Desiccation and the Nirvana Fallacy

We deal with the Nirvana Fallacy a lot in libraries.  In a nutshell, the fallacy is to present a choice between the current plan and the best possible (and highly expensive and tricky) alternative.  Obviously, in comparison, the current plan is shown to be lesser, even though it had the (massive) benefit of being doable.  The result of the Nirvana Fallacy is that little actually does get done, either because people spend their time with better and better plans, or they waste time trying to actually achieve the Nirvana alternative as a noble sacrifice.

I bring this up thanks to Chris Rusbridge’s article “Excuse Me… Some Digital Preservation Fallacies?”  In it, he speaks of the fallacy of assuming that digital preservation needs to have the same multi-decade timescale as (current) physical preservation, that it needs to keep all of the capacity of the digital original, and that it be as instantly accessible as any other internet page.  With these assumptions, many take a look at their budget and promptly conclude that nothing can be done for their digital assets.  In fact, we have another article wondering how our preservation efforts will last 100 years!

Rudbridge brings up a concept by Kunze et al. of a “desiccated” format, a digital archive with fewer properties than the original, but with properties considered vital preserved at a cost and effort much lower than keeping a full-fledged archive.  In essence, this would be another expression of the work.  While one full-fledged archive must be kept somewhere (not necessarily in a fully-accessible fashion), the “desiccated” copy remains fully available to those who want the essential experience of the original without too much concern about treating it with kid gloves.

It may be that five consecutive twenty-year solutions may work at less cost than a 100-year solution.  It may be that multiple expressions may be necessary to preserve a work in all of the ways needed.  As long as we concentrate on meeting goals that lead toward the (in the end, indefinite) end of preservation, we will do much better than if we continually reject the possible in favor of the perfect.

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Desiccation and the Nirvana Fallacy

One thought on “Desiccation and the Nirvana Fallacy

  1. Very articulate post! This fallacy is indeed very dangerous. In my own experience in business I have learned very quickly that ideas are the easy part, everyone has them and they can be generated in great number on a whim. Enacting the ideas is the part everyone struggles with and not just the initial phase, but often the long term sustained effort needed to see an idea through from just a thought to an actionable process. A corollary to this is recognizing individual areas of skill and focusing resources where they will produce the most efficient results instead of attempting to ‘brute force’ a task with personnel regardless of skill or efficacy.

    Liked by 1 person

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