What is Digital Preservation?

Technology | Emma Davenport| October 21, 2019

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Digital preservation is not a new concept, but it is one of increasing importance as institutions generate increased amounts of digital assets.

In simple terms, digital preservation is the process of ensuring future access to digital files and assets, regardless of whether they are born-digital or digitized versions. It’s a process of managing digital assets and ensuring they are usable into the long-term. The process guarantees use even when file formats and technologies evolve.

Digital preservation can involve a lot of activities including:

  • Appraisal as to worthiness of preservation
  • Identification
  • Integrity verification
  • Characterization of content
  • Sustainability assurance
  • Authenticity verification
  • Access allowance and logging
  • The addition of metadata about the preservation process

Within many organizations, a small number of people are expected to do all these things. In these cases, automation in digital preservation can help lower the burden on these small teams of people and help them focus on a set of core activities rather than trying to do everything at once.

To combat file format obsolescence; file formats need to be considered for digital preservation. Can you still access the WordPerfect file that you created in the 80s without special software? What if Adobe were to end support for Adobe Illustrator years down the line and you were unable to access your original artwork?

The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) defines digital preservation as “the series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary… and refers to all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials beyond the limits of media failure or technological and organizational change.”

Digital preservation is not just backing up your files in multiple locations. A good digital backup plan is important, but it isn’t the only part of preservation.

Digital preservation is not a new concept, but it is one of increasing importance as we generate larger amounts of digital assets and in a wider range of file formats from different data sources than ever before. You might need to preserve PDFs, emails, social media messages, voice recordings, instant messenger posts or even entire websites.

Digital preservation is not just backing up your files in multiple locations. A good digital backup plan is important, but it isn’t the only part of preservation. Backups alone are not enough to preserve your data for the long-term and they do not usually include file format normalization.

Here are some things to consider when planning to preserve digital assets:

1. What are you looking to achieve with digital preservation?

  • Are you documenting culturally important artifacts for future generations to understand more about this period?
  • Are you preserving the data for a set period in line with regulatory requirements so the ability to implement a robust retention schedule workflow is important?

2. What are the different file formats and data sources you need to include in your digital preservation strategy?

3. Who needs access from across your organization and community?

4. What amount of digital assets you need to preserve?

  • What are the number of files involved?
  • What are the amount of bytes included?

Digital preservation is an ongoing set of processes. Information professionals will need to continually refine, add to and change over time. Digital preservation is about keeping things accessible for long periods of time, which can result in the long-term as keeping it alive “forever.” The policy that is suitable for day one is not the policy that can be used for year five, so an evolving strategy is essential. Human decision making and purpose-built technology combined are the key to successful digital preservation. Perpetua by Arkivum offers professional services and software to help manage and automate preservation, backup plans, compliance, usability and the integration of digital assets.

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Emma Davenport
Marketing Manager, Arkivum

Trusted partner for digital preservation and long-term data management.

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