Workshop Recap: Digital Preservation Tools, Systems, and Services

The following guest post comes from Timothy Ryan Mendenhall, a student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College, CUNY. He attended the third workshop in our Digital Preservation Workshop Series and agreed to share his recap here. 

On Thursday, January 28, Tyler Walters led a packed workshop at the METRO headquarters entitled Digital Preservation: Tools, Systems, and Services. After coffee and cookies, the morning got off to a brisk start with a quick overview of the theoretical and practical fundamentals of digital preservation, which are necessary to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of any digital preservation tool or initiative. But theory is of little use without practice, so Walters launched into a discussion of the types of implementations and strategies which have emerged to respond to the challenges posed by digital resources. As in the analog sphere, one of the major difficulties with digital resources is that there is no "one size fits all" preservation strategy or tool. Therefore, each institution must determine the proper fit for its own institutional profile. Accordingly, in the first exercise, workshop participants were asked to design a repository model for a made up institution with a diverse set of resources. This task proved much more challenging than it may sound, and my group found it difficult to get beyond some of the basic questions pertaining to copyright, policy, and budget concerns. Nonetheless, we did manage to sketch out some basic ideas, and the ensuing group discussion was fruitful.

After lunch, the imperative to enact sound preservation policy and initiatives for digital objects was thrown into stark relief when a bug in a single Power Point slide confounded the computer's operating system mid-presentation, threatening to shut down the visuals. After some fruitless wrangling with the system, Walters was about to abandon the digital presentation and lecture from printed handouts of the slides, when a workable solution presented itself—migration of the Power Point file to PDF. If such a failure to render a digital file can occur from a disconnect between two contemporary, presumably compatible computers and operating systems, imagine the difficulties in store decades down the line if information professionals don't act now!
The afternoon presentations, which focused on software systems for preservation repositories, such as FEDORA and Rosetta, on resource-sharing initiatives and digital asset management consortia such as MetaArchive and DuraCloud, and finally on micro-tools like JHOVE which hone in on specific tasks associated with the OAIS repository model, were of the greatest benefit to me as a participant. With such a wide variety of initiatives being tested right now, it can be overwhelming to get a handle on each individual project's goals, specializations, strengths and weaknesses. Out of a mass of confusing acronyms, the workshop helped participants understand the unique nature and scale of these initiatives, services, and tools. As with physical preservation strategies, certain tools fit certain repositories better than others, and before contracting with a vendor or committing to a digital asset management software, it is necessary to find right fit for your institution's collection. Thus a small specialized repository might be better suited to partner with MetaArchive than with a larger program like the Internet Archive, to give an example. The ensuing exercise, in which our small groups evaluated different softwares and initiatives to determine which was the best fit for our made up repository from Exercise 1, really did help us compare and contrast the different services available.
The program ended with a quick presentation by ExLibris representatives on their Rosetta software, developed in cooperation with the National Library of New Zealand. As we left the METRO Training Center, we might not have become experts on digital preservation, but at least we now all had a much better grasp on the available resources to get a program started, which might be the most daunting hurdle to overcome in digital preservation. 
Tags: techMETRO