Preservation Experts Suggest That The Term “Digital Preservation” Is Harmful

A recent post entitled “Digital Preservation” term considered harmful?” on the Digital Curation blog begins with the words:

Over the past few weeks I have become acutely aware that the term “digital preservation” may be becoming a problem.

Not quite what one might expect from Chris Rusbridge, director of the Digital Curation Centre (DCC)! And James Currall, who recently gave a plenary talk on Web site preservation issues at UKOLN’s IWMW 2008 event, appears to have been responsible for such heresy with his view that:

The digital preservation community has become very good at talking to itself and convincing ‘paid-up’ members of the value of preserving digital information, but the language used and the way that the discourse is constructed is unlikely to make much impact on either decision-makers or the creators of the digital information (academics, administrators, etc.).

But I have to say that I think that these views reflect the experiences we have had in the JISC PoWR project. Indeed Alison Wildish was quite open about this in her presentation at the first JISC PoWR workshop.

While we have to use “digital preservation” in appropriate contexts, including technical and other in-house discussions, and digital curation is appropriate in other contexts, terms that reflect the outcomes are more persuasive. The outcome of successful digital preservation is that digital resources remain accessible and usable over the long term.

and concludes by arguing that:

… outcome-related phrases like “long term accessibility” or “usability over time” are better than the process-oriented phrase “digital preservation”.

Amen to that! This reflects my views on the need to take a user-focussed approach to Web site development, with long term accessibility and usability simply mean that we need to think about the users in the future and not just those we have today.  And perhaps that’s the approach we have to take in order to ‘sell’ preservation to somewhat sceptical Web developers.

Should our slogan be “Web preservation is dead! Long live long term accessibility! Long live usability over time!” I wonder?

1 thought on “Preservation Experts Suggest That The Term “Digital Preservation” Is Harmful

  1. Richard M. Davis

    As I mentioned in a previous post, I think this is where the term continuity is valuable, since it implies all the things Chris mentioned.

    There are many instances where it may be worthwhile and, above all, feasible,to take an easily-defined web object (say, the blog of a completed project), knocking off any rough edges, and preserving it as a discrete artefact.

    But equally we have to accept that the web is an endless stream of information, constantly changing, and deal intelligently with the need to maintain evidence or examples of its former states, without slowing its flow (as if we could).

    Like the song says: “Dirty old river has to keep rolling….”

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