Archive for the 'Jargon' category

Huh? What'd she mean by that?

Jan 08 2011 Published by under Jargon, Metablogging

So in response to a plaint in a BoT comment, I've made a glossary of often-used jargon and acronyms on Book of Trogool.

It's assuredly not done yet! Please feel free to suggest things I've missed in the comments, on this post or any post. Librarianship, open access, and data curation are no less prone to jargon than any other field of endeavor. As a librarian and a teacher, though, it's my business to make the obscure and obtuse less so.

3 responses so far

Framing digital preservation

Sep 30 2010 Published by under Jargon

It's not at all difficult to make me roll my eyes. There's one particular narrative that does it every time, with the reliability of the sunrise: the "digital preservation is impossible" narrative. Annoys the living daylights out of me.

I don't think this particular exemplar was the Library of Congress's fault, necessarily. Everything Brylawski is actually quoted as saying is true, and Brylawski is careful to point out that analog formats disintegrate too. Every time, though, nuanced conversations about preservation turn into "digital is bad."

It's nonsense. Preservation is hard. Digital preservation is no harder than analog; we just have better scaffolding in place for (some) analog preservation. (I said "some." Silver nitrate film, anyone?)

I like the way Kyle Felker puts it:

With regards to print material, the systems for archiving and preservation are so old and well-established by librarians, archivists, and publishers that they are practically invisible to scholars. It wasnt always this way, of course, the standards and processes that make it possible for published books and articles to make their way onto library shelves has taken decades to work out. But worked out they now are, so well in most cases that they are mostly invisible to scholars, if not the librarians and other professionals that work to keep them running on a daily basis.

We've worked out quite a bit with regard to preserving digital materials. We know about best practices. We know why spinning disk is to be preferred to CDs. Those of us with some experience and some common sense can make pretty sharp guesses about the preservability of digital materials handed us, just as a paper-preservation expert knows to look at the paper stock and the quality of binding.

Indeed, just as with analog preservation, most of the barriers are not technical; they are social and organizational. Nothing "preserves itself," not analog and not digital. (I keep hearing "benign neglect" put forward as an analog preservation strategy. I respectfully submit that there's a serious problem of survivorship bias in that mode of thinking.) Recently I read about the truly epic NDIIPP effort to save some gameworlds. Technical barriers, yes, but if you read carefully, you find that just about all of those were surmounted (the Second Life efforts are clever as all getout). What stopped them cold was usually copyright, and the lack of a Section 108 analogue.

(Oh, and while I'm thinking about Section 108, a word-for-word "Section 108 analogue" will actually not suffice. Section 108 doesn't usually kick in until the item in hand has essentially disappeared from view. This won't work for digital preservation: once it's gone, it's often really-truly gone. The Section-108 analogue that will do the job for digital materials that Section 108 does for analog materials will have to allow dark archiving before materials disappear.)

What I resent in all this is the sense of helplessness promulgated by the "digital preservation is impossible" narrative. It writes people like me out of the narrative, or even worse, presents us as deluded maniacs (which I really truly resent; I'm no madder than the next librarian). Digital preservation is possible. We just have to do it, build the legal and policy and technical space that lets us do it. Just as we—we librarians—do analog preservation. Kyle again:

When I still was a librarian, I was always a bit perplexed, though, at how the [digital preservation] issue didn't seem to register to most scholars, even those who were actively engaged in digital scholarship. When I spoke to faculty members about what was going to happen to their new whiz-bang digital resource once it was done and they needed to store and access it long-term, I usually got blank stares.

Library invisibility tends to harm libraries and librarians. As the Invisible Wallets, we lost the gravitas we needed to create necessary change in scholarly communication. As the Invisible Preservers, have we done the same with regard to preservation, digital and analog? I don't know… but throwing up our hands and saying "digital preservation is impossible" is surely not going to help us.

5 responses so far