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As a Masters of Library and Information Science student and a student associate with MEAP, I’m constantly making connections between the theory and best practices I learn in my classes with the work I do to support the digital lifecycle of MEAP collections. My formal schooling informs and clarifies my practical work and vice versa. Therefore, when my Digital Preservation course called for students to take on a real-world issue for their final project, I chose to look at MEAP's digital preservation policies to better understand how the work we do can survive well into the future.

MEAP is an exceptional case study for digital preservation because we are situated within a large, well-resourced institution yet we work with small project teams from around the world facing numerous social, political, environmental, and economic challenges. This discrepancy motivates us to address local issues when they arise by being open to solutions that might require more work or more flexibility in how we implement certain standards across projects. For instance, while Google Drive might not be the preferred platform for some digital asset management protocols, it is the most convenient for our project teams and thus what we use as our basis for sharing data between ourselves and our grantees.

With all of this in mind, I set out to clarify MEAPs digital preservation policies, offer recommendations for digital file management, and establish some additional digital asset management workflows to ensure consistency and accuracy across our preservation efforts. Some of the practical considerations that informed my approach included:

  • MEAP’s small staff size

  • The transitory nature of student workers

  • Official UCLA data policies

  • MEAP’s commitment to serve as the digital repository for each funded digital collection

  • Limitations facing our project teams regarding access to technological resources

These limitations can potentially challenge our ability to meet every standard set out by international digital preservation standards. However, in consulting the OAIS (Open Archival Information Systems) Reference Model, a framework that establishes principles for long-term preservation and access, I realized how MEAP is already incorporating many of these principles into our work, albeit in less formal ways. For example, the OAIS model underscores the importance of preserving not only the “data object” but also any associated “representation information” that allows the data to be deciphered by multiple user communities, not only the community the information is about. MEAP's current practice of contextualizing collections through robust metadata and publishing additional project deliverables can be incorporated into a long term preservation policy to ensure that context is not only understandable now, but in perpetuity. This is why I recommend including a README file in long-term storage that indicates preservation description information such as provenance, context and fixity, so that content can be more easily understood far into the future.

Through this classroom based assignment, I was able to evaluate the practices MEAP already has in place and recommend ways MEAP can more efficiently manage digital assets. Ultimately, the final project highlighted ways MEAP can remain flexible to the needs of project teams rather than focusing on implementing standards beyond our current capacity. While international standards for digital preservation are important for increasing accessibility and transparency, they are not always practical to adopt. Our biggest strength as a team is our ability to adapt to the specific needs of our grantees while ensuring open-access to their digital materials remains. Balancing these concerns will always be something for MEAP to consider, and I was glad to have this opportunity to explore these issues as part of my coursework.

As my professor noted, this was a project that was embedded in the realities of a real-world digital archive and it proved to be a great exercise in confronting how the rigidity of best practices are not always practical to implement when working with local communities. I will carry this experience with me into my future work in this field and let it serve as a reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to digital preservation, especially when working with multiple content producers from around the world. Thankfully, we at MEAP recognize this and remain adaptable to the needs of our teams while prioritizing long-term preservation with the resources we have.

Recommended References

  • Artefactual Systems and the Digital Preservation Coalition. “Preserving Documents.” Digital Preservation Coalition, July 9, 2021.
  • Lee, Christopher A. “Open Archival Information System (OAIS) Reference Model” in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (3rd ed), eds. Bates, M.J., & Maack, M.N. (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2010) DOI: 10.1081/E-ELIS3-120044377
  • Library of Congress. “Recommended Formats Statement: VI. Datasets.”