Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What is the biggest unsolved issue for digital preservation?

The biggest unsolved issue for digital preservation is advocating and enforcing better ways that it continues throughout the lifespan of a digital document. Preservation should not become an “add-on” feature for born- or made- digital items.

As Lavoie and Dempsey point out, digital preservation has been treated as a solitary, technical problem, rather than an issue of digital stewardship. They write, “…digital preservation is not an isolated process, but instead, one component of a broad aggregation of interconnected services, policies, and stakeholders which together constitute a digital information environment.” The authors believe the preservation is not about rescuing endangered materials, but about managing digital items from their creation to assure their future. Digital preservation is a social, cultural, legal, and economic process, not just a technical one.

Conway offers a similar view of preservation when he writes that, “in the digital world, preservation is the creation of digital products worth maintaining over time.” In breaking down that sentence, he notes that long-term preservation must begin at system design. In the context of digital conversion, preservation must not be a process delayed until technical solutions are developed. Instead, items that have enduring information value must be selected for preservation.

Digital stewardship comes into play because there must be strong relationships between preservation purposes of the digital product, the characteristics of source materials being converted, and the capabilities of scanning technologies available. Responsible custody of information must be present throughout the lifecycle, maintaining over time the value of the document.

Rosenthal et al. defines the goal of a digital preservation system is to make information “remain accessible to users over a long period of time.” They point out that problems stem from the fact that the time that a digital item should still be accessible will outlive computer equipment, systems, and formats.

In their summary of threats and strategies, the authors note that problems do not stem from purely technical obsolesce or failure. Natural disasters, attacks from outside and inside the system also affect preservation. Budgetary and organization problems also affect how information in digital form also influences preservation. Digital preservation costs money, especially compared to physical preservation; compare the astronomical costs of power, cooling, bandwidth, and system administration of preserving digital film as compared to preserving physical film in cold storage. Again, digital preservation must be envisioned as a strategy to create holistic, flexible systems that will continue to keep a digital item usable. Digital preservation is a commitment for the long haul, cooperatively shared by stakeholders.

Works Cited

Conway, P. “Overview: Rationale for Digitization and Preservation,” in Handbook for
Digital Projects: A Management Tool for Preservation and Access. 2003.

Lavoie, B. and Dempsey, L., “Thirteen Ways of Looking at … Digital Preservation,” D-Lib Magazine 10:7/8 (July/August 2004).

Rosenthal, D. et al., “Requirements for Digital Preservation Systems,” D-Lib Magazine, 11:11 (November 2005).

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