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Interview an Archivist: A Conversation with Chris Lacinak

By Joshua Koepke

In archival and preservation circles, the word “digital” often induces worry about costs, skills, and plans necessary for long-term preservation. For Chris Lacinak, the founder and CEO of AVP, the shift to digital preservation presents opportunities for preservation and connections to important work outside of traditional repositories. Chris explained this to me in a recent phone interview which I had the pleasure of leading.

Chris Lacinak Headshot

Recognizing the widespread lack of institutional ability to find internal solutions to preservation problems, Chris Lacinak started AVP in 2006. Serving both GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) and the private sector, AVP provides consulting services and innovative solutions for maximizing the usability of born-digital and digitized content immediately and over the long-term. The idea is to realize an institution’s own potential for digital solutions at scale, “I started AVP originally back in 2006 with the goal of helping organizations build internal capacity and capability for doing their own digitization and preservation in-house.” This includes calculating staffing, training, equipment, costs, and project length for specific institutions. Since AVP started, it has worked with a large client base including Stanford University, Indiana University, and Paramount Pictures.

Chris offers reassurance to preservationists and asset managers hesitant to embrace digital content. Costs to digitize and preserve materials, observes Chris, have dropped in recent years. In some areas, the costs have decreased nearly ten times the amount of just a few decades ago. Another major detractor to digital content, obsolescence, has not been as severe as anticipated, says Chris, “I went through that transition. I shared those concerns [rapidity of digital obsolescence], and that was a big concern of the field. To a large extent, while some of those concerns have borne out to be true, that rapidity of obsolescence has not been as severe as we once thought it might be.” The increased duration between obsolescence risks has allowed for more planning, strategizing, and execution of strategies. Longer obsolescence times, partnered with great toolsets, education, and evolution of practices within the field has made digital preservation, “… as manageable and realistic as the analogue domain.” Ultimately, Chris says, successful preservation comes down to proper planning regardless of format.

One particular challenge that presents itself to AVP has been the differences in terminology and labels between institution types. The wide range of organization types, from traditional archives to corporate asset management departments, make unique vocabularies for their particular operation. For example, “Some people use digital asset management systems that have digital preservation requirements, but they never use the word ‘preservation’ or anything like that and vice versa.” These labels – digital asset management and digital preservation – can obscure the true needs and goals of an organization. Thus, Chris turns his attention to analyzing the unique requirements of a particular organization. 

Additionally, Chris sees high potential in collaboration efforts between different parts of the preservation community and with unconventional partners outside of the industry. Drawing on his experiences with a broad segment of the industry, Chris has noticed communication breakdowns between types of organizations and different segments of the industry. As a field, we are currently too quick to dismiss potential solutions that could be adapted for use in different markets due to differences in terminology and industry, says Chris, “We don’t engage in deep conversations typically, where there is variance in terminology and vocabulary that give us reason to say ‘they’re not like me’.” By doing so, we limit important progress in digital preservation. 

Emphasizing the connections to other industries continued when asked what advice he would give to young professionals just starting out in archiving or preservation. Chris encouraged people to think broadly about related fields and transferable skills to other industries, “…broaden your horizons, as an archivist, a moving image archivist, you have a skillset that has a lot of value to organizations. There are a lot of organizations that you could be delivering value to”. He went on to say that many organizations that do not have archival departments, traditional archival positions, or even the same terminology, can greatly benefit from the archival skillset. This is echoed in AVP, which has found great success when expanding services outside of institutions with traditional archives (e.g., academia, government entities). Overall Chris thinks the outlook is bright for digital preservation professionals, sensing a demand for curation, management, and all aspects of preservation with the current mass creation of data.

Finally, looking towards the future, Chris is excited about the unconventional opportunities to apply and adapt the digital preservation skillset to challenges throughout the world. He spotlights current AVP projects that are outside of traditional archival labels, including work helping to fight deforestation in Brazil and advancing platforms for black news organizations. Projects he remarks that, “… you would just not think of as being the sorts of projects that you’d be able to work on in a traditional media and archiving route.” Chris is eager to see how the field can think critically about their skillset and form connections to other areas. To get into contact with Chris Lacinak or AVP, please visit: https://www.weareavp.com/.