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Digital Preservation policies – one size does not fit all

Digital Preservation policies – one size does not fit all

I have recently been looking at digital preservation frameworks, strategies and policies for a client, a sole archivist at their institution, who wanted a critical friend to comment on their digital preservation policy.

Not having an intimate knowledge of the organisation, its collections and its particular resourcing “challenges” is actually an advantage! It allowed me to read the policy, take everything at face value and to reflect back to my client what it does or doesn’t say. I looked at quite a number of institutional digital preservation policies and would like to share a few of the observations I have made…

One size does not fit all

Let’s start with the obvious – no two institutions are exactly the same in terms of collections, staffing and other factors like ICT infrastructure – so we shouldn’t expect their digital preservation policies to be the same. Added to this are reporting styles and local conventions and practices.

Where to start?

On a blank piece of paper write down the following headings and key details for your institution:

  • scope – what is/is not in-scope (the entire organisation, external collections, social media etc)
  • content – give a few examples of the range of material and whether to include digitised material as well
  • responsibilities – who does what, archives, library, ICT and third-party suppliers
  • processes – try to explain in simple terms how you intend to handle and manage digital archives (think about appraisal, cataloguing and access)

Online assistance

There is a huge amount of information and guidance online, two resources I would consider essential are:

  • The National Archives Guidance for Archives contains many excellent prompts for consideration and review
  • The DPC Handbook revised and updated with considerable input from the digital preservation community. Whilst there don’t forget the DPC website includes guest blogs and resources from past events on this topic

Sources of inspiration 

Once you have some notes and ideas you can look at other digital preservation policies for inspiration. I would suggest starting with those that are similar by type or size of archive to your own institution…

A few final thoughts…

  • Digital archives are still archives – many institutions are moving towards digital preservation being integrated into a single collections care policy
  • Archives Accreditation – many UK archive services take their first steps with digital preservation as part of their accreditation submission (see the guidance documentation)
  • Digital preservation is complicated – why is it that amongst all our policies including acquisitions, collections management, forward plans, learning and outreach, security and volunteering it is only the digital preservation policy that has a glossary? We must ensure the document can be read and understood by the general public – a key intended audience of the policy.
  • User expectations – some policies explicitly seek to avoid over-committing institutional resources given the range of potential scenarios there may be encountered with some content or file formats 
  • Staff training – many policies include commitments to staff training and personal development opportunities  
  • Implementation – policy documents are important but you do need to develop a plan for actually implementing digital preservation in your institution
  • Measuring progress – aswell as internal performance indicators there are a couple of external approaches to look at your institutional capacity. The National Digital Stewardship Alliance Levels of Digital Preservation and the DPC Rapid Assessment Model both have strong visual elements which help with advocacy and I will look at both of these in future blogs.

Let me know if I’ve missed a policy or framework that you find especially inspiring..


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