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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Digital Preservation Awards 2016 - celebrating collaboration and innovation

Last week members of the Filling the Digital Preservation Gap project team were lucky enough to experience the excitement and drama of the biannual Digital Preservation Awards!

The Awards ceremony was held at the Wellcome Collection in London on the evening of the 30th November. As always it was a glittering affair, complete with dramatic bagpipe music (I believe it coincided with St Andrew's Day!) and numerous references to Strictly Come Dancing from the judges and hosts!

This year our project had been shortlisted for the Software Sustainability Institute award for Research and Innovation. It was fantastic to be a finalist considering the number of nominations from across the world in this category and we certainly felt we had some strong competition from the other shortlisted projects.

One of the key strengths in our own project has been the collaboration between the Universities of York and Hull. Additionally, collaboration with Artefactual Systems, The National Archives and the wider digital preservation community has also been hugely beneficial.

Interestingly, collaboration was a key feature of all the finalists in this category, perhaps demonstrating just how important this is in order to make effective progress in this area.

The 4C project "Collaboration to Clarify the Costs of Curation" was a European project which looked at costs and benefits relating to digital preservation activities within its partner organisations and beyond. Project outputs in use across the sector include the Curation Costs Exchange.

The winner in our category however was the Dutch National Coalition for Digital Preservation (NCDD) with Constructing a Network of Nationwide Facilities Together. Again there was a strong focus on collaboration - this time cross-domain collaboration within the Netherlands. Under the motto "Joining forces for our digital memory", the project has been constructing a framework for a national shared infrastructure for digital preservation. This collaboration aimed to ensure that each institution does not have to reinvent the wheel as they establish their own digital preservation facilities. Clearly an ambitious project, and perhaps one we can learn from in the UK Higher Education sector as we work with Jisc on their Shared Service for Research Data.

Some of the project team from York and Hull at the awards reception

The awards ceremony itself came at the end of day one of the PERICLES conference where there was an excellent keynote speech from Kara Van Malssen from AV Preserve (her slides are available on SlideShare - I'd love to know how she creates such beautiful slides!).

In the context of the awards ceremony I was pondering one of the messages of Kara's talk that discussed our culture of encouraging and rewarding constant innovation and the challenges that this brings - especially for those of us who are 'maintainers'.

Maintainers maintain systems, services and the status quo - some of us maintain digital objects for the longer term and ensure we can continue to provide access to them. She argued that there are few rewards for maintainers and the incentives generally go to those who are innovating. If those around us are always chasing the next shiny new thing, how can the digital preservation community keep pace?

I would argue however that in the world of digital preservation itself, rewards for innovation are not always forthcoming. It can be risky for an institution to be an innovator in this area rather than doing what we have always done (which may actually bring risks of a different kind!) and this can stifle progress or lead to inaction.

This is why for me, the Digital Preservation Awards are so important. Being recognised as a finalist for the Research and Innovation award sends a message that what we have achieved is worthwhile and demonstrates that doing something different is A Good Thing.

For that I am very grateful. :-)