21 Oct 2012

Guest Post: PASIG Conference, Dublin, October 2012

Guest post from Giada Gelli, MLIS, Assistant Librarian, The National Gallery of Ireland.

PASIG conference in Dublin: developments and issues in digital preservation and archiving

Last week I attended the three-day Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) conference held at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin and organised in collaboration with UCD Library. I suspect there weren’t many librarians at it and I often felt out of my depth listening to the talks and presentations because I (as a librarian in a relatively small-scale art institution) was not the main target audience. However, this didn’t stop me from enjoying a very well organised three-day brain-picking event. I feel I have in fact expanded my horizons ‘big time’!

I’m not a great fan of stereotyped phrases, but I believe that thinking outside the box when we go about our professional development is both necessary and enriching. I chose to participate to the PASIG conference because its themes are so relevant and yet obscure to me: digital preservation and archiving. In the vast panorama of digital-related topics, digital preservation is THE area that needs to become crystal clear to all involved in the library and information sciences sector. Digital products have a limited shelf life and can quickly become obsolete, corrupted, unusable… in other words useless. Of course this is something that is presently more discussed in fields such as health, law, government, academic and research, where the preservation and security of data are crucial for the safeguarding of people’s privacy and the provision of core information services.

Nonetheless, even in less sensitive and relatively small-data driven fields such as the heritage and cultural ones, we should considerably care about the preservation and integrity of the data we produce, collect and care about - even the data we don’t care about right now, since we cannot anticipate the value that it might gain in the future.

This conference was a well-balanced showcase of advancements in the field of digital preservation, ongoing projects and solution-based approaches to the main issues faced by practitioners of digital archiving. These include long-term preservation issues, storage challenges, preservation of audio-visual media and best practices in archival workflows. Digital preservation is a key component of any archival workflow. It was agreed that it pays off to follow established best practices, use standard formats, prefer open source solutions to proprietary ones, opt for self-healing archival systems that don’t just store data, but systematically check and fix the data corruption that is bound to happen in time. One of the most interesting sessions was a point and counter-point discussion on cloud-based preservation solutions, and advice on cost modeling for archiving was also touched on.

Many academic institutions, mainly from the UK and US, presented projects and tools they have been working on, such as the London School of Economics’ Dice project; the University of Southampton IT Innovation Centre’s PrestoPrime consortium; the University of Oxford/JISC’s DaMaRo project. I found the talk by Thomas Ledoux of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France on their digital archiving model SPAR particularly relevant.

There was also an interesting mix of corporate vendors showcasing their dedication to archival preservation and exhibiting their ever-improved systems for digital archiving such as Tessella’s Preservica, Duraspace’s DuraCloud, Arkivum’s A-Stor and Oracle’s tiered storage solutions.

The main US and European stakeholders, such as the Digital Preservation Coalition, the Digital Preservation Network, the Open Planets Foundation, the UK Data Archive, the PrestoCentre foundation, together with our Irish representatives such as the Digital Repository of Ireland and the National Education and Research network HEAnet, were also there, engaging the audience in very informed and talks.

To say that it was a steep learning curve for me is an understatement. Every day I brought home with me some very funky words, which are so core to the digital preservation and archiving community: checksum, fixity, OAIS, obsolescence, Linear Tape Storage System, DROID, PRONOM. It is a fascinating and ever-changing area of study and practice which librarians should be massively involved in .

If you’re intrigued by all this and would like to know more in detail what was discussed at the conference, you can have a look at this Storify resource I compiled with all the #pasig and #pasig2012 tweets written over those three days. Many links to resources and projects were posted there so do check it out.

Maybe as librarians we don’t need to worry about how we validate the fixity of formats in the archival ecosystem (yet!), but we can certainly cultivate an awareness of digital preservation, starting from some library-oriented resources such as the Library of Congress’ Digital Preservation page or the Europeana Newspapers/LIBER presentation ‘Positioning libraries in the digital preservation landscape’.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot for the excellent write-up Giada. I think digital preservation, including data management, will be a really hot topic over the next few years and it's great to see the DRI starting on some excellent projects.