Reflections on CHNT 2016

Back in November (16th-18th), I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the Cultural Heritage and New Technologies (CHNT) conference in Vienna. As detailed in my excitable post, written  in advance of the event, my involvement was to represent the ADS at the session and subsequent round tables hosted by the ARIADNE project on the subject of Digital Preservation. One of the reasons I was so excited was that it was one of the few occasions on which the focus of such sessions was solely on the issues surrounding Digital Preservation: how it’s undertaken, problems and the challenge of ensuring re-use. It was also the first time, in public at least, that individuals representing organisations undertaking Digital Preservation from across Europe came together to present as a united front and presented to the wider heritage community. In addition, the event also took place at the beautiful Vienna town hall in (see below), a fantastic venue.

Just a normal staircase at Vienna town hall. not intimidating in the least
Just a normal staircase at Vienna town hall. Not intimidating in the least

It was incredibly heartening to hear from European colleagues on their experiences, successes and challenges. I also felt that all the papers in the session – no doubt due to the diligence of  co-chairs from  DANS , DAI IANUS and the Saxonian State Department for Archaeology – meshed together really well. Although there were common themes, each was unique and presented a different tale to tell. Although somewhat biased, at the end of the formal session I came away thinking that I had not only contributed, but had learnt in equal measure. For those interested, IANUS have agreed to host the abstracts and presentations from the session on their website. I’d recommend these to everyone interested in a European-wide approach to the issues of digital archiving.

The first round table followed the formal session, and was listed as an open invitation for delegates to query the archivists in the room about where/when/what/how to archive. Surprisingly, considering the high profile parallel sessions, the room was packed with an array of people from a variety of backgrounds and countries across Europe. As such, the conversation veered between the extreme poles of the subject matter – for example the basic need for metadata versus adherence to the CIDOC-CRM. Reading between the lines here, what I thought the attendance and diverse topics showed was that this type of event was not only useful, but actually essential for archivists and non-archivists alike. Not only to correct misconceptions and to genuinely try and help, but also to alert us to the issues as perceived from the virtual work-face.

After a well-earned rest, and a quick visit to the Christmas markets for a small apfelwein, the next day was a chance for all the archivists to get together for an informal round table on issues affecting their long term, and shorter term objectives. Issues ranged from the need for accreditation – one of the ADS’ goals in this regard is to learn from DANS’ experience of achieving NESTOR – to file identification and persistent identifiers. In this setting the ADS is  perceived as very much the elder statesperson (!) in the room, having been in the business for 20 years now, and it’s a good feeling to be able to pass onto colleagues advice and lessons from our own undertakings. I think it’s important that we continue to do this, not only to be nice (and I like to think we’ve always been approachable!), but also to achieve a longer-term strategic strength. Although we (the ADS) are winning many of the challenges at home in terms of championing the need for consideration of digital archives, there’s always more to be done. When we can also point to equivalents in continental Europe, I feel we only make our cause stronger.

However I’m also conscious that this isn’t just a one-way street and that we’ve still a great deal to learn from our European colleagues. Not only in things like accreditation, but also shared experiences on tools, file formats, metadata standards and internal infrastructure. We often say that Digital Preservation never stands still, so in this regard it’s good to look at what others are doing and reflect on what we could do better.  Events such as this – and the international community of archaeologists doing Digital Preservation built in its wake – serve to make us richer in knowledge, and renewed of purpose. Looking forward to the next one!

Tim