On the occasion of World Digital Preservation Day, Marcel Ras, manager digital preservation at the Dutch Digital Heritage Network, reflects on 20 years of digital preservation in the Netherlands – a field that he knows well.
“It is almost 20 years ago that the pioneering publications on Digital Preservation were issued by initiative of the KB, the Dutch National Library. The NEDLIB papers described technical challenges and solutions for digital preservation. Preserving digital information was a very different job at the turn of the century. The challenges with digital preservation were mainly framed in technical terms, as the NEDLIB papers showed us. With the turn of the century also came the millennium bug and the dooms of the “digital dark age”. Gloomy predictions adding some state of urgency and awareness to our work and the profession of digital preservation.
It was 10 years ago today
Dutch heritage organizations started working on solutions; developing repositories, bringing in knowledge, building tools and business cases for the long-term preservation of digital materials. But all in the splendid isolation of their own organizations and domains. Me, myself and my repository. It was 10 years ago today, that the Dutch Digital Preservation Coalition (NCDD) was founded as an initiative to cross the bridges between institutes and domains. The ambition of the NCDD was to end the pillarization and move towards a collaborative approach. Actually the Dutch are famous for creating pillars and living in it. In political and cultural terms, and also in the way we care for our cultural heritage. It was time to tear the walls down.
An even bigger ambition was to raise digital preservation from a hidden institutional issue to a wider societal problem in order to bring it to another table, that of the policy makers. With the experience from the UK, the Digital Preservation Coalition and the Mind the Gap survey, in our pocket a group of Dutch Heritage Institutes started working together based on a step-by-step strategy. The NCCD’s first mission was to propose actions that would resolve the problems that were evident.
First we share your knowledge, then ….
In 2008 a survey on the state of affairs within the different domains in The Netherlands was published under the title “the future of our digital memory”. This provided an overview of needs and the starting point for a second publication with the creative title “The future of our digital memory II”. This strategic agenda provided a roadmap of recommendations for the community and defined the themes on which a national collaboration should be shaped. Raise the body of knowledge and start sharing it, create a nationwide infrastructure in which preservation solutions can be shared, work on the transparency of costs and develop a collaborative policy for preserving digital collections.
Our fragile national collaboration was set off with a huge ambition, but also with governmental funding and, even more important, the overall commitment of the partners within the coalition (the National Library of The Netherlands, the National Archives, DANS and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision). Hanging on that commitment we started expanding professional development through knowledge sharing. First step was to nurture a meeting place for professionals, were they could meet and talk. The first meetings, on technical issues, were attended by only few professionals, being always the same fifteen to twenty persons. Gradually the community grew, with 80 professionals discussing topics as significant properties during the first WDPD in 2017 and over 150 people attending our national conferences on web archiving in 2016 and 2018. In the past 10 years there has been a significant expansion of professional development in a growing digital preservation community in which the bridges between domains are crossed.
… we develop a network
Much more ambitious is the development of a network of preservation facilities. The point of departure is the idea that there are institutes that already have a robust infrastructure for digital preservation. Which is costly and comes with responsibilities. Other institutes are just not able to develop large scale and well-documented infrastructures. So it is obvious that if we manage to organize a distributed network of facilities, we should become able to tap in all cultural heritage institutes in The Netherlands and safeguard their digital collections. This model is based on the idea that we can connect supply and demand. Also, the network of distributed facilities is not framed in technical terms only. What we have in mind is a much wider context in which policies, resources and knowledge, alongside the technical infrastructure, are all taken into account as critical concerns for digital preservation, being the three-legged stool of digital preservation. The model has been described and even won a Digital Preservation Award in 2016. So it must be a great and trailblazing model. But as always, the proof of the pudding is in eating it. So the proof of the model is in implementing it. And that’s exactly what the NCDD intended to do. That means crossing yet another bridge. A difficult one as it asks for a great deal of trust. Trust in another institute for the care of your digital collections. Trust in the strength of collaboration and the network, “all for one, together for all”. The model is born and implementing it is in its infancy.
A new kid in town
In 10 years of collaboration within the NCDD, we moved towards a new era. As there are still many rivers to cross, the NCDD was integrated in the Dutch Digital Heritage Network (DDHN). With this, digital preservation is much more connected with the findability and visibility of digital collections. Within the DDHN new networks are being developed. A network of connected collections based on Linked Data technology, a network of terminologies and a network of knowledge sharing professionals.
10 years of active collaboration in digital preservation, under the umbrella of the NCDD brought us a lot. Collaboration has become much more a state of mind for institutes, digital preservation is on the agenda of policy makers, and the distributed infrastructure is slowly becoming an adolescent. A huge advantage is that within the DDHN digital preservation comes out of the cellars where the digital dark ages rule and is directly connected to the users of all the collections we try to preserve. Preservation and access are two sides of a coin.
For me, the most important and rewarding achievement of the past 10 years is seeing the digital preservation community grow. In numbers but also in maturity. The Dutch digital preservation community has been very successful in addressing the importance of preserving digital heritage and the profession has changed over time, gradually becoming more mature. As the world will notice, in 2018 when we will have the first Digital Preservation Awards Ceremony outside the UK. And in September 2019, when the international digital preservation community will be welcomed in Amsterdam for the 16th international conference on digital preservation, iPRES.
Have we reached everything we dreamed of in 2008? No, not really, but we are making progress. We must keep in mind that our profession is still a relatively young profession and that Rome also was not built in one day. Still, the Dutch digital preservations community has grown from an infant to an adult in 10 years’ time. Which is definitely remarkable.”
You can get in touch with Marcel through email@example.com.