By Kathryn Slover
From October 13-16, 2020 BitCurator hosted their annual Users Forum virtually. The forum consisted of presentations on a variety of digital preservation topics, but one that stood out to me was the first panel on scalability and automation. This session consisted of 3 presentations:
- Scalability, automation and open source tools at the British Film Institute presented by Joanna White, Collections and Information Developer at the British Film Institute
- One Byte at a Time: Small Steps for Dismantling Technological Knowledge Barriers presented by Lynn Moulton, Processing Archivist at Boston College
- Millions & Millions; Scaling Digital Preservation at the Brink of a Million presented by David Cirella and Greta Graf, Digital Preservation Librarians at Yale University
In August I started in a new job at the University of Texas at Arlington, and this was my first BitCurator Users Forum (BUF). I was very excited to hear from other professionals in digital preservation and looked forward to learning about new resources I could use in my new position. While watching the first presentation, I was hit with some serious impostor syndrome as a lot of the terms flew over my head! I started rapidly writing down terms to Google later like DPX film scans, RAWcooked, and FFv1 Matroska. Joanna White’s presentation about the project to convert 3PB of DPX film scans into FFv1 Matroska video files using automation scripts at The British Film Institute sounded fascinating, but I must admit I was a tad overwhelmed (and by a tad I mean completely). I couldn’t help but think of all the things I didn’t know.
After a moment (or several moments) of panic, the second presentation in this session restored my faith that I was, in fact, a Digital Archivist who did know things about digital preservation. Lynn Moulton’s presentation really resonated with me. As it turns out, during last year’s BUF, she struggled with the same feelings I had while watching the previous presentation. She spoke about her own experience with imposter syndrome and reminded me that, I, like most Digital Archivists, come from an archives background and not a computer science one.
As someone relatively new to the world of digital archives, it was comforting to hear that I’m not the only one who sometimes gets overwhelmed and feels like a phony. Luckily, there are people like Lynn who share their own experience and detail how they overcame those feelings. She talked about her process, which includes looking at others’ documentation, testing solutions (and testing them again), the need for support, and the fact that failure is an important part of the process. By the end of her presentation, my overwhelmed feelings had subsided a bit. Even though I don’t know everything, there is an amazing community of digital preservation professionals out there that are dealing with similar issues and are always there to help.
With my renewed energy, I was a bit more prepared for the final presentation of the session. David Cirella and Greta Graf presented on automating the packaging and ingest process of electronic resources at Yale University. This presentation felt a little bit more in my wheelhouse of knowledge. They focused primarily on scripting using Python and Bash Shell. Some automation had been implemented by my predecessor using Python, so I was particularly excited about this subject. Even though I wasn’t familiar with everything, I came out of this presentation with a few ideas about implementing automation at my new institution.
I wasn’t expecting a session on scalability and automation to be such an emotional roller coaster, but it was an informative ride! In this session alone, I came to realize that there are varying levels of skill and expertise when it comes to the work of digital preservation. We all bring something to the table. The rest of the BUF sessions reinforced the fact that digital preservation professionals (no matter the project) are all trying to do the best they can. We all face obstacles in our work but, with a solid network of hard-working colleagues, we can do a lot. I learned about so many helpful tools and educational resources that can hopefully conquer my own feelings of impostor syndrome as they pop up. Overall, the BUF was an amazing experience and I am grateful I was able to learn from this conference (even if I do have a notebook filled with terms and tools to look up)!
Kathryn Slover is the Digital Archivist at the University of Texas at Arlington Special Collections. She has a M.A. in Public History from Middle Tennessee State University and previously held the role of Electronic Processing Archivist at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.