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Digital Preservation

This guide is meant to be an introduction to the practice of digital preservation. Use it to learn about the topic and how to ensure long term access to your own data.

What is Digital Preservation?

Digital Preservation is the act of preserving digital materials for long term access and use. This can involve digitized materials, such as scanned photographs and rare books, or born-digital materials, such as websites, emails, and data sets. Digital preservation is more than just storing objects, it is about ensuring proper storage and access over the long term.

Why is it important?

Digital preservation is important because it:

  • Ensures long term access to digital objects over the course of changing software and hardware
  • Protects against technological failures
  • Preserves the digital historical record

For more information, watch the video created by the Library of Congress below.  

Thought exercise: This video was created in 2010, and while the images of technology in the video seem outdated, it provides a good thought experiment: Think about what technology you were using at that time. Does any of it still work? Do you still have access to the files you created back then? How much data have you lost to your tech growing old? 

See the Personal Preservation page for more info on how you can practice digital preservation with your own records and combat data loss. 

How is it done?

Common techniques

Here are some basic digital preservation strategies that are broadly applied.  

  • Replication
    • Copies, copies, and more copies! Making copies of a digital object ensures that if one fails, there are others that can still be used. 
  • Migration
    • The file type of a digital object has big implications on how it can be preserved. Often files are migrated to new file formats, such as converting a Word document to a PDF, in order to increase their longevity.  For more information, the Library of Congress has a list of recommended file formats for all types of digital objects.
  • Emulation
    • It is often easier to reproduce an older digital ecosystem within a modern digital ecosystem than it is to keep that old digital ecosystem running and accessible. This is known as emulating, and is most often used to preserve digital objects like software (computer programs, video games, etc.) or operating systems. 

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