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Moments of Risk

September 8, 2011

The text for the next meeting of the Cardigan Continuum will be an article by David Bearman, entitled “Moments of Risk: Identifying Threats to Electronic Records”. Published in Archivaria 62 in 2006 it is available from their open collection here.

All are welcome to come and discuss this article at the Marquis of Granby pub on 21st September from 6.30pm onwards. Alternatively please leave any thoughts you might have on the issues in this article below.

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One Comment
  1. 80gb permalink

    Unfortunately, I’m not able to make Wednesday’s meet-up, but I have read the article and here are a few comments:

    My first thought was to wonder whether the recordkeeping world really needs another systems wiring diagram (p.26), particularly one as opaque as Figure 1 appears to me? Given the date of Bearman’s article (2006), the fact of its origins outside the archival community, and his comments later in the paper about the limitations of its adoption in library repository circles, I can forgive Bearman for not building instead on the pre-existing framework of OAIS model. And to be fair, OAIS, particularly the full version of the model, is not necessarily any more transparent. But there would seem to be an obvious correlation between the 4 systems environments outlined here (p25) and the 4 dimensions of the records continuum (first outlined 1985, refined 1996-1997), which has a solid (but of course Antipodean not North American) archival grounding. The circular, multidirectional continuum model seems to me at least to offer certain benefits over the closed box, somewhat linear diagram presented here. Bearman’s framework seems to be very records-centric (and restricted to the records of formal organisations to boot) and inward-looking (he does touch on access and use, but this all seems to occur within the boundaries of record keeping box). Whereas the continuum model, with its ‘pluralize’ fourth dimension, seems much more outward-looking and flexible as to the contexts of its application. In the continuum, “The dimensions are not boundaries, the co-ordinates are not invariably present, and things may happen simultaneously across dimensions” (Upward, 1996); what happens to Bearman’s model if one or more environments are missing or transitions fail to occur (or iteratively occur) according to the (hugely complex – I can’t follow it) pattern of vertical and horizontal lines?

    Secondly, Bearman’s arguments are to a large extent dependent upon some defiantly static definitions of authenticity as, essentially, being equal to fixity (pp.26, 34, 41). Somewhat ironically, the last of these definitions (“Preserving a record’s authenticity is predicated on its endurance and stability over time”) is quoted from Heather MacNeil, whose 2007 work with Bonnie Mak subsequently redefined authenticity as socially constructed, contingent and changeable. I much prefer this concept of authenticity as socially constructed, not least because it allows the possibility of multiple, maybe dissonant, or merely ‘good enough’, solutions to electronic records preservation, rather than what seems to me to be Bearman’s quest for a universal panacea (e.g. p25 “criteria for assessing whether a transition has been successful could be generally agreed ” (my italics)). It would also seem to open up a more positive approach towards digital preservation, replacing the miserably negative ‘risk’ and ‘threats’ of Bearman’s title with a more positive construction of contemporary digital reality, possibilities and opportunities.

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