Friday, March 13, 2009

Assignment #6 part 2: Digital Preservation for Libraries, Archives, and Museums

Digital Preservation, defined by the ALA constitutes: "policies, strategies and actions to ensure access to reformatted and born digital content regardless of the challenges of media failure and technological change. The goal of digital preservation is the accurate rendering of authenticated content over time." For libraries and archives, whose collections are being digitized or, increasingly, are arriving as "born digital" (e.g. point of origin and existence are electronic), the mandate to preserve digital resource is strong. Any government agency or private individual's papers will be either "hybrid" (paper and electronic records) or effectively 100% digital. This trend will undoubtedly progress, and the question remains whether libraries and archives are up to the challenge. Replicable models exist, such as the OAIS reference system established by ISO.

As one might expect, Government and University libraries are leading the way toward developing, disseminating, and implementing digital preservation policies. The Library of Congress has an extensive, interactive website, "" devoted to its digital preservation department's practices and standards, as well as highlighting its participation with digital preservation initiatives around the country. The site is extremely useful as it includes information about US government standards (, and studies related to copyright and format longevity. As the library of record for the USA, the Library of Congress takes its role as a standard bearer very seriously, to which the vastness of resources related to digital preservation in this website witnesses.

University Library digital preservation websites tend to focus on the specific policies of the institution. The digital preservation policy at Yale University, for example, defines its purpose: "Digital preservation is the whole of the activities and processes involved in the physical and intellectual protection and technical stabilization of digital resources through time in order to reproduce authentic copies of these resources," and lays out its guidelines for file format, storage, life cycle, metadata, access, intellectual property, and reference resources in a simple, easy-to-follow manner. It is a go-to reference tool that is simple for librarians to follow and for students to comprehend.

Museums, as I have already observed elswhere in this blog, typically contain less "front end" documentation of their behind-the-scenes policies and practices. Digital preservation policies do not appear as such on any museum websites that I have come across. That does not mean that the idea is foreign or undeveloped in museum literature. Particularly for museums such as the Whitney Museum of Art, who have made the collecting of "New Media" (digital or other electronic art forms, including "net art") a priority, digital preservation takes on the same importance as paintings conservation. Instead of focusing on government documents or historical materials, museums and galleries devoted to new media view the problem as simply maintaining the existence of works of art. In his book, Collecting the New, Bruce Altshuler contemplates the theoretical and practical implications of collecting materials for which there is no known expiration date, and aesthetic choices that transcend color and composition. Organizations such as those behind the annual Museums and the Web conference and publications as well as other academic and professional organizations related to art and art museums have taken up the issue as well. It would certainly be a useful partnership for museum studies and art history programs to link up with graduate programs in information studies, computer science, and conservation.

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