The BitList of Digitally Endangered Species is first and foremost an advocacy tool. It describes a range of digital materials in varied organizational settings which, in the experience of the global digital preservation community, face distinct and imminent challenges. These challenges may be as much to do with accountability, policy or business process as technological obsolescence or media decay. By identifying them and by providing elementary recommendations about how the risks can be tackled, the DPC seeks to provide generic, impartial and international support to specific preservation actions and policies in any context.

Although all digital materials fall within the scope of the list, it is not a complete account of digital materials at risk: only those items which members of the community recognize as being at risk are included. Consequently, the fact that a data set is not listed should not be taken as evidence that it is not at risk: simply that the community which has compiled the list has not encountered any explicit risks or has no experience with these materials. Equally, the fact that an item has been identified as at risk is some small proof of effort, however weak, to secure long-term viability. In most cases, entries on the list are broadly defined, summarizing significant variability in specific cases. Many items on the list overlap, amplifying or lessening the urgency for action as appropriate.

Each item on the list is given a short title and a longer description. It is described in general terms, then a series of examples are given. The examples are illustrative not exhaustive and in many cases these examples are also broadly defined, representing many specific instances and examples. The examples typically include specific submissions made in the open nomination process and examples arising from Jury discussions.

Users of The BitList are encouraged to assess whether any digital object in their possession, or which they intend to create, or for which they have a current or imminent preservation responsibility, is a specific example of the item described and whether it aligns with one of the examples given.

Each item includes examples of Aggravating Conditions which amplify the risks a digital object faces, and Good Practice that would reduce the risk. These are also implied recommendations for addressing and reducing risks to be followed in the timescale indicated. In most cases, a fuller assessment is also suggested. By implication, the actions that would arise from such an assessment are not likely to be trivial. The Jury has attempted to provide a simple assessment of how much work it would be to improve the situation and their perception of how wide the impact of loss would be. Finally, detailed comments from the Jury have been included where available.

The 2021 BitList Jury paid particular attention to the risk classification. Items were given a provisional ranking by jurors during the first round of scoring, with entries requiring additional expert advice identified so that recognized subject matter experts could be invited to offer feedback on an item in more detail. The review process also saw the elimination of some entries, as well as the merger of duplicate entries and disaggregation of compound entries into smaller groups, following Jury discussion. Every entry here is on the basis of a consensus decision, but in a small number of cases, the decision was unanimous. For the sake of transparency, The BitList reports those occasions where unanimity was achieved as this materially affects how recommendations are deployed.

Recognizing that entries are very broadly defined, digital materials can be at more or less risk depending on local circumstances. There is a greater risk, and therefore greater urgency to act, in the presence of aggravating conditions which can be delineated. So, while an entry may be classified as Vulnerable in generic terms, any example of that entry may reasonably be described as Endangered or Critically Endangered in the presence of aggravating conditions. Conversely, in the presence of good practice, specific digital materials may be designated as Endangered to Vulnerable or Lower Risk.

The risk classifications of items have not been changed for The BitList 2022. The 2022 review of existing entries focused on the identification of trends and activities that have significantly impacted items over the preceding year (from November 2021 to the time of publication). As part of this review, The BitList 2021’s identification and commentary on trends were also taken into consideration.

Each item notes both the preceding 2021 trend and new 2022 trend with commentary. There are three classes of trend relating to the risks in 2022 to clarify their meaning, which are summarized below:

  • To even greater risk. In eight cases, the trend is now ‘To even greater risk’ this means that the Taskforce has reason to believe preservation is becoming significantly harder than we anticipated last year.

  • Material improvement. In five cases we had noted a trend towards reduced risk and now record ‘Material improvement’, where the Taskforce has reason to believe trends towards reduced risk have accelerated.

  • No change. In every other case there is no change to the trend. The term ‘No change’ does not mean the trend has stopped, merely that it remains on the same basis as before. This does not mean the trend has stopped but that the Taskforce believe the trend has continued as reported last year.

The BitList offers a provisional commentary with the recognition that the extent of the digital domain, the complexity of the threats, and the sophistication of emerging solutions mean that no process could ever fully capture the risks and challenges faced by digital content around the world. It is published and reviewed with the understanding that new risks are continuously arising; every day and (inevitably) between editions of The BitList. Members of the 2022 BitList Taskforce and 2021 Jury recognize that differences in emphasis and subtleties of local context may well have been overlooked, and that material changes may have occurred during the process.

The BitList is designed to be collaborative, iterative and provisional. Thus, if readers are aware of significant digital collections that do not match up with any of the broad examples given but are at material risk, they are encouraged to draw these to the attention of the Jury through the DPC’s Head of Advocacy and Community Engagement. These will be reviewed in time for publication of the next scheduled comprehensive review and revision for November 2023. Where digital materials face an imminent extinction event before that, their evaluation may be accelerated and an addendum published to The BitList in order to provide the timely, impartial and expert advocacy that may be required.  Corrections, comments and nominations are welcome.

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