iPres 2019, Amsterdam

Lovely Amsterdam

iPres is the International Digital Preservation conference which I am lucky enough to have attended twice now (the first was three years ago in Bern which I wrote about here).

It’s a massive conference which is far too big to get round all of and thankfully (for either those not able to clone themselves or alternatively for those not able to come) includes online papers and also on line collaborative note taking, which means it is possible to catch up on some things at a distance or even later.

So I just thought I’d highlight some of the sessions which I enjoyed – there were many I missed – and what my main take aways were.

Arriving to the venue by ferry was a big hit with everyone – like the United Kingdom the Netherlands is a maritime nation and it’s great to remember that it’s not just about canals. The venue at the EYE museum was stunning on the waterfront but it did involve a lot more climbing than I had bargained for, particularly in a flat country like the Netherlands…

Eye Museum of Film, Amsterdam

The kick off session was a workshop on the Preservation Action Registry – this was really useful for me as it helped me understand more about how I might document my actions better. Documenting what we actually do and also what we don’t do and indeed what we used to do but don’t any more. It might mean capturing the “people and process” part of preservation in a machine readable way. I got much more insight into how I might analyse all the processes which go into preservation work to create far better and more useful documentation strategies.

Then it was straight off to the Digital Preservation Coalition’s DP Anonymous where we are invited to share stories about digital preservation challenges (we don’t say failures) and it was gripping stuff (although as it’s Chatham House Rules I can say no more than that). I presented on my recent struggles with setting up a virus checking workflow and it was great to share because I had some practical helpful suggestions of what to do next.

The conference proper opened on Tuesday with a keynote from Geert Lovink, writer and activist. There was a lot to like about this and I think I was not the only person to respond positively to his call to value our networks – particularly those which take place in the same physical space. Lovink is a very persuasive speaker but at the end – partly because I come from a different political and cultural angle – I found I didn’t agree with him on all counts and instead was inclined to agree with comments from the floor from Leslie Johnson of NARA describing successful networks supported in spite of or indeed because of existing corporate structures.

Delicious conference catering

As I have outlined in a previous post I am really interested in skills development in the archives sector so it was a really good opportunity to hear about a number of projects from around the world looking at this. And at an international conference there is the opportunity not just to hear about projects but also meet the people driving them and benefit from their experience so I was particularly thrilled to meet Angela Beking from Library and Archives Canada and Jaye Weatherburn from the University of Melbourne who are variously spearheading initiatives to help fellow professionals develop their skills. Beking presented on her work developing a collaborative model for knowledge transfer aka “digital detention” which got great feedback from the staff who were undertaking it. Weatherburn meanwhile has been instrumental in leading Australasia Preserves which is aiming to support the growth in a community of practice across a large geographic region. All of this has given me a huge amount of food for thought and I hope to be able to build on this community development work in the future.

A strong theme of the conference

The keynote on Day Two was especially welcome as I wasn’t at the 2018 Archives and Records Association conference so missed that opportunity to hear from Professor Michelle Caswell of UCLA. I have recently read her piece on Feminist Standpoint Appraisal and it was great to be reminded how all of us – whatever role we play in safeguarding, curating or making archives and/or data available have a role to play in ensuring that this is done with equity and it does not reinforce the hierarchies of oppression. None of us are neutral operators and we and the collections we manage are a part of society and if we want to see a change, we are the ones to enact that change through our practice.

I really enjoyed the poster sessions and it’s such a privilege to be able to talk to people directly about their research. My main criticism was that I couldn’t get round them all but I did enjoy hearing from, amongst others, Merle Friedrich of the German National Library of Science of Technology about their analysis of AV file formats which complemented the poster from the Open Preservation Foundation on significant properties of spreadsheets, both examples of studies which lead us all to a better understanding of formats.

Me on the big stage

On the Thursday I really enjoyed the lightning talks – despite giving one myself (which is not what you might call enjoyable). The range and breadth of topics covered and calls for contributions was fantastic, from Harvard’s Wolbach Library Project Phaedra, through the TRUST principles being developed for digital repositories and the file format work happening at NARA and I think session included the best conference slide on distributed storage services

Digital preservation is all about the unicorn magic!

iPres 2019 was a great conference and I’m just sorry I didn’t have time to see a bit more of Amsterdam. It was a great privilege to attend and a particularly exciting to be able to speak at the ad hoc session. A massive thank you to the organisers and all the participants – a conference is made by the community after all. I hope to be able to spend a bit more time looking at the contributions and putting into practice what I learnt from the conference.

Reward for all our hard work

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