Wednesday, October 11, 2006

iPRES 2006: Day 2 and conference report

The weather in Ithaca was beautiful for the conference (Oct. 9 - 10). Often October in Ithaca (NY) can be cold and gray, but the skies were blue and it was sunny. Those who came to the conference truly saw the area at its best, at least in terms of its weather. It was a good time to see the fall foliage. Now however, there is talk of snow in the forecast for this weekend. C'est la vie!

Rather than talking about each individual session, let me write what stood out to me about the iPRES conference.
  • Merging of libraries and archives -- Okay, they aren't physically merging, but libraries and archives are realizing that they are more similar than different these days. Ian Wilson impressed upon us that our users want access to information and that the distinction between a library and an archive means nothing to them. (We might also say that the distinction between these institutions and museums is also fading in our users' minds.) It is imperative that we learn each others lingo, start to use a common language, and jointly create systems that will meet our users' needs.
  • Acronyms -- There were many acronyms used during the conference. That brought to mind the question of what constitutes basic familiarity in regards to digital preservation. What acronyms should a person know? What technologies or systems? What should be intuitive obvious? Answering those questions may not be important to you, but as I think about introducing graduate students to digital preservation more -- in a class that is not specifically about digital preservation -- I will need to make decisions on what will be critical for them to learn as building blocks for the future. Must they, for example, know all the acronyms that were used during the conference?
  • Modern oral history -- We think that we are producing more documentation now, then ever before, but some government agencies are using oral methods more in order to prevent formal records from being kept (from Ian Wilson). In order to preserve a record of what has occurred, we must find ways of capturing information through interviews, etc., whenever possible.
  • What should governments preserve? -- Ken Thibodeau from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration talked about the amount of information being transmitted in the government via e-mail. Should all e-mails be archived or can they devise methods to eliminate e-mails that are not important, such as travel arrangements? We can each likely quote an incident where it was the informal records in a government that showed the government's intent. Personally, I think that although weeding through e-mails sounds good, in the long run it may be detrimental to understanding how a government functioned, but I'm sure others will disagree.
  • Sell your funders on preserving access -- Yes, preserving content for the future is good to do, but funding agencies will care more if you say that you are preserving access. You want to ensure that this digital information is available for people to use for the long-term AND that people can indeed access it.
  • Dark archive -- On Tuesday, a few of us talked about this term over lunch. Is it a good term to use? Does it send the correct message to our funding agencies? We also talked about when information in a dark archive can "come into the light" and be accessed by regular people. None of us at the table had a good handle on that. We all realized that it was a licensing issue (and something that some of the presenters might have tackled briefly). Most importantly, we saw it as something that would need to defined, since we are preserving the information so that a copy can be accessed.
  • What is important for you to archive? -- China is putting plans in place to archive foreign and domestic science and technology literature. They analyzed their information needs and identified a weakness. The weakness is that they heavily reliant on foreign science and technology e-literature. What would happen if a disaster struck and they suddenly did not have access to it? Are they archiving other things? Yes, but I found it interesting that this specific digital preservation effort was based on a real understanding of what is important to them as a nation.
  • Social issues -- As with many technologies, it is not the technology that matters but the social issues that go along with them. Ian Wilson talked about this and other presenters also touched on it. In order to work on digital preservation and create the needed systems/methods, we need to talk to each other, understand each other, and figure out ways of working together (collaborate). Once we do that, we can tackle an technology problem that comes our way.
  • Look-and-feel -- When you create a digital archive of materials, do you maintain the original look-and-feel of those materials? Do you normalize the file formats, which might alter the look-and-feel? Does the look-and-feel convey important information? It was interesting hearing presenters talk about normalizing file formats, maintaining or not maintaining the original look-and-feel, as well as migrating files on the fly. Which is right? Likely they all are.
  • Active preservation -- Digital preservation is not a passive activity. Vicky Reich, from the LOCKSS Program, talked about how a book on a shelf will (basically) not change if it is ignored. After a year, it can still be read. But the same cannot be said for digital files. Evidently there have been studies done on the changes that will occur with digital files that are ignored. Think of it this way -- if a page in a book yellows due to the environment it is in, it is doesn't change the content on the page. The book can still be read. But if the environment changes a file -- even just a byte -- data can be lost and the file may be unusable.
  • Trusted repository -- There was talk of checklists under development in order to audit digital repositories and understand if they could be trusted. Although it may be possible to certify a repository, it seems better (at least for now) to use the checklists to understand processes, shortfalls, and manage risk. The checklists and audits also help to create transparency. It is important that what a trusted repository does not be all "smoke and mirrors." The more transparent the repository's work, the more it will likely be trusted. (It could be that the repository is not transparent to everyone, but only to those who audit it and make some pronouncement of the repository's abilities.)
  • Rights -- There was talk about copyright and other legal restrictions. Depending on what you are archiving, rights may be an important concerns. Do you have the right to digitally archive the materials? Is the information so important that you archive it anyway (understanding that archive and access are two different things)? Can you honor any legal restrictions concerning access of the materials, if access is granted?
  • Distributed responsibilities -- Can we work together to create digital archives and make those digital archives trusted through distributed responsibilities? We talk about collaborative digitization projects as being the most successful projects. Is the same true for digital preservation programs? I think the concept of distributed responsibilities ties into that of a "safe place network." This is a network of digital archives where you know your materials will be safe.
  • Life cycle management -- What we are doing is managing electronic files through a life cycle. Many libraries may not think of documents (electronic files) as having life cycles, but I'm sure corporations and government agencies -- who maintain retention schedules -- do.
I'm sure there is more that I should note, but I'll stop. It was two days full of answers and questions. A conference full of ideas and ideals.

In other iPRES news...

Salwa from the Judaica Sound Archives gave me a brochure about their collection. What stood out to me was that the brochure has a section that says "Check Out Our Website to..." and the first thing listed is:
Find out more about how to safely and inexpensively mail your precious recordings to us.
This is a project that understands that it is saving history and culture. It wants to save as much as it can and the only way to do it is to obtain recordings from other people. In another part of the brochure, they say that "The Judaica Music Rescue Project can provide special packing boxes so that mailing the records from anywhere in the world is both easy and safe."

I do not know who else may have blogged iPRES except Emmanuelle (Figoblog). You can read her thoughts -- in French -- at If you do not read French, you can use Babelfish to translate the text. The translation is not perfect, but hopefully good enough so that you will understand her thoughts. If anyone else did blog the conference -- no matter the language -- please let me know. Thanks!

Meeting a group of people with similar professional interests was great. We had a chance to talk about our work. But the fun conversations were about other aspects of our lives -- and isn't that how we get to know each other? Topics? Queen Noor, the design of the Bibliotheque nationale de France, zoning laws, how people traveled to Ithaca, and more. The conversations were always lively and showed us that we had more in common than our interest in digital preservation. Now that we know each other, it will be easier to work together and collaborate.

Finally, iPRES 2007 will be held in China, where the first iPRES was held in 2004. I hope they will implement some podcast or webcast options for those who will not be able to be physically present at the conference.

Oh...I'll post some useful URLs from the conference later in the week. Most are actually in the PowerPoint presentations, but those are not online yet. (10/16/2006: Okay...I still haven't posted the URLs. I've been in too many meetings. I'll get to in the next couple of days. I promise.)

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1 comment:

Abigail said...

I just posted a brief entry: