Digital preservation has been at the forefront of the issues facing archivists for some time. With the increasing creation and accession of digital records, the constant changing technology, and the ongoing challenges preservation of these records presents, it does not show any sign of easing. In the early days of digital preservation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was very little literature for archivists to access when considering how to tackle their digital records. This has changed significantly in the last decade. While this may suggest that the number of institutions still without digital preservation strategies in place would have dropped considerably, this is not the case. Digital preservation still remains one of the biggest challenges facing archivists, in particular those in smaller institutions with limited resources.


Before reviewing the selected literature it is useful to look at what the ultimate goal of digital preservation is: ‘to maintain the object of preservation for as long as required, in a form which is authentic, and accessible to users.’1 Technology has provided users with almost unlimited ability to generate records, with information being created, interrogated and exchanged with far greater ease than was possible before the arrival of computers, and the internet.2 This has had a knock on effect on how records are appraised, acquired and accessioned by archives. 

It is also useful to examine what is intended by the terms ‘scalability’, and ‘realism’. Scalability is a term with many definitions and varied meanings. The definition closest to the intended understanding here is that of André B Bondi which states that: ‘scalability is the capability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work, or its potential to be enlarged in order to accommodate that growth.’3 Within the context of digital preservation, what is being examined here is two-fold: whether the time frame is scalable in terms of how long it is feasible to preserve for; and whether it is possible to tackle various stages of digital preservation in an incremental fashion, thereby scaling up to complete preservation across the process. What will not be considered here is the scalability of individual tools and systems used in digital preservation. In terms of realism, how realistic the assumptions made in the guidelines are will be examined, in relation to the resources and knowledge level they assume. When considering the body of literature as a whole, it will also examine how realistic the discoverability of these guidelines is for the targeted audience.

This thesis therefore aims to examine existing digital preservation literature to see if it is fit for purpose, and whether the quality of this literature is a factor in why digital preservation implementation still remains a challenge. Two main questions will be posed to a sample of practicing archivists in relation to this literature; is digital preservation scalable, and are the guidelines realistic. This will be examined particularly in relation to smaller archives with limited resources, as this type of archive is the most common.

This thesis will be structured into five chapters. Chapter 1 will detail a comprehensive review of existing digital preservation literature. Chapter 2 will describe the methodology used to collect the new data. The findings of the thesis will be presented in two subsequent related chapters, scalability and realism. As some of the terms and tools used are unique to digital preservation, a glossary of terms and a list of tools are included in the appendices. This introduction outlines the thesis question, and is now followed by the first chapter presenting the literature review.

1 Adrian Brown, Practical Digital Preservation (London: Facet Publishing, 2013), 3.
2 Alan R. Bell, “Participation vs principle,” in Archives and Record Keeping: Theory into Practice, ed. Caroline Brown, (London: Facet Publishing, 2014), 229.
3 André B. Bondi, “Characteristics of scalability and their impact on performance,” in Proceedings of the second international workshop on Software and performance (New York: ACM, 2000), 195.

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