Memory Makers 2018

Beautiful Amsterdam

I was extremely lucky to be at the Amsterdam Museum for both the Memory Makers: Digital Skills and How to Get Them conference and also the Digital Preservation Awards 2018 , where excellent practice across the sector was recognised and rewarded.

I missed the ePADD workshop in the morning but I did get to meet Josh Schneider later – which was great – so I need to make sure I follow up on my email preservation work so I can bother him with more questions in the future.  That’s one of the really great things about conferences – you get to meet people whose work you have followed and admired – this helps create connections, establishes areas of interest and builds communities. 

The conference was kicked off with an inspiring but impossible to summarise keynote from Eppo van Nissen tot Sevenaer, Director of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Beeld en Geluid) in which he encouraged us all to be archivist activists and quoted William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus“.  It fired us all up for a conference which explored how digital preservation knowledge is taught, acquired and disseminated.

The first session focussed on teaching “Digital Preservation” (there was quite a bit of discussion about what constituted this and how it was best described in terms of curricula). Eef Masson of the University of Amsterdam who teaches on a Masters Programme on Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image discussed how the disciplines of film and media studies intersected with and led to collaboration with the traditional archives programmes – to everyone’s benefit. Sarah Higgins from University of Aberystwyth talked frankly about the difficulties of engaging students from humanities backgrounds with digital skills.  Many (although by no mean all) people choosing a career in archives do so because they like “old things” – this struck a chord with to me as I am a medievalist by training and I have learned to “love the bits”.  How did I get there and how can I take others there with me?  It seems there is a need to engage and inspire people with our less tangible digital heritage.  Later that evening on receiving her DPC Fellowship award Barbara Sierman said:

One of my big take aways from the conference was how to engage people with digital preservation and encourage people to get as excited about it as I am!  After Sarah Higgins, Simon Tanner rounded off the session talking us through Kings College’s Digital Asset and Media Management MA which boomed in numbers once they added the word “Media” into the title.  The list of MA student dissertation topics sounded absolutely fascinating and very varied. Tanner explained that they don’t teach Digital Preservation as a module but rather it is woven into the fabric of the degree.

Sharon McMeekin of the Digital Preservation Coalition began the second session of the afternoon by talking through the survey of what kind of training members said they wanted (which might not necessarily be the same as what they ought to be focussing on…).  She encouraged sharing best and worst (!) practice and emphasised that Digital Preservation is a career of continuous learning – something to be aware of when employing someone in that role.  Next was Maureen Pennock of the British Library who illustrated an enviable internal advocacy strategy. She explained:

The final speaker of the day – Chantal Keijsper of the Utrecht Archives – described the “Twenty First Century” skills and competencies needed to realise our digital ambitions.

The evening was taken up with the Digital Preservation Award 2018 which you can read about here. They were all worthy winners and there were many extremely unlucky losers.  Almost all of my nominees won their category – I’m saying nothing beyond re-iterating my love for ePADD – they were very worthy winners in their category!

Jen Mitcham of the DPC and me at the awards ceremony

Day two of the conference was a chance for some of the Award finalists to showcase their work.  First up was Amber Cushing from University College Dublin discussing the research done to try and build the digital information management course at the institution. In a targeted questionnaire aimed at those who had responsibility for digital curation there was a surprising lack of awareness of what digital preservation/curation was and a confusion between digital preservation and digitisation. Next up was Rosemary Lynch who was part of the Universities of Liverpool and Ibadan (Nigeria) project to review their Digital Curation curriculum. Both institutions learnt a lot from the process and enabled them to make changes to their student offer. With support from the  International Council on Archives this project has helped make standard and other resources available in countries where there this can be difficult.  Next was Frans Neggers from the Dutch Digital Heritage Network (Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed) talking about the Leren Preserveren course launched in October 2017 enabling Dutch students to learn practical digital preservation skills.  They have had excellent feedback from the course: 

I expected that I would learn about digital preservation, but I learned a lot about my own organization, too”

Student on the Leren Preserveren project

and Neggers added that another benefit was raising the profile of the Dutch Digital Heritage Network – often this course was how people got to find out about the organisation.  The final speaker in this session was Dorothy Waugh from Emory University, one of a group of archivists who have developed the Archivist’s Guide to Kryoflux.  I can testify that this is an invaluable piece of work for anyone planning to (in my case) or actually using a Kryoflux device (designed to read obsolete digital media carriers).  The Kryoflux was developed by audio visual specialists and does not come with archivist-friendly instructions:

In the final session we heard some great examples of training and advocacy.  Jasper Snoeren from the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision (Beeld en Geluid) talked about their “Knowledge Cafes” where they invite staff to share a drink and learn about curation and preservation. He discussed how to turn a sector into a community: run very focussed training programmes and keep people engaged in between. Puck Huitsing from the Dutch Network of War Collections (Netwerk Oorlogsbronnen)follwed and had a great deal of useful advice which would constitute a blog post in itself although my favourite quote was probably:

Rounding off an extremely useful and successful event, Valerie Jones from the UK National Archives presented the Archives Unlocked Strategic Vision for the sector, tempering this by saying:

If you’re going to innovate, just do it. Don’t write reports. Just go.

Valerie Jones, UK National Archives

I learnt a great deal at this conference and as usual I have added more to my “to do” list, especially around tackling internal advocacy and I can’t wait to start putting this into practice.

Stroopwaffels and coffee
Stroopwaffels and coffee kept me going!

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