Posted by: bluesyemre | May 31, 2019

The state of #DigitalPreservation in 2018 (A snapshot of challenges and gaps) Oya Y. Rieger


Our cultural, historic, and scientific heritage is increasingly being produced and shared in digital forms. The ubiquity, pervasiveness, variability, and fluidity of such content raise a range of questions about the role of research libraries and archives in digital preservation in the face of rapid organizational and technological changes and evolving organizational priorities. Ithaka S+R is interested in exploring the current landscape of digital preservation programs and services in order to identify research and policy questions that will contribute to the advancement of strategies in support of future scholarship. To this end, during June and July 2018, I talked with 21 experts and thought leaders to hear their perspectives on the state of digital preservation.[1] The purpose of this report is to share a number of common themes that permeated through the conversations and provide an opportunity for broader community reaction and engagement, which will over time contribute to the development of an Ithaka S+R research agenda in these areas.

The digital preservation ecology is rich with many initiatives and significant contributors.[2] Rather than making broad generalizations, this paper aims to provide a snapshot of what is going through the minds of a selected group of individuals with expertise and responsibility in the related program areas. The primary goal of the interviews was to identify opportunities and needs, rather than to celebrate the successes of the community. Therefore, inevitably, the report focuses on the gaps and challenges, with more limited coverage of the significant advances that have been registered in the field during the last two decades. We recognize the substantial contributions of the individuals interviewed, all the members of their organizations, and the field more broadly. Through their valuable work we see the beginning groundwork for a technical, service, and policy infrastructure. The community is getting larger and stronger and is committed to exploring how we can strengthen collaborations in this complicated landscape.


Digital preservation involves the management and maintenance of digital objects to ensure the authenticity, accuracy, and functionality of content over time in the face of technological and administrative changes. Historically, archives, national libraries, and research libraries have assumed a leadership role in the stewardship of primary resources and cultural heritage materials over generations to ensure long-term access. Therefore, we selected the interviewees for this study based on their current leadership roles in overseeing related services or their deep history in digital preservation programs. For a broader view, we included colleagues from Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States.[3] The overall purpose was to survey the preservation landscape within the context of evolving research workflows and the scholarly and cultural record from the perspective of these colleagues. Although the conversations were open-ended, the following questions framed the discussions:

  • What seems to be working well now (in which areas have we seen significant progress)?
  • What are your thoughts on how the preservation community is preparing for new content types and formats?
  • Do you have any observations about new research workflows and practices (or cultural practices) and their potential impact on the future of scholarly record?
  • What do you see as gaps or areas that need further attention (where the community has not made sufficient progress)? These could be organizational, technical, sociocultural, etc.
  • If you were writing a new preservation research or implementation grant, what would you focus on?

There was a significant level of convergence in opinions related to the trends, outstanding issues, emerging needs, and gaps in the digital preservation realm.

What’s Working Well

In response to the accelerating rates and increasing complexity of digital information, since the early 1990s a number of studies have investigated the trends and needs in digital preservation and have recommended research and policy agendas.[4] The interviewees agreed that a considerable amount of progress has been made in many areas since the framing of digital preservation as a critical program area for long-term accessibility of the social, economic, cultural and intellectual heritage:

Stronger community and robust sharing of practices. The digital preservation community is getting larger, representing deeper expertise around a wide range of digital content types. Through several digital preservation and repository conferences and organizations, there is a robust exchange of best practices, standards, and preservation technique. Publications such as the Digital Preservation Coalition Technology Watch Report series provide an advanced introduction to specific issues by identifying and tracking the development of the standards and tools that are critical to digital preservation activities.[5] We witnessed the emergence of conferences, such as the International Conference on Digital Preservation (iPres), which are entirely devoted to technical, organizational, and policy aspects of the program domain with an international scope.

Increasing knowhow of preservation strategies. There is now significant experience in implementing preservation strategies such as normalization, refreshing, migration, and emulation as the community of practitioners successfully moved these techniques from theory to practice.[6]The community appreciates that digital preservation programs should factor in a range of organizational, business, and policy issues, not limited to technological matters. The training and professional development opportunities continue to expand with the emergence of new specialized positions, such as Digital Archivists or Digital Forensics Specialists, indicating the increasing sophistication of specialization areas.

Shared standards and frameworks. The development and adoption of shared standards, such as Open Archival Information System (OAIS), PREservation Metadata: Implementation Strategies (PREMIS), and PRONOM online file format registry, have been instrumental in facilitating the access, discovery, management, and preservation of digital resources. The OAIS Reference Model has provided a much-needed framework for establishing a common vocabulary for describing roles, processes, and functional components required for long-term preservation. In addition to general models, specific industries have become active in the development of preservation standards tailored for specific formats, for instance the “Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects by the International Association of Sound and Audio-visual Archives.”

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