Perspectives on the Changing Ecology of Digital Preservation
New Issue Brief
A significant portion of our educational, cultural, and communication activities take place online, as the web has become the primary hub for information, inspiration, entertainment, and social interactions. But digital information is both pervasive and ephemeral at the same time–by some estimates the average lifespan of a website is between 44 and 100 days–and in dire need of preservation. The challenge is not only preserving the bits of digital objects but also being able to transition over time their affordances, software environment, and the context required for interpretation and consumption.
What does this landscape look like today? To get to the heart of this question, I recently interviewed 21 experts and thought leaders to understand their perspectives on the state of digital preservation. Today, we’re publishing the results of that research: “The State of Digital Preservation in 2018: A Snapshot of Challenges and Gaps.” The paper also seeks to identify research and policy questions that will contribute to the advancement of strategies in support of future scholarship.
One of cornerstones of preservation is maintaining the context to sustain the interactions amongst the elements of a wider digital environment. It is increasingly difficult to isolate the user experience without taking into consideration various contextual issues such as the software required to make sense of preserved data or an application needed to experience a new media art work. The key to digital preservation is sustaining interactivity and variability to support future uses in addition to considering the core archival principles such as authenticity, fixity, and integrity. Digital preservation has always been about access and ensuring the content is usable. So as we envision what preservation at scale entails in this digital age, one of the open questions is how do we imagine tomorrow’s users and their information seeking and usage behavior. As the library community is experimenting with the shared storage strategies to collectively address the longevity of print collections, there is some urgency to start tackling the challenges involved in preserving a range of born-digital materials including blogs, wikis, AV, and software in a similar cohesive manner.
I hope that the issues raised in the brief will be provocative. Do our preliminary findings resonate with your experience? We look forward to hearing your comments as Ithaka S+R seeks to carve out a research agenda of benefit to our wider community.