This page provides definitions and explanations for anyone new to digital preservation who would like to take practical steps forward in sustaining their digital assets

I'm new to digital preservation, what is it?

The Digital Preservation Handbook provides the following definition:

Digital Preservation Refers to the series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary  ...(digital preservation) refers to all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials beyond the limits of media failure or technological and organisational change.

Without frequent attention, digital content is at the mercy of many different risks, such as :

  • Rapid technological change may leave content unusable or unintelligable as the software that interprets it becomes obsolete.
  • Without committed resources, the storage and management of digital content will not be possible.
  • Organizational change might leave digital content without a committed custodian. Digital preservation requires a series of actions over time to ensure digital content remains alive, discoverable, accessible and usable.
  • For more information see the DPC's Bit List of digitally endanged species.

Typical digital preservation activities to address these risks might include:

  • Maintaining a register of digital content that records where data is stored, what it's purpose is and who is responsible for it
  • Developing policy and process to guide the acquisition, preservation and provision of access to digital content
  • Maintaining multiple copies of digital content to provide insurance against loss
  • Frequently checking the integrity of digital content to ensure it has not decayed or become damaged
  • Examining digital content to understand it's characteristics, assessing it for preservation risks and taking action to mitigate those risks

Digital preservation is usually delivered most effectively in a dedicated repository that provides specialist functionality to meet digital preservation requirements. However, the technology is only one piece of the puzzle. Getting effective organizational engagement and ensuring appropriate resourcing for the long-term, are often the biggest challenges.

Ultimately, digital preservation is about making an investment in properly managing digital assets with common sense, consistency and an attention to detail. Careful planning for digital preservation will safeguard your assets and avoid the need for costly intervention further down the line.

Read more in this two page primer: What is digital preservation?

Why does digital preservation matter?

Vast amounts of information are produced as a matter of course during our daily lives. Some of it is temporary or transient, but much has a longer term value. Without attention it may be lost, incurring costs in it's regeneration or preventing it's future value from being realised. Digital assets might be cultural - data that enriches our lives. They might be the record of scientific research, where there is significant benefit in being able to share, reproduce, verify and build on past work. They could take the form of business data that can drive forward revenue generation. They might be the record of government, where the statements of our political representatives are part of the public record. Or they might just be the digital information we create as part of our own lives, from our holiday snaps to our email and social media conversations. Preserving this digital record has the potential to enrich our lives, to advance science, to support the economy, to underpin democracy and hold politicians to account, and to ensure our personal digital lives can be passed on to the next generation.

Read more in the Digital Preservation Handbook: Why digital preservation matters.

Find out how to communicate what digital preservation is to senior managment.

What about digitisation, is it the same thing?

No! Digital preservation typically refers to the preservation of digital content over time. Digitisation is a related discipline that focuses on creating digital content from non-digital mediums, such as paper or analogue sound recordings. This is quite an involved process in itself, with it's own dedicated best practice (for example see Impact). Note however that when creating new digital content, it's important to plan for how it will be preserved over time. A common mistake with many digitisation activities has been a lack of forward thinking and planning for maintaining and sustaining the results of these activities.

How do I get started in digital preservation?

Getting started in digital preservation is not straightforward! It's a complex and multi-faceted challenge and can be overwhelming. But help is at hand, and these are some suggestions on where to start:

  1. The DPC's Digital Preservation Handbook is the ultimate guide to digital preservation, providing primers on all the key topics and a multitude of links to further information. It's the best place to begin to learn about digital preservation good practice and begin taking some small practical steps forward.
  2. Developing your digital preservation capability will be a challenging journey, so it's important to get your bearings and set off in the right direction! Resources may be limited, so good prioritisation will be essential. Measuring your maturity and setting realistic goals will help immensely. The DPC's Rapid Assessment Model can help you do this in no time at all.
  3. Engaging across an organization and getting them onboard with digital preservation can be a real challenge. What language should you use? How do you engage senior management effectively? How do you put together a digital preservation policy? The DPC's guide to internal advocacy is a great place to start, along with our Executive Guide and Digital Preservation Policy Toolkit.
  4. You've got your organisation on board and you've established a preservation policy, now you need a digital repository to store, manage, preserve and provide access to your digital content. But what are your requirements, and how do you navigate the market place to find the right product for your needs? Check out the DPC Procurement Toolkit.
  5. It's widely acknowledged that no single person or organization can tackle all of the digital preservation challenges on their own. Engaging with and drawing on the support of the wider community is going to be essential. The Digital Preservation Coalition provides a friendly and knowledgeable community of over a hundred organizations. Find out more about joining the DPC.

Scroll to top