Preservation of Digital Content


…a policy which is ignored is worse than no policy at all

address issues such as:
• The status of electronic records within the organisation and broad definitions of what they constitute.
• Broad definition of records which constitute permanent records worthy of long-term preservation.
• Roles and responsibilities within the organisation.


• The best way to optimise the management of electronic information is to define a coherent global strategy from the outset, ensuring that everyone concerned is involved.
• clearly defined timeframes with achievable targets to monitor
• Authenticity – What organisational and technical strategies will ensure that the electronic record is reliable and legally admissible?
• Appraisal and retention periods – How will they be developed and applied?
• Migrating records worthy of permanent preservation to new systems – How will they remain accessible and usable for as long as they are needed?
• Selection of media and formats – What standards should be used for various categories of electronic documents across the organisation?
• Metadata – How will essential metadata be defined and how can it be ensured that it will remain linked to the corporate record?
• Training and awareness raising for staff – What ongoing training requirements and supporting guidelines are required to support good records management practice?

• The design of the recordkeeping system.
• The types of electronic records which need to be captured by the system.
• What documents need to be captured as records.
• What naming conventions should be used.
• What metadata needs to be kept with the records.

Training and guidance

New record keeping skills are required in a fully electronic environment of end-users as creators and users of records.They will have more responsibility for correctly identifying and dealing with electronic records at the point of creation, and these shifts imply significant cultural change in attitudes and behaviour towards record-making and use.

• At what point does the document they are working on become a formal record and therefore managed as part of the Electronic Records Management of the organisation?

• What metadata should they provide?

• What naming conventions should they use?


In a digital environment, decisions taken at creation and selection have significant implications for preservation.The link between access and preservation is far more explicit than for paper and other traditional materials, as access to a digital resource can be lost within a relatively brief period of time if active steps are not taken to maintain (i.e. preserve) it from the beginning.

As the interactive Decision Tree indicates, if it is neither feasible nor desirable to preserve a digital resource across various changes in technology, then its acquisition should be re-evaluated.

While many of the same principles from the traditional preservation environment can usefully be applied, policies and procedures will need to be adapted to the digital environment. In a print environment, the decision to select, and the decision to preserve, can be taken quite separately and within a timeframe which may span several decades. The brief period during which digital resources will inevitably become inaccessible means that it makes sense to make decisions about selection and preservation simultaneously.

Accurate documentation is also crucial in the digital environment.This will provide not only essential details for managing the resource over time but also information on context without which there may be little point in preserving the digital object itself even if it is technically feasible to do so. In the accompanying Decision Tree, it is suggested that acquisition be re- evaluated if documentation is inadequate.

In the case of networked digital resources, where providing access to a resource does not necessarily require bringing the resource physically into a collection, the concept of acquisition is quite different from traditional collections.There are a range of options available to provide access or to build ‘virtual collections’. For example, making copies/mirrors for access, providing a hyper link to a resource, online catalogues and finding aids.

Retention and Review
Over time the need may also arise to review collections and collections policy to reflect changing needs and circumstances.The necessity of making early decisions on selection for preservation in a digital environment (without the period of hindsight which is often available in analogue environment) may mean that future review may be necessary in the preservation life cycle of electronic resources.

Unique numbering
Each data resource accessioned by an institution should be allocated a unique identifier.This number will identify the resource in the Institution’s catalogue and be used to locate or identify physical media and documentation. In the event of a resource being de-accessioned for any reason, this unique number should not be re-allocated.

Checking completeness and accuracy of paper based or digital documentation.
Checking description and intellectual content of the resource.
Checking structure and formatting of the resource.

Processing times
Ideally targets should be set and monitored for the maximum time between acquisition and cataloguing to prevent backlogs of unprocessed and potentially at risk materials developing during the accessioning process.

Transfer procedures
• Provide documentation to guide and support transfer of digital resources from suppliers.
• Decide how your transfer procedures can best be developed to support your
storage and preservation policies.

Preservation Strategies
Primary preservation strategies as defined here are those which might be selected by an archiving repository for medium to long-term preservation of digital materials for which they have accepted preservation responsibility. Secondary preservation strategies are those which might be employed in the short to medium term either by the repository with long-term preservation responsibility and/or by those with a more transient interest in the materials.
Chronologically, secondary strategies may precede primary strategies.

The other potential long-term strategy, to an analogue preservation format, differs from the other strategies in two important ways:
1. It can only sensibly be considered for a relatively small category of digital resources and is patently inappropriate for the increasing numbers of more complex digital resources being created.
2. By its nature, it loses the digital characteristics of the resources it converts and is therefore a preservation strategy for some digital resources, as opposed to a digital preservation strategy, where the essential aim is to retain the digital characteristics of the resource. The latter should be preferred.
Another option represented here as a secondary strategy is digital archaeology (secondary strategy).This is not precisely a preservation strategy at all but rather when the absence of preservation strategies has left valuable resources inaccessible.
It should be emphasised that employing a judicious mix of secondary strategies combined with responsible storage and maintenance decisions in Acquisition and Appraisal has the potential significantly to reduce both risks of losing access to digital resources in the short- term and costs of preserving access to them in the long-term.

Digital archaeology
Rescuing digital resources which have become inaccessible as a result of technological obsolescence and/or media degradation. Not so much a strategy in itself as a substitute for one when digital materials have fallen outside a systematic preservation programme.

• There are a growing number of specialist third party services offering this service.
• It has been shown to be technically possible to recover a wide range of information from damaged or obsolete media (though not necessarily in the same form).
• Much more costly long-term than bona fide digital preservation strategies.
• Is unlikely to be cost-effective for anything other than the most highly valued digital resources.
Potentially useful materials which do not justify the costs involved will be lost.
• Risk that some digital materials may not be able to be successfully rescued.
Poor management of initial investment.

There has always been a strong link between preservation and access. The major objective of preserving the information content of traditional resources is so that they can remain accessible for future as well as current generations.The link is more explicit in the digital environment in that decisions on how to provide access and how to preserve a digital resource should be made, ideally, simultaneously. As well as the timing of decisions regarding preservation and access, there is also the fact that there is little point in preserving either the container or the bit stream of digital resources.To preserve access to them is also the key objective of digital preservation programmes but requires more active management throughout the lifecycle of the resource before it can be assured.


Excerpts taken from From Digital Preservation Coalition

Digital Preservation Handbook

Topic Index

Background to the handbook
Backup procedures, ref 2, 3, 4 see also Disaster recovery
Backward compatibility
Best practice guidelines, ref 2
Born digital

Care of media
Collection policy, see Corporate policies
Computer storage, see Management of media and systems
Context, see also Authenticity
Conversion to analogue formats
Copyright, see Intellectual property rights
Corporate policies, ref 2
Corporate procedures
Corporate strategies, ref 2, 3
Costs, ref 2, 3
Creating digital materials, ref 2
Creating digital surrogates
Creating electronic records

Data integrity, see Audit of data and systems;Validation
Data protection, ref 2, 3
Data recovery, see Digital archaeology; Disaster recovery
Data storage media, see Media
Deposit guidelines and procedures
Digital archaeology, ref 2
Digital archiving
Digital materials, ref 2, 3
Digital media, see Media
Digital preservation, ref 2, 3
Digital publications, see also Creating digital materials
Digital records, see Electronic records
Digital resources, see Digital materials
Digitisation, see also Creating digital materials; Creating digital surrogates
Disaster recovery, see also Backup procedures
Documentation, ref 2, 3, 4, see also Deposit guidelines and procedures

Edition and version control
Electronic materials, see Digital materials
Electronic publications, see Digital publications
Electronic records, ref 2, 3
Emulation, ref 2, 3
Encapsulation, ref 2
Environmental conditions
Error checking, see Audit of data and systems;Validation

File formats, ref 2, 3, 4
Formats, see File formats; Media

Grant conditions and preservation requirements

Handling guidelines, ref 2
Human resources, see Staff training and development

Identifiers, see Permanent identifiers; Unique numbering
Institutional policies, see Corporate policies
Institutional procedures, see Corporate procedures
Institutional strategies, see Corporate strategies
Intellectual property rights, ref 2
Investment by preservation agency

Legal deposit of electronic publications
Legal issues, ref 2, 3
Licensing, ref 2
Life-cycle management, see also Outreach; Roles; Stakeholders

Magnetic media, see also Media; Media, lifetimes of
Management of computer storage, see Management of media and systems
Management of media and systems, ref 2, 3, see also Media
Media, ref 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, see also Management of media systems; Media, lifetimes of Media, lifetimes of 7,8
Metadata, ref 2, 3, 4
Migration, ref 2, 4
Moral rights, see Intellectual property rights

Network security, see Security

Optical media, see also Media; Media, lifetimes of
Organisational activities
Organisational issues
Organisational structures
Outreach, see also Life cycle management; Responsibilities; Roles
Outsourcing, see Third party services

Permanent identifiers
Physical security, see Security
Preservation, see Digital preservation
Preservation strategies, ref 2, 3, 4

Reformatting (file formats), ref 2, 3, 4
Reformatting (media formats), ref 2, 3, 4
Refreshing, ref 2, see also Management of media and systems
Responsibilities, see also Roles
Retention, ref 2
Review, ref 2
Rights management, see also Legal issues; Licensing
Roles, ref 2 , see also Life cycle management; Responsibilities; Stakeholders

Security, ref 2, 3, 4
Selection ref 2, 3, 4, see also Acquisition;Appraisal
Staff training and development, ref 2, 3
Stakeholders, see also Life cycle management; Responsibilities; Roles
Standards, ref 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Storage, see Management of Media and systems; Media
Strategic overview
Strategies, see Preservation strategies

Technological issues, ref 2, 3, 4
Technological obsolescence, see Technological issues
Technology preservation
Technology watch, ref 2, see also Technological issues
Third party services, ref 2
Training, see Staff training and development
Transfer procedures, ref 2, see also Acquisition

Unique numbering, ref 2

Validation, ref 2, 3, see also Audit of data and systems; Error checking

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