Thursday, September 17, 2015

Enduring Access to Rich Media Content: Understanding Use and Usability Requirements

Enduring Access to Rich Media Content: Understanding Use and Usability Requirements. Madeleine Casad, Oya Y. Rieger and Desiree Alexander. D-Lib Magazine. September 2015.
     Media art has been around for for 40 years and presents serious preservation challenges and obsolescence risks, such as being stored on fragile media. Currently there are no archival best practices for these materials.
  • Interactive digital assets are far more complex to preserve and manage than regular files. 
  • A single interactive work may contain many media files with different types, formats, applications and operating systems. Any failure and the entire presentation may be unviewable.
  • Even a minor problem with can compromise an artwork's "meaning." 
  • Migrating information files to another storage medium is not enough to preserve their most important cultural content. 
  • Emulation is not always an ideal access strategy since it can introduce additional rendering problems and change the original experience.
The article surveyed media art researchers, curators, and artists, in order to better understand the "relative importance of the artworks' most important characteristics for different kinds of media archives patrons." Some of the problems mentioned were the lack of documentation and metadata, discovery and access, and technical support. Also problems with vanishing webpages, link rot, and poor indexing. 

Artists are concerned about the longevity of their creative work; it can be difficult selling works that may become obsolete within a year.  Curators of new media art may not include born-digital interactive media in their holdings because they are too complex or unsustainable. Some preservation strategies rely on migration, metadata creation, maintaining a media preservation lab, providing climate controlled storage, and collecting documentation from the artists. 

They are also concerned about "authenticity" in a cultural rather than technical sense. InterPARES defines an authentic record as "a record that is what it purports to be and is free from tampering or corruption". With digital art this becomes more difficult to do, since restoring ephemeral, technological or experiential artwork may alter its original form in ways that can affect its meaning. Authenticity may be more of "a sense that the archiving institution has made a good-faith commitment to ensuring that the artist's creative vision has been respected, and providing necessary context of interpretation for understanding that vision—and any unavoidable deviations from it".

Curators need to work with artists to ensure that artworks' most significant properties and interpretive contexts were preserved and documented.  This is more than ensuring bit-level fixity checks or technically accurate renderings of an artwork's contents. The key to digital media preservation is variability, not fixity; finding ways to capture the experience so future generations will get a glimpse of how early digital artworks were created, experienced, and interpreted.

Therefore, diligent curation practices are more essential than ever in order to identify unique or exemplary works, project future use, assess loss risks, and implement cost-efficient strategies.

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