We Miss iPres

If you are working in digital preservation and you are not collaborating, then you are on a lonely road.

Picture of me collaborating in the social event at WeMissiPres

In one way it doesn’t seem that long since iPres 2019 when I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Amsterdam to attend this excellent international conference. This year the conference was scheduled for Beijing which I would not have been able to attend under normal circumstances. But of course these are not normal circumstances and iPres 2020 has been moved on to iPres 2021. To plug the gap left by the postponement of the conference I was delighted to learn that an informal non-conference We Miss iPres was to be held in the gap left by this postponement. I wasn’t feeling inspired enough to propose a topic to present on but I did volunteer to chair a couple of sessions (which was quite hard enough work as it was!). A huge thank you to all the Friends of iPres who collaborated to make this non conference happen!

An online international event has to take place across a multitude of timezones so I didn’t quite make it to all of it. What I did hear was inspiring and thought provoking and I have already been pencilling up the programme to catch the parts I missed. With so many presentations I couldn’t possibly talk about everything I heard but I’m just going to pick on a few favourites that struck me for one reason and another – have a look through the programme and see what I mean about the variety on offer.

When looking for inspiration in my work I need look no further than Professor Michelle Caswell, whose keynote was one of the highlights of iPres 2019. And she did not disappoint this year and invited us all to imagine what “liberatory digital preservation” might look like, by which she meant digital preservation practice in which we consider things like what the impact of collecting/making available might have on oppressed and marginalised communities and who we are excluding by the way we practice. What resonated particularly with me was that Caswell invited us all to take time to close our eyes and imagine what new ways of practice might look like and feel and how they might be accomplished. In all aspects of preservation work it’s too easy to be swept along on the treadmill of processing and day to day matters that we don’t make time to reimagine our structures and processes and this holds everyone back whether that is in dismantling oppressive structural practice, working towards new ways of working to support environmental sustainability or just trying to imagine how we might do more with less, we are always required to reevaluate and reassess our processes so that we can build fairer, more robust and more sustainable futures.

An example of how this might be put into practice was shared by Daniel Steinmeier (Dutch National Library) who discussed how inclusive practice could both help diversify collections and metadata and also involve and empower communities which would lead to more of the same. I’m really looking forward to reading more about this work in the future.

Barbara Sierman addresses WeMissiPres

Sometimes all this can seem very daunting, especially when stuck at home and faced with huge uncertainties on every front. So it was also heartening to hear a presentation from Somaya Langley (University of Sydney) talking about digitisation and digital preservation and focussing on examining workflow and infrastructure at the University of Sydney to reveal where work was needed.

If I don’t document this within 48 hours it’s gone from my head

Somaya Langley @criticalsenses

She also talked about celebrating small successes which is something I have repeated to myself on days when I feel like I haven’t achieved very much at all. Improving documentation is something which is permanently on my to do list and I will now add looking to see how digital preservation can be “baked in” to digitisation processes (and I think this means a longer and harder look at what those workflows and processes are).

I was really interested to hear about broader themes emerging in the digital preservation community and will spend some time looking at the US National Archives and Records Administration Digital Preservation Framework – a living working document which they are keen for people to use and get feedback from.

In digital preservation circles we often talk about “good enough” and try and consider what that looks like. We are all working with finite resources and need to optimise what we have for the best and most sustainable results. An interesting spin on the question of “what does good enough look like” came from Alex Garnett (Simon Fraser University) who considered the many and varied ways audio visual archives are made accessible – both amateur and professional (whatever that means!) – and what constituted “acceptable” levels of loss of quality in output. Something of a musing on the interplay between the technology and techniques available and the aesthetics and perceptions of “authenticity” there was much to think about and enjoy from his presentation (not least Big Buck Bunny)

There were other moments to savour from the conference including some wonderful films such as The Last Day of Bangkok Trams which Chalida Uabumrungjit from the National Film Archive of Thailand used to illustrate how they had promoted and advocated their work during lockdown (it was one of the most popular downloads and it is indeed charming).

And finally a personal favourite of mine was the film showcased by Andrew Davidson (Robert Gordon University) working on the Fraserburgh on Film project which connects community engagement, audio visual presentation and outreach in a truly magical way.

A wonderful unconference, so much to think about and good to know I am not alone on this road.

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