ERCIM News 80

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January 2010
Special theme:
Digital Preservation

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Drivers for Digital Preservation

by Matthias Hemmje and Ruben Riestra

Digital preservation (DP) is becoming a relevant issue for ensuring the future accessibility and usability of knowledge, information and data that only exist in digital formats, ie the so-called ‘born-digital’ content. The overwhelming expansion of this content is creating a continuously increasing spectrum of opportunities and threats to organizations exposed to the need to preserve such digital assets for decades or even centuries.

The current demand for DP solutions and services is mainly driven by institutions having a legal mandate to handle the preservation of society’s collective memory, the so-called evant societal assets, eg the records of science or governmental bodies. However, it needs to be recognized that other businesses and even whole industries within globalizing economies are dealing with information resources which need to be preserved for decades. To achieve a more differentiated view of DP, we must define its various domains of application more explicitly.

Ongoing research in Europe has shown that because pioneers such as the memory institutions (MIs) have the only legal mandate to preserve the collective cultural heritage of society, they therefore carry the sole responsibility. That is why they have been the first to encounter the challenges and complex problems of preserving born-digital content without any kind of fallback solution like digitization from the original physical information carrier or storage media in case of failure. Scientific research institutions (SRIs) as well as to some degree the data centres which are supporting them have a similar problem, although it is not necessarily their task to preserve but only to collect and provide access to scientific data and content.

Aside from the MIs and SRIs, economically the most important application domains that are relevant to this problem are the many different types of information-dependent industrial sectors that generate business value from their specific application knowledge and at the same time cater for the various demands of our society. Such Businesses, Corporations, and any kind of economically acting Enterprises (BCEs) represent the third and most important application domain for DP technology. Many BCEs are not only involved in the production of physical services and goods, but increasingly take part in the processing of information and knowledge within so-called knowledge/value chains of today’s ‘knowledge economy’. For all of these, preservation of digital content is of crucial importance because digital information objects and knowledge resources are an essential part of their business processes and therefore one of their most important resources.

Despite the fact that DP is not a concept or term usually recognised by BCEs, explicit and very specific archives of digital information assets supporting access and reuse of information in the long term are strongly integrated into most enterprises’ policies and data management practices. This means that businesses, companies and enterprises have been involved and have experience in the preservation of digital objects that can be considered digital assets, often in multiple cycles, over the last 30-50 years. In enterprises however, DP processes are proprietary and part of infrastructures that support IT workflows to secure the optimization of operating expenses. As DP is a continuous process, it forms part of the integrated management of digital content and assets in such infrastructures (access, printing, reusing etc) and is difficult to separate from the work routine and from its operational context. In a business environment therefore, DP is the responsibility of data and asset management or legal compliance. In other words, it is driven by IT and legal departments, and is not part of the corporate mission as is the case for MIs. The common feature between MIs and BCEs is the record-keeping aspect. BCEs are safekeeping their organization’s records under the broad definitions of a Unified Information Management. Furthermore, it can be recognized that in recent years, BCEs have taken on a more specific, new, but still evolving meaning that refers to the storage and preservation of the organization’s digital information or knowledge assets, either for compliance or as a source of revenue.

In summary, if the global development and spread of the Information Society and its knowledge-based economies continues with its current or even accelerating speed, it will further increase the need to preserve born-digital content. Certainly the future demand for DP technology, infrastructure, tools and solutions is likely to accelerate: this process already has significant momentum.

Please contact:
Matthias L. Hemmje
University of Hagen, Germany
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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