Best Practices Exchange 2010

[8 October 2010]

Last week nearly two hundred archivists and librarians gathered for Best Practices Exchange 2010 in Phoenix. BPEx is described by its chair, Richard Pearce-Moses, as an ‘unconference’, and he worked hard to encourage sharing of information not just from presenters to audience but vice versa.

Most participants were from state archives, state libraries, local government (e.g. county clerks offices), federal agencies, or large research institutions; as an IT consultant, I was one of a few exceptions. Many people knew each other already from participation in joint projects (past or present), but it was as friendly and welcoming a group for newcomers as I have encountered. I learned a lot about what our public memory institutions are doing about digital preservation (short answer: the situation is fluid, lots of people are aware of the problem, lots of people are working to develop and elaborate solutions, and so far there are no simple answers) and what the situation looks like from the point of view of a state archivist or librarian, charged by law with preserving certain records or publications of government for a fixed term or in perpetuity. (Why do images of tsunamis and avalanches keep coming to my mind?)

I don’t have time for a full trip report right now, but among the highlights of the meeting I have to mention the pre-conference workshop on digital preservation management, taught by Nancy McGovern of ICPSR (the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research) — it’s nice to see the social sciences getting some credit for their decades of experience with digital preservation! Going through what is essentially a three-to-five-day workshop in a single day felt like drinking from a fire hose, but she managed to keep things clear and make the day a pleasure.

And David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, gave a keynote talk which was substantive, candid without being indiscreet, and occasionally quite funny. I had had low expectations coming in, so his talk was a very pleasant surprise.

For anyone interested in digital preservation, this is a great gathering. It is to be hoped that someone will volunteer to host another Best Practices Exchange next year; if they do, I will certainly do my best to get there!