The first day of iPRES2011 is coming to a close. As always after a conference day, the mind is full and most of the information is not yet digested. But here is a first impression. Seamus Ross of the University of Toronto opened the conference with a keynote entitled: ‘Why should today’s society pay for the benefit of society in the future?’
Ross agreed that justfying the costs of digital preservation is difficult. The cost-benefit ratio is unclear, we really have no tangible ground to stand on. We have but a ‘hazy notion of benefits that will accrue to future generations.’
Although, of course, cost modelling work must continue, if only to find the most efficient way to do digital preservation, Ross argued that the most compelling argument for digital preservation is a very human emotion: our innate need to remember, to tell stories, be they of a personal, a historical or a scientific nature. Ross gave some great examples of these types of storytelling, and of course it is true that our identity is very much dependent on traces from and knowledge about our past, be it a personal past or a regional or national past.
In other words: future generations expect us to preserve our history. ‘They will value the information ecosystem just like the environmental one.’ And like environmental curation, digital curation benefits from little, medium and grand actions and initiatives.’
While Ross’s talk was a powerful reminder for us in the preservation industry of why we do this work, and while his appeal to ‘find a place in the public imagination’ helps remind us to build the case not only on technicalities, I must admit that I personally do not think this is enough to convince funders and society at large. We still have a LOT of education to do, about why digital preservation is as expensive as it is now, why it is so complicated, and why a deadly serious suggestion by a Dutch government official only a year ago, to simply ‘print the content and preserve it that way’ is absolutely not an option … Even worse, the suggestion was made in Singapore as well, I was told.
Demonstration: Re-awakening the Philips Videopac
My dislike for parallel sessions was ignited again, forcing me to miss half of what followed. I did attend sessions on governance, risk assessment, trust & certification, and will write about those soon. First things first, dinner is served in the National Library’s plaza. Outdoors, mind you, is where Singapore eats. And eats well! As Mr Beh of the Singapore National Library Board explained to me: ‘Food is our national indulgence.’ The catering at this conference is beyond anything I have ever seen at any conference. Expect most of us to come home with extra pounds put on!
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