Infinity and Beyond: The power of community participation and the future of digital preservation practices.

It’s just the beginning.

In the grand scheme of things, digital archivists are barely scraping the surface when it comes to the wide range of possibilities available to them when it comes to digital preservation. Ease of access and capability is one thing, but really digging in an discovering the breadth and scope of what technology can do to widen the potential of digital preservation is a relatively new concept – and some are beginning to discover this in exciting ways.

Becerra-Licha’s article, Participatory and Post-Custodial Archives as Community Practice delves into this new realm, pointing out the potential – and pitfalls – that discovering new ways of archiving digital content inevitably create:

 From questioning the presumed neutrality of the terms used to describe and categorize archival collections for access, to calling attention to the conspicuous absence of people of color in both the archival record and the profession, and even to pushing back on the reductive notion that archives and archivists are passive, reactive, and static, it is clear that archives are at a crossroads as such arguments increasingly gain traction in the mainstream of the profession (Becerra-Licha, 2017).

From Preservation to Progress

Becerra-Licha highlights a crucial exploration in digital preservation at this “crossroads”: that communal efforts and collaboration on digital archives can, in fact, help marginalized groups that have been further marginalized by current digital preservation standards.  In Bergis Jules’ lecture, Confronting our Failure of Care around the Legacies of Marginalized People in Archives, the marginalized of these groups is touted as being directly in confrontation with the fact that the communities – or, more like, individuals – involved in cultural preservation effectively silence the unique voices of these cultures.

….who gets represented is closely tied to who writes the software, who builds the tools, who produces the technical standards, and who provides the funding or other resources for that work (Jules, 2016).

Community preservation techniques would combat this issue, allowing marginalized voices to take back their place and, with others, work to contribute and color these complex, enriching histories.

Leaning into the Communal Future

Then comes the challenge of actually taking strides to BUILD these communities. Kate Theimer suggests that in order for these communities to feel the desire to take part, the goal of digital archives needs to be reworked. In the past, before the technological boom, Theimer espouses that the impetus of archivists was generally passive. Archives were created to incite and interest specific scholars with specific needs; if others – the general public – wanted access, they had to make an effort to find those collections.

Clumsy hand-drawn diagram of the "old" model
Theimer, 2014.

 

And while her second depiction – a sketch of what digital preservation now looks like in terms of communal knowledge and contribution – is disastrous looking (and hilarious) on the surface… it really rings true.

Theimer, 2014.

Yes, it’s a mess. But it’s NEW. It’s innovative. “Proving the relevance of archives today—not for a distant future—is needed” (Theimer, 2014). And today, the relevance of a community’s contribution to these resources further exhibits the fact that these collections are no longer just for scholars or historical preservation. It’s for the preservation of the community building them. Inside and out.

Putting New Precepts to Practice

Which digital collections are using a communal approach? I encourage you to take a look at the following websites and see just how communities are learning to work together – individuals with varieties of skillsets and backgrounds – to disseminate knowledge and preserve digital collections, each in their own, totally unique, ways.

  1. Documenting the Now. This project actually has a web app called “DocNow” that allows people to make real-time contributions to this database. The truly innovative aspect of this project is its use of social media documentation to preserve historical events – as they happen now. It is a highly proactive way of archiving, and intrinsically very communal.
  2. Archive-It.  This website is the worlds LARGEST public web archive. Archive-It works with over 400 different organizations and permits them to collect and archive any digitized information they deem influential and worth preserving.
  3. Metadata Games.  And something a little different. You really just need to go to this website to see how ridiculously innovative it truly is. This project is an open source crowdsourcing “game platform” that enables users to participate in labeling, tagging, describing, and preserving digital images and resources through interactive games. This revolutionary participatory technique is crafted quite simply: through html5, php, and javascript.

 

Resources:

Becerra-Licha, S. 2017. Participatory and post-custodial archives as community practice. Educause.edu. Retrieved from: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/10/participatory-and-post-custodial-archives-as-community-practice.

Jules, B, 2016. Confronting our failure of care around the legacies of marginalized people in archives. Medium. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/on-archivy/confronting-our-failure-of-care-around-the-legacies-of-marginalized-people-in-the-archives-dc4180397280

Theimer, K. 2014. The future of archives is participatory: archives as platform, or a new mission for archives. ArchivesNext.Com. Retrieved from: http://archivesnext.com/?p=3700

 

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