Sunday, September 19, 2010

The (perceived) need for digital preservation

I'm interested in the implications for digital infrastructure in developing countries, but what about right here in the UK? Facing two years of training in DAM, an obvious question has been: how prepared are the public, commercial and cultural sectors for managing and preserving digital material in the UK. If I'm honest, I'm curious to know what my job prospects are, and what sort of job I might be doing. I was therefore interested to find a document on the Planets website from last year that aimed to answer, in part, that very question: assessing whether organisations are prepared for digital preservation.

In brief, the findings identify that awareness of, and action on, digital collection concerns in various institutions seem to have increased in a manner corresponding to the growing prevalence of digital information in the world in general. That seems positive, but most of the survey respondents in this article are cultural institutions with a known digital profile, and many of them are national institutions in EU countries. Even then, the article shows that museums, for example, made up only 3% of respondents - we don't know the percentages for the various types of institution targeted or rate of return, so it's difficult to know whether museums deem digital collection management unimportant and thus have not responded to the questionnaire, or simply that very few museums were targeted by the survey. In either case, the 3% suggests that museums have a relatively low digital profile at the moment.

The question I'm looking to answer here is a difficult one, and was not the target of the article, but a few things can be inferred. The institutions surveyed were supposed to have an 'interest' in digital preservation, but it's unclear as to whether that interest has been declared by the institution itself, or inferred by the authors of the article - of these, the article shows that around 25% of institutions who probably ought to be practicing digital preservation in one form or another are currently making no attempt to do so. For institutions who lack resources, or even awareness, of digital preservation, they may need assistance from a third party - almost half of the respondents themselves already use one, so this seems to be an important growing market.

Before I signed up for the DAM course at King's, I discussed the training with HSBC Global Archives and the European Central Bank to see how applicable DAM would be to their operations (the commercial sector being outside of my professional experience so far). Their response was that, while they were looking to explore DAM, they would need a manager who had an understanding of traditional archives and library theory. Perhaps the most encouraging thing for the new graduate is the widespread interest in digital preservation in all quarters, but it doesn't seem that everyone is ready yet - while jobs in pure DAM certainly exist, many will need expertise that embraces both analogue and digital preservation to bring them up to date.

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