DIGITAL PRESERVATION Handbook: a strategic overview of the broad issues & tasks involved in preserving digital resources

(Illustration by Jørgen Stamp CC BY 2.5 Denmark)

More and more information (as a result of digitising non-digital collections, as different digital resource types, or as result of the day-to-day organisation or individual activities) is being created digitally and the pace at which it is being created is accelerating.

Considering that there is a real threat that the digital materials will be created in such a way that not even their short-term viability can be assured, every organisation needs to develop (implement and stick to it) a Digital Preservation (DP) strategy/framework/program that sets the direction and establishes priorities in terms of creation and management of authentic, reliable and usable digital objects, capable of supporting specific activities for as long as they are required. 

According to LEARN Project GlossaryDIGITAL PRESERVATION is defined as "The set of processes, activities and management of digital information over time to ensure its long-term accessibility. Because of the relatively short life-cycle of digital information, preservation is an ongoing process".

This essay will introduce the Digital Preservation Handbook (released by Digital Preservation Coalition; with over 30 major sections*** with inter-linked sub-sections) 

that provides a strategic overview and senior management briefing, outlining the broad issues and the rationale for funding to be allocated to the tasks involved in preserving digital resources. 
The revised 2nd edition of the Handbook (peer-reviewed and freely accessible to all) is a key knowledge base for DP.

Digital Preservation as part of Life-Cycle of Digital Information

The lifecycle of digital object [Records] management may include the following core business processes (with ongoing reporting) :

Creation and capture

<-Selecting-> - - <-Sensitivity reviews of selected records->
Cataloguing,  Classification, assigning Metadata
Transfer for 
- Access
Disposal for deletion
Sharing, Re-use

Records Management Checklist (©Victorian Auditor-General's Office) 

can help you assess the frameworks you use to manage your records, while complying with the records management standards and to identify areas for improvement. The checklist is not a substitute for the records management standards but is designed to complement and support them.

The DP related processes are occurring in an environment in which there is a growing awareness of the significant challenges associated with ensuring continued access to digital objects, even in the short term. 

Engagement and exploitation of digital content are enabled when digital materials endure. To ensure the value of digital materials in the long run [or rather : to secure the long-term persistence of information in digital form] we need to ensure long-term access, which in turn means we need to understand and mitigate rapid changes in technology and organisations. See:


Digital platforms change and the long chains of interdependence on which they depend are complicated and fluid. Their longevity and utility is threatened where contents or contexts are lost. 

For analog collections that are digitized, the high-quality digital surrogates produced require the same attention as born-digital collections in order to avoid subjecting the analog materials to repeated digitization. 

Thus, DP is focused on the task of ensuring that digital collections are accessible to the public in the future. A DP strategy does not mean that everything should be preserved. The question is less what can be preserved so much as what should not be lost ...

"Managing archival collections requires a comprehensive approach that incorporates identifying needs, establishing priorities, and allocating resources to meet goals", -  @Smithsonian Institution Archives.

With a growing and effective body of approaches, experience, and collaboration to address the challenges, DP is a doable endeavour with simple first steps all can undertake:

GETTING STARTED : The emphasis is on the preservation of born-digital materials, or the products of digitisation* (the digital surrogates themselves) ... 

Creation, management and archiving of digital materials are no longer at opposite ends of a process but are integrated all the way through. This means that Preservation Action is already needed at the start of the life of a digital object, not always at its end. See: 


It is important for creators to realise if they do not actively work to ensure continuity, their digital materials can easily become unusable. It is about making sure that their information is complete, available and therefore usable for their business needs. Your information is usable if you can:

  • Find it when you need it;
  • Open it as you need it;
  • Work with it in the way you need to;
  • Understand what it is and what it is about;
  • Trust that it is what it says it is.

This enables you to operate accountably, legally, effectively and efficiently, make informed decisions, reduce costs, and deliver better services. 

THE CHOICE OF FILE FORMATS & STANDARDS and the capture of critical documentation or the description of key relationships in the 

 METADATA & DOCUMENTATION (to understanding the data, how it will be used, its dependencies and its context - to enable it to be captured for preservation in an appropriate and documented manner),

may require a small investment up front, but could deliver considerable savings further down the line.  


Where the opportunity exists to intervene with preservation actions early in the lifecycle, digital materials can be shaped to survive better into the future. Each of the options presents its own advantages and disadvantages and these need to be evaluated carefully, possibly on a case by case basis. 

Acquisition & Appraisal -  Decision tree -  Retention and review - Storage

A considered preservation planning process might result in the migration of digital files from format to format, the emulation of obsolete software, or the employment of alternative software applications to render the data. 

Primarily MIGRATION and EMULATION may be identified as relevant digital preservation strategies. REFRESHING has to be rated as a supplementing strategy:

MIGRATION: Store formats in an up-to-date format before they become obsolete.

EMULATION: "Imitate" old hardware and software environment by means of an emulator.

REFRESHING: Copy data to new data carriers (of the same or other type) when data carrier failure is threatening, - @GOPORTIS : Alliance of German National Specialist Libraries


Selection, appraisal and disposal are significant components in any digital management activity. See: 


The greater the importance of digital materials, the greater the need for their preservation: DP protects investment, captures potential and transmits opportunities to future generations and our own.

 UK Data Archive claims a long track record of keeping digital materials well over many decades.

Maintaining trust (Authenticity & Integrity) in the data 

For an end-user to have trust in the result of digital preservation work requires not only careful consideration of the entire lifecycle of the digital materials but also Who or What has interacted with them over time. This means that Information management systems need to be able to link to essential contextual information regarding the business procedures of the creating agency.


The application of data integrity techniques and the maintenance of audit trails can provide confidence that a digital object has remained unchanged (except by necessary preservation action) since deposit in an archive.

In addition to tracking/creating checksums, complete chain of custody documentation is an important indicator of authenticity. This could include logs of checksum files that date from the initial transfer or creation of the digital file.

System and physical security policies and procedures should be in place to ensure the care and integrity of items during accessioning. These should be developed from and reflect the institutional policies and procedures on security. See 


Data authenticity to a user may depend much more on the broader trustworthiness of the preserving organisation as a whole. Maintaining high quality preservation processes based on current 

STANDARDS & BEST PRACTICEand validated by appropriate  AUDIT & CERTIFICATION will be crucial.

* Many best practices and obligations - - 

 LEGAL COMPLIANCE : Selection of materials : Copyright [It will be necessary to ensure permission is given both to digitise* the original and to make copies of the digital copy for the purposes of preservation and delivery]

- - will be project or sector specific. 

*** The contents page of the Digital Preservation Handbook provides an "at a glance" view of the major sections and all their component topics.

The Handbook provides an internationally authoritative and practical guide to the subject of managing digital resources over time and the issues in sustaining access to them, 

                                                                                                          - ©2017 Digital Preservation Coalition.


Digital Preservation Handbook [landing page]




How to use the Handbook


Development and acknowledgements


Digital preservation briefing [landing page]   (PDF of this section)


Why digital preservation matters


Preservation issues


Getting started    (PDF of this section)


Institutional strategies [landing page]   (PDF of this section)


Institutional Policies and Strategies






Procurement and third party services


Audit and certification


Legal compliance


Risk and change management


Staff training and development


Standards and Best practice


Business cases, benefits, costs, and impact


Organisational activities [landing page]   (PDF of this section)


Creating digital materials


Acquisition and Appraisal


Decision tree


Retention and review




Legacy media


Preservation planning


Preservation action




Metadata and documentation


Technical solutions and tools [landing page]   (PDF of this section)




Fixity and checksums


File formats and standards


Information security


Cloud services


Digital forensics


Persistent identifiers


Content-specific preservation [landing page]   (PDF of this section)




Moving pictures and sound





How to join the DPC [e.g., DANS joins the Digital Preservation Coalition in July 2017]

*Digitization is the process of converting information into a digital format . In this format, information is organized into discrete units of data (called bit s) that can be separately addressed (usually in multiple-bit groups called byte s). This is the binary data that computers and many devices with computing capacity (such as digital camera s and digital hearing aid s) can process.

Text and images can be digitized similarly: a scanner captures an image (which may be an image of text) and converts it to an image file, such as a bitmap . An optical character recognition (OCR ) program analyzes a text image for light and dark areas in order to identify each alphabetic letter or numeric digit, and converts each character into an ASCII code, ©TechTarget