Conserving condoms (or how to look after modern material)

Last week I was asked to deliver a workshop session for the Lothian Health Services Archive symposium entitled, Conserving Condoms: Modern Materials in Medical Archives, on digital preservation.

It was Friday afternoon, everyone had had a great day listening to interesting talks, some with brilliant titles such as ‘Heritage Smells‘, and then the delegates settled into their chosen workshop session. It was only a brief 45 min slot I had, but in collaboration with my colleague Claire Knowles (Digital Development Manager) we delivered a session on ‘what digital preservation is and where to begin’.

After some introductory slides on the scope of digital preservation and what the risks, I spoke about the foundations necessary for a good and sound digital preservation project. Aside from developing a business case, if it is necessary for an organisation or department to prove that dealing with the issue is relevant, critical and not to be left until the last minute, it is also important to develop a policy that states an organisations intention and also a strategy on how it will implement that policy. From my previous posts readers will be aware we have a draft policy under review. I’m also about to start work on writing a strategy to do just as I’ve mentioned above.

So I introduced the delegates at our workshop to developing a policy and asked them to think about what the purpose of their policy would be, with the help of some examples. This is not an easy feat! But without placing pressure on them I suggested that even if they came up with bullet points, key words or phrases it would be a start. Certainly that’s where I began. Trying to distil everything you intend to try and do to tackle your own problems with dealing with digital records into one or two succinct, easily digestible, easily understandable sentences with no jargon is difficult, and the delegates understood that too! In fact when I did the very same exercise at a recent DPC event the delegates there too realised that such a seemingly simple task is most definitely not simple! Every organisation is different and some develop statements with varying level of detail. Given that our policy is one written before we’ve even done any digital preservation work its easy to see that whatever you write could change at the drop of a hat. I’ve opted to go for something so broad and generic that it should at least see us through the next couple of years whilst our fledgling project takes off.

The exercise generated a bit of discussion afterwards about the complexities of working with digital objects, the cross-overs with working with paper and hybrid archives, and the differences too and the impacts they have!

I hope those that attended weren’t too bamboozled by it all…it certainly made me realise again what a feat of work we have before us here in Edinburgh, but its all good! And judging by the way the delegates grappled for my business card I think I sufficiently whet their appetite for learning more!

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