On November 5, 2020, World Digital Preservation Day events are taking place under this year’s theme: Digits: For Good. The Digital Preservation Coalition, which organizes and sponsors events in honor of the global effort to preserve digital content, announced this theme in recognition of the urgent need to protect digital records that relate to the pandemic, social justice, and a wide range of other critical social issues.
Sarah Middleton, Head of Advocacy and Community Engagement for the DPC, writes, “World Digital Preservation Day is a great way of supporting each other by celebrating some incredible initiatives because of and in spite of the pandemic; showcasing how the data has been preserved for good.”
When future researchers dig into the digital content created around the world to document this intense and uncertain year, what will they discover? The New York Times tackled this topic in April when it published a piece about preserving the records of the pandemic. One of the documentation projects highlighted in the article is Journal of a Plague Year, a website where visitors can submit stories about how they’ve experienced life during the pandemic. Another digital documentation project, Documenting the Now, advocates for collecting and archiving social media and provides researchers access to, for example, public Twitter datasets.
The 2020 election season has also seen a deluge of documentary films chronicling the ups and downs of this year’s political races. These films will likely become important pieces of the 2020 narrative, and, as digital objects, will require long-term preservation to endure. Digital documentaries have been labeled an at-risk genre by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One model for preserving digital documentaries is the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University, which collects and preserves the award-winning documentary films from North Carolina’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
For any digital media artist, community storyteller, researcher, or student making digital content about their experiences this year, World Digital Preservation Day reminds us of the need to tend to our digital materials and to consider how subsequent generations will have access to the digital historical record of this time. We’ll all be revisiting and reviewing this year’s events, likely for decades, and the media created today will become a part of the narrative texts of future generations. It’s worth taking the time to plan how to safeguard the collective digital memories we are creating now as we document our lives on phones, cameras, and social media.