Standards for Digital Archives webinar

Last Thursday I went to another SAA webinar…I say “went” because enough people were interested that instead of doing it in the board room of Library Hall we moved across the street to Franklin Hall. It was sort of overkill but worked well, and I was amused by the big giant rendering of straightforward bulleted PowerPoint slides.*

Some interesting points Ghaznavi raised about digital records in general: “Plan ahead” was a recurring theme: hardware obsolescence, data migration, internal organizational roles (she posited archivists as consultants in some scenarios, with IT taking the intermediate role once given to records managers). Cloud computing has its applications, but it is also problematic for the same reasons that it’s always problematic to place your data in someone else’s care: stuff happens, and you need to be prepared in case somebody else’s business model collapses. Placing code in escrow (assuring you can access a copy of proprietary software in case the company goes belly up) is a solution I hadn’t been aware of but makes perfect sense; it’s the corporatized version of abandonware. It’s easy to fall into the “just keep it” mindset with electronic records, and framing data hoarding as a resource issue (power drain) makes appraisal a practical (as well as theoretical) priority. I’ve never played with PDF/A, but may do so now on general principles; I had figured that there was a solution to the problem of a widely-used but proprietary format, and now that I know how well Adobe’s integrated the option I am also curious to see how buggy it is (it’s not fond of interesting fonts, apparently…which could be somewhat problematic, given that PDFs are so often used for heavily designed documents).

As one might guess from the webinar title, much time was devoted to the discussion of various standards: DoD 5015.2, ISO 15489, ISO 14721, ISO 23081, and the draft ISO/DIS 16363 and ISO/DIS 16919. Fun acronyms included TRAC (Trustworthy Repositories Audit & Certification), DIRKS (Designing and Implementing Recordkeeping Systems), OAIS (Open Archival Information Systems), METS (Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard), PREMIS (Preservation Metadata Implementation Strategies Working Group), and OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting).

The point I found most interesting (and relates to my Archives paper topic) was the consensus on the approach to original documents (per the trustworthiness standards): there is, for archival purposes, no such thing as a digital original. The concern is not preserving the record, but preserving the ability to reproduce the record. That’s a very pragmatic approach. It’s also interesting on a theoretical level, at once completely at odds with (for example) Jenkinson’s “keeper” mentality but totally in line with the concept of a trusted chain-of-custody…and, well, applying a post-modern analysis to a trusted copy of something that never existed originally might make my brain hurt in a fun way (or might simply be irritating). I think it also kicks us into an episode of Ghost in the Shell.

* When I mentioned PowerPoint to the Spousal Unit, he rolled his eyes. I typically have a similar reaction, but this was the sort of presentation where a few bullet points about an ISO standard was perfectly appropriate.

In fairness to me, I hadn’t been paying any attention whatsoever: it has no immediate impact upon my job or life in general at the moment.