International Conference on Digital Preservation (iPres) 2015 Recap

Guest authors: Bethany Scott and Alice Sara Prael

Bethany Scott is the Coordinator of Digital Projects at the University of Houston Libraries’ Special Collections. Alice Sara Prael is the National Digital Stewardship Resident at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

The International Conference on Digital Preservation (iPres) is an annual conference that invites researchers and practitioners to discuss the latest trends, tools, policies, and practices in digital preservation.  The conference is international and the location rotates between Europe, Asia/Oceania, and North America.  This year we were lucky enough to hold it here in the States, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The conference included workshops and tutorials on Monday and Friday and hosted paper and poster sessions, panels, and keynote speakers Tuesday through Thursday.

Two workshops focused on open source tools and platforms.  Both sessions followed a similar layout with prepared presentations to start the day and splitting into smaller groups to discuss problems and brainstorm solutions in the afternoon. Monday’s workshop focused on how to improve sustainability for these tools and platforms.  We started with short presentations by individuals from open source projects like Artefactual Systems (creators of Archivematica and AtoM) and the Open Preservation Foundation.  We also heard the funder’s perspective from Trevor Owens, Senior Program Officer at the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  He acknowledged that many digital preservation projects are grant funded, but made a great point that “grant funding is the opposite of sustainability.”  One major question in both open source and digital preservation communities is how do we transition from individual grant funded projects to core institutional responsibilities?

There was a general consensus that community growth is vital to the sustainability of an open source project.  Open source survives when it is adopted by people and organizations that are willing to contribute to the tool, either through monetary donations or individuals’ time. Many non-developers think they cannot contribute without coding expertise, but time spent on documentation is just as valuable.  Documentation serves as a guide for new individuals and organizations to adopt open source tools.

While Monday focused on the perspective from the creators and developers of open source, Friday looked at open source tools from the adopter perspective.  The theme that emerged from Friday’s discussion was the bridge between tools and how these bridges are implemented at libraries and archives.  Everyone is excited about open source, but it is much more difficult to manage integration with other tools and the existing institutional infrastructure and workflows.  This ‘hand-off’ between systems is often the hardest part from the institution’s perspective and it requires technical expertise that isn’t always available at smaller organizations.  However most attendees agreed that the opportunity to guide the development of tools and customize for institutional needs outweighed the challenges posed by adopting open source platforms.

During Tuesday through Thursday’s conference proceedings, sessions included a mix of keynote addresses, shorter panel-style presentations, practical and interactive workshops and clinics, participant-led “unconference”-style discussion sessions, and vendor presentations and demos. Wednesday’s keynote speech by Lisa Nakamura, “The Digital Afterlives of This Bridge Called My Back: Public Feminism and Open Access,” focused on the concept of “rogue archives” and grassroots, crowdsourced curation and preservation activities through the case study of the Tumblr feminist community’s curation and distribution of a hard-to-find women of color feminist text. On Thursday, Pam Samuelson spoke on “Mass Digitization of Cultural Heritage: Can Copyright Obstacles Be Overcome?” Her talk focused on the fair use designation for large-scale digitization projects and provided an overview of the recent decisions in the Authors Guild v. HathiTrust and the Authors Guild v. Google Inc. copyright lawsuits. Recordings of the keynotes are available on the UNC School of Information and Library Science Vimeo page.

Another highlight was Wednesday’s Policy and Practice Documentation Clinic led by Maureen Pennock, which provided participants with the opportunity to learn about what elements are needed for an effective and actionable digital preservation policy. Maureen first described what characteristics make for a good policy and a bad policy, provided definitions for terms like policies, procedures and plans and gave examples for when each type of documentation is necessary or advisable, and then opened up the session to small group discussions that allowed participants to talk about the challenges and strategies for creating digital preservation documentation in their institutions. It was great to have the opportunity to meet with colleagues from other institutions, discuss current policies and practices from different types of libraries, and brainstorm creative solutions to the current digital preservation and institutional challenges we’re facing in our respective positions. Clinics or small workshops like these provide an excellent venue for early-career professionals to meet and begin talking with peers from other institutions, especially in a large conference setting where it could be daunting to network or make these types of connections.

Finally, two interesting sessions bookended the conference: spotlights on “This Year’s Noteworthy Progress and Achievements in Digital Preservation” and on “What’s Happening in the Digital Preservation Community that Might Become Next Year’s Highlights?” Unlike traditional keynote speeches, the interactive sessions opened up a dialogue with the audience — in person and on twitter — on significant achievements from #lastyear in areas like preservation metadata or workflows and tools, and on the direction for the digital preservation landscape and promising initiatives for #nextyear. Noteworthy highlights from last year’s achievements included the rollout of METS 2.0 for increased preservation metadata, Archivematica integrations with the Arkivum and Duraspace services to create automated solutions for preservation software and storage, and advances in open-source tools and initiatives like AV Preserve, FEDORA 4, and Hydra-in-a-Box. Active areas of research and development to keep an eye on for next year include web archiving, emulation, digital forensics, software curation and preservation, and self-assessment and audit for institutions’ digital preservation systems and workflows.

iPres invited attendees to participate in collaborative notes stored in Google Docs so if you’d like to read more about any sessions or workshops discussed here you can read the notes here.

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