Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Decision Making as the Essence of Preservation, Curation, and Dissemination of Oral History

Escaping "The Digital Mortgage"

In discussions about storage, preservation, and archiving of digital video of oral histories, Doug Boyd frequently refers to the “Digital Mortgage”.  The digital mortgage is a catch-all concept meant to emphasize long-term the commitment associated with oral histories recorded on digital media. One major challenge with digital video is that equipment is used, marketed, and continues to be developed not for archival purposes but rather for production purposes. Thus oral historians and others using these media for full-length audio/video documentation must become defacto archivists, with no feasible workflow models available in academia, commercial practice, nor in film and television production.  Whereas archiving digital audio is a little easier to get a handle on, we still see professional contexts where unused raw media has transitioned only from the literal cutting room floor to a virtual cutting room floor.  Although “best practice” strategies may be recommended for video, can even well-funded collection stewards sustain these methods uniformly across holdings? Although consistency in archival quality is nice, as Boyd points out that "perfect" may be "the enemy of good enough."  Reality begs that different material within a collection be treated differently and the risk of loss should be considered on the collection and even the tape level, rather than a model that calls for a blank check into the vastly unknown and uncharted digital video future. Before signing anything, get a grip on what you have first so you can then make good choices about their value.

This is an adaptation of an abstract I drafted but never submitted anywhere, although some of the ideas emerge in our forthcoming essay in the Oral History Review, "Digital Curation through Information Cartography: A commentary on oral history in the digital age from a content management vantage point" (Lambert and Frisch, 2013)

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