Hack to preserve: increasing your organisational competence

Hack to preserve: increasing your organisational competence

While the digital preservation challenge is caused by technology, it is not solved by technology. Many research projects started out with the ambition to devise a technology solution (migration, emulation, encapsulation, etc.) and many memory institutions thought it would suffice to apply the R&D results: the methods and associated tools. However, it has become clear that such all encompassing solutions do not exist. In addition, many tools and approaches have not survived the R&D stage. So, while R&D remains important to conduct research in specific, well-defined problem areas, it is not the main driving force behind digital preservation.

Although OPF originates from a research project and continues to foster R&D, its philosophy of digital preservation concentrates less on technology as a solution and more on growing digital competence as a long-term approach to digital preservation. In previous blogs I gave some background on this philosophy, which aims to

1)    foster learning by doing as a means to develop skills and expertise in an area where best practices and standards have not yet matured and where research plays an important supportive role;

2)     cultivate a community of experts and skilled people who embrace the values of active learning and professional sharing, values which assume a certain degree of organisational readiness on the part of memory institutions.

In this blog I will explain how the OPF hackathons are supporting these aims and why preservation managers should send their staff to OPF-hackathons.


What are OPF hackathons?

Our hackathons are 3 day-events organised around a specific digital preservation topic or challenge and bring together curators (those who understand the content and value of their collections) and software engineers (those who understand the underlying digital nature of these collections). In OPF-speak, we bring together the “practitioners” and the “developers”, which is a practical way to distinguish between 2 different roles: 1) the role of the practitioners who collect digital materials and can come with real examples and real, day-to-day problems they encounter when managing these materials; 2) the role of the developers which is the equivalent to that of the “conservators” in the analogue domain: they examine the digital materials (the files and the bit streams underlying the digital objects); suggest methods for storing, displaying, treating and processing them; research new techniques; etc.

In bringing these 2 roles together we are creating fruitful synergies, which not only result in practical solutions but more importantly, in cultivating a community of experts who share and develop professional practices together. The concept is simple: practitioners bring troubled data and developers “hack” with existing tools and develop practical approaches. Usually the problems and solutions are very much hands-on. They are neither about state of the art R&D nor about building future frameworks or digital sustainability platforms. They are not about risk assessment or risk management. We talk about the day-to-day operations and the use of tools such as Apache Tika and DROID, in real practice. We talk about integration of tools in workflows and compare practices. In this way we are building a shared practice, based on learning by doing.


Why is it important for memory institutions to send their people to OPF hackathons?

Institutions with a mission to preserve society’s digital heritage need to develop competence and confidence in digital preservation. It is OPF’s conviction that the best way to do so is by investing in staff development. OPF hackathons are better substitutes to (and cheaper than) training programmes. They help your staff to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform their daily tasks. Through participation they can rely on peer support from the OPF community and vice versa derive job satisfaction from contributing to the community.


Next OPF Hackathons

A Practical Approach to Disk Images and Digital Forensics, 15-17 May, Copenhagen

Tackling Real-World Collection Challenges with Digital Forensics Tools and Methods, 3-5 June, Chapel Hill


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