We’re seeing the beginnings of information on digital preservation for people outside the narrow world of libraries and archives, but so far a lot of it isn’t quite to the point. Rather than addressing the non-specialist, it addresses the idea of addressing the non-specialist. So just for this one post, I have to do the same myself to explain why we need to move further.
The Library of Congress is now offering a personal digital archiving kit. This is a good thing, but it’s not directed at the users and sysadmins; it’s described as “Guidance and resources for information professionals on how to organize and host your own Personal Digital Archiving Day.” Its YouTube videos on digital preservation include a number addressed to the generalist, but they often convey a feeling of embarrassment or talking down. The intent is good; the execution can be difficult.
Other sites likewise make an effort but don’t quite engage the target audience. There’s a site called Personal Archiving, but it’s not exactly about personal archiving; it’s about personal archiving conferences.
There are preservation-related tools which could be useful for a broad range of users but will scare most people away in their present form. DROID is a very useful tool for figuring out what kind of files you’ve got, but even serious geeks will be stumped by a listing that says they have “Tagged Image File Format” and “Portable Document Format” files, at least till they think to look at the first letter of each word and realize they’re just TIFF and PDF respectively.
The LoC’s Personal Archiving page makes a worthy effort, stressing basic practices such as identification, selection, and organization. But beyond this, we need to make serious technical information available in a form that doesn’t require initiation as a specialist. I’m talking about a level of information comparable to what people can easily find to create websites, network computers, and manage databases, information which has detail but isn’t couched in archivists’ jargon.
It isn’t easy to get the word out and get the information out at the same time. Making people aware of the issue of preservation means pounding on the basics, but getting real information out means diving into the technical nitty-gritty.
I’m talking about moving outside the safe boundaries of the National Archives and iPRES and creating courses in the computer science curriculum, books in the mainstream computer market. The title of this blog originally belonged to a book proposal which O’Reilly almost bit on, but then decided didn’t quite have the interest to justify it yet. The interest has to grow, and the technical material on preservation had better become widely available before the news media notice a coming crisis of disappearing cultural materials.
In the old days, preservation of writings was the jobs of the monasteries, and nobody else worried much about it. That can’t work today. Preservation needs to become part of computer literacy, This requires books, courses, websites, and software. There’s a lot of work to be done.