It is fair to say that the preservation of digital material, as an issue, it not new to anyone and that was certainly true of those present at our Knowledge Exchange Week event. We all, whether as individuals or as part of a wider group, produce digital content in ever growing volumes. Whilst the majority of that content is arguably ephemeral and irrelevant, some will be of sufficient value to warrant preservation and the effort required to carry that out. However, digital preservation is a discipline that is continually evolving. The global digital landscape, driven by commercial gain, is constantly changing. New tools, new devices and new platforms give rise to new preservation challenges, as does trying to engage with old, out of date technology to salvage content from the clutches of media decay and bit rot. The digital archivist appears to be always working on the back foot.
Whilst the last 30 years has produced a significant shift in efforts to address the issues at hand the distinct lack of drive or acknowledgement from manufacturers or software developers that they have an important role to play or, dare I say it, obligation to help support the security, integrity and accessibility of our digital cultural heritage has meant that the elusive silver bullet remains, for now, just that…elusive.
But its not all doom and gloom. The digital preservation community is striving forward using mutual support and collaboration to achieve its collective goal of long term custodianship of our past, present and future. As a strong and determined community of digital archivists we must pull together the resources and knowledge at our disposal, be it financial, empirical, technical or strategic so that archivists and researchers of the future can benefit and build upon our efforts. At present there is a growing suite of open source systems, microservice tools, platforms as well as international and de facto standards to support the development of frameworks to manage the preservation function. It’s a slightly modular approach but if modular is our only option, in the absence of a ‘silver bullet’, then it’s better than doing nothing at all!