Monday, September 05, 2016

Preservation Challenges in the Digital Age

Preservation Challenges in the Digital Age. Bernadette Houghton. D-Lib Magazine. July/August 2016.
     The rapidly evolving digital preservation field has many preservation challenges:
  • Digital materials are more at risk than analogue
  • Preserving digital materials is also providing access to the material
  • Ensuring the infrastructure that renders the file is preserved or replicated
  • Focal areas changing and best practices still under debate.
"The optimal preservation strategy for individual organisations will differ according to their requirements, resources and data type. Each strategy comes with its own set of challenges, many of which are dependent on, or impacted in some way by, other challenges. This article will cover what the author sees as the major challenges for digital preservation at this point in time, covering a range of technical, administrative, logistical and legal aspects."

Other challenges:
  • Data volumes. Digital storage is becoming cheaper, but not every file and every version of it can and should be stored or preserved. Selecting what to preserve and when to take preservative action becomes more complex with a larger volume of data and a wider range of storage media. This  increases the risk of failing to preserve materials of historical value. There is also a higher risk of data not finding data because of poor metadata.
  • Archivability. One of the most fundamental challenges in archiving is determining what should be preserved and the extent of preservation.
  • Multiplicities. Materials born digital today are likely to have multiple copies in multiple versions stored in multiple locations, possibly under multiple filenames and in multiple file formats.
  • Hardware and storage. Obsolescence, deterioration of media and hardware mechanical failure increase the risk of loss. The cloud is increasingly used for storage, but there are also significant issues with using it.
  • File formats. File formats were considered a big risk in digital preservation but they have not proven to be the overwhelming danger that it was initially perceived to be. Proprietary file formats continue to pose a challenge.
  • Metadata. Metadata is probably the most important aspect of digital preservation. Materials with poor metadata may be undiscoverable, and their authenticity, verifiability and their context unclear.
  • Legalities. Digital preservation presents some complex legal issues
  • Privacy. Material chosen for preservation may contain private and confidential information, and its unauthorised release may lead to legal action.
  • Resourcing. Preservation costs involve not just the actual digitisation, but also storage, infrastructure, staff resourcing and training, ongoing maintenance and auditing of the digitised materials. There are also costs associated with providing access
The challenge is to use the scarce resources to preserve the most important materials, using the most cost-effective and efficient methods. Even choosing not to preserve materials also involves costs. Those who will benefit most from current preservation programs are future generations, which makes it difficult to justify expenditure on digital preservation, since there is little current benefit. The "best that the preservation community can do with digital material is to make educated guesses based on a few decades of mostly anecdotal experience".

"The challenges in digital preservation involve dealing with not just the technologies of the past, but also those to come". The digital preservation field is developing rapidly and the people working with digital materials need to keep up with the changes.