, actively working to address shared challenges and advance the profession. Digital preservation, much like curation, requires the support of your colleagues: sharing best practices and tools, collaborating to develop solutions for the entire community, and the ability to connect with a colleague long after the conference ends to learn from each other and improve our local practices. Without these ties to our community, we can feel isolated. At iPRES, I absolutely loved the support of the community, and how many sessions described work to build more community. The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), the Network of expertise in long term storage and availability of digital resources in Germany (NESTOR), and Preservation Watch, a Supra-Organizational community within Dutch Digital Heritage Network were all represented. Each of these communities, alone and in concert with the international digital preservation community, are collaborating to share knowledge, improve practices locally and globally, and center the connectivity and humanity at the core of our work.
Which brings us to my final takeaway. Just as in the DCN, iPRES really focused on and celebrated the people behind the work. Nathan Tallman, Digital Preservation Librarian at DCN Sustaining Institution, Penn State University, said: “Digital preservation work is done by people; collectively, it takes a lot of people… to support digital preservation infrastructure.” Similarly, during the first keynote, Amina Shah remarked that digital preservation is a socio-technical challenge– and we often think about refreshing, updating, and tending to the technology, but the social component is equally important.
One of the things I have always loved, and continue to look forward to every day, is the people at the center of the DCN. iPRES is another community that really centers the people doing the work.
This was a truly incredible opportunity– I’m already looking forward to iPRES 2023, which will be held at a DCN Sustaining Institution, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign! Can’t wait to see you all there.
Disclosure: The Data Curation Network supported the travel costs of DCN Director, Mikala Narlock, to attend iPres 2022, held in Glasgow, Scotland, to present “We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got: Digital preservation practices of Data Curation Network members.”