Sustainability in digital preservation policy tends to focus on two specific angles - firstly the sustainability of the digital preservation service itself and secondly, wider sustainability issues such as the impact of our digital preservation activities on the environment. Sometimes these issues are discussed under one heading in a sustainbility section of the preservation policy and at other times they are addressed under separate headings.

One way of addressing sustainability is including within your policy a recognition that not all preserved content needs to be treated the same. There can be substantial benefits in setting out a framework within which the highest standard of preservation may only be appropriate for content of the highest value. Doing so ensures that (perhaps limited) resources are asigned where they are needed most. The Levels of Preservation Commitment approach was developed by Nancy McGovern and Kari Smith and directly mentions the benefits with regard to enabling digital preservation programs to maximise their resources. Although it doesn't directly mention impacts relating to environmental sustainability, adopting a model such as this certainly seems to support the paradigm shift the community is encouraged to adopt in 'Toward Environmentally Sustainable Digital Preservation' by Keith Pendergrass, Walker Sampson, Tessa Walsh and Laura Alagna. Examples of levels of preservation commitment being used within preservation policies are listed below:

  • Penn State University Libraries Policy UL-AD19 Digital Preservation Policy (2021) - This policy states that due to limited library resources and the nature of digital content, they cannot digitally preserve everything they acquire or create. Digital content will be assigned a Level of Digital Preservation Commitment which will reflect the value of the content and will inform both the preservation actions and the number of copies stored. There is much more detail on the specifics of this in the policy itself.

  • Northwestern Libraries Digital Preservation Policy (undated) - This policy describes the institutions practice of assigning different “levels” to preserved content. Each Level includes selection criteria and designated preservation actions conducted on the content. The policy notes that assigning Levels helps scale, sustain, and provide flexibility for digital preservation activities, and the approach is used to conduct ethical digital preservation while working within the limitations of available resources and technological capabilities. As above, there is much more detail on the specifics within the policy document.

Service sustainability

This section describes what sources of funding are in place to deliver on the policy, and how issues of resourcing and efficiency will impact on the overall digital preservation picture.

Funding has long been recognized as a challenge for digital preservation as it represents the kind of open-ended commitment that is difficult to justify. It is a complicated question and a variety of tools ( exist to help estimate the costs and to help make the case for the investment. While it is useful to have that information to hand in the development of a digital preservation programme it is not necessary to include a detailed costing in the policy.

Increasingly agencies may be required to consider and relate policy to broader Sustainable Development Goals (i.e., reference to environmental and other dimensions of sustainability).

Points to consider:

  • There are different business models for funding digital preservation, such as charging for access, charging for deposit, or ongoing revenue. The pros and cons of these models, as well as the cost calculations, needn’t be represented in the policy but may be required as a supplement to ensure the policy is adopted.

  • Experience in digital preservation has been that long-term revenue funding is ultimately preferable to short-term project funding.

  • The largest cost for digital preservation will be staff costs, whether in-house or outsourced, so there is a close link between resourcing and the skills that the policy will require. The rapid churn of technology means that the maintenance of skills will also need to be funded.

  • It can be hard to secure support for open-ended commitments, so it might be worth expressing the funding in terms of the duration of the policy, including implicit or explicit reference to the review cycle of the policy.

  • Digital preservation is ready made for collaboration, producing economies of scale and scope which impact on sustainability.

  • Reference any succession plans that are in place for your digital content. Consider what would happen if your organization or department was no longer in existence – who would look after your content?

Environmental sustainability

Discussions around the carbon costs of our digital preservation processes and procedures and wider environmental issues are being discussed with increasing frequency in the digital preservation community. See for example this list of resources from the DPC website

With this increase in awareness of the issues and the potential impacts of our work, a small number of organizations have started to incorporate statements about environmental sustainability into their digital preservation policies. For other organizations, it may be that an organization-wide environmental policy exists and is referenced in the 'related documents' section of the policy.

Example policy statements

Archaeology Data Service

The ADS will take all necessary steps to mitigate against future events that may impact upon the repository service. These are managed via the ADS Risk Register and the ADS Disaster Recovery Plan. Particular examples of risk or disaster resolution include:

  • Future migrations: given that the ADS method of preservation is via normalization/migration, it is inevitable that large-scale file conversions will occur in the future. The ADS holds a reserves account (defined in the MoU with the UoY), which can be drawn upon to undertake or fund data preservation activities. For example, seconding staff resources to oversee and document a particular object migration.
  • End of repository: as above, the ADS reserves account can be drawn upon to assist in the transfer of ADS responsibilities to another organisation.
  • Loss of access to UoY data storage: the ADS maintains an off-site (non-UoY) copy of all data.

Archaeology Data Service Preservation Policy (2022)

Digital Repository of Ireland

From 2017 DRI has received its core funding from the Irish government. The Digital Repository of Ireland is named as a key national infrastructure in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Industry Innovation 2020 strategy on research and development. Through this recognition the Irish government has committed to long term funding of DRI.

DRI's core funding is augmented by the acquisition of leveraged research project funding, as well as a revenue-generating membership model, which was introduced in 2018. The membership model focuses on increasing the volume of material deposited in the archive, but also on the diversity of member organizations. This contributes to the overall sustainability of the repository by raising revenue which can be reinvested into the repository. In addition, regular engagement with our members (e.g. via the Biannual Members' Forum) will ensure we are meeting the long-term needs of the humanities and social sciences in Ireland.

Digital Repository of Ireland Preservation Policy (2018)

National Library of Scotland

We operate sustainably, balancing our resources with the digital content we collect, create, preserve and make available, and ensure that we do not compromise the safety of existing content to benefit new content.

[under a Future plans heading is a commitment to..]

  • Improve financial and environmental sustainability forecasting for digital preservation activities

National Library of Scotland Digital Preservation Policy and Plan (2021)

The Postal Museum

When developing new workflows or procuring digital preservation systems consideration will be given to the financial and environmental implications. This may include exploring the appropriate number of copies to store, the frequency of fixity checking, and the types of storage selected.

Digital preservation activities will take into account The Postal Museum’s commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. They will also work to minimise wider environmental impacts including the extraction of raw minerals and the use of water.

The Postal Museum Digital Preservation Policy (2022)

Northwestern Libraries

We recognize that there are environmental costs to digital preservation including, but not limited to, energy consumption and electronic waste. We seek to conduct preservation actions and storage sustainably when possible.

Northwestern Libraries Digital Preservation Policy (undated)

British Geological Survey

BGS will put in place processes to review preservation and infrastructure requirements, to evaluate preservation strategies used, and to monitor technological changes as part of the preservation planning function. These processes will be integrated in the data lifecycle to minimise the risks and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they remain up to date. We will also strive to comply with the UKRI core values of collaboration, excellence, innovation and integrity whilst developing and implementing our digital preservation programme. This means we will consider the environmental impact of our long-term data storage and preservation activities and embed sustainability into existing and new processes and use of resources.

British Geological Survey Digital Preservation Policy (2020)

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