Digital preservation is a vital issue for almost all archives and there is an increasing demand for storage of, and access to, digital information in a discoverable format. There is an expectation that the vastly increased public access achieved in recent years will continue to expand.  

To get started you will need to:

  • evaluate the digital records you have, or are likely to receive, to identify formats and potential volumes
  • identify records held on removable storage media (such as memory sticks or floppy disks) with a view to transferring them to a more secure storage environment, such as a server
  • ensure there are at least two copies of a digital record. This will allow you to work on a copy and allow you to revert to an earlier version if required. Technical obsolescence of standard formats (such as Windows) is not likely to be an immediate threat so it may be possible to retain the original format on a separate secure server
  • develop a system of governance by creating a digital preservation strategy
  • think about funding. Public archives are likely to acquire digital records from a variety of sources and will need to be able to sustain access to them. If the archive is unable to support digital preservation they will not be able to present the records to users over time. Archives creating digital surrogates need to remember that these assets will also need to be preserved and should be managed through the digital preservation strategy. A 'paper only' service may lead investors to decide that the archive no is longer helping the organisation to meet its business objectives

You can use and modify established archival skills (such as description, appraisal, access and service provision) to manage digital preservation. These skills can be integrated into business as usual with minimal impact or requirements for specialists.   

Alternatively, you could source specialist knowledge:  

  • the use of existing expertise within the organisation (for example, the ICT department)
  • sharing knowledge and experiences within your archival network
  • contracting out the service (or parts of it) to a third party either as a shared service or individually, depending on need and scale    

The 'golden rules' of digital preservation

In most cases the processes for digital preservation will be dependent on the capabilities and resources of the organisation. There are however, some basic principles which should always be employed:

  • only ever work on a copy of a record, to ensure long-term preservation of the content when it was originally entered into the digital preservation process
  • always document what actions and processes have taken place to allow others to learn how digital preservation has been done, and either repeat the processes or develop them as required
  • ensure that the digital records received into the digital preservation process are unaltered. This may be achieved through the use of Checksum algorithm software

Cloud storage

Find out more about how cloud storage can address the needs of public archives in the UK in our guidance and case studies below.

Guidance on cloud storage and digital preservation (PDF, 0.35Mb)

Case study: Archives and Records Council Wales Digital Preservation Consortium (PDF, 0.21Mb)

Case study: Parliamentary Archives (PDF, 0.17Mb)

Case study: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (PDF, 0.20Mb)

Case study: Tate Gallery (PDF, 0.27Mb)

Case study: Dorset History Centre (PDF, 0.20Mb)

Learn more

Read our web archiving guidance (PDF, 0.00Mb)

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