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The final part of William Kilbride’s seminar talked about some research into content created as part of JISC projects.  Questions included the length of time that the data created as part of the project would continue to be made available.  There were a wide-range of responses, some of which were quite alarming (and quite short).  Although JISC require data to be made available for 5 years, many have seen that as the maximum period of time and not the aspiration that the data should continue to be available.

Other questions that the survey asked included: ‘Where is master copy of data and metadata?’ – ‘How long will content be available?’ – ‘How it will be created, maintained and preserved?’

The emerging conclusions from the study include:

  • a written preservation policy is critical
  • format is not specifically an issue 
  • good content management is good content management
  • the size of an organisation isn’t a measure of success – but partnerships are crucial
  • the synchronisation of content between delivery service and archive is hard
  • projects focus on users – which is a strength
  • the programme has driven institutional development in preservation policy 

William ended with a few final thoughts including ‘Our legacy will be what we make it – it cannot be taken for granted’ and ‘Digital Preservation is not impossible’

All in all it was a useful run through the issues around Digital Preservation.  It was interesting that one of William’s previous roles was as an archaeologist and there was some discussion over what a ‘Digital Archaeologist’ or maybe a Forensic Archaeologist might do in the future. 

Given the continuing delays in implementing the Legal Deposit of digital media and the apparent loss of a proportion of material digitised through JISC projects it is a concern how much of the digital record is likely to be preserved.  Add to this the increasing amount of data that is locked up in proprietory electronic databases, it starts to point to a very real possibility that future Digital Archaeologists will find very large gaps in the written record.    Although it is clearly impossible, impractical and possibly even undesirable to try to capture a complete digital record it seems quite likely that there will be a much smaller proportion of the digital world being preserved than we find with the modern printed word.

This starts to make me wonder if a future Digital Archaeologist might have much more in common with a Dark Age archaeologist than we might expect, or hope.

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January 2021

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