Industrious

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had various experiences of interacting with the people from the other side of the fence – they’re usually called vendors, manufacturers, or “the industry” and the difference between them and us is that we’re non-profit, and they’re for-profit. Standard procedure of course being that non-profit feels morally superior to for-profit, and for-profit feels that if you’re non-profit, you’re probably too poor to be “in the market.” Of course all of this is silly, and it gets us precisely nowhere.

Take digital preservation, for example. Digital preservation stands a lot to gain from the availability of file formats which are engineered with a long-term perspective in mind – an example of a successful collaboration between the industry (Adobe) and a wider community of interested parties, including cultural heritage representatives, is the development of PDF/A into an ISO standard. In addition, digital preservation stands a lot to gain from mechanisms which allow files to self-document and provide us with lots of data about their specific technical properties. Since preservation really is a metadata guzzler, recent reports such as PREMIS highlight the importance of automating the capture of this type of information.

At RLG, we’ve pursued the idea of automating the capture of technical metadata in a project called Automatic Exposure, which brings me back to the theme of interacting with our friends from the other side. We’ve had conversations with the industry about how they could optimize their products (digital cameras, scanners, software packages) to facilitate gathering the metadata laid out by NISO Z39.87, a preservation standard currently in the process of being balloted. While everybody brings the best intentions to these discussions, somehow the end result is rarely more than what I’d call a “promising exchange.” I don’t mean to blame the industry for this – it always takes two to tango. What I’ve learned from all of this is how hard it is make a case our prospective collaborators can truly run with.

Even when we meet with individuals who show great interest in our concerns and “get it,” we have to provide them with the right kind of ammunition to take the argument up their reporting chain. How do we communicate that the use of standards would actually give a product a competitive advantage in the marketplace? How do we communicate that our interest in long-term preservation isn’t so special – we’re not the only ones who’d like to see digital images accessible for generations. How do we join with those from other communities who have like interests, and make our case together?

Speaking of communities who have an interest in digital preservation (although they may not yet be aware of it) – I’ve been to a number of weddings lately, and invariably, the official photographer (or the best pal of the groom, whoever happens to be taking the pictures) no longer captures these precious moments on film, but digitally. While everybody else was showering the bride and groom with advice on how to make their marriage last, I felt compelled to provide advice on how to make their images last – just to be on the safe side, why don’t you make sure to get some high-quality prints of these wedding pictures, would you?

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