Sep 6, 2012

Digital preservation issues

Notes from Digital preservation, archival science and methodological foundations for digital libraries (S. Ross, 2012, New Review of Information Networking, 17:1, 43-68, doi).

At the beginning the article makes an important observation - there is more to preserving digital objects than saving the content. Approaches to preservation should also include a) retaining the environment and context of creation and use and b) reproducing the experience of use.

The middle of the article is of lesser interest. Many points, such as a lack of systematic practices, policies or research strategies in preservation, can be skipped.

Suggestions for research agenda in this paper come primarily from the DigitalPreservationEurope project (DPE). There are nine important areas of work in digital preservation:

  1. Restoration - restoring damaged digital objects, including content, context and experience and verifying their completeness.
  2. Conservation - saving digital objects before they are damaged and making sure they cannot be damaged or destroyed in the future.
  3. Collection management - making decisions about what goes in and out, etc.
  4. Risk management - determining and quantifying uncertainties and minimizing various threats.
  5. Interpretability and functionality - making sure digital objects remain meaningful, authentic, and usable.
  6. Cohesion and interoperability - maintaining connections and transitions across systems, time, and repositories.
  7. Automation - developing tools for handling big quantities of information.
  8. Preserving the context - retaining information about how the object was created and used.
  9. Storage - developing infrastructure for storing digital objects.

The article concludes with the statement that there is an urgent need for a theory of digital preservation and curation. To me it seems that we have enough theories to rely on. Once structures (technological and social) that support digital preservation become adopted and used, we can start observing existing practices and then decide whether we need a new theory. Otherwise, there is a danger of coming up with something trivial and calling it a new theory.

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