More on iPres2008

Brian and Marieke have already written about iPres2008 and PoWR, and I have written and will write more about it from a general perspective on DABlog. But we thought it would be worth saying a bit more about what this conference, which is looking at the complete picture of digital preservation, had to say which is of relevance to PoWR’s work of web preservation in UK Universities.

There was an entire session devoted to various web archiving initiatives on the second day, which at first sight one might think is of particular relevance (almost as much as Brian’s presentation, one might think.) I wasn’t at this session – it was one of those running in parallel tracks, and I was speaking in the other track – but Ed Pinsent was and will be writing at more length about it soon. But even without attending, I’m aware that many of the projects, operating as they do within their national domains in Australia or elsewhere, won’t have much role in helping save UK University web content (unless we move our domains to .edu.au – there’s a thought.) Even when the BL realises its long-term aim of harvesting across the entire UK web domain, it still will be selective in some ways about what it captures – about depth and frequency of harvests, and about the type of content. You won’t be able to depend on those institutions to capture what you want to be captured. So if these initiatives aren’t going to meet all our needs, do we need to do it ourselves ? The PoWR project thinks not, but that is one of the options institutions will need to examine. The work the IIPC is doing to develop harvesting and access tools will be of interest to those few institutions that feel able to operate these tools themselves – not something to be undertaken lightly.

Yet there was much of relevance at iPres2008. One recurring them, picked up at the outset by Lynne Brindley and in Steve Knight’s closing remarks, was that ‘digital preservation’ is not the term to be using in discussions with our institutions and the world, echoing remarks on the DCC blog which Brian later picked up on here. Steve prefers the phrase ‘permanent access’. which is indeed outcome-focussed. However, we’ve also said in PoWR that preservation isn’t always forever, so I would prefer something a little more all-embracing – ‘long-lived access’ might fit.

The sessions covering things like significant properties also touched on issues that PoWR is concerned with. When we decide to preserve something, what is it that we’re really trying to keep ? Most forms of preservation change the original object in some way, just as long-life milk isn’t the same as pasteurised, and neither are quite as tasty as fresh milk (or so I’ve been told.) This is clearly still a very difficult problem, and one that (to my mind) demonstrates that the digital preservation community hasn’t even developed a clear problem statement, much less a fully worked-out solution. So, in the meantime, we need to be pragmatic and do what seems best at the time. Always a good plan.