Get started on digital preservation

With the combined efforts of its staff, interns, and volunteers, Visual Communications has digitized a good amount of its audiovisual material.  The next step is ensuring the preservation of those now-digitized assets. Where will these materials be stored? How will they be stored? Who will manage these materials?  What concerns should we keep in mind? Having a digital preservation policy in place can help answer these questions.

What is digital preservation, exactly? What are the steps to implement it? Why is it important?

These are important first questions to ask! The Library of Congress’ National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program defines digital preservation as “the active management of digital content over time to ensure ongoing access.”

Contrary to popular belief, digital materials does not equate to long-term preservation. In fact, electronic files– digital video, photographs, audio, or text files– are more precarious than traditional materials because they can suffer from “bit rot,” can become “lossy” from compression, or can become obsolete. Do you remember the last time you accessed the files in your floppy disks?  Probably not.  Now that the majority of our files are digital, it’s more important than ever to ensure that we take good care of these materials.

An organization can implement several simple steps to help increase the long-term preservation of these items.  A combination of these steps helps to ensure the longevity of your materials.

  • Refreshing is the act of copying items from one location to another. An example would be copying materials from one hard drive to a newer one.  Hard drives do fail.
  • Migrating is transferring the content onto a newer type of storage system, like moving files from a floppy disk to a newer external hard drive.
  • Creating multiple copies of materials for safekeeping is like insurance.  Having another copy of your important items off-site is better, and keeping them in another geographic location (in case of a natural disaster), is best! You’d also want to create access copies, which let you keep your archival copy “untouched” to lower the risk of corruption.

Now that I know what I need to do, why do I need a formal policy?

Institutions may already have informal methods of how to preserve their digital assets, but may not have a formalized policy. Having a formal digital preservation policy in place is important for the same reasons why it’s important to have any type of policy in the workplace— it provides organization and structure of a program, lays out the steps necessary for the plan to succeed, delegates who performs the functions, and how often they should occur.

Each institution should create a customized policy that fits its unique needs and matches the resources available. It should also introduce which materials are targeted, and ensure that the preservation of those materials aligns with the organization’s mission statement.

Crafting a digital preservation policy is a time-consuming project that requires preliminary prep work and research before starting work on the policy. Steps include:

1. Inventorying the organization’s materials (subject, format, etc.)

2. Assessing the current conditions of the materials

3.  Identifying the technical capabilities needed

4. Creating and establishing a workflow

3. Assigning responsibilities to staff

All organizations and individuals should take steps to think about how to preserve their materials.  This blog post is the first step to help you start thinking “archivally!”

For more information on how to preserve your electronic materials, please read the following resources:

The Library of Congress’ Personal Archiving webpage:

The Library of Congress’ Personal Archiving brochure,

The National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation:

Thanks to Judy Chou for her assistance with this post!


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