The challenges of preserving access to digital
By Christine Newman
ISI 5102 November 5 2012
What is Digital
“The processes of maintaining accessibility
of digital objects over time… [and] is used to
describe the processes involved in
maintaining information and other kinds of
heritage that exist in a digital form”
Guidelines for the Preservation of Digital
Heritage, UNESCO, 2003, 21).
“Refers to the series of managed activities
necessary to ensure continued access to
digital materials for as long as necessary.”
(Preservation Management of Digital
Materials by Jones and Beagrie, 2001, 10).1
The goal of preserving digital information
is to ensure continued access to that
information as the technologies used for
recording information change.2
Benefits of digitization:
Digitization increases widespread use and access to materials
that in analogue formats may be rare and distant or fragile.
Digitization greatly improves access to documents when the
digital files are made available and retrievable.
The text of digitized documents will also be searchable when
text indexing is created during the digitization process.
For most purposes, it may be sufficient for researchers to
consult a digital version of a document when available,
therefore the analogue document will be handled less, so will
survived longer, and if it should be lost, the digital version, at
least, will still be available.3
Obsolescence of storage and access
Instability of storage media
Managing the integrity of digital
Image taken from:
Obsolescence of Storage
and Access Technologies
Old bit streams never die – they just become unreadable
(cited by Rothenberg, 1999 in Harvey, 2005, p. 35.)
Digital material requires complex hardware and software
in order to retrieve and interpret the information.
The playback devices necessary to retrieve information
from the media become obsolete or the software that
translate digital information form machine to human-
readable form is no longer available.
In order to preserve access to the information that has
been stored in digital records, we have to plan for its
continued migration to the currently operable technology
or else revert back to storage media that do not require
some kind of technological equipment interface, however
we than have the issues of preserving paper-format and
lack of accessibility.4
Instability of Storage
The source of the problem of preserving
digital materials is that the information is
inherently software-dependent. The bit-
stream can represent any of a very wide
range of content and formats – often text or
data, but also images, audio and video. This
data requires software to interpret it, to turn it
Without appropriate software, the digital file
cannot be displayed appropriately on the
Managing the Integrity of
The value of an individual record is derived from
the sequence of records within which it is located
and that it can be difficult to understand an
individual record without understanding its
historical, legal, procedural, and documentary
Authenticity and integrity are considered to be
core requirements that demand special attention
if preserved digital objects are to be trusted.6
ChallengesThe Internet has provided us with a new environment
for information creation and exchange.
Preserving webpages and online databases would be
challenging especially where the information that
users’ view is dynamically generated in response to
particular queries or information provided.
Government organization have already begun to
address the preservation of their webpages and it is
these aspects that will prove the most difficult to
preserve and for future researchers to reconstruct.7
Active preservation needs to start
close to the time of creation if there is
to be any certainty that digital
information will be accessible in the
Increase awareness of digital
preservation and preservation
The Future of Digital Preservation
Although there is still considerable wariness and
skepticism surrounding our ability to maintain and
provide access to digital materials in the longer term, it
In 2004, the new Library and Archives of Canada Act
changed the institution’s mandate to preserving the
documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of
present and future generations, to be a source of
enduring knowledge accessible to all, to facilitate
cooperation in Canada among communities involved in
the acquisition, preservation and diffusion of
knowledge and to serve as the continuing memory of
the Government of Canada.8
… On a side note, Library and Archives Canada
suffered large cuts in the recent budget. It would be
1 Harvey, R. (2005). Preserving Digital Materials. Morlenbach, Germany: K.G. Saur Verlag
GmbH, p. 13.
2 Lester, J. & Koehler, W. (2007). Fundamentals of Information Studies. Second Edition.
New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., p. 103.
3 Canadian Association of Research Librarians. Digitization. 2012 CARL – ABRC.
Retrieved from http://carl-abrc.ca/en/scholarly-communications/digitization.html
4 Lester, 2007, p. 104 and Harvey, 2005, p. 46-47.
5 Harvey, 2005, p. 48-49.
6 Harvey, 2005, p. 49-50.
7 Ross, Seamus. (2002). Digital Preservation: Strategy, intervention, and accident. In Giulio
Blasi (Eds.), The Future of Memory. Bologna, Italy: Brepols Turnhout, p. 156.
8 Bak, G., & Armstrong, P. (2008). Points of convergence: Seamless long-term access to
digital publications and archival records at library and archives Canada. Archival
Science, 8(4), 156. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10502-009-9091-4 (Bak, 2008, 280).