Friday, May 15, 2015

What Do We Mean by ‘Preserving Digital Information’? Towards Sound Conceptual Foundations for Digital Stewardship

What Do We Mean by ‘Preserving Digital Information’? Towards Sound Conceptual Foundations for Digital Stewardship. Simone Sacchi. Dissertation University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.2015. [PDF]
Preserving digital information is a fundamental concept in digital and data stewardship. This dissertation explains what successfully ‘preserving information’ really is, and provides a framework for understanding when and why failures might happen and how to avoid them. The lack of a formal analysis of digital preservation is problematic. Some notes and quotes from the dissertation:
  • At a high level of generality, bit preservation means enabling the possibility for the same (set of ) bit sequence(s) to be discriminated at different points in time, and, potentially, across changes in the underlying storage technology." 
  • Bit level preservation is a mean, not the goal, in digital stewardship. 
  • As suggested by the OAIS definition of digital preservation, successful digital preservation is about “maintaining” or “preserving” information.
  • Preserving information appears to be a metaphorical expression where a complex set of requirements needs to be satisfied in order for an agent to be presented with intended information
  • The best contemporary theories of digital preservation do not focus on the preservation of any sort of object, but rather on preserving access.
  • it is impossible to preserve a digital document as a physical object. One can only
    preserve the ability to reproduce the document.
  • "You cannot prove that you have preserved the object until you have re–created it in some form that is appropriate for human use or for computer system applications.”
  • “digital records are not stable artefacts”; they last only when certain circumstances are met
  • Bit preservation is only the first required step for successful digital stewardship. Interpreting the bits such that an intended digital material obtains through appropriate performances is essential as well.
  • Successful digital preservation of information can be conceived as sustained and reliable communication mediated by digital technology and agents involved in the communication process.

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