The Challenges of Digital Preservation

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 12:30 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom East (Marriott Wardman Park)
Drew E. VandeCreek, University Libraries, Northern Illinois University
Historians producing digital objects may be unaware of the need to provide means for their long-term preservation. Although many of us have assumed that digital objects are eternal, they are in fact subject to degradation and decay like any other artifact. Should digital objects stored on a single server, CD, or DVD succumb to the process of "bit rot," they may be effectively compromised or even lost. Damage to storage media like CDs and DVDs can also compromise or eradicate data, as can the catastrophic failure of a server, or even a single disk drive in an array. In addition, digital objects created and stored on specific media and/or in specific software applications may one day become unusable. In addition to bringing the issue of digital preservation to historians’ attention, this presentation reviews the findings of a multi-institution study, funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, which includes an examination of present digital preservation practices at five medium-sized and smaller institutions of higher education, as well as a review of a range of potential revised practices and workflows, as well as preservation-specific technologies, available to them.

Historians employed at large, well-funded universities might not know about the resources that their institution has already put in place for digital preservation, and can profit from knowing where to turn to ensure the survival of their digital objects. Scholars at medium-sized and smaller institutions and public historians can benefit from the IMLS study’s recommendations of specific practices, which they can adopt as individuals, a work group, or an institution, and technologies that can help them to achieve progressive levels of preservation for digital objects.

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