Fiona Hyslop

Fiona Hyslop

Last updated on 28 November 2018

Fiona Hyslop is Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs within the Scottish Government

On World Digital Preservation Day, I’d like to reflect on Scotland’s long tradition of preserving its documentary heritage and showcase how Scotland is helping to lead in the global challenge digital preservation.

This tradition dates back to 1286 to the first reference of a Scottish Government official William of Dumfries who had the responsibility of looking after records. This responsibility eventually evolved into the current role of Keeper of the Records of Scotland that we have today. To store our national archives General Register House was built in the 18th century, it is one of the oldest custom built archive buildings in the world still in use for its original purpose, and is home to National Records of Scotland which is responsible for Scotland’s national archive, as well as the registration of vital events and the taking of the 10 yearly national census.

Other Scottish memory institutions have equally historic beginnings, including the National Library of Scotland, which originates from the Library of the Faculty of Advocates founded in 1680. Since 1710 they have been able to claim a legal right to a copy of every book published in Britain.

With venerable examples like this in Scotland’s history, it is no surprise to find that Scottish public institutions are recognised as leaders in the new field of digital preservation. National Records of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, and Historic Environment Scotland are all key contributors to the digital preservation and dissemination of the nation’s heritage in their own ways.

Scotland is a pioneer member of the Open Government Partnership, an international collaboration of 90 governments across the world committed to openness, transparency and citizen participation. The preservation of public records is a vital aspect of an open government and a healthy democracy. Making information accessible and useable for the public enables people to find out about the decisions, past and present, that shape the world around them.

By collaborating both nationally and internationally, and as a founder member of the Digital Preservation Coalition, the National Records of Scotland has a proven track record in addressing the challenges of digital preservation. Their Web Continuity Service, ensures public access to the content of the Scottish Government websites, by preserving them for future generations. Over 23 million digital images are also made available to the public through the ScotlandsPeople service.

The National Library of Scotland holds around 30 million items many of which are now acquired in digital format. Not content with this, however, in their current strategy, they set themselves the goal of having a third of their collections available in digital format by 2025. To date the Library actively preserves more than 315TB of data. In 2018 alone it created 15 million files to connect the public with the digital content preserved in the Library and made 34 million checks to confirm that files haven’t changed as it fulfils it role to safeguard Scotland’s memory.

Historic Environment Scotland holds information and archives documenting Scotland’s archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime heritage. The transient nature of the built heritage environment – subject to continuous change and modification and subject to complete loss as a result of human or natural disaster – requires maximum re-use of this often very complex data. Historic Environment Scotland specialises in the long term preservation of highly complex data types such as the 3D models produced by the Scottish Ten Project and very large datasets such as those found with marine survey, working with both the architectural and archaeological communities in Scotland and internationally to achieve this.

Although there are a lot of common issues around digital preservation, each Scottish memory institution has its own unique challenges. At National Galleries of Scotland, the move by artists towards creating digital art has prompted the setting up of a working group for time-based media (Born Digital Artworks). This group has forged strong national and international links, through joint initiatives with colleagues at Tate, as well as the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. This group brings together a multi-disciplinary team from across the Galleries, working together to tackle the issues created by this diverse, interesting and rapidly evolving area.

This tradition of digital preservation and collaboration, continues into the University sector with internationally significant contributions made by researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in recent years. The Information Studies department at Glasgow University has led a long an impactful series of research projects, including DigCURVE and PLANETS, which have transformed understanding of the subject. Meanwhile research at the internationally respected Digital Curation Centre at Edinburgh University underpins policy and practice in the management of research data worldwide with projects such as DMPonline, and DCC Lifecycle.

Interest in digital preservation is not just academic; it is rapidly becoming apparent that this is a challenge for any business or sector that relies on long-lived data. Business and industry are now actively participating in digital preservation, and joining the ever-growing membership of the Digital Preservation Coalition, including Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, John Dewars and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Digital Preservation is a truly global challenge, and I am proud to see the range of sectors that are playing such a vital role in addressing this important issue

I am pleased that The Digital Preservation Coalition, the glue that holds these different interests together, is also based here and that as a result of their efforts, Scotland looks forward to welcoming the global digital preservation community when iPres, (the principal International Conference on Digital Preservation), is hosted in Glasgow in September 2022.

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