Digital Preservation has been an issue for libraries, museums and archives since the advent of the digital age. The rapidity of technological change has long caused headaches for such institutions with regards to both hardware, software and storage. This is now increasingly seen as an issue for the private sector with a predicted 25 fold increase in the amount of digital information held by commercial sector over the course of the current decade.
The most recent research project by the British Library found that only 48% of organisations surveyed had a digital preservation policy and 47% had a budget. Digital preservation is an issue with no single solution. Hardware, software, expertise and storage all have to be considered.
Older machinery becomes increasingly difficult to operate and fix as software formats become out of date and incompatible with their modern equivalents. Storage issues including incidents such as hard drive failures are common enough that the concepts of backups and disaster recovery are widely embraced by corporations, governments and individuals. However, backups and disaster recovery are not a substitute for long term preservation as they are looking only to preserve the ability of an organisation to continue to operate in the short to medium term.
Mitigating these problems present advantages and disadvantages. They include:
- The continuous conversion of information to newer formats to run on contemporary systems and hardware. This is relatively simple but risks data corruption during conversion.
- The creation of emulator programs to access the original file. The risk of errors is lower but requires programing expertise and resources.
Storage issues are complex as most storage hardware has a limited lifespan and the risk of data corruption increases with every transfer of information as with conversion to new formats.
Regular cloud storage providers are not considered to offer the security or protection from data corruption required for long-term preservation as it is primarily designed for flexibility and access, though some specialist providers are aiming offer digital preservation services. Some have touted new products as being able to store information indefinitely, though this again runs into the problem of whether future generations would be able to access the format, operate the hardware, risks encouraging a complacent attitude and is currently expensive.
Thus digital preservation is a problem requiring a strategy of multiple solutions and regular monitoring as part of any information governance program. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and organisations must tailor their strategies based on their own objectives, budgets and risk factors.