November third is World Digital Preservation Day and what better excuse to blog about my journey into digital preservation so far? This time last year I was being interviewed for what would become my new role as Digital Preservation Officer at an Australian State Library. I remember reading the entirety of the DPC (Digital Preservation Coalition) Handbook trying to bring myself up to speed on all the acronyms, lingo, and underpinning values of digital preservation. This was a specialised world that my generalist skill set was surprisingly suited for.
Having worked in library technology and being generally well read when it came to tech gave me a good basis for moving into a specialised field. I was very fortunate that my workplace understood that digital preservation was a relatively new field and that some upskilling would be required. The first six months or so was spent reading papers, completing DPC courses, watching online PD events, and trying to engage with the digital preservation community as much as possible. While I feel I still have a long way to go I'm beginning to feel more confident in my skills and knowledge being able to answer questions and offer advice to staff across the organisation.
My years of being interested in technology helped make the transition especially an interest in open source applications and obsolete technology. One aspect of digital preservation I'm still coming to terms with is the lack of certainty around practices. Often the answer to a question is 'we don't know' but it's followed by several guiding suggestions or ideas like 'keep things open', 'make copies', or 'why not both?'. Being a relatively new field compared to something like paper preservation we just don't have the solid answers that only time and mistakes can bring. I can see how this aspect of digital preservation can make the field feel daunting, especially in the GLAM sector where absolutes are expected (unless you are talking cataloguing then everyone has their own opinion!).
Right now I'm drafting core digital preservation policy, researching preservation systems, providing guidance and research to staff, and trying to learn as much as I can. One thing I wasn't prepared for was how much I would enjoy this field of work. I could talk migration strategies for days, and don't get me started on obsolete media or TIFF metadata standards! Twenty years into my library career and I feel rejuvenated. Sure I'm still a jaded newCardigan underneath but digital preservation makes me excited to come to work and see what's going to be the issue du jour. I feel like this move has been one of the most positive in my career, just when I was feeling burnt out and contemplating leaving.
My place of work is in the early stages of digital preservation despite having a fairly solid base to work from. It's a daunting task to shape core practice and establish workflows and procedures that will become fundamental to how the organisation will operate well into the future. A challenge yes, but an exciting one. I look forward to walking the digital preservation walk and talking the talk at conferences and with colleagues, growing my knowledge and skill base and passing them on to others. World Digital Preservation Day is something worth celebrating for me, I've successfully migrated my software so to speak, changed my file format signature to something more modern and suitable. So if you ever want to discuss the benefits of FFV1/MKV just let me know!