It’s not just a word

Since starting my new job at Notre Dame in September 2016, I’ve spent most of the time talking to people, with the goal to gain an understanding of the current state of digital assets management at the University.  My job is to coordinate and develop a campus-wide strategy, and to oversee its implementation.

By the end March 2017, I have spoken to 80+ stakeholders from twenty-five departments, representing administration, academia, communications, IT, University Libraries, Archives and Museum.

Digital assets are far from unmanaged at Notre Dame. Previous initiatives have put in place pieces of the infrastructure and some processes. We are in a very good position to revisit the topic and address the gaps.

A key finding is the strong focus on “now” – archiving and preservation are routinely overlooked. As a result, some digital assets have been lost and some are at risk.

So I came up with a set of recommendations, against the 3 pillars of policy, process and technology, some being Libraries and Archives specific. My first recommendation is to amend the University’s 4th strategic goal, which currently reads:

“Foster the University’s mission through superb stewardship of its human, physical, and financial resources”

I suggested that we include “digital resources” as an additional area where superb stewardship is required.

Interesting discussions took place around this particular recommendation yesterday, when I invited back all the people I’ve consulted, to a workshop, to report my findings and recommendations and to pick their brains about the next steps. It was a well-attended event, and the comments were honest and supportive, which made me feel hopeful.

While there was a general agreement on the strategic importance of digital stewardship and management buy-in, questions were raised as to why adding the word “digital” or calling out “digital resources” specifically, as “everything is digital” and we don’t say “we are reading an analogue book” or “watching digital television”.

My immediate reaction was, well, because we are calling out other classes of resources: human, financial and physical, for which the University has a track record of excellent stewardship.  We would do a much better job with digital assets, if we applied the same rigor and coordinated approach.

I had to think about a recent blog post of my former colleague Andy Jackson, who did a MPhys degree in Computation Physics offered by the University of York, which changed name, merged with other course, until fully subsumed into the ‘Theoretical Physics’ course in 2006.  Andy wrote:”these days, all physicist are at least somewhat computational, and almost all theorists use computational methods of some sort, even if they don’t all use simulation. “

When something becomes a routine, a norm, there is no longer the need to specify it.

I don’t think we are there yet with digital archiving and preservation.

So it is not just a word. Digital assets are a new class of resources which requires active care and management over time.  Adding it to the strategic mix is a recognition of their value, and of digital stewardship as a strategic priority. No. it is not just a word, it will have to come with commitment, ownership and resources.

What I did not know was the strategic plan also directs the University’s fund raising efforts – one more reason to add “digital”.

I look forward to the day when we feel confident enough to remove the word “digital” from our strategic plan, when preservation of digital assets is embedded in the organisational culture and operations, when there is no need to even mention it.

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