Friday, April 25, 2014

No Personal Digital Archive is an Island

PDA, or Personal Digital Archiving, is a hot topic. Or rather, with those for whom PDA is a hot topic, PDA is a hot topic. And as one who spends a good bit of his time scanning select portions of the internet for interesting distractions, I've found myself paying some attention to the PDA topic. I even spent the money to buy an actual paper book on the topic.

An interesting thing about communications about the PDA topic is they seldom seem to be about the Personal Digital Archive of the person who is speaking or writing. They are about the idea of PDA, they are about the value of PDA, they are about raising awareness and understanding of PDA, they are about techniques of PDA, but there are few examples of persons talking about their own personal digital archive. I think that fact may be significant.

I've toyed with the thought of getting more involved in spreading the gospel of PDA, but, when I'm honest with myself I must acknowledge that as my own personal paper archiving practices are lousy and my personal digital archiving practices are no better. (But then I have done presentations where I told people that storing things in a damp basement isn't a good idea, and guess where my stuff is stored?)

While not wanting to be a hypocrite about the value of PDA is one reason I've not become an evangelist for the topic, I don't think it is the main reason. (Okay, the main reason is probably laziness, but apart from laziness, and not wanting to be a hypocrite, I have yet another reason.) 

Another part of my unease with PDA is the P part. The Personal part. I'm not sure the "person" is the best context within which to frame personal digital archiving, and I'm not sure it's the most effective approach to instill personal digital archiving practices.

We are not islands of individuality, or at least we are not simply islands of individuality, but we are – perhaps more importantly – connected, networked, social creatures that are intimately and inextricably linked with others. Most people have Facebook accounts and not individual web pages because social network sites reflect our own social identity.

Recognizing the networked nature of our lives, and the networked nature of the technology we use to share what is valuable to us, it seems to me it would be better for our preservation energies to be focused on the networked before the personal. Preserve the things we share. Another term for the networked nature of lives is community. 

I am suggesting that Community Digital Archiving (CDA) is a better place to direct our energies.

I don't meant to denigrate the importance of personal digital archiving, and I don't mean to create the binary of either CDA or PDA, but I think that starting from foundation of the community as the central focus for community digital archiving, and then building on that foundation personal digital archiving. This feels like a more organic and more successful approach. Community is a more sustainable ecosystem.

What practical impact would such a community focus have? I think it would encourage organizations like the Library of Congress redirect their energy from developing and implementing PDA resources toward developing and implementing CDA resources. Public libraries have been identified as places that should be hubs of PDA info and training (not that they currently are, but that they should be) and I guess I'm suggesting that it would be more overall effective if public libraries were first given the resources to become hubs of CDA. 

To quote some people who never existed "No personal digital archive is an island." and "It takes a village to create a personal digital archive." 


As with much I write on this blog there is a spirit of play behind this post – of let’s try on this CDA idea and play with it for a while and see how it feels. One of the things I feel that the informality of a personal blog offers me is the chance to present thoughts and ideas that are not thought through to their complete and declarative and publishable conclusion. Sometimes I post something that very quickly feels like a dud of an idea, and sometimes what I post spurs myself, or others, to explore (and play) some more. So c’mon in. Play a while. Feel free to tear down my CDA sand castle and build something better in its place. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Keep your hands off my books: Preservation and Access: Digital and Analog

I attended the Converge and Ingest colloquium this weekend put on by the Wayne State Unviersity NDSA student chapter. (The event was quite enjoyable and warranted more attention than it got.)

My attention was particularly grabbed by a presentation by Wayne State digital publishing librarian, Cole Hudson. (He was supposed to have presented with his colleague Graham Hukill who unfortunately could not attend due to a family emergency.)

Part of Cole's presentation looked at the relationship between preservation and access. The glib gist of what he said was that with digital materials we need to rethink the relationship between preservation and access. He then when on to tell of their involved work constructing an access system for WSU's digital collections. Their work was entirely access focused. Near the end of their work they thought they should probably think about preservation too. They looked at the NDSA Levels of Preservation (which may just be replacing OAIS as the obligatory digital preservation presentation reference) and realized that much of their access focused work achieved many of these preservation tasks.

In the Q&A I did the annoying thing of making a comment. I began my comment hoping that a question would form but by the time I got to the end of my talking there was no question. My comment, and the purpose for why I am writing this, was a thought that I've been toying with for a while is that

With digital material, access improves the likelihood of preservation,
with analog material, access decreases the likelihood of preservation.

Instead of "likelihood of preservation" I might use "length of life."

My thinking is that accessing a digital object increases its likelihood of preservation, or a long life, because often access can involve creating a copy - like when I save an article on my computer thus duplicating and distributing the object. Also, a digital object that is regularly used is likely to undergo processes to ensure its future use. For e.g. you will likely migrate a text document that you regularly consult from an old file format to a new one, whereas old files that you seldom use will not likely be migrated.

With analog materials, all use causes damage, or at least increases the likelihood of damage. The obvious example to me is my work library's city directory collection. Man of these books are much newer and better made than much of the rest of our collection, but because of extremely high use, these directories are in very poor shape.

I know my little preservation and access forumla for digital and analog materials isn't a universal truth, but it seems pretty true. I'd be curious to hear if there are people who think that it isn't very true. I'm certainly open to that argument.