As part of the JISC ITT Workshops & Seminars: Achievements & Challenges in Digitisation & e-Content strand JISC Digital Media have hosted two free seminars focussing on key topics for individuals involved with digital media. Today I attended the second of these entitled The digital media collection +100 years.
Obsolescence, deterioration of physical storage media or withdrawal of institutional support: just what will prove to be the greatest threat to the materials we digitise today? This seminar projects one hundred years into the future and attempts to predict the future ‘preservability’ of what we digitise today. This seminar will examine changing user demands and inevitable developments in technology.
After a brief opening from Dave Kilbey of JISC Digital Media the scene setting introduction was given by Dr William Kilbride, Executive Director of the Digital Preservation Coalition.
The Preservation Landscape
As well as the more conventional look at the key issues (the volumes of data available, the complexities and complicated requirements of this data teamed with rising public expecations) William gave a really interesting talk on the path of literacy. He demonstrated through the Stroop interferance test how once we can read and write we tend to process this information quicker that image information. The result is a that literate cultures tend to be hegemonic through discursive power. His point was that the consequences of our work are not inevitable or neutral: digitisation is a social practice that can be used for good and for ill. After this slight aside William ran us through some of the main challenges which include obsolescence of technologies, correct configuration of hardware, software and operators, and the need for a constantly managed service. He ended with a few ‘answers’ from a survey of recent JISC digitisation projects. When asked how long their resources were to be available answers varied from “perpetuity” to “forever or three years”. He concluded that digital preservation is possible but our legacy will be what we make of it and cannot be taken for granted.
The Camera Raw format and preservation
Nigel Goldsmith, a photographer working for JISC Digital Media gave a quick run through of the possibilities of using Raw camera format. Raw offers the photographer greater control over the processing of their images, however this flexibility comes at a price. Raw is a proprietary format which requires specialist applications to view. Nigel’s suggestion was to archive raw but to keep it along side another format, possibly tiff or Jpeg2000.
Preservation Metadata Initiatives and Standards
After coffee Getaneh Alemu from the Humanities Computing Department, the University of Portsmouth gave us a whirlwind tour of state-of-the-art metadata standards and how metadata can help ensure the integrity, identity and authenticity of digital documents. His overview included a look at OAIS, NLA PANDORA, CEDARS, NEDLIB, LMER, PREMIS, and METS metadata initiatives and standards. He concluded that at the moment preservation metadata formats tend to have element naming issues that descriptive metadata initiatives don’t tend to have.
The challenges of archiving computer games and other multipart digital interactives
After lunch Tom Woolley from the National Media Museum talked about some of the digital media preservation issues they are tackling on-site at the museum. The museum is involved in a number of initiatives that aim to let visitors ‘have a go’ at old games and old internet environments. The tricky dilema is giving users a taster of old games in a cost effective way, actually using original kit (like ZX Spectrums) would have a heavy cost attatched. The key is often emulation. The museum also try to capture the context of games by capturing fan information, discussion forums, FAQs etc. Tom was followed by James Newman from Bath Spa University who works with Tom on the National Video Game Archive.
James talked about one of the biggest challenges of video game archiving: supersession. Within the gaming world there is a tendency to be always looking for the ‘next big game’ which has resulted in an environment where games creators don’t value old games. Although there is a niche market for retro games, gaming is an area where the experience is almost completely associated with the technology, making archiving very difficult.
The importance of collaboration
Simon Tanner, director of King’s Digital Consultancy Services focused on institutional preservation and the importance of collaboration in sustainability. He started off by saying that one of the biggest challenges is that we may run out of the minerals to make microchips. He later played on the climate issue again by saying that he currently saw digital preservation as sitting in the same space as climate change: people viewed it as potentially a terrible thing (the loss of digital objects) but currently it does not impact on individuals, so it remains low on the priority list. Simon pointed out that sustainability of resources was becoming a mandate but remains an unfunded mandate. The way to deal with this was through the ecology of collaboration – within your institution and out side.
A Poisoned Chalice? Accepting Responsibility for Sustainable Access
The day concluded with a talk from Neil Grindley, JISC Programme Manager for Digital Preservation. Neil pointed out ath ensuring that an organisation’s digital assets are safe, secure and accessible for the long term should (in theory) be an interesting, responsible and useful role for anyone in an organisation to accept. The critical importance of digital assets, the ubiquity of digital methods and the need for people in all walks of life to have effective means to refer to persistent sources of data reinforce this notion. How is it then that long-term asset management, information lifecycle management, data curation, digital preservation (call it what you will) is often regarded as a peripheral specialist activity that it is difficult to resource, complex to carry out, and delivers benefits that are, at best, simply an insurance policy rather than an activity that adds value to an organisation? Neil’s presentation examined the importance of defining clear roles for those involved with digital preservation and considered the importance of associating this professional activity with strategic and tactical frameworks. He advocated the need for allocation of responsibility and internal preservation policies. JISC has spent 6 million in the digital preservation arena between 2005 and 2009, yet there is still work to be done. He concluded by pointing out the need for human judgement when deciding what to keep and predicted that in the future digital preservation will be integrated with administration departments, have better tools and will take more terms from the cultural heritage area.
After Neil’s talk there was a panel session and time for questions, unfortunately I had to leave to make the difficult drive home through rush hour traffic!
The day was an interesting one, although the talks were a real mixed bag they all offered constructive steps forward to make today’s digital media collection something that we may be able to access and use 100 years on.