Illustration by Jørgen Stamp digitalbevaring.dk CC BY 2.5 Denmark
There is a rapidly increasing volume of information which exists in digital form.
Whether created as a result of digitising non-digital collections, as a digital publication or artwork, or as part of the day-to-day business of an organisation or individual, more and more information is being created digitally and the pace at which it is being created is accelerating. This activity is occurring in an environment in which there is a growing awareness of the significant challenges associated with ensuring continued access to these materials, even in the short term.
The combination of these two factors is both challenging and troublesome. On the one hand, there are considerable opportunities offered by digital technology to provide rapid and efficient access to information. On the other hand, there is a very real threat that the digital materials will be created in such a way that not even their short-term viability can be assured, much less the prospect that future generations will also have access to them.
The need for guidance
All organisations in all sectors have been creating digital materials. They may be created as part of their organisational records, they may be created by digitising non-digital collections in order to enhance access to them, or they may be created digitally (“born digital”). However, they come into being, they will need to be managed as early as possible in their life-cycle, preferably at the design stage, but if not as soon as practicable thereafter, if they are to remain accessible as long as they are required. Practical experience and expertise in this area is still relatively limited so there is a clear need for guidance to ensure that the significant opportunities are not overwhelmed by the equally significant threats.
This Handbook aims to identify good practice in creating, managing and preserving digital materials and also to provide a range of practical tools to help with that process. Although there are still challenges, we can point to many examples of good practice and suggest ways in which institutions can begin to address digital preservation. By providing a strategic overview of the key issues, discussion and guidance on strategies and activities, and pointers to key projects and reports, the Handbook aims to provide guidance for institutions and individuals and a range of tools to help them identify and take appropriate actions.
Audience and purpose
Digital preservation has many parallels with traditional preservation in matters of broad principle but differs markedly at the operational level and never more so than in the wide range of decision makers who play a crucial role at various stages in the lifecycle of a digital resource. Consequently, this Handbook is aiming at a very broad audience. In the first instance it is intended to provide guidance to institutions at international, national, regional and local levels who are involved in or contemplating creation and/or acquisition of digital materials. Within those institutions, the Handbook is aiming at both administrators and practitioners and is accordingly structured to include a mix of high level strategic overviews and detailed guidance. In addition, the Handbook is aimed at service providers who may be in a position to provide all or part of the services needed to preserve digital materials. It is also relevant to funding agencies who will need to be aware of the implications of the creation of digital materials. Finally, it will be of interest to data creators whose involvement in the preservation of their digital materials is still crucial, despite being restricted by the overarching business needs of their organisation.
The Handbook fully recognises that these groups may have different interests and involvement with digital materials at different times. By adopting the life-cycle approach to digital preservation it aims to help identify dependencies, barriers, and mechanisms to assist communication and collaboration between these communities.
The Handbook should be tailored to individual needs, and is intended as a catalyst for action within and between institutions, including those where digital preservation may be outsourced or short-term.
The broad issues associated with digital preservation are global in nature and examples of good practice, research activity and sources of advice and guidance have been drawn from around the world. However, there is a UK focus in terms of the background to the study and some examples, e.g. legislation, are UK specific. The text of the Handbook will indicate a UK focus whenever relevant. It is still hoped that the Handbook will be relevant to an international audience as many of the models and references provided are not UK based and are in any case applicable to any country. Whatever their country of origin, the users of the Handbook will need to tailor it to their specific needs.
The overall theme of the Handbook is that while the issues are complex and much remains to be clarified (and may never be definitively resolved), there is nevertheless much that has already been achieved and much that can be undertaken immediately by all involved in creating and/or acquiring digital materials. This activity will help to protect the initial investment in digital materials creation and offer considerably improved prospects for the long-term.
The following principles have guided development of the Handbook that it should:
- Be consistent with the mission of the DPC by being vendor independent, encouraging pro-active participation by the community, and sharing knowledge and best practices.
- Be derived from the needs of the digital preservation community and deliver benefit to it. The community of current and potential users of the Handbook will be surveyed and their feedback used to inform its development. Future evaluations will be used to provide further user feedback and impact assessment.
- Be informed, current, concise and balanced. Chapters will provide concise overviews of topics with a selection of further reading and case studies providing opportunities to pursue topics in greater depth. Selection of further reading and case studies will be guided by the utility, currency and continuing relevance of their content.
- Lower the barriers to participation in digital preservation by being written in an informative but accessible style for a wide audience.
- Have peer-reviewed, authoritative content with explicit quality criteria as set out in the DPC Notes for Authors, Reviewers and Editors and in the Handbook project plan.
- Work together and achieve synergies with, reports in the DPC Tech Watch Series. The reports provide “deep dives” in either specific areas of content preservation (e.g. email) or topics (e.g. digital forensics) that can be cited or to source case studies in the Handbook.
- Promote other resources (e.g. the Community Owned digital Preservation Tool Registry -COPTR) that may be the most appropriate means of providing advice in areas of detail outside of the Handbook.
- Promote other resources (e.g. reports, guidance) that are accessible via the web and free to users, so wherever possible all selected external content is as accessible as the Handbook itself.
- Be developed for ease of maintenance, cost-efficiency, and sustainability in the long-term by the DPC.
Future development and support
On completion of the second edition, the DPC intends to integrate its maintenance and review with its Digital Preservation Technology Watch Report series. Oversight for commissioning of the revision of Handbook chapters and the Reports, or commissioning of new topics for Reports or content in the Handbook will be the responsibility of a DPC editorial advisory board.