Establishing a Digital Preservation Policy
This paper looks at the high-level challenges associated with establishing a digital preservation policy. It is intended to be of use to readers responsible for managing digital media collections. For hands-on digital preservation advice see the document An Introduction to Digital Preservation.
Rapid advances in technology can lead to digital collections becoming obsolete very quickly and a digital preservation policy is a crucial part of managing this risk. Digital preservation can be a costly process and will need continual attention well after all materials have been digitised and ingested into a collection. The digital preservation policy should highlight an organisation's ongoing commitment to digitally preserving valuable collections.
It should be noted that although digital preservation and digitisation are related they are distinct activities. Digital preservation takes place within a digitisation project, it may even be the reason for the projects' existence but the preservation of digital resources continues long after a digitisation of analogue materials has been completed. Unlike digitisation, digital preservation is not a time-limited process.
Overview of the digital preservation policy
Any institutional policy should be directly connected to the aims and goals of the institution and the preservation policy is no exception. Clearly establishing the benefits of a digital preservation strategy at an early stage will allow these benefits to be measured and will spell out the need for organisational commitment. For instance, is the resource unique or of international standing? If so, will the collection attract new researchers, visitors or students? Can this increased traffic be quantified for the mid to long-term? Implementing a preservation policy may only be possible by first raising awareness of the benefits of digital preservation and the potential dangers of ignoring it.
Strong policies should also be inclusive and cross-departmental. Synthesising any existing policy at an early stage may provide a skeletal digital preservation policy, which can then be developed as required. Tying in high-level policy documents can be especial beneficial when quantifying the benefits of preservation.
If engaged in digitisation activities, it is important that a digital preservation policy is implemented as soon as possible. It is best practice to have a preservation strategy in place even before any material is digitised, so that everything can be captured to standards spelled out in the policy. However, if an institution wide preservation policy is required, a phased introduction may be necessary, perhaps beginning with the needs of the digitisation project and evolving to embrace the needs of the institution.
Contents of the policy
A digital preservation policy should include:
- An explanation of how the policy relates to other organisational goals, objectives and mission statements. This section should also quantify the benefits of a sustainable digital collection.
- How the digital preservation policy sits along side other institutional policies, such as records management, IT or digitisation work. It should also highlight the use of agreed upon and interoperable standards.
- The objectives of preservation activities, this section should outline how activities mentioned in the principle statement will be undertaken and by whom. Will preservation actions be carried out in-house or outsourced? For how long will materials be preserved?
- Detail of just how digital preservation will be implemented. Which department will undertake what activities and when? Objectives of the policy should be spelled out in practical terms.
- The scope of preservation activities should also be made clear. What will be preserved? Will you undertake to store ‘archival masters' only or multiple versions of a file? In detailed policies, preferred file formats should also be listed.
- Accountability. Who, ultimately will be responsible for digital preservation within an organisation? How will the organisation fund staff training, equipment, outsourcing, and storage. Who will be responsible for future changes to the digitisation strategy? Signing-off an agreed policy could help its long-term prospects.
- Glossary: Anyone unfamiliar with digital preservation may require a detailed glossary.
- Version Control: Date of policy. It's status and review date should also be included.
The management team or steering group responsible for drawing up a preservation policy should be aware that there are ongoing costs associated with digital preservation and that the costs will vary according to the solutions that are employed to preserve a collection. However, these costs are likely to be much higher if an obsolete or critically engaged collection has to be ‘rescued' due to lack of ongoing maintenance.
The sooner the high-level issues associated with digital preservation are tackled, and decisions and outcomes documented, the easier it is to develop hands-on preservation procedures to ensure preservation objectives challenges are met. Preservation policy is not only required for carrying out a successful digitisation project but also for the long-term management and maintenance of any collection.Many national and international institutions have realised the seriousness of this situational and are now carrying out research to help in the organisational task of establishing a preservation policy.
The Digital Curation Centre and Digital Preservation Europe have collaborated on the DRAMBORA (Digital Repository Audit Method Based on Risk Assessment) project. The DRAMBORA toolkit forms a great starting point for exiting collection mangers faced with producing a digital preservation policy, helping them to "assess their capabilities, identify their weaknesses, and recognise their strengths".
JISC too, have carried out research into establishing a digital preservation policy and their Digital Preservation Policies Study (2008) in association with Charles Beagrie Limited offers a template on which to base a tailored policy.