Sunday, April 05, 2009

DigCCurr 2009

I was in Chapel Hill the first week of April for the DigCCurr 2009 conference and to attend a meeting to brainstorm about personal digital collection preservation. I thought the conference was very good, better than the first one in 2007. I saw many excellent presentations, had some great conversations, and got a good response to my presentation on LC's work with file transfer and inventory tools. As with the last conference, I walked out thinking that I should have been an archivist.

I strongly recommend the proceeding form DigCCurr 2009. They're available as a free download from Lulu, or you can buy a POD version. You can also look up the very active twittering history at #digccurr.

I found it strangely hard to write up my notes from this meeting. I think it's because I'm still struggling with some aspects of the digital preservation problem space.

I absolutely agree that the activities of traditional archival practice have a place in the preservation of digital records. Where I found myself disagreeing with some presenters is in the balance between collecting and saving what we can versus an appraisal process to select what we will collect/save. In collection development practices for general collections, there is the often-held discussion about never knowing what might prove useful in the future, so it is a disservice to be too selective now. I guess that I have taken that point of view to heart, and I want to see our institutions cast as open a net as possible for digital collections. If we don't grab it when we can, there will be nothing to select.

I also found myself bristling occasionally over the implied scope of the term "digital collections" as I most often heard that phrase used at the meeting. There was very much a focus on electronic records and the digital realm of personal papers. Of course there were some great discussions around multimedia, web sites, audio/video, and image collections, but what I pretty much never heard anybody mention was born-digital scholarship and teaching and learning materials.

My first web site preservation project was at the Harvard Design School in the late 1990s, where, while developing courseware software, I realized that we were losing the history of what we taught and the products of the courses as we overwrote sites every term. Part of an institution's records are its lists of course offerings, course syllabi and reading lists, and, for some courses, the projects that the students created and put online in the course site. This was particularly true at at graduate school with programs in architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning where the studio courses produced important site-specific work and case studies that was often lost after every term. I felt so strongly about this that I launched a course site preservation project that would have involved retrieving sites off server archives. We were looking at using METS (in its early days) to map the sites. But, as often happens, I ended up leaving before the project got very far along and no one felt nearly as devoted to the project as I did and it didn't go very far.

At UVA we launched a project called "Sustaining Digital Scholarship" to preserve born-digital scholarship, primarily in the humanities and social sciences. We instituted a technical assessment process and were working on documenting and migrating some major digital scholarly resources with varying strategies. That project is still going on in a limited way. It can take a lot of resources to assess and document a large digital archive.

That said, I was excited by some of the tools that I saw. ACE from the University of Maryland. MOPSEUS from Greece. The PARSE.Insight draft preservation roadmap. CASPAR for representation information. PLATO and Hoppla from Austria. LANL's ReMember Framework for OAI-ORE. CDL's Pairtree directory structure. Prometheus and MediaPedia from Australia. All very much worth looking into.

There was also a thread in this meeting on the use of digital forensics, transitioning some tools and practices from legal digital forensics into archival digital forensics. This interested me very much and I intend to read up in this area.

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