Panel 2: Infrastructural Sustainability and Curatorial Practices of the Digital Archive

Panel organizer(s): Luca Antoniazzi, University of Leeds, UK

Keywords: Digital infrastructure; Economics; Management; Curatorship

Abstract: More often than not, public discourses surrounding archives enthusiastically focus on the opportunities provided by digital technology in enhancing access to archival material, exemplifying and stimulating its circulation and reuse, while other point of views and approaches present in the literature are often marginalised.
A conspicuous number of publications are pointing out the serious challenges, alongside the well-known opportunities, that digital technology’s role in media preservation are bringing about. Publications such as AMPAS (2007&2012), Rosenthal et al. (2012), Weathly (2012) need to be seriously taken into account within the academic discourse in order to investigate a set of issues related to the potential drawbacks of the recent technological shift. The limits of long term digital preservation (e.g. the costs of storage systems and management, the frantic proliferation of different file formats, the unreliability of digital carriers and the consequent complex and endless process of data migration) but more significantly the corresponding solutions that archivists, technicians and curators will provide to overcome these challenges, will be crucial in shaping a new relationship between archives and the users of the future.
The immediate need for concrete answers is made even more urgent by the acceleration of this all-embracing change. In fact, contemporary media production is already mostly digital and Audio-Visual Heritage Institutions (AHIs), in order to keep up their role of constructors of historical narratives, will need to handle the entire process of preservation, from acquisition to access, employing new equipment, dealing with new form of governance and implementing new curatorial practices.
We are therefore in an extremely delicate and tense situation in where the vigorous thrust of the industry could potentially put at risk the integrity of the collections.
The questions on the table are numerous but we can group them in three main categories:
• If and how the necessity of archiving digital born items will change curatorial practices, governance and funding schemes of AHIs? Which it will be, if any, the role of digital curatorship?
• Which policy is needed and at which administrative level?
• Are the social functions of digital archives and museums going to change? If so, in which sense?