The Insights Interviews: First Person Perspectives on Ensuring Long Term Access to Our Digital Heritage

Back when I was working for the Library of Congress I did, and helped coordinate, a ton of interviews with practitioners and thinkers working in digital preservation for the National Digital Stewardship Alliances innovation working group. At one point, there was discussion of making a book out of the then 33 interviews. As with many ideas, it stalled out at some point. In any event, I worked up an intro for that and a table of contents at one point. So I figured I would just post that here, as I think it makes the interviews a bit easier to navigate. Together they form a whole that is, I think, more useful than just looking at them as part of a serial publication. For context, I wrote the intro below in 2014 and the interviews range from 2011-2014.From the initial draft I also added a set of  9 additional fantastic interviews that Julia Fernandez did as a Junior Fellow focused on understanding, documenting and preserving digital culture. I also added in links to guest posts that Sharon Leon and Mackenzie Smith wrote about approaches to developing open source software that are slightly different in that they predate the focus on interviews as an approach.

I don’t claim the credit for this massive amount of work. A ton of people did a lot of work on running, planning and coordinating these. Off the top of my head Jane Mandelbaum, Martha Anderson, Abbey Potter, Erin Engle, Butch Lazorchak, Jefferson Bailey, Lori Emerson, Julia Fernandez, Ricky Padilla, Barbra Taranto, come to mind as people who either did significant work in running or coordinating interviews.  I know there are many others from the NDSA innovation working group who contributed to doing these as well. 

The Insights Interviews:First Person Perspectives on Ensuring Long Term Access to Our Digital Heritage

Innovation can be a terrible buzzword. It can be a stand in for flavors of the month, and trendy ideas on the upswing of this year’s hype scale. With that said, it remains a critical concept. Particularly in a field like digital preservation where the idea of even keeping up with the scale and deluge of digital media along with an ever changing series of new forms, formats, tools and platforms is often dizzying and overwhelming. In some of my first conversations with Jane Mandelbaum, the Library of Congress co-chair for the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Innovation working group we struck on the idea of focusing on how exactly people are making it work.

Across a range of disciplines and areas an amazing set of professionals have emerged to ensure long term access to digital information and were doing amazing things with that information. When we did our first interviews for the then new Signal digital preservation blog I had no idea how useful and valuable many of them would become as touchstones for our field. Some of these interviews were topical and primarily of interest in the moment, but many of them share important and profound insights (the term the then Director of NDIIPP Martha Anderson suggested for the series). When an NDIIPP colleague approached me about helping to shape a volume out of the best of these interviews I thought it was a great idea. In reflecting on them, I think there are four particular cross cutting reasons that these interviews organized as they are here, are particularly useful for emerging and established professionals in and around the work of digital stewardship.

First Person Perspectives from an Emerging Interdisciplinary Field

Everyone in this volume has launched or established a career in this new and interdisciplinary field of work. As digital technologies reshape work across every sector ensuring long term access to information now touches on nearly every sector. Our education and training systems are responding to these changes, but beyond that, it is invaluable to use these interviews as a point of entry into the work of individuals in this field. In this respect, every interview here is an opportunity to understand someone’s career trajectory and in many cases a chance to gain insight into the skills and knowledge required to take on the hybrid roles that many of these innovative individuals are engaged in. In this respect, the collection is of particular interest to young professionals and students looking to establish the course for their careers.

Practical Dispatches from the Front Lines of Digital Stewardship

A considerable amount of ink and pixels have been spilt over theory of digital stewardship. Models, frameworks and certification criteria abound. These are great resources, but given the rapid pace at which technologies and systems are evolving, understanding how individuals are working to ensure long term access to digital information provides insight into how people on the ground are actually making this work happen. In this respect, each interview in this volume is an illustration of how theory comes into practice. Each interview provides a firsthand frontline narrative of how the models and frameworks of the field are calibrated into the messy realities of resource constraints and practical limitations of the world.

A Cross Section of Work and Issues Involved in Digital Stewardship

Big picture strategy, perspectives of content specialists, exploration of issues in the design and maintenance of infrastructure and systems, needs and desires of researchers scholars and other end users. While the interviews were not done to create a comprehensive picture of the field, as they have accrued over time when we set about sorting out the best of them into different buckets I was thrilled to see how well they covered the waterfront of collecting, organizing, preserving and providing access to digital information.

Disaggregating Digital Stewardship and Preservation

It’s not as tidy as it would be if this all hung together from a single perspective, there is a lot of messiness in the different objectives, frameworks and perspectives which different participants come from. That is something which I think is a particular strength of the volume. The rhetoric of the digital often makes it seem like we should be moving into the clean lines and clear cut universe of a science of digital stewardship. But when we zoom in to the work at each layer of the infrastructure for digital stewardship we are building it becomes evident that the same professional values and approaches that made for idiosyncratic visions of preservation and access in the past are just as present in our digital future as they were in our analog past. Digital stewards engage in their work toward differing objectives through differing means. For instance, considerations about the authenticity of digital artworks are not the same as concerns about the authenticity of electronic records.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Digital Strategy

  1. Digital Strategy Catches up With the Present: An Interview with Smithsonian’s Michael Edson August 9, 2012
  2. Open Source Software and Digital Preservation: An Interview with Bram van der Werf of the Open Planets Foundation, April 4, 2012
  3. Solving Problems and Saving Bits: An Interview with Jason Scott, August 20, 2013
  4. Digital Humanities Connections to Digital Preservation: Interview with Brett Bobley of the Office for Digital Humanities at the NEH, October 11, 2011

Chapter Two: Understanding Digital Objects

  1. BitCurator’s Open Source Approach: An Interview With Cal Lee, December 2, 2013
  2. What’s a Nice English Professor Like You Doing in a Place Like This: An Interview With Matthew Kirschenbaum August 12, 2013
  3. Media Archaeology and Digital Stewardship: An interview with Lori Emerson, October 11, 2012
  4. Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst February 8, 2013
  5. Historicizing the Digital for Digital Preservation Education: An Interview with Alison Langmead and Brian Beaton, May 6, 2013

Chapter Three: The Curator’s View

  1. Web Archiving and Mainstreaming Special Collections: The Case of the Latin American Government Documents Archive, June 6, 2012
  2. Crossing the River: An Interview With W. Walker Sampson of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, December 9, 2013
  3. ArtBase and the Conservation and Exhibition of Born Digital Art: An Interview with Ben Fino-Radin May 1, 2012
  4. Exhibiting Video Games: An interview with Smithsonian’s Georgina Goodlander September 25, 2012
  5. The Digital Data Backbone for the Study of Historical Places”: An Interview with Matt Knutzen of the New York Public Library, February 27, 2013
  6. Challenges in the Curation of Time Based Media Art: An Interview with Michael Mansfield April 9, 2013
  7. Insights Interview with Beverly Emmons, Lighting Design Preservation Innovator February 10, 2012
  8. Born Digital Archival Materials at NYPLBorn Digital Archival Materials at NYPL: An Interview with Donald Mennerich, April 22, 2013
  9. Curating Extragalactic Distances: An interview with Karl Nilsen & Robin Dasler, August 18, 2014

Chapter Four: Designing Infrastructures

  1. Engineering Digital Preservation: Interview with David Rosenthal, June 15, 2011
  2. Lessons Learned for Sustainable Open Source Software for Libraries, Archives and Museums, September 15, 2011 (From Mackenzie Smith)
  3. Hydra’s Open Source Approach: An Interview with Tom Cramer, May 13, 2013
  4. Digital Stewardship and the Digital Public Library of America’s Approach: An Interview with Emily Gore, October 28, 2013
  5. The Foundations of Emulation as a Service: An Interview with Dirk von Suchodoletz, December 11, 2012
  6. WWI Linked Open Data: An Interview with Thea Lindquist, July 29, 2013
  7. Toward a Library of Virtual Machines: Insights interview with Vasanth Bala and Mahadev Satyanarayanan, September 21, 2011
  8. Imagine What We’ll Know This Time Next Week: An Interview with Bailey Smith and Anne Wootton of Pop Up Archive, December 6, 2012

Chapter Five: Working with the Public

  1. Crowdsourcing the Civil War: Insights Interview with Nicole Saylor, December 6, 2011
  2. Understanding User Generated Tags for Digital Collections: An Interview with Jennifer Golbeck, May 1, 2013
  3. Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia (GLAM-Wiki): Insights Interview with Lori Phillips, April 20, 2012
  4. The Metadata Games Crowdsourcing Toolset for Libraries & Archives: An Interview with Mary Flanagan, April 3, 2013

Chapter Six: Scholar and Researcher Perspectives

  1. Quest for the Critical E-dition: An interview with Leonardo Flores, March 20, 2013
  2. Machine Scale Analysis of Digital Collections: An Interview with Lisa Green of Common Crawl, January 29, 2014
  3. Sharing, Theft, and Creativity: deviantART’s Share Wars and How an Online Arts Community Thinks About Their Work, September 17, 2012
  4. Astronomical Data & Astronomical Digital Stewardship: Interview with Elizabeth Griffin, October 8, 2014

Chapter Seven: The Digital Vernacular and Digital Folklore

  1. Born Digital Folklore and the Vernacular Web: An Interview with Robert Glenn Howard, February 22, 2013
  2. Understanding Folk Culture in the Digital Age: An interview with Folklorist Trevor J. Blank , June 30, 2014
  3. LOLCats and Libraries: A Conversation with Internet Librarian Amanda Brennan, July 14, 2014
  4. Understanding the Participatory Culture of the Web: An Interview with Henry Jenkins, July 24, 2014
  5. Computational Linguistics & Social Media Data: An Interview with Bryan Routledge, August 1, 2014
  6. Networked Youth Culture Beyond Digital Natives: An Interview With danah boyd, August 11, 2014
  7. Netnography and Digital Records: An Interview with Robert Kozinets, August 13, 2014
  8. Research is Magic: An Interview with Ethnographers Jason Nguyen & Kurt Baer, August 15, 2014
  9. Studying, Teaching and Publishing on YouTube: An Interview with Alexandra Juhasz, September 5, 2014
  10. Archiving from the Bottom Up: A Conversation with Howard Besser, October 10, 2014



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