Meet Stephen Abrams

For our Spring newsletter, we spoke to Stephen Abrams from Harvard Library.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role

I came to Harvard in 2019 as Head of the Library’s newly established Digital Preservation Program. In that role, I’m responsible for advocacy, policy, strategy, and oversight of systems and initiatives. My team provides central preservation services, working with over 63 curatorial and administrative departments as well as technologists in central University IT and individual School IT groups.

How did you get here? What was your path into digital preservation?

This is actually my second stint at the Harvard Library. My first term was 1999-2008, when the Library made its first advances into digital library activities. This was well before viable open source or commercial products were available, so we built the initial versions of many key services still in operation, including our preservation repository and ancillary services for naming, authorization, discovery, and delivery.

What are you working on at the moment?

Our preservation infrastructure was first created as custom systems back in 1999. It has been continually upgraded incrementally since then, but now has been pushed to the limits of its conceptual design and operation. As it is no longer sustainable to rely on in-house development, we’re planning for a migration to an externally-developed product (or products), with both open source and commercial options under consideration. This will be a major undertaking, since it needs to happen without service interruption regarding the 10.6 million objects, 229 million files, and 2 PB we have under current proactive stewardship. At the same time, we’re involved in major initiatives regarding email and web archiving, research data management, mass digitization of the Library’s extensive A/V holdings (upwards of 450,000 physical media items), and supporting the University Archives in its transition to an all-digital records management program by 2026.

What do you see as the main benefit of OPF membership?

The OPF provides (at least) three critical benefits to the international digital preservation community. First, it serves as an effective forum for information pooling, discussion, training, and advocacy. Second, the member and community surveys provide rich data invaluable to individual as well as cooperative research, analysis, and planning projects. And finally, the reference toolset ensures access to vital technologies as well as promoting their shared maintenance and enhancement. We are delighted to support and participate with the OPF in all of these important activities.

Who are you / what do you like to do in your free time?

’ll be defending my doctoral dissertation in August (looking into the question of why we don’t have effective metrics for characterizing digital preservation success), so I have little free time right now(!). Once that’s over with, I look forward to being able to get back to playing music and painting.


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