Is the Future Perfect?

16 April, 2012

The overriding message from the Future Perfect conference was that the future is not perfect!  There are lots of digital preservation challenges that we're still grapling with, but on a more optimistic note, we *are* making headway.

Jeff Rothenberg’s opening keynote was sceptical about the extent to which anyone is really addressing long-term preservation or developing proper end-to-end solutions.  This assertion was supported by presentations from big data centres which focused on pragmatic, day-to-day concerns such as integrity checking and disk replacement on failure.  I guess the challenge is that with so many aspects of digital preservation still to be fully addressed - and resourcing such a universal challenge! - you've got to focus on small, manageable chunks that get you by day-to-day in the hope that they can come together to form end-to-end solutions.

Nonetheless, I welcomed Jeff's vision that we need to look for solutions at a broader level than formats.  A similar concept was put forward by David Pearson of the National Library of Australia.  He suggested we clarify preservation intent to overcome the disjunctuture between preservation people who focus on formats and creators/owners who think about the content in terms of collections.  By looking for patterns within collections (both formats & preservation intent) we can hopefully act on groups rather than single objects.

Several presenters pushed for closer liaison and involvement of content creators early on - an argument paralleled in the research data management world.  This could avoid the need for format identification (as creators can tell you the format) and could help move things like metadata creation upstream to assist with deposit.  A provcative question raised by Archives New Zealand blurs the distinction between content creators and curators further: do records need to be held within the archive or can they be secured and made discoverable from elsewhere?  This is a useful question to ask when we consider models for managing and sharing research data.

Sticking with the forward-thinking theme of the conference I'll close with two reflections from speakers on directions for the future.  Jeff used an excellent literary analogy to argue that updated translations are needed by each new generation, but that we'll always need the original to refer back to for full understanding.  Jay Gattuso of the National Library of New Zealand meanwhile focused on the technology, arguing that all of our primary consumers in 20 years time will be machines so we should act on that now and make choices that open content.

A great conference all round!  Thanks to all the presenters, tweeters and in particular Mick, Raynor and the organising committee.

All of the slides from the conference are available via the Future Perfect programme.

In particular, let us refer you to the DCC contribution: Research data management: moving from policy to practice with DMPonline

Image credit: CC-BY-SA by Steve Worsethandetroit