Rapid advances in technology can lead to digital collections becoming obsolete very quickly and a digital preservation policy is a crucial part of managing this risk. Digital preservation can be a costly process and will need continual attention well after all materials have been digitised and ingested into a collection. The digital preservation policy should highlight an organisation's ongoing commitment to digitally preserving valuable collections.
Digital preservation and digitization, though related, are distinct activities. The preservation of digital resources continues long after a digitization project has been completed. Digital preservation is not a time-limited process.
A preservation policy should be directly connected to the aims and goals of the institution. Clearly establishing the benefits of a digital preservation strategy at an early stage will allow these benefits to be measured and show the need for commitment by the institution. Implementing a preservation policy may only be possible by first raising awareness of the benefits of digital preservation and the potential dangers of ignoring it.
Strong policies should also be inclusive and cross-departmental. Creating a policy at an early stage may provide a basic digital preservation policy, which can then be developed as required. Tying in high-level policy documents can be especial beneficial when quantifying the benefits of preservation.
When an institution is digitizing content, it is important that a digital preservation policy is implemented as soon as possible. A best practice is to have a preservation strategy in place before any content is digitized so that standards are followed. However, a phased introduction may be necessary, perhaps beginning with the needs of the digitization project and evolving to embrace the needs of the institution.
A digital preservation policy should include:
- An explanation of how the policy relates to other organisational goals, objectives and mission statements. This section should also quantify the benefits of a sustainable digital collection.
- How the digital preservation policy sits along side other institutional policies, such as records management, IT or digitisation work. It should also highlight the use of agreed upon and interoperable standards.
- The objectives of preservation activities, this section should outline how activities mentioned in the principle statement will be undertaken and by whom. Will preservation actions be carried out in-house or outsourced? For how long will materials be
- Detail of just how digital preservation will be implemented. Which department will undertake what activities and when? Objectives of the policy should be spelled out in practical terms.
- The scope of preservation activities should also be made clear. What will be preserved? Will you undertake to store ‘archival masters' only or multiple versions of a file? In detailed policies, preferred file formats should also be listed.
- Accountability. Who, ultimately will be responsible for digital preservation within an organisation? How will the organisation fund staff training, equipment, outsourcing, and storage. Who will be responsible for future changes to the digitisation strategy? Signing-off an agreed policy could help its long-term prospects.
- Glossary: Anyone unfamiliar with digital preservation may require a detailed glossary.
- Version Control: Date of policy. It's status and review date should also be included.
The sooner the issues associated with digital preservation are addressed, the easier it will be to develop hands-on preservation procedures to ensure preservation objectives are met. A digital preservation policy is required for digitization projects, but more so for the long-term management and maintenance of digital collections.