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Supporting Digital Preservation and Asset Management in Institutions

Leona Carpenter

vendredi 17 juin 2005, par Collecte CND R.L

In the early days of the shift from paper-based to digital means of holding administrative records, research data, publications and other academic resources, those responsible for its safety tended to breathe a sigh of relief once they had got a category of material into digital form.

Reduced to bits and bytes, all they would have to do is make regular backups, perhaps keeping a copy off-site in case of disaster, and all would be well. Increasingly, material of value to Further and Higher Education is produced and held only in digital form.

Increasingly, those with responsibility for the care of this material are becoming aware that sound backup procedures are only the beginning of care.

Physical carriers of digital material deteriorate ; digital data can become corrupted ; the hardware that reads particular carriers wears out and cannot be replaced when it has become obsolete ; file formats become obsolete in the course of software evolution, as backward compatibility is lost over a succession of versions ; older versions of software, even when these are available, may not work on new hardware or operating systems. Valuable digital assets of institutions are at risk of loss, in the medium-term as well as long-term future.

Challenges to preserving access to these assets are (at least) as much related to organisational process, policy and culture issues as to technical issues. The ways of working that worked in the pre-digital era may not transfer well or easily to a time when a high proportion of the information assets of institutions exist (and indeed are meaningful) only in digital form.

Senior managers with finance responsibilities need support in assessing the costs and benefits of digital preservation.

Institutions need processes in place to support decision making about what material requires active intervention and when. These decisions must be based not only on selection and retention policies, sometimes related to legal compliance requirements, but also on judgements of levels of risk to material, and on levels of risk from the loss of particular material or classes of material.

These challenges are common across Further and Higher Education institutions, and institutions can benefit from collaboration and sharing of experience in meeting the challenges.

They need support in developing organisational processes and technical systems for digital preservation and access management.

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