Digital Preservation for the Heritage Sector – some golden rules

“If we try we may fail, if we don’t try we will certainly fail”
British Library, Preservation Advisory Service, 2010

The ‘golden rules’ of digital preservation? 

Firstly digital preservation is going to be different from organisation to organisation but that doesn’t mean everyone is marching to the beat of their own drum. Thankfully there are some basic principles which should inform all projects:

Always create a project plan before starting your project. Not only will this clarify and cost what you are going to do it will leave a record of how the processes used for your digital preservation and this could be invaluable for those that may need to migrate your data at a later date.

Remember digitisation refers to a wider range of objects than just creating an image file of Museum objects and placing them in a folder. While most of the focus up till now has been on photographic prints and negatives digitisation increasingly covers a wide range of museum content including photographs born in digital cameras, documentation and stories related to objects, videos and audio files relating to collections and content created by people in the broader community using 3rd party sites like blogs and flickr.

Collaborate whenever possible – so check to see if someone else has already done work on the same objects and whether you can share or incorporate their data into your records.

Are you ready to do this? The biggest risk to physical collections is human beings. If the collection has been sitting in a cardboard box in the corner of the museum for the last twenty years and is still in pretty good condition perhaps a few more weeks, months, even years may not make too much difference. It’s better to be able to do it all, and to do it properly, than to make a half-hearted attempt on a portion of the collection.

Always hold at least two copies of a record. Technical obsolescence of standard formats is not likely to be an immediate threat so it may be possible to retain a copy in the original digital format in which it was created.

Only ever work on a copy of a record to ensure long-term preservation of the original.

If you want to follow up there is plenty more information on Digital Preservation Basics a site I created for a workshop I did. This includes checklists, selecting file formats, finding digital objects, selecting sizes and resource links.

cc by sa
by Geoff Barker, 2010

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