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National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) Members Gather in Washington–Part One

Washington, DC The Library of Congress-sponsored NDIIPP (National Digital Information Infrastructure & Preservation Program)/NDSA (National Digital Stewardship Alliance) Partners Meeting was held July 19-21, 2011. Everyone in the rooms had personal experiences with just how fragile digital resources are, and how quickly they can be lost when their keepers–institutions, libraries, individuals and communities–no longer make them available online for any number of reasons. A kind of gallows humor hung over some exchanges with quips like "You're taking care of that, right," in reference to massive amounts of born digital cultural and scientific data and specialized resources highlighted in presentations and hallway conversations. Although many groups are working hard make high quality digital information durable and accessible for the long term, their efforts are often just not fast enough. The problem is bigger than any one institution can tackle alone which is why the theme of the meeting, "Make it Work: Improvisations on the Stewardship of Digital Information" was a call to not only review successes, but also to take action.

Laura Campbell, Library of Congress associate librarian for strategic initiatives, opened the meeting with an brief overview of NDIIPP efforts over the last 11 years. With 22 partners that together represent 867 organizations, Campbell anticipates that the ongoing work of this network will result in a significant national digital collection. She stressed that continuing to build the collection–now with over 1400 collections from maps to music to web pages—is NDIIPP's main task. "The collection is what we will be remembered for," she noted, "We will never be finished and these people (NDIIPP partners) are the pioneers who are making it possible."

Martha Anderson, director of program management for NDIIPP, introduced keynote speaker Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly Media, with a reminder to the audience that many owed their technical training to "the O'Reilly books." She invited the nearly 180 attendees to tweet and blog the meeting in order to spread the word about the innovative work that would be presented from partner organizations. So while temperatures hovered around 100 degrees F. outside, communications heated up inside with news of progress, milestones, questions and comments about how to preserve our digital heritage–which is increasingly our only heritage. One tweet came through pointing to the fact that the NDIIPP/NDSA meeting proceedings would be of value to people beyond the meeting:


Presentations and videos from the meeting will be available here:

Tim O'Reilly began by recounting a couple of digital preservation failures to remind the audience of the personal nature of "your own" digital stuff. He observed that often the things that turn out to be historic are not known to be historic at the time. He believes that you can’t necessarily do preservation from a library or institutional point of view. "You have to bake preservation into the tools," he said.

An early Freeware Summit he sponsored was archived because some of the coverage was known at the time to have potential historic value. The digital copy did not contain duplicates of every link and, of course, many of the links went dead over time. "We have not built better links to make having a digital memory easier," he said. He asked the audience to think about what kind of tools would be needed in the everyday world of usage to make preservation happen regularly.

Once while lost with a Google maps app crash and a dead cell phone he could not find a gas station with an actual map. He had to ask people for directions. He asked the audience to imagine a world in which print does not exist. The work that we are all doing radically changes as we in urgency with that scenario.

O'Reilly concluded with the idea that the new all-digital, all-the-time world that is coming puts additional focus on what we collect and how. Having preservation “baked in” is critical because digital preservation is something we often discover we need to do too late. We are now engaged in a task that can prevent the wholesale destruction of our history—for everyone.

To be continued...