Practical Digital Preservation

May 2013 | 352pp

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Practical Digital Preservation
A how-to guide for organizations of any size

Adrian Brown

2014 DPC Digital Preservation Award Winner

A practical guide to the development and operation of digital preservations services for organizations of any size

Practical Digital Preservation offers a comprehensive overview of best practice and is aimed at the non-specialist, assuming only a basic understanding of IT.  The book provides guidance as to how to implement strategies with minimal time and resources.

Digital preservation has become a critical issue for institutions of all sizes but until recently has mostly been the preserve of national archives and libraries with the resources, time and specialist knowledge available to experiment.

As the discipline matures and practical tools and information are increasingly available the barriers to entry are falling for smaller organizations which can realistically start to take active steps towards a preservation strategy. However, the sheer volume of technical information now available on the subject is becoming a significant obstacle and a straightforward guide is required to offer clear and practical solutions. 

Each chapter in Practical Digital Preservation covers the essential building blocks of digital preservation strategy and implementation, leading the reader through the process.

International case studies from organizations such as the Wellcome Library, Central Connecticut State University Library in the USA and Gloucestershire Archives in the UK illustrate how real organizations have approached the challenges of digital preservation.

Key topics include:

  • Making the case for digital preservation
  • Understanding your requirements  
  • Models for implementing a digital preservation service  
  • Selecting and acquiring digital objects
  • Accessioning and ingesting digital objects
  • Describing digital objects
  • Preserving digital objects  
  • Providing access to users
  • Future trends.  

Readership: Anyone involved in digital preservation and those wanting to get a better understanding of the process, students studying library and information science (LIS), archives and records management courses and academics getting to grips with practical issues.

1. Introduction

  • Introduction 
  • Who is this book for?
  • Minimum requirements
  • Some digital preservation myths
  • The current situation
  • A very brief history of digital preservation
  • A note on terminology
  • Getting the most from this book
  • Notes   

2. Making the case for digital preservation

  • Introduction
  • Understanding the drivers
  • Developing a policy
  • Developing a digital asset register
  • Developing a business case
  • Next steps
  • Key points
  • Notes  

3. Understanding your requirements

  • Introduction
  • Identifying stakeholders
  • Talking to stakeholders
  • Modelling your processes
  • Learning from other people’s requirements
  • Documenting your requirements
  • How to use your requirements
  • Conclusion
  • Key points
  • Notes  

4. Models for implementing a digital preservation service

  • Introduction
  • Options
  • The current market
  • Approaches to procurement
  • Implementation
  • Operating a digital repository
  • Trusted digital repositories
  • A digital preservation maturity model
  • Case studies
  • Key points
  • Notes  

5. Selecting and acquiring digital objects

  • Introduction
  • The selection and transfer process
  • Starting points for selection and transfer
  • Approaches to selection
  • Legal considerations for selection
  • Technical considerations for selection
  • Standards and methods for transfer
  • Transfer agreements
  • Preparing for transfer
  • Completing the transfer process
  • Conclusion
  • Key points
  • Notes  

6. Accessioning and ingesting digital objects

  • Introduction
  • Defining an accession process
  • Creating or acquiring a Submission Information Package
  • Quarantine
  • Characterization
  • Validating the SIP
  • Enhancing SIP metadata
  • Ingest: generating an AIP
  • Normalization and other transformations
  • Automating accession
  • First aid for digital accessions
  • Case studies
  • Key points
  • Notes  

7. Describing digital objects

  • Introduction
  • The role of metadata
  • Metadata standards
  • Deciding on metadata standards
  • Sources of metadata
  • Storing and managing metadata
  • Associating metadata and data
  • Interoperability
  • Case studies
  • Key points
  • Notes  

8. Preserving digital objects

  • Introduction
  • The goals of preservation
  • The nature of digital information
  • The challenge: threats to preservation
  • Preservation strategies
  • Managing change: the concept of multiple manifestations
  • Bitstream preservation
  • Logical preservation
  • Conclusion: preservation in practice
  • Key points
  • Notes  

9. Providing access to users

  • Introduction
  • What do we mean by access?
  • Finding digital objects
  • Options for access: technical considerations
  • Options for access: conditions of access
  • Options for access: online versus on-site access
  • Understanding user expectations
  • Access and reuse
  • Access systems in practice
  • Designing a front end
  • Citing digital records: persistent identifiers
  • Case studies
  • Key points
  • Notes

10. Future trends

  • Introduction
  • Preservation tools and services
  • Preservation-as-a-Service
  • Representation information registries
  • Storage
  • Training and professional bodies
  • Certification schemes
  • New paradigms
  • Current and future research
  • Digital preservation in the developing world
  • Moving to the mainstream
  • Conclusion
  • Notes  


  • Creating a digital asset register
  • Digital preservation maturity model
  • Systems, tools and services

"Brown has combed through the often overwhelming deluge of information that comprises the current output of the digital preservation community and has extracted, synthesized, and presented the most relevant bits in a highly readable and readily comprehensive format that digital preservation practitioners and researchers will likely consult and cite frequently, well into the foreseeable future."
- Archival Issues

"Comprehensive and accessible ... The greatest strength of Brown’s work is his ability to break complex processes down in such a way as they can be easily understood and accomplished. This is further aided by his providing readers with numerous exemplars that fit institutions of a variety of sizes and missions. Likewise, his helping his readers take a close look at their own needs, experience, and context before they move forward into digital preservation establishes a strong foundation for their own preservation work."  
- Journal of Library Innovation

"This book shares useful, practical knowledge in the important area of digital preservation. It provides knowledge of the process for a broad audience, effectively serving as a practical handbook for those specialists drowning in information about digital preservation and needing a clear, practical overview to help them get started. Because of the clarity and practical guidance offered, the book is valuable for the interested non-specialist too, and I would recommend it a must-read for those studying information management."
- Library Management

"I recommend the book for archivists, librarians, digital repository managers, and any individual assigned the task of establishing a digital preservation service."
- Journal of Electronic Resource Librarianship

"While the content is geared toward libraries, museums, and archives that are producing and maintaining digital content, this book would also be beneficial for professionals outside these fields. Each chapter is organized in a meaningful way, and the entire book flows with a natural progression through the complex stages of digital preservation. There is not a lot of technical jargon and the concepts outlined can be applied to small or large organizations that have a variety of assets. The author does an excellent job presenting complicated content in a digestible way, and offers useful case studies throughout the book. Practical Digital Preservation is an excellent book for anyone working with and producing digital content."
- Library Resources and Technical Services

"The book’s structure underpins its value as a practical tool. Refreshingly, it is designed to be read chapter by chapter or is easily navigable topic by topic to suit the needs of the particular reader. There’s a useful table of contents and a consistent layout of each chapter, comprising an introduction, bite-sized sections, a conclusion or next steps, a review of key points, and notes for readers wanting to know more. The substance is illustrated with useful case studies and visual aids such as process flow diagrams. I can imagine returning to this book time and again as a reference text. But the book is much more than a digital preservation primer. There is real substance and Brown has a point-of-view; he rejects aspiring to the “unobtainable, ideal of curatorial perfection”, the one-size fits all “monolithic IT systems” view of digital preservation, reminding us that preservation is an outcome that can be achieved in many ways and degrees of complexity. At the heart of Brown’s proposed strategy is use of a maturity model to identify the appropriate digital preservation implementation in each particular context; in other words he advocates taking a proportionate and risk-based approach. This must be reassuring news to his primary audience: archivists in small organizations outside the flagship national cultural memory preservation programs and for whom the gold-standard digital preservation is unattainable."‚Äč
- Records Management Journal 

Adrian Brown is the Director of the Parliamentary Archives and has lectured and published widely on all aspects of digital preservation. He was previously Head of Digital Preservation at the National Archives where his team won the International Digital Preservation Award in 2007.

1. Introduction

This chapter debunks the myths that digital preservation: can only be tackled by national bodies, requires huge budgets, requires deep technical knowledge, and can be left until next year to tackle.  The chapter then reviews the current situation of digital preservation and provides a brief history from the establishment of the first data archives in the 1960s to the recent movement towards the development of nationally and internationally based practitioner communities. The chapter concludes with a guide to the terminology used throughout the book.

2. Making the case for digital preservation

This chapter describes the drivers for implementing a digital preservation service, and strategies that you can adopt for making an effective business case to secure senior management buy-in and resources. It advocates the development of a digital preservation policy as a first step in building this case, including a discussion of techniques for quantifying the financial and non-financial benefits of implementing a successful preservation solution, and introduces the concept of a digital asset register. Finally, it considers the essential elements of the business case itself.

3. Understanding your requirements

This chapter provides guidance on how to identify and understand your requirements for digital preservation services, from high-level needs to the detailed documentation necessary to enable systems to be developed or procured. The chapter begins by examining how to develop a set of requirements, including identifying and engaging with everyone who can and should contribute, modelling business processes, and drawing on existing work. It then considers how requirements should be articulated and documented, and the types of requirement that need to be considered. Finally, it looks at how the resulting requirements can be applied in practice, as a basis for developing actual systems and services.

4. Models for implementing a digital preservation service

Many different models are possible for operating a digital preservation service – there are options to suit every size and type of organization, from national bodies with substantial dedicated budgets and teams, to the smallest organization seeking to achieve something practical at minimal cost, and without specialist skills. This chapter analyses the range of possible options, including bespoke, in-house and outsourced solutions. It assesses the pros and cons of the alternatives, and considers which elements of a service may be most suited to certain approaches, and under what circumstances. It also considers the current and developing market for providing these solutions. Next, it looks at the process of implementing the chosen solution, and some of the practicalities of operating a digital repository, including the roles required, and availability of suitable training. It then examines the notion of ‘trusted’ digital repositories and proposes a ‘maturity model’ for digital preservation, which enables organizations to assess their capabilities and create a realistic roadmap for developing them to the required level. The alternative models are illustrated by a series of case studies.

5. Selecting and acquiring digital objects

This is the first of two chapters that address how digital repositories acquire content. It focuses on the processes of selecting material for acquisition, and of physically acquiring it, including activities that may need to be carried out in advance of transfer. It discusses the principal issues that need to be addressed when developing a selection policy and acquisition process for digital records. It considers approaches to selection, legal and technical issues that may affect selection and transfer, standards and methods for transfer, and transfer agreements. The next chapter investigates the process of accession and ingest, whereby the transferred material is brought within the physical and intellectual control of the repository. These two chapters describe separate stages within one overall process. In the first stage, the institution makes a decision to acquire a specific collection of material, undertakes any preparatory activities, and performs the physical transfer of that material into its custody. The second stage then consists of the various activities required to ensure that the transfer has been successful, generate all information necessary for the preservation and future management of the content, and ingest it into the digital repository. Both chapters focus on the practical tools and techniques that smaller organizations can apply when acquiring digital content. Two recent projects, Paradigm and AIMS, have developed detailed guidance for small organizations, with particular emphasis on acquisition. They provide excellent sources for further reading, and are referenced extensively in both chapters.

6. Accessioning and ingesting digital objects

This chapter provides a detailed description of the steps required to accession digital objects into a digital repository. It includes an assessment of the types of tool that are available to support these processes, and practical guidance on ‘first aid’ procedures for dealing with poorly documented, obsolete or unsolicited deposits. It ends with a series of case studies to further illustrate how these concepts can be put into practice.

7. Describing digital objects

This chapter provides guidance on choosing the metadata you need to support a digital preservation repository, how to acquire it, and how it can be stored and managed. It begins by discussing the role of metadata, and the different types of metadata you need to consider. It then provides an overview of the main metadata standards available, and how to choose among them. Next, it considers the various methods for creating and capturing metadata, and for managing it as part of a digital repository. It ends with three case studies, which exemplify this guidance.

8. Preserving digital objects

This chapter addresses the very heart of digital preservation – the strategies and techniques required to ensure that digital information remains accessible and usable over the long term. It is a complex issue, which remains the subject of wide-ranging international research, and this chapter focuses on practical, cost-effective approaches suitable for smaller organizations. It begins by examining the goals of preservation, and the nature of digital information, before considering the main threats which it seeks to overcome. It then summarizes the key concepts and approaches, before a detailed consideration of preservation techniques and their practical application.

9. Providing access to users

Access provides the very raison d’être for digital preservation: what we are seeking to preserve is a viable means of access to digital objects, now and into the future. Everything we do in this regard must therefore be informed by the needs of current and future users: their requirements should dictate how we go about the business of digital preservation. While the preceding chapters have considered how to maintain a digital object’s potential for access, this chapter looks at the realities of actually providing access to users today. However, while approaches to providing access to digital objects should be driven by an understanding of what users need, they must inevitably be tempered by the constraints of practicality, legality and curatorial responsibility. This chapter discusses some of the issues that you need to consider when presenting preserved digital records to users. These include the practical, technical and legal challenges involved in providing access online and within a search room environment.

10. Future trends

Attempts to predict trends in technology beyond the very short term are fraught with difficulty, and frequently offer little more than unintentional entertainment for future readers. Having said that, in as rapidly changing a field as digital preservation, there is some value in considering the areas of progress that are most apparent, and how they may manifest. This chapter looks at emerging technologies and trends within the digital preservation community and beyond, where they are likely to have an impact on that community.

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