In late November 2018, the Expatriate Archive Centre added a short post to the ‘news’ section of their website, entitled ‘Keeping Blogs Alive’. The main purpose of the piece was to introduce a new initiative, the EAC Blog Archive, that was to be started the following year. The EAC Blog Archive is currently up and running, albeit in a fairly low-key way. Its purpose is to preserve the blogs of Expatriates. Since living abroad is quite a novel experience, it is relatively common for expatriates to record and publish their thoughts and observations a place that is quite unfamiliar to them. While such accounts are by no means a new phenomenon, it is only in the last 2 decades that the World Wide Web has become the dominant forum for these stories.
Since digital preservation is a relatively new field, it makes sense that much of the blog post is devoted to explaining what it is and why the Expatriate Archive Centre has chosen to engage in it. The blog-post argues, quite convincingly, that the creation of a Blog archive will ‘enrich the research opportunities for students and other academics who choose the EAC as a place of study’. This research-orientated understanding of preservation fits neatly with the definition proposed by Paul Conway in 1989, which he then re-iterated in the context of online preservation 20 years later. Conway argued that the goal of preservation should be to provide resources to future researchers, as opposed to being understood as intrinsically worthwhile.
In line with this, the author of the blog post goes on to discuss the practical elements of setting up a blog archive that is researcher-friendly, such as the choice of software and the establishing of a clear selection criterion. However, it is worth noting that the post contains few details about how these technical decisions are made. This is probably for the purpose of brevity and readability: it can safely be assumed that most readers of the blog would have little interest in the technical infrastructure of an online archive. That being said, the infrastructure of digital preservation and curation has been of interest to many academics. Helen R. Tibbo devoted an article to the technical and conceptual aspects of digital curation. In the article, she cites a meeting between several research-library-based organisations, at which they collectively identified ten basic characteristics of a well-run digital preservation repositories. Tibbo highlights the fact that, of these ten characteristics, only one mentions the role of technology. The lack of technical detail may therefore be more than an attempt to maintain reader interest; it may be an accurate reflection of the priorities of a digital archivist. The other characteristics of an ideal preservation repository include the maintenance of the ‘requisite contractual and legal rights’, as well as the ‘integrity, authenticity and usability of digital objects it holds over time’. These characteristics are reflected clearly when the blog comes to talk about the work that still needs doing
It has been around 6 months since that blog was posted, and in that time the EAC Blog Archive has been successfully launched. Much of the text of this blog post has been copied verbatim onto the official page describing the project, where a link is provided for those wanting to contribute their blogs to the EAC collection. A key difference between the blog post and the official project page is that the latter also features a clear set of criteria that a blog must meet before and can be considered for entry into the collection. These added qualifications demonstrate neatly how the project has developed since November 2018. However, having spoken to the author of the blog post, who is also one of the key architects of the EAC Blog Archive, it is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done on the project. While some of the key obstacles, such as EU privacy law, have been overcome since the original blog was posted, the present archive is still rather rudimentary. Fortunately, the Expatriate Archive Centre have proven committed to successfully following through on the project by continually making structural and technological improvements to the archive itself, as well as publicising their work with the aim of encouraging further donations of material. Just last week, they took part in the ICA’s International Archive Week, which this year focused on ‘designing archives in the 21st century’.
To continue spreading word of the Blog Archive, it is essential that the EAC make active use of their own blog, as well as their accounts on social media such as Twitter & Instagram. In addition to raising awareness, this will also provide readers with a view on how the project is developing and improving, and with that a better understanding of what goes into making and maintaining a digital archive. The subject need not be dry; this blog post demonstrates that it is possible to describe the digital archiving in a way that does reflect academic thinking, while also being brief and non-technical enough for general audiences.