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digital preservation

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

Digital preservation is the active safekeeping of digitally stored information. As a part of the formalized efforts of library and archival sciences, digital preservation includes the practices required to ensure that information is safe from medium failures as well as software and hardware obsolescence.

In the digital age, preserving information, entertainment and other material involves not only backing up desired content but also caring for and maintaining the storage media upon which the data is stored. Digital preservation is essential to modern history, not least because much information is not stored in any type of hard copy.

Organizations such as the Digital Preservation Coalition task themselves with ensuring that content deemed significant is securely stored. Content that is only made available digitally is heavily favored for digital preservation efforts. Digital-born and digitized materials are both put through the same processes, 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.

Digital preservation is necessary in part because of the challenges facing all digital information: storage medium obsolescence, storage medium failures and software obsolescence. Methods of preserving data include refreshing data and transferring it to fresh media of the same type to prevent data loss from medium failure. Migration (transferring to new mediums) prevents data loss due to obsolescent hardware. In the case of obsolete software, emulators are sometimes used to render content. These emulators then become part of what needs to be preserved. The sheer volume of digital content also presents a challenge.

Content piracy can also play a part in digital preservation through both organized and disorganized archiving. Pirates often provide redundant copies of the best quality digital content. File-sharing software such as BitTorrent enables distribution and geographically separate backups. The efforts to protect the interests of IP holders in some ways necessitate digital preservation. The threat of legal ramifications means fewer parties maintain content whereas otherwise anyone with an interest might well maintain a digital copy, organically preserving digital data as a result.

This was last updated in August 2017

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