Monday, August 17, 2015

Heroic Measures: Reflections on the Possibility and Purpose of Digital Preservation

Heroic Measures: Reflections on the Possibility and Purpose of Digital Preservation. David M. Levy. Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Third ACM Conference on Digital Libraries.  June 23-26, 1998. [PDF requires a subscription to the journal.]
     A great article from the time when digital preservation was first being discussed and explored. In looking how to move our digital preservation program to the next level, this is a reminder that digital preservation is not about the technical variables but about object integrity and preserving the features that distinguish a work. It is about the use of the object and about the needs of the user, and about society learning how to find its way through life with digital information.

Quotes from the article:
  • “Whatever preservation method is applied, however, the central goal must be to preserve information integrity; that is, to define and preserve those features of an information object that distinguish it as a whole and singular work.” The problem comes if one’s focus is exclusively, or too strongly on, the digital object, and at the expense of other considerations, such as use.
  • In both the library world and the world of archives, people at times have become so focused on the artifacts themselves that they have risked losing sight of their users or their users’ needs.
  • The digital object is that which produces the tangible, perceptible things which people then use. The digital object is necessary but not sufficient. How it is preserved - which features, which behaviors are deemed crucial - is all important, and if these decisions aren’t guided by use considerations, it will be to our detriment.
  • “Viewed developmentally, the problem of preserving digital information for the future is not only, or even primarily, a problem of fine-tuning a narrow set of technical variables. It is not a clearly defined problem like preserving the embrittled books that are self destructing from the acid in the paper on which they were printed. Rather, it is a grander problem of organizing ourselves over time and as a society to maneuver effectively in a digital landscape.”

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