DIGITAL PRESERVATION NEWS themes of 2015

Roughly annual opinions from the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Head of Research and Practice, Paul Wheatley. Opinions are the opinions of Paul and those featured. Not the DPC. They’re just opinions, ok?

By request, this is my summing up of the big themes in digital preservation from 2015. It’s based on my weekly meta-blogged trawl of the #digitalpreservation twitterverse and my experiences of chatting and working with our DPC members. As usual, these are of course still just my opinions.

The #digitalpreservation community finally sat up and made quite a lot of noise at the suggestion that there was going to be a “digital black hole”. I’m not sure we’re winning yet, but we’re fighting a good fight as the #nodigitaldarkage fun nicely reinforced. Clearly the digital preservation world is now a force to be reckoned with. We’ve really come a long way since our first tentative steps as a community in the late 1990s.

Copyright was as usual a fascinating but depressing topic. The various international trade deals (TTIP, TTP etc) marched onwards with rights holders at the reigns and little in the way of obstacles. It’s difficult of course to protest against something when you have to rely on leaks to discover what the fine print says. Whether individual countries will adopt when it comes to the (possibly) more democratic part of the process remains unclear. But it’s not looking good. UK law took several steps back, and frankly looked ludicrous, when the Copyright and Rights in Performances (Personal Copies for Private Use) Regulations 2014 were overturned by the High Court. Picturing any progress towards a more enlightened copyright regime (for our sector at least) is somewhat difficult in this context. I think the digital preservation community should be developing a unified and stronger voice on IPR in 2016.

In the UK, austerity has continued to erode and imperil many publicly-funded organisations. Digital preservation seems to have largely escaped the worst cuts, and the DPC’s membership has continued to rapidly increase as agencies instinctively look to collaborate where once they might have worked in isolation. Having said that, almost everywhere has been in a near constant state of reorganisation, taking an ongoing toll on staff time and morale. Continuous news of public library closures have been the public face of this colossal, short-sighted dismantling of information infrastructure. In my own backyard, the National Media Museum in Bradford survived a battle for survival, only in the last week to see announcements apparently to the contrary. There are of course many other examples right across the country.

Outsourcing digital preservation became a much more realistic proposition in 2015, particularly with web archiving but also with cloud based (full digital preservation) services hitting their stride. In one sense this is great. There are people we can have some trust in to do DP for us. In another sense, this creates another tricky problem. You can’t ever really trust anyone to do any preservation for you. How do you verify that they are doing the job well, without duplicating the work you’ve paid them to do?

Emulation continued its rapid march towards a seemingly inevitable dominance. The DPC proclaimed 2014 as the year of emulation (well actually that was me, DPC just gave the big DP Awards prize to our esteemed colleagues at Freiburg) but in 2015 technology advances and real applications that demonstrate the approach as both practical and cost effective, appeared thick and fast. While the emulation technology is rapidly moving from clever concept to practical product, the raw material is being left behind. Software preservation, at least in the UK, seems to be largely ignored as I blogged about some months back. Where is our Software Preservation Network?

ERMS’s seem to be reaching practical end of life for many organisations, amidst the death of any optimistic hopes of records management delivering substantial rewards for those picking up the pieces of the “managing current business data” phase of the information lifecycle. Is this grossly oversimplifying the issues? Almost certainly, but it’s what I heard a lot of in 2015. ERMS vendor lock continued to get in the way of moving archival data to the preservation store. There is of course a near complete lack of DP requirements in these systems being used. There was the usual issue of poor adherence to records management procedures but it’s the IT solutions that often fail to make the procedures practical for those on the ground. There were headline hitting data leaks. And of course there was a blizzard of data that in most cases did a lot more than threaten an overwhelming of capability. These seem to be amongst the main drivers of this broader challenge, but there are more. The response appears to be an alarming move towards mass deletion, political moves to squash FOI, indiscriminate broad strokes selection policies, and more simple information management systems that don’t look like they’re going to do much better than the ERMS’s of old. The outcome is of course a lot of digital junk to appraise. I think we need a complete sea change in how we implement appraisal and we need a drive towards the intelligent application of software tools for sifting and filtering at scale, drawing on the kind of information analysis our web archiving colleagues are getting rather good at. Without placing too fine a point on it, the huge leap required here will not be easy for many archives to make. Richard Ovenden noted in his State of the Coalition address, as the new DPC President, that “mismanaging personal data is the corporate scandal du jour…” whether in the public or private sector. Getting serious about information management and preservation seems to be more essential than ever for avoiding short term disaster as well as ensuring long term sustainability.

Digital preservation seems to finally have broken through into the commercial world in earnest. This was signposted by the vendor showcase at iPRES at the end of 2014, and of course repeated at the same (really successful) conference in North Carolina in 2015. With a big marketing drive, Preservica dominated the market in the UK, although Arkivum seem to be doing none too badly as well. Libnova was the ‘new’ commercial offering on the block. Not to omit the progression of open source solutions such as Archivematica, which saw significant and exciting additions from many sectors. Commercial interest in DPC membership was on the rise in a significant way, and it feels like the digital preservation community is going to change in its make up quite rapidly over the next few years. Interesting times ahead…

Want to know what 2016 will hold? Well I can’t see into the future, so you’ll have to just put up with reading my news blog every week….

Thanks to the DPC team for their feedback and contributions to this post.

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DIGITAL PRESERVATION NEWS themes of 2015

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