Rainy, chilly Boston hosted the 15th iPRES conference this year at Harvard Medical School’s Benton Convention Center. Over 400 digital archives and preservation professionals and researchers attended the gathering, setting a record. Although I have kept iPRES conference proceedings and papers on my radar every year, this was my first in-person attendance since it landed in Chapel Hill several years ago. The event has been structured as an annual conference with associated proceedings, and there was some discussion this year about creating a more formal organization to provide support for year-round activities.

The event is almost wholly focused on the theory and practice of digital preservation. This year, experts and those new to the field could find content from areas as wide-ranging as “Storytelling and Digital Preservation” to “Rebooting the NDSA Levels.”  There’s a nice balance between conceptual papers and hands-on programming. Workshops, poster sessions, lightning talks, and full, peer-reviewed papers comprised the majority of the conference offerings. One of the most engaging features is the digital preservation “game room” in which attendees can sample an array of creative (and only slightly cutthroat) games aimed at teaching core digital preservation concepts.

My only complaint about the conference is that the workshops and sessions were often standing-room only, which made it difficult to plan my days! Happily, I ended up attending a few sessions that weren’t on my radar as a result.

Session highlights included a workshop on WebRecorder, a new(ish) technology from Rhizome that provides robust website archiving and supports both audio and video. It has some advanced (and long-sought) features in comparison to Archive-It, long the standard for web archiving but one that lacks the ability to capture fully interactive or multimedia-based sites. WebRecorder relies on a somewhat less automatic process than Archive-It but can preserve, emulate and provide access to interactive sites and web-based video.

Another fascinating workshop focused on the preservation of virtual reality exhibits. University of Indiana faculty worked for a few years with community-based partners to create a VR archive of photographs and narration documenting a historic church that has since been demolished. These types of media pose particular difficulties for archivists – the sheer number of digital files created for these projects is immense – and the researchers focused primarily on the types of documentation they could create to describe and preserve the underlying software and media files. The workshop sparked rich discussion about the need for community standards, strategies, and working groups dedicated to exploring how best to preserve these types of emergent media.

The mix of researchers, practitioners and companies working in the digital preservation arena creates a wonderful opportunity at iPRES to learn from other attendees through in person and online conversations. This conference is one of few that focuses solely on digital preservation and engages a global community of participants. This year, attendees from universities as far away as Nairobi, New Zealand and Uganda contributed to a broad conversation about digital preservation as a global problem. I look forward to seeing how iPRES continues to evolve.