Proposal: Digital Preservation

The questions on this site seem to fall into two categories, the abstract/definitional/policy (What it fixity? What is the necessary makeup of a DP task force?) and the much more concrete/practical/useful (What tools can I use to convert objects to the WARC format? How would I record information using the PREMIS Data Dictionary?)

The abstract questions are getting more votes, and that may be because some participants (like me) don't even know what WARC and PREMIS are!

I'm concerned that the more technical questions might scare off some potential participants who are less technical. I'd be loathe to rule them "off-topic" since the more practical questions are definitely on the topic of DP. Perhaps there is a middle ground, with some of the practical questions being phrased in a more accessible way?


4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Quoting from the Area 51 FAQ:

Ask real, expert questions
We want you to capture the moment that plumbers feel when they look at Plumber Overflow and say, "Whoa! That's my kinda site!" On a site about plumbing, there are 200 easy plumbing questions, and they've all been asked 100 times on other sites. Don't suggest questions like "How do I unclog a drain?" Instead ask, "If you run 2.5 GPM through 50 feet of 1/2" galv pipe, how many psi will be lost to friction loss?" Remember, pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!

Sites that have experts naturally accrete simpler questions. Beginner sites do not attract experts. On Area 51, concentrate on the expert questions. If you don't have enough participants who know what WARC and PREMIS are¹, you won't build a community of experts.

¹ I know nothing about the subject, so I'm taking you on faith that they are important concept that at least a significant fraction of experts should have heard about.

I am not an expert, but I am a trained practitioner. I find that the field right now is a bit conflated, and that we are even self-selected to ascribe to a concept like "digital preservation." Gilles has it right, in my book. I'm excited to see who gets "drawn in" to the community by finding that they are invested in the topic at hand. I think we will see a lot of folks outside of the proposed group--librarians, archivists, IT, programmers, CIO, etc. –  Aaron Collie Apr 26 '12 at 17:11

Thanks Gilles!

I would add that the fixity question does also get down to brass tacks and ask how and when one should an organization go about checking fixity. I can't tell you how many times I see folks asking these kinds of questions and I would love to be able to point to a thread where that one has been hashed out.

As Digital Preservation is an emergent field, I imagine that there are going to be both very specific technical questions (Including questions about standards like WARC, PREMIS, etc, specifications like BagIt, questions about the sustainability of particular idiosyncratic digital formats, and questions about particular tools like DROID, PRONAM, UDFR, etc) and also some broader, but still fundamentally technical questions about things like skill sets, workflows, and best practices.


Digital Preservation clearly is an emergent field, there is so much more that is unknown compared to that which we are certain about. Both concepts/principles and technology/technique are important now. Awareness of the problem is now high, I can not imagine that anyone in our profession is in denial (hello, climate change sceptics ).
Organisation & institutions are travelling at different speeds towards a shared (if amorphous) goal, some are still at the start line, some are spinning their wheels but nobody is near the finish line yet. So both the concrete and the abstract still have their place in this discussion.


Many have said that both concrete and more conceptual issues are relevant for these discussions. I agree with that. I also think that we should welcome complex and more exploratory questions... that is to say the great unsolved questions of digital preservation have a real place here but so do the questions about things that have been identified and are in practice. So for those who don't know what WARC is, a quick answer can be provided. It is the Web ARChive file format and if you'd like to learn more about it, check out:


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