Yesterdays event at the British Library on Significant Properties in digital objects was a real gem. The programme was packed to the hilt, with eleven different speakers plus 45 minutes for audience discussion at the end of the day. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear more about the SigProp research that JISC has funded, as well as how significant properties are being explored in a number of other contexts such as in the PLANETS research into preservation characterisation.
Andrew Wilson started the day with a great and very targeted keynote that explored the background to significant properties research and what significant properties means to him. I was heartened when he almost immediately kicked off by talking about authenticity and significant properties, because authenticity is a big deal for me insofar as preservation is concerned! But this isn't a post about what we mean by authenticity in a digital environment, I shall save that for another day/time/place. Hot on his heels came Stephen Grace from CeRch, with an overview of the InSPECT project and future work, closely followed by David Duce presenting the conclusions of the Vector Images significant properties study. Interestingly, this used a slightly different measure of significance to the InSPECT project, which used a scale of 0 - 10 whereas the vector images study used from 0- 9. This imay be a minor deviation at the moment but might well assume more relevance when dealing with automated processes for migrating and assessing collections of mixed object types. Mike Stapleton then presented the results of the Moving Images study and, after a short break, on came Brian Matthews with the results of the Software study and Richard Davis with the results of the eLearning Objects study.
It quickly became clear that there was some variance in people's understanding of significant properties, particularly when one speaker stated that for different preservation approaches they would need different significant properties to acheve the desired level of performance. This is different to how I perceive significant properties. For me - and for several other speakers - significant properties define the essence of the object and are those elements that must be preserved in order to retain the ability to reproduce an authentic version of the object. To select different significant properties based on a given preservation approach surely means there is a diferent underlying understanding and use of the term significant properties.
What does this all go to show? That it's a case of different strokes for different folks? Well, to some extent, yes. It was widely accepted several years ago that different sectors had different requirements insofar as preservation was concerned - I remember attending an ERPANET workshop in Amsterdam in 2004, for example, that clearly illustrated just this point. And yesterday's audience and speakers represented an array of sectors with different requirements for preservation. So the whole concept of significant properties and use of the term across different sectors is something that I think we'd benefit from returning to discuss some more.
The afternoons sessions were, I think, intended to put a different perspective on the day. We heard from the PLANETS project, Barclays Bank, the DCC SCARP project, the SIGPROPS project from Chapel Hill, and a presentation on the relationship between Representation Information and significant properties. Cal Lee's presentation (SIGPROPS) on preserving attachments from email messages was fascinating and I suspect I'm not alone in wishing we'd had more time to hear more from him, but there simply wasn't the time. I suspect we would have had much more discussion if the programme had been spread out over two days - the content certainly justified it.
As always, the presentations will be available from the DPC website in due course. Keep an eye out though for the final report of the INSPECT project - they're not finished yet due to the change from the AHDS to CeRCH, but I expect it will be a fascinating read when they are done.