Thursday, March 17, 2016

Guidelines for the selection of digital heritage for long-term preservation

Guidelines for the selection of digital heritage for long-term preservationUNESCO/PERSIST Content Task Force. March 2016.
     Libraries, archives, and museums traditionally have the responsibility of preserving the intellectual and cultural resources produced by society but this is in jeopardy because of amount of information created every day in digital form. Digital content is doubling in size every two years.The digital content is also in danger because much of it is ephemeral; it lacks the longevity of physical objects. The challenge of keeping digital content "requires a rethinking of how heritage institutions identify significance and assess value". Institutions must be proactively identify and preserve digital heritage and information before it is lost. The role of libraries, archives, and museums are blurring in the digital age, but they still have major interests to preserve heritage.

Libraries face the challenge selecting digital content for long-term preservation. Many focus on short term use content already in their collection, rather than assessing new publications for acquisition. Archives have traditionally "relied on the passage of time between their creation and their acquisition by an archive to lend historical perspective in making selection decisions". However, the time frame for selecting content is shorter now since the rapid obsolescence of digital formats, storage media, system hardware and software systems, of opportunity of selection.  Some strategies for selecting digital content:

Acting locally 1: Strategies for collecting digital heritage.
  • Comprehensive collecting to acquire all of the material produced on a given subject area, time period, or geographic region.
  • Representative sampling to capture a representative picture makes selection and preservation more manageable and less resource-intensive.
  • Selecting material for addition to their collections based on specific criteria, such as
    • Subject/Topic.
    • Creator/Provenance.
    • Type/Format.
    • Institutions could defer selection by capturing all the digital heritage material now and apply selection criteria later.

Acting locally 2: Developing selection criteria for a single institution
How should institutions select, identify, and prioritize digital heritage before it is lost? Evaluating and assessing digital content should be based on the principles that underlie traditional selection, but include long term perspective for use and access as defined by its mandate and users.
Decision Tree for Selection in an individual Institution
  1. Identification. Identify the material to be acquired or evaluated. 
  2. Legal framework. Does the institution have a legal obligation to preserve the material?
  3. Application of three selection criteria to determine if content should be preserved: significance, sustainability, and availability
  4. Decision. make a decision based on the three items and then document the rationale and justification for the evaluation or decision.
"The long-term preservation of digital heritage is perhaps the most daunting challenge facing heritage institutions today. Developing and implementing selection criteria and collecting policies is the first step to ensuring that vital heritage material is preserved for the benefit of current and future generations."

Appendix 1: Management of long-term digital preservation and metadata. If the digital heritage is the “content”, then the metadata provides the “context”.

"Selection of digital heritage is closely connected with issues related to long-term preservation and access. Some losses of important digital heritage may be unavoidable, but the risk can be mitigated by following best practices in digital preservation, including redundancy, active management, and metadata management."

Three key types of metadata crucial to long-term preservation:
  • Structural (required for the technical capacity to read digital content)
  • Descriptive (containing bibliographic, archival, or museum contextual information, which can be system-generated or created by heritage professionals, content creators, and/or users)
  • Administrative (documenting the management of a digital object while in its collection).

Five basic functional requirements for digital metadata:
  1. Identification: The metadata must identify each digital object uniquely and unambiguously.
  2. Location: The metadata must allow each digital object to be located and retrieved.
  3. Description: A description of digital object as well as data about the content and the context.
  4. Readability: Metadata about the structure, format and encoding of digital objects
  5. Rights management: Rights and conditions of use and restrictions must be recorded.

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