University Libraries’ carbon footprint research leads to international best paper prize
The Best Paper Prize was awarded to Alex Kinnaman and Alan Munshower of University Libraries at iPRES 2022, the 18th International Conference on Digital Preservation in Glasgow, Scotland. The jury members selected Kinnaman and Munshower’s paper, “Green Goes with Anything: Decreasing Environmental Impact of Digital Libraries at Virginia Tech,” in part because the “topic of this paper couldn’t have been more timely.”
Kinnaman and Munshower examined the carbon footprint of University Libraries’ practices, particularly appraisal and preservation, and made a set of recommended adjustments and areas for further consideration.
Measuring a carbon footprint is complicated and difficult. The team investigated two specific areas, fixity and storage, and the energy consumption of both based on the University Libraries’ current digital infrastructure.
“Storage, for example, is fluid,” said Kinnaman, University Libraries’ digital preservation coordinator. “Content moves back and forth between various servers on different mediums, and pinpointing an accurate read of any given storage space at a given time requires estimations and a grain of salt.”
They focused on how they could reorient library practices to consider the climate impact more urgently.
“It came as a pleasant surprise to us when the jury found possibilities for broader application of our work,” said Munshower, digital collections archivist.
The jury said Kinnaman and Munshower concluded their research with strong recommendations for Virginia Tech and for the wider library community that can foster a more “environmentally sustainable digital platform.”
“This paper helps start the internal conversation around the environmental impact of current digital storage and information management practices across the profession, and how University Libraries at Virginia Tech can adapt,” said Munshower.
Libraries are designed to preserve analog and digital material, and all things digital require significant energy. “As a digital preservationist, my job is essentially to ensure that all of our digital assets are accessible to a minimum of five to 10 years,” said Kinnaman. “This requires a massive amount of storage and ongoing maintenance activities, which effectively does what is necessary to meet that goal, but there is never a stopping point because preservation is active.”
Kinnaman used the example of turning off lights to save energy. “Those on campus may be familiar with our Lights Off/Power Down event, a designated time intentionally dedicated to powering down anything nonessential to conserve energy,” said Kinnaman. “Preservation never powers down entirely, but there needs to be similar intentional decisions made in preservation to decrease certain activities to save on power where possible.”
The team did not set out to tear down existing best practices, ISO standards, or workflows of digital preservation. “Though, when many of the standards are optimized for an endless supply of resources, there will be a breaking point where that model is no longer sustainable,” said Munshower. “A goal of less energy consumption may mean making difficult decisions around preservation practices.”