Introductions & Why Bother?

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Ten people are attending including me. Most are from publicly funded organisations such as the Scottish National Archives, Scottish National Library, The National Archives, N. Ireland Public Records Office, Natural History Museum, Durham University and The University of London. Reassuringly, most people said that, like AI, they are in the early stages of developing a digital archive and digital preservation policies.

The first presentation is entitled, ‘Why bother? Incentives and risks in digital preservation.’ Mostly familiar stuff explaining why the preservation of digital data is important. The speakers acknowledge that they are preaching to the converted but I suppose it’s important we get it out of the way. Perhaps because many delegates are from publicly funded organisations, they’ve highlighted how one of the stimuli for developing preservation strategies and implementing digital preservation archives is because their funding bodies expect them to so that data can be re-used. A later PPT slide (oh, sweet lamb of God! a week of Powerpoint Presentations…), showed how over the last decade, the re-use of existing data has increased at a rate far greater than the production of data. So it speaks for itself. If people want to and expect to be able to re-use existing data, then there’s a need to preserve it.

More interesting (and unverifiable) facts to come out of this first session is that the world produces the equivalent of 37,000 Library of Congresses each year. I’m glad it wasn’t my job to work out the figures for that. Lots of data is being created each year with 75% of it being digital. Yet, three times of this data flows unrecorded, 99% via the telephone. So let’s not get too hung up on preserving every last piece of information we exchange. Like much in life, it’s about prioritising and selecting the right type of information to be recorded. The Curator’s job.

The now infamous BBC Doomsday Project was discussed and also the more interesting NASA Viking Mission where information from a Mars landing was ‘preserved’ on data tape which, when needed 30 years later, was found to be deteriorating, despite being in what was considered decent environmental conditions. Significantly, it was this incident that led to NASA leading the creation of the OAIS Reference Model (see links to the right), the main subject of this week’s training programme.

Finally, this first session discussed Mind The Gap, the new report on the state of digital preservation in the UK. Highlights include:

  • 84% of respondents to a questionnaire for the report agreed there were legal drivers to preserve in their organisations.
  • 73% recognised that if they failed to comply they would be failing to meet legal requirements.
  • 70% of UK companies use email for contract negotiations, HR letters and financial transactions.
  • 81% were able to specify a lifetime for the digital information and had to keep some of it for at least 50 years. How?
  • 64% need to preserve digital data in order to protect intellectual property.
  • 22% preserve to support patent applications.
  • Over 80% recognised that their organisations would benefit from improved access to information brought about by having a suitably catalogued and searchable digital repository.
  • 50% of respondents still print out documents in order to preserve them!
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