Digital preservation practices within any organization will evolve and develop over time as tools, policy, and requirements change. Processes and procedures for born-digital archives are likely to change and develop at a much faster pace than their analogue counterparts. Digital preservation documentation should therefore be reviewed and updated regularly in order to keep it current. The more detailed the documentation, the more quickly it will go out of date. 

Revising and updating documentation should be a reasonably straightforward exercise. The biggest challenge may be carving out the time to work on it - maintenance tasks like working on documentation are easy to neglect in favour of more exciting or urgent priorities. You may be interested in the work of The Maintainers, and specifically a sub group called The Information Maintainers which supports the maintenance of information and those who manage, maintain, and preserve information systems. Read more about this community here. Our focus group attendees describe how they manage updates and versions in the interview section of this guide but you will also find some tips and advice below.


When updating documentation there are a few things to take into consideration - namely, review frequency, versioning and communicating any changes.

Frequency of update

Documentation should be actively maintained and should not be allowed to get out of date, but realistically, how do you achieve this? Updates may be on a schedule that you set, or may be reactive based on triggers that may occur. 

  • Scheduled updates: Just as is good practice with policy and strategy documents, it may be appropriate to include a review schedule on procedural documentation. Whereas a digital preservation policy may only need to be updated every 3 years, procedural documentation is likely to need more frequent updates. You may find it helpful to schedule in a regular time to review and update documentation (at least annually). Set yourself a reminder using your calendar or task management system or tie this in with an existing activity in your calendar such as an annual reporting or review meeting. 

    • In a DPC workflow webinar, Julia Miller gave an example of how an annual steering meeting can act as a trigger for her to work on documentation and also noted that she sometimes blocks out Fridays for documentation tasks too. It is good to have a regular point in your calendar when you carry out maintenance tasks such as this. 

  • Reactive update: Updates may also occur due to specific triggers - for example, if your digital preservation system is upgraded or a new tool is added to your workflow, your documentation will need to be checked and refreshed. Another situation that may lead to a documentation update might be the recruitment of a new member of staff working on digital preservation activities. As they familiarize themselves with digital preservation processes and procedures and work through documentation, this can be a trigger for updates if any aspects of the documentation are found to be ambiguous or unclear.


Managing versions

It is important to have a consistent method of versioning your documentation. It is good practice to clearly mark your documentation with a version number as well as a date. Some platforms and tools used to create digital preservation documentation (for example Git repositories and wikis) automatically manage and maintain previous versions as edits are made. If the system you are using does not do this, ensure you have a consistent method of recording document versions as edits are made. Standard practice is to use a system of numbering that increases in small or large increments depending on whether a major or minor update has occurred. For example:

  • Version 1.0 - first published/released version

  • Version 1.1 - minor edits have been made

  • Version 1.2 - further minor edits have been made

  • Version 2.0 - a major revision has been carried out

If not utilizing a system that manages versioning, it is good practice not to rely solely on file naming conventions to record version number. As mentioned under templates and style guides it can be helpful to include a table containing key information relating to the document (including versioning information).

You may find it useful to define a policy, both for version numbering and for the maintenance of previous versions (for example whether you overwrite the previous version or maintain it for your records). An example from the University of Glasgow was provided by one of our focus group and may be a helpful point of reference. See also the section of this guide on the preservation of documentation.

Note that if you are using a platform that tracks and maintains all versions, it may be wise to capture a periodic snapshot. When migrating from this platform at some point in the future it may not be possible (or even desired) to capture all previous changes and versions.


Communicating updates

Once your documentation is updated ensure any relevant information about the update is communicated appropriately. If major changes have been made, the update may need to be accompanied by additional testing, communication and even training. Even if minor tweaks have been made, it is important to ensure that your audience knows there is a new version, particularly if you have a working culture where individuals print out copies or download local versions of the documentation to use rather than accessing the live version.

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