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Saving it for the future – The first PrePARe seminar was held last week on 13 June 2012 in CRASSH’s new premises (Alison Richard Building). We chose the topic of  “Personal Digital Archiving” because we thought it might have a broad appeal. This seemed to be right – we had 30 or so attendees from a range of disciplines including Engineering, the Judge Business School,  as well as the Humanities and Social Sciences. The speakers were chosen to approach the subject from two differing perspectives – Professor Alan Macfarlane is an emeritus Professor or Anthropological Science and Life Fellow of Kings College, recently retired from the University of Cambridge who through his lifetime has been interested in what role digital media can play in his discipline and life. He described the creator’s perspective, outlining his experience of managing and looking after his digital legacy tracking back to the early 1970s (when he had to wait for one year to store his 71MB project until the Computing Service had bought more memory). What made his talk particularly relevant to the audience was that he composed it around the reasons “why not to do it” – the lack of incentive to produce digital outputs, the lack of recognition (when they are produced), the  fear of abuse or work being used out of context, cultural possessiveness over a researcher’s data (seeing intellectual assets as private property). All of these resonated with us but seeing the amazing work that he has created throughout his life and seeing that he has successfully saved it for the future, I think,  has shown that it might be worth to overcome these obstacles. You can see an expansion of his talk on youtube.

Dr Jeremy Leighton John, Curator of eMSS (electronic manuscripts) at the British Library and Principal Investigator for the Digital Lives Research Project, took  the curator’s perspective describing what happens to personal digital archives when they reach the British Library.  He explained how material can be looked at and worked on by curators without leaving a trace using digital forensics and how  privacy can be ensured when the material is being viewed by third parties, for example, when readers in the British Library reading room can roam through the ghosted version of someone’s personal computer (a facility, we are told, that will be available soon). It was very interesting, I thought, that he reported that increasingly depositors of literary archives started discussing their deposits during their life giving them better control over what material can and should be made accessible in future and allowing the curator to understand the material in more detail. For more information on his work see Digital Lives – an initial Synthesis.

The lenghy discussion at the end showed that there were many more questions to debate and I hope we will!

“A very interesting seminar. I found out about things I had long wondered about – and more” (anonymous). It certainly got us all thinking about digital preservation.

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