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"The first line of defense against loss of valuable digital information rests with the creators, providers and owners of digital information." (Waters and Garrett, 1996)

The Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information articulated one of the earliest acknowledgements of the crucial role of the creator in helping to ensure long-term access to the digital resources they create. This view has been reiterated in many other documents since.

Clearly, most individual creators cannot be expected to take on a long-term commitment to preserving the digital content they create beyond that of their business needs. Every digital resource has a life cycle and different stakeholders and interests within this. However, it is both highly desirable and achievable that a dialogue is established between long-term repositories and creatorswhen issues of long-term preservation are involved. It is often in the creator's interest as well that content created is well-formed, complete, correct, and usable for current and future purposes. Given the crucial role of the creator in undertaking short to medium-term preservation often for a period of decades and at least facilitating medium to long-term preservation, encouraging good practices (and also outreach by repositories), are crucial.

This section will focus solely on encouraging good practices in the creation of digital materials which will assist in their longevity of active use, future management and preservation. You should refer to other relevant sections of the Handbook for related activities and guidance.

Our focus remains the generic implications for digital preservation in the creation process of digitisation (digital surrogates) or that of born-digital materials.

Creating digital surrogates or domain specific types of born-digital files such as electronic records, research data, or personal digital information all have excellent sources of further advice and guidance. Key references are provided in Resources and case studies.


Creating born-digital materials


Digital preservation refers to the series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary. This includes the activities when creating born-digital materials necessary to meet the ongoing needs of the original creator.

Often many of these actions needed for continuing access for the long-term overlap with those best practices suited to immediate business needs. Indeed many organisations and individuals create digital materials now that they will need to use and manage for many decades. They would probably not consider themselves as doing digital preservation and other terms such as "digital continuity" are frequently used to communicate how these actions affect them when they are not memory organisations such as museums, libraries or archives with a mission to preserve.

It is important for creators to realise if they do not actively work to ensure continuity, their digital materials can easily become unusable. It is about making sure that their information is complete, available and therefore usable for their business needs.

Your information is usable if you can:

  • Find it when you need it;
  • Open it as you need it;
  • Work with it in the way you need to;
  • Understand what it is and what it is about;
  • Trust that it is what it says it is.

This enables you to operate accountably, legally, effectively and efficiently. It helps you to protect your reputation, make informed decisions, reduce costs, and deliver better services. For further information on first steps in digital preservation see Getting started.

The following table provides guidance on key issues and actions to consider when creating digital materials to ensure their longevity of active use and potential for long-term preservation.


Preserving born-digital materials


Software and formats

Choose software that is well supported and creates files that can be read by a variety of different programs.

See the File formats and standards section of the Handbook for relevant guidance.


File names

Use a short descriptive file name of content and date that provide context and can be easily understood by humans and computers, now and in the future.

Do not use spaces or special characters (other than - or _ ), this will avoid potential mis-interpretation by computer hardware or software.

Put date information in the ISO 8601:2004 standard format: YYYY-MM-DD. This provides a consistent method for version tracking. Note separate file date metadata generated by systems can often change automatically with later actions.

Use a consistent method for showing the file versions. This can be date as above, supplemented as needed , a version number v1, v2, v_final, etc.


Storage and backup

See Principles for using IT storage systems for digital preservation in the Storage section of the Handbook for relevant guidance.


Know your obligations and relevant best practice

See the Legal compliance section of the Handbook for relevant guidance. Many obligations and best practices will be project or sector specific – see the Creating Research Data inset below for an example.


Plan for transitions

Some transitions can be foreseen and planned for others may be unforeseen but can be mitigated by good planning and procedures. See Resources and case studies below and the Preservation planning and Risk and change management sections of the Handbook for relevant guidance.


Creating digital surrogates


The emphasis on digitisation in this section reflects its current importance as increasing numbers of institutions embark on digitising parts of their collections. It is important to reinforce that this Handbook is not considering the potential of digitisation as a preservation reformatting tool. The emphasis is on the preservation of born-digital materials, or the products of digitisation (the digital surrogates themselves), not the preservation of the analogue originals.

One important exception is that for audiovisual materials. Audio and video materials need digitisation for the very survival of their content, owing to the obsolescence of playback equipment and decay and damage of physical items, whether analogue or digital (see Moving pictures and sound).

Many digitisation projects cite enhanced access as the major objective, a perfectly legitimate objective but unless due care and attention is given to how that access can be maintained over time, it may well be short-lived. It is unlikely that all current digitisation initiatives are being undertaken with due regard to the long-term viability of the digital surrogates they are creating, so it is useful to encourage good practice in creating digital materials and to point to existing sources of guidance.

A good portion of what is now being digitized began life as born digital content. It was converted into an analogue format such as print on paper before the need for digital access and to re-digitize was recognised. That cycle needs to shift quickly to simply managing more born digital content.


Preserving digital surrogates: digital preservation considerations


Assessment of need for digitisation

Has the material already been digitised? If so, is it to an appropriate standard and readily accessible to your audience?


Finding funds for the project

What archiving policies exist, both from the funding agency (if externally funded) and the institution with prime responsibility for the project?


Planning the project and assigning resources

Need to set aside recurrent funds for maintenance of the digital copies as well as one-off funds for conversion.

Ensure all relevant stakeholders are aware of the project (for example, if another part of the organisation or an external agency is expected to maintain the resource, they will need to be included in discussions at this point, if not before)

Identify a strategy for carrying forward the assets of the project in a sustainable manner after the project has achieved its deliverables. This strategy might involve ingesting the assets of the project into the collection catalogue of the parent organisation, or designating a partner institution for receipt of these assets.


Selection of materials

Copyright. It will be necessary to ensure permission is given both to digitise the original and to make copies of the digital copy for the purposes of preservation and delivery. For further information, see Legal compliance.

Condition and completeness of original. Is it capable of being re-scanned at a later date if the digital copy is lost?


Decide how the information content needs to be organised

(for example, searchable text databases and/or document page images)

Selection of appropriate file formats and storage for both master/archive copies and derivatives, see File formats and standardsMetadata and documentation and Storage.


Decide digitisation method appropriate to analogue original and goals of the project.

Preparing originals for digitisation Details of the digitisation method need to be documented and attached to the metadata record to enable future management.


Preparing originals for digitisation

The National Archives provides standards and guidance on document preparation for digitisation of records (The National Archives, 2015).

Will the originals be retained? Do not to take any action on discarding the originals until it is established that a) the electronic version is legally admissible and/or b) the electronic version is capable of long-term preservation.

Deciding whether or not to retain the originals post-digitisation will of course not be an issue for projects digitising valuable treasures within a collection, the main issue then will be whether or not the original is too fragile to be re-scanned at a later date if the digital copy is lost. In any of these cases, if the digital copy becomes the primary means of access, it will be subject to the same requirements as born digital material.



Documentation of technical characteristics. Compression algorithm (if used); bit depth required; scanning resolution etc. Create backup copies as soon as conversion is undertaken.


Quality assurance checks

Digital surrogate needs to be of an acceptable preservation quality.

If using third party services, need to ensure documentation clarifies responsibility for quality assurance.


Final indexing and cataloguing

Metadata for resource discovery and for managing and preservation of digital copy.


Loading data into computer systems

Document storage requirements for access and preservation copies (if different). Make backup copies as appropriate.


Implementing archiving and preservation strategies or transferring to a preservation agency

Required standards for formats, storage media, documentation, and transfer procedures. Storage of masters and backup copies.

Strategies for media refreshment and changes in technological environment.



Digitisation at The National Archives

This document sets out TNA's standards and requirements for the digitisation of analogue records in its collection. It is also recommended to UK government departments who wish to digitise any of their paper records It covers: the whole digitisation process from initial scanning through to delivery of the images for preservation, including The National Archives' scanned image specification; the scanning of records where the resultant images will become the legal public record for permanent preservation; and the scanning of records where the resultant images will become digital surrogates with the original paper records being retained and remaining the legal public record (July 2015, 56 pages).

Koninklijke Bibliotheek/National Library of the Netherlands: Metamorfoze preservation imaging guidelines

Metamorfoze is the national program of the Netherlands for preserving paper heritage. The guidelines are intended for the digitisation of two-dimensional materials such as manuscripts, archives, books, newspapers and magazines. They may also be applied to photographs, paintings and technical drawings. The Guidelines relate exclusively to the image quality and metadata of the Preservation Master file, from which all outputs intended for print and/or the web can be derived. (2012, 44 pages).

Preparing Collections for Digitisation

This 2010 book by Anna E. Bulow and Jess Ahmon offers practical guidance covering the end-to-end process of digitising collections, and can be used as a 'how-to' reference manual for collection managers who are embarking on a digitisation project or who are managing an existing project. It also covers some of the wider issues such as the use of surrogates for preservation, and the long term sustainability of digital access. (208 pages).

InterPARES 2 Creator Guidelines Making and Maintaining Digital Materials

This booklet provides advice for individuals who create digital materials in the course of their professional and personal activities to help them ensure their preservation (10 pages).

InterPARES 2 Preserver Guidelines Preserving Digital Records: Guidelines for Organisations

This booklet provides advice to any organization responsible for the long-term preservation of digital records (10 pages).

Jisc Digital Media resources

Intellectual property rights in a digital world

Digitising your collections sustainably

Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative

This is a collaborative effort by US federal agencies to define common guidelines, methods, and practices for digitizing historical content. As part of this, two working groups are studying issues specific to two major areas, Still Image and Audio Visual.

Future Proof – Protecting our digital future

Future Proof is a State Records initiative from the New South Wales State Government in Australia. This website and blog cover products and projects from State Records that are specifically about digital records. Category links provide useful gateways into different resources housed on the site.

The Curation Reference Manual

This resource maintained by the Digital Curation Centre contains advice, in-depth information and criticism on current digital curation techniques and best practice. The Manual is an ongoing, community-driven project, which involves members of the DCC community suggesting topics, authoring manual instalments and conducting peer reviews. Each instalment is designed to help data custodians, producers and users better understand the challenges they face and the roles that they play in creating, managing and preserving digital information over time.

UK Data Archive: Consent for data sharing

Collecting, using and sharing data in research with people requires that ethical and legal obligations are respected. Laws such as the Data Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act and Statistics and Registration Services Act also govern the use of some kinds of data. This guidance offers help on how research data can be shared without breaching ethical or legal responsibilities.

An Elevator Pitch for File Naming Conventions

This Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) TechConnect blog post makes the case for adopting a consistent approach when naming digital files or software components, by demonstrating the effects of not doing so. (2013).

Digital Continuity guidance from The National Archives UK

Comprehensive guidance on digital continuity from the National Archives. Of particular use are: Understanding Digital Continuity an introduction to the topic (2011, 20 pages); and Managing Digital Continuity which takes you through a 4 stage process:1) Plan for action 2) Define your digital continuity requirements 3) Assess and manage risks to digital continuity 4) Maintain digital continuity.

NCDCR Digital Preservation Best Practices and Guidelines - Create Digital Files

First launched in 2010 by the Digital Information Management Program of the State Library of North Carolina, and the Digital Services Section of the State Archives of North Carolina, this site received a National Digital Stewardship Alliance Innovation Award in 2012. The aim is to provide practical, introductory information about digital preservation, and to direct visitors to approachable "next step" resources.

Digital Preservation Management Tools and Techniques

DPM workshop content workflows include a high-level diagram with lower-level diagrams for managing physical content, transitioning through digitisation, and managing born-digital and digitised content. The idea is to provide a common workflow for all content in any context then develop a number of use cases to highlight exceptions for specific kinds of content with different kinds of requirements.

Part 1: Why is File Naming Important?

This excellent short video is part one of a four-part tutorial on file naming. It talks about why it's important to choose your file names wisely. Designed for a general audience, it is part of the State Library of North Carolina's "Inform U" series (2012, 3mins 19 secs).


Case studies

DPC case note: ULCC assessing long term access from short term digitization projects

Digitisation projects are mostly funded over a short term, so how can we take steps to make the outputs of digitisation robust in the long term? This Jisc-funded case study reports work undertaken by the University of London Computer Centre in assessing the long term plans of 16 digitisation projects, providing a basic survey tool to help funders and project managers alike to reflect on their long term preservation plans. November 2010 (4 pages).

The British Library 'Save our Sounds' project

Launched in 2015 Save our Sounds is the British Library's programme to preserve via digitisation the nation's Sound Archive, a collection of over 6.5 million recordings of speech, music, wildlife and the environment, from the 1880s to the present day. The project aims both to ensure that the existing archive is properly preserved, and that there are adequate systems in place for the acquisition of future sound production in the UK.

Digital Curation Centre case studies

In 2013 the DCC began a series of case studies to accompany the new DCC guide How to Develop Research Data Management Services. These cover specific components of a Research Data Management service of interest to researchers and data managers.

Society of American Archivists campus case studies

Campus Case Studies are reports by American university archivists who have created working solutions. They cover a wide range of topics some of which are specifically focussed on digital preservation and creating digital records. The currency of the case studies varies from 2008 to the present.

Why metadata matters

This blog post provides good examples of why poor file-naming and metadata description at creation of a file can hinder subsequent searching, discovery and re-use.



The National Archives, 2015. Digitisation at The National Archives. Available:

Waters, D and Garrett, J., 1996. Preserving Digital Information: Report of the Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information commissioned by the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Research Libraries Group. Washington, DC: Commission on Preservation and Access. Available:



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