Added on 2 July 2020

Almost all heritage institutions have them: CDs, DVDs and floppy discs bearing digital heritage. Unfortunately, at about 40% of the Dutch heritage institutions this material is in danger of being lost, according to a recently published study by the Dutch Digital Heritage Network (DDHN). That is … if no action is taken now.

"The information on these CDs and other so-called physical carriers belongs to collections and should therefore be permanently accessible," says Niels Komen, project leader of the DDHN project Endangered Digital Heritage on Portable Media. This spring, his project group conducted research among 150 Dutch heritage institutions.

Niels: "We saw that many heritage institutions don’t really know what to do with floppy disks, CD-ROMs or a hard disk. Sometimes because there is no equipment available to read them, sometimes because the carrier has been damaged over the years. But if action is not taken in time, in many cases the content of the carrier will be lost forever."

5 alarming conclusions from the study:

  1. Almost 80% of the participating heritage institutions have portable media containing digital information that has not yet been made permanently accessible within a digital archive. This occurs in organizations of all sizes and in every domain.
  2. Almost 40% have portable media that they can no longer read. This is mainly due to the lack of infrastructure and limited financial resources and manpower.
  3. More than 80% have to catch up to inventory what exactly is on the carriers. This usually has to do with backlogs (no time to inventory), but also with a lack of the right infrastructure. This is regardless of the sector or the size of the organization.
  4. Nearly 90% have to catch up to register carriers in a catalog or registration system. This is a particular problem with the smallest heritage institutions (0-5 FTE).
  5. 75% of the participating heritage institutions have unique material stored on portable media. This is therefore material that does not exist anywhere other than on the physical carrier. This is a particular problem with the smallest heritage institutions (0-5 FTE).

Next steps

With the research report, the Dutch Digital Heritage Network wants to create awareness and encourage heritage institutions to take steps now to secure digital heritage on physical carriers. Not every institution has the resources or knowledge in-house, which is why the DDHN will develop the following tools in the second half of 2020:

  • There will be a damage atlas, an online environment with a list of the most common carriers and which errors or damage (think bit rot, or scratches on a CD-ROM) you can encounter. This allows institutions to estimate the risks of loss of information and prioritize the material they need to save.
  • In addition, the possibilities of setting up one or more central processing streets with hardware and software are being investigated. In those places, heritage institutions are able to read out the contents of their carriers themselves. The DDHN will provide manuals and also share these within the network, so that institutions can set up a processing street themselves.

More information:

  • Read the full report of the study: Endangered digital heritage on portable media, an investigation into the national scale of the problem.
    Note: This report is written in Dutch. With a little help from Google Translate you will be able to read it all.
  • See other examples of at-risk digital materials in the 'BitList' of Digitally Endangered Species. This report has been added as a Case Study to the BitList entry for Portable Media. If you have information or other case studies on other BitList entries, please submit them for inclusion to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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