Keeping Our (Digital) Future from Slipping Away

Imagine the loss of all your stored email messages, Word documents, and flickr photos. Now broaden your thoughts to include the loss of your library’s digital resources, and you’ll see why Gayle Palmer, Digital & Preservation Program Manager for the OCLC Western Service Center, is concerned. And doing something about it.
Palmer, in a new daylong workshop co-sponsored by the California Preservation Program, Infopeople, and OCLC Western, is working to create an awareness of impending losses while showing all of us how we can use our existing knowledge to save the day—and all those digital resources we encounter and use during it.
Her “Digital Preservation: Planning and Activities” workshop, which will be held statewide through June 2009, is designed to inspire discussion; help participants review preservation software requirements and options for storing digital files; and prepare learners to return to their libraries ready to address issues of long-term access to digital collections.
“The common misconception is that there’s going to be a technical solution to this—that some software is going to do this for us,” she noted during a recent conversation. “The stable part of the process is going to be the policies and procedures that will be consistent over time. For every organization, it’s going to be a matter of establishing processes and procedures that let you respond in flexible ways.”
There is some encouraging news, she says: members of library staff already have much of what they need to be successful in preserving digital materials.
“We will be using our existing knowledge in preserving our collections to address the digital environment, and then we will need to learn some new techniques that apply to the digital environment,” she explains, and she predicts that libraries and archives will play a leading role in this endeavor.
Moving this up to an organizational level requires that we be good planners creating good organizations, according to Palmer. We need to maintain a long-term point of view. Through the policies and procedures we establish and implement, we must assure that files are transferred from one software to another as upgrades occur, and we have to continue backing up data on organizational networks—or begin doing so if we have not yet initiated that process.
“The whole issue is gaining the skills to address collection and preservation in the digital environment,” she concludes.
Those interested in learning more can register through the Infopeople website and can learn more from OCLC’s brief online overview of economic issues involved in digital preservation and links to more detailed articles on the organization’s website as well as from online information about the OCLC Western Digital and Preservation Programs.